Life in a New Zealand Campervan

[ 6 ] February 23, 2012 |

Prior to arriving in New Zealand we had researched and read and decided that our plan to tour this country would be to buy an old campervan when we arrived in NZ and then sell it off on our way out of town. We’ve heard many great stories of this working out well for people traveling and even learned of a whole market for it here where they manage all of the details for you. At first I was reluctant to even consider ownership of a vehicle abroad. I was thinking about insurance and registration and repairs and maintenance and resell, but I eventually bought into the idea and jumped on board. So much of this country is only seen “off the beaten bath” so you really do need flexible accommodation. Solution- campervans!

We arrived in Auckland on a Monday. Unfortunately the main car auction happens every Saturday- so we had missed it and would have to wait a week to peruse the options at the big market. Strike 1.

Still determined to figure this out- we immediately went to hostel boards and found owner listings for many used vehicles. Some were overpriced, some were real doozies, and most had seen better days. Hardly any had proper inspections or tags. This could take forever to sort out. Strike 2.

Still optimistic we found a middle man shop open 7 days a week that pretty much serves as a car lot and broker for this exact market. Excited by the possibilities we put on our shoes and started walking.

You see- this is what I dreamed we would find…

Alison's Classic VW Campervan Dream (not our campervan)

In Pat’s mind we would be touring the islands in something like this…

Pat's Toyota Hiace Campervan Dream (not our campervan)

When we arrived at this car lot we did find some options… but not anything either of us felt comfortable actually sleeping in without first disinfecting every inch and completing a total overhaul of most of the interiors. Not interested in spending our limited NZ time doing that, we decided to look elsewhere. Strike 3.

All of that happened after we landed on late Monday afternoon. Feeling a bit disappointed, we were walking back to our hostel when we literally ran into our friends the Bodie’s from the Uganda mission trip that live in Florida. Totally boosting our mood- we hung out with them for the evening and put the campervan on hold for a few hours. Late that night we started more online research. Pat, my personal wizard, sorted all the options and found a smoking deal! The next morning we put our packs in storage and headed out to see if this was too good to be true.

Somewhere between my VW and his Toyota- we found Bonnie (affectionately named by us)- a Mazda Bongo.

Our Bonnie

She’s set up well for her size. She has 3 front seat belts (3 could fit if you were munchkins.) The side had a sliding door on the passenger side and the rear has a gate. We rented a solar shower that we store in the back on top of the stove during the day and under the bed at night. We also rented a refrigerator that plugs into the cigarette lighter. The fridge sits in the back during the day and in the front seat at night. In the back there is a platform that serves as a single sofa folded up and as a double bed when fully pulled out. When you open the tailgate there is a mini table screwed in that has a two-burner stove on top and a propane tank underneath next to the water storage container. Next to that on the wall a small table folds down. The van also came with a folding table and chairs; we store those under the mattress at night.

Palace on the Road

Determined to make this work well we first headed to “Warehouse” the NZ equivalent of Walmart. We purchased 2 plastic crates to store our food, pots and pans in, disinfectant spray and rags, and our luxury items- two regular size pillows and a sheet to cover the mattress provided. We emptied our backpacks out and put all of our things under the bed, the only storage space in the van and unpacked our well-loved sleeping bags. Home Sweet Home.

Home Sweet Home

Best part of our interior décor- the royal blue curtains that conveniently pull 360 degrees around to create a haven of privacy. Second to that is the green mosquito net that cleverly fits over the passenger side window so at night you can roll it down to get natural AC going on. (Unfortunately it doesn’t keep the rain out.)

Bonnie the Bongo

It’s quite hysterical…

We’re sleeping in the van, cooking on the burners, hanging out in the back, and cruising all day from the front. We love it!

Campervan Cooking

Commercial campsites in NZ are plentiful and some are even lush. There are several “brands” of campgrounds with laundry, showers, kitchens, internet, playgrounds, etc.- nice but not cheap. There are Department of Conservation campsites located in National Forests that are more basic and less expensive, but there are fewer of these. Finally there is the notion of “freedom or free camping” which means pulling off on the side of the road and finding a quiet spot to park and sleep. This is legal almost anywhere that it’s not posted not to camp. Thankfully New Zealand is overflowing with scenic uninhabited areas to discover. So far, we’ve mixed it up and have done all three- commercial, DOC and freedom camping. Who knows where we’ll be tonight!

Pat at the Wheel on the Ferry

On the Road Again



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Category: Alison's Blog, Blog, Destinations, Featured Posts, New Zealand

Comments (6)

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  1. Clint Anderson says:

    Your Gran and Pappy would be so proud of your adventures as well as your “camping” efficiency! We enjoy all the “posts”.

    • Aunt Jeannie & Uncle Clint, So nice to hear from you! I have thought about Pappy and Gran and all their camping adventure stories often on this leg of our trip. They were certainly doing it right all those years. We’re having a ball. Some fellow campers passed along an extra can of corned beef (our first ever) the other day and Mama gave me Gran’s recipe to fix it. Yum! Love y’all! Ali

  2. Susan Elliott says:

    Love the campervan hunt story. Bonnie the Bongo is adorable! Sounds like a great way to see New Zealand. A classmate of Scott’s (our 3rd grader) and his family did a similar trip over Christmas. Sounds like yet another fun adventure to add to your list!

    • Susan- love getting your messages. I am very surprised how fun I’m finding “rough” camping! It’s the perfect way to see NZ. We’ll definitely be doing more of this when back in the US. NZ is so well developed for camping families too- playgrounds, baby tubs at campsites, kid bikes to rent everywhere, pools etc. – just in case the NZ landscape alone isn’t enough!

  3. Kate from Phoenix says:

    This looks fantastic. You may have to ship her back to the states. It will be hard to give her up. And I hate camping!!! But I think I could do this. Also, can’t believe you ran into your friends like that. Do, do, do, do!

  4. Ann Coffey says:

    Well, here’s one more relative connecting with other “Sudderths” via P&A’s blogs. This time from Colorado. I’m loving all of your adventures and, like your Gran and Pappy would be, praying for your safety every day. What a wonderful adventure, but how do you ever top this in a lifetime??? Like Clint said, Aunt Frances and Uncle Jepp would be so proud of you two and sitting on pins and needles every day to hear about your exciting times and experiences. You guys will be the “hit” of the next Thanksgiving feast in Norcross you’re able to attend. No one will be able to top your rendition of “what we did on our family vacation.” Enjoy every minute of your trip.

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