So you’re thinking about buying a campervan in New Zealand, eh? Well without a doubt it is one of the best decisions we made while in the country. It taught us so much about ourselves, our lifestyle, our relationship, and each other.
#vanlife is a real thing people and it’s epic!
At first, we didn’t really think about even buying a campervan in New Zealand, but to be fair we made a lot of mistakes when we first arrived in NZ. We didn’t even think about buying a car in general! We thought we would arrive, find jobs, find a place to live and just walk everywhere. We prepared ourselves for when we arrived in the country and there were a lot of things we had to do before moving there. Even getting ourselves working visas!
But we were pleasantly surprised when things didn’t work out the way we had planned. So instead we decided to focus on just traveling around the country…and what better way than in a campervan! Considering how popular it is in NZ.
Everything we would need would be in one movable little place. So we sort of dove head first into the whole process not really knowing anything about it. There wasn’t really a guide that we followed and we learned a lot along the way, so we decided to compile everything we learned about buying a campervan into one place. In hopes, it would make someone else’s life a lot easier.
One thing we really loved was being able to have our independence and freedom as we traveled the country. We had an open schedule that could be changed at any minute whenever we wanted. If we wanted to stay in one place longer we could, if something wasn’t what we thought it was we left. We also managed to tick off visiting a HUGE majority of the Lord of the Rings filming locations. (Which was AMAZING). Had we not had our own van that definitely wouldn’t have happened.
Not that everyone wants to see those locations but hey…middle earth amirite?
You can definitely take advantage of the system of buses that the country has or the full tours, but you can’t necessarily create your own route. You are subject to bus times, drop off locations and limited access to locations. Who wants that when you’re backpacking? Not to mention buying a campervan in New Zealand helped us save SOOOO much money on accommodation. We weren’t spending $25-$30 per night per person minimum on a hostel dorm. There were so many campgrounds all around New Zealand that were anywhere from free-$25 a night. However, the ones that were $25 had so many amenities AKA showers.
There are lots of tools and apps you can use to find wicked campgrounds, especially an app called campermate. We used campermate almost everywhere we went. It showed us EVERYTHING. We highly recommend downloading it. Buying a campervan in New Zealand and living out of it is pretty easy and a lot of fun.
Where do you find a Campervan:
Obviously if you are hoping to buy a campervan you need to know WHERE to buy one. That’s the easiest part. Sorry to break it to you.
Main cities are the best hubs for buying a campervan in New Zealand because that’s where (obviously) the main airports are. Airports mean people are leaving the country, which means they don’t need vans anymore. Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington are by far the best, but Auckland takes the cake. When we went to sell our van we actually drove the 8 hours from Wellington to Auckland and then flew back to Wellington. The vans also tend to be cheaper in the big cities because there are so many more on the market.
Hostels, supermarkets, and malls almost always have notice boards where people post up vans. They’re awesome places to look for postings from backpackers selling their vans. Hostels typically have more on their boards as far as vans go because they’re backpacker hubs.
You could resort to checking our backpackers car markets like the ones in Auckland and Christchurch. They’re basically lots that backpacker place their vans on and the person who owns the land takes a small cut when the van sells. Once sold the money is deposited into the backpackers bank account afterward. This is one place we recommend NOT buying from.
many scams that happen at these markets. We cannot emphasize enough that you need to be careful at these markets. Most of the lot owners could care less if the vans are in good shape. Not to mention you can’t guarantee that nicer backpacker who is trying to sell their van while they’re outside of the country will even get their money back. All backpacker know how important every single dollar is. We checked out a second-hand backpacker lot in Christchurch and called in our own mechanic (found him via TradeMe another awesome app) who told us every van on the lot wouldn’t pass an inspection. Even though the guy who owned the lot said they were all approved from THEIR on site ‘mechanic.’
Sounds fishy to us….
But if you do choose to go to a car market just call in an outside mechanic to do an inspection so you don’t get scammed. Getting stuck with a $2,000-$4,000 lemon, would be the absolute worst situation.
Lastly looking online is a great resource, as usual. There are loads of Facebook groups that you can buy and sell vans on. Join one of these groups and you’ll see a constant stream of vans being posted. These groups also post a lot of gear that they’re trying to sell too so if you need a tent or camping gear you’re covered there too. You can also check out some websites like backpackerboard.co.nz which gets loads of traffic from backpacker. From our experience, the backpackerboard.co.nz was the best place to find an abundance of vehicles.
Things to look out for and remember before handing over the cash:
Before just handing over the cash when buying a campervan in New Zealand you need to be aware of what you’re looking for in a vehicle. Obviously, things in NZ are done differently so you need to be aware of what is different.
Warrant of Fitness (Also called a WOF)
New Zealand is very particular about what car is fit to be driving on their roads. Every vehicle requires a warrant of fitness, which is basically a bill of health for a vehicle. They cover a range of things from rust to cracks in the windshield. If the vehicle fails a WOF it cannot be driven on the road. The WOF needs to be done either once every year or every six months depending on when the car was first registered in NZ.
When buying a campervan try and look for one that recently had their WOF done, that means you save money on doing it yourself and you know it is fit to be driven. It’s still a good idea to get a quick inspection from a mechanic before buying the van. Sometimes places will hand out WOF’s without actually ensuring they meet the standards required for safety in NZ. An unsafe vehicle in NZ is not something you want, you could get seriously stranded if something happens.
Registration (Known as a Rego)
All cars in New Zealand need to be registered, this is done usually once a year. Again try and find one that was recently done so that cost doesn’t land on you. If you find the van of your dreams but you have to register it soon don’t be afraid to ask for a price cut because you’ll have to get one. Negotiate negotiate negotiate! Rego prices vary depending on if it’s a car or van and whether it’s diesel or petrol. Prices range anywhere from $52-$265 a year with most vans being around $180.
Do you want Petrol or Diesel?
Buying a petrol vehicle at first may seem cheaper but in the long run, it actually costs around the same as driving a diesel. You do pay more for a diesel upfront because you have to pay road user charges per 1,000km’s you drive. Where as petrol there is no need to do this. Even though you have to pay for driving km’s on the car, the cost to fill up a diesel tank is much less because diesel fuel is cheaper. In the end, the costs are about the same so don’t be too caught up in finding a petrol or diesel.
Typically higher kilometers on a diesel engine is okay but try not to purchase anything with over roughly 350,000km. Petrol the lower the kilometers the better, try to stay below roughly 275,000km. Remember you will have a harder time selling a van with super high km’s so don’t buy one with a ton of km’s.
Is there anything inside the vans?
Most vans have been owned by backpackers so a lot of them already have all the supplies you.
Everything from mattresses to forks and spoons and if you’re lucky a hammock! Most vans have it all! They usually have decent set-ups inside them too. Things like shelves, storage bins, pull out tables and chairs.
We first it was hard for us to find a van that we liked on the inside that was also mechanically sound.
So we made the decision to buy an empty (mostly) van and set it up ourselves.
After a lot of math and online price comparison, we realized that the cost of buying a fully equipped van was around the same as buying all the stuff to do it ourselves. We got a really great deal on a van that literally only had a wood platform and a large drawer built in the back. At the time we were volunteering at a hostel so we had access to tools so that we can cut the wood and design something that worked for us.
Now we know not everyone would have access to something like that but you never know. We got EXTREMELY lucky and the hostel was buying new mattresses for the beds, so we ended up getting a free one for the van. That saved us a ton of money!Once we had that all setup and ready to go all the equipment we needed for the inside (chairs, blankets, chilly bin, etc etc) only cost us around $500NZD.
How much will you need to purchase a van?
Vans can cost anywhere from $2500NZD to upwards of $5000NZD depending on what you are looking for and how much space you want inside. The vans that are upwards of $5,000 usually are self-contained and have bathrooms inside. If you chose to stick to the lower end of the scale you might be looking for station wagons which honestly…we couldn’t imagine living in. Try and find a van, we had friends live in a station wagon and it sounds like an honest nightmare.
Our math told us that even if we bought a van for $2,000 and purchased all the equipment we needed ourselves for $500 without a mattress or upwards of $1500 with a mattress we would ultimately only spend $3500. Which, is the same as buying something that was already all set up. So whether you want to take the time to do it yourself of just buy one that’s done it should (in theory) be around the same cost.
The nicest part about setting it up ourselves is that our van was a unique reflection of us not someone else!
Our van (that we named R2D2) cost around $3500 with only the wood construction. We did reconstruct the inside a bit to have more space in the front. It had two pull out drawers, on in the front and back and two side panels that opened up vertically for extra storage. However everytime we wanted to access the side panels we had to lift up the entire mattress….not fun. We found a lot of free stuff in the hostels so that was a huge bonus! Check those free bins whenever you can. In the end, after we bought all the supplies for the inside we ended up spending around $4,000.
When trying to figure how much you want to spend make sure to budget in extra money for potential repairs. So don’t over spend! For us, $4,000 was the perfect number. Staying in hostels for two people at $50-$100 a night is way too expensive and suck our budget dry. Buying a campervan in NZ allowed us to basically spend twice as much time in the country and do twice as many activities.
So you’ve found a van!
Hurray! You’ve found a van. Now the easy pay, change of ownership. All you have to do is head to the closest post office, pay a small fee, and fill out some paperwork. The clerk at the post office does the rest! They will give you an ownership slip to keep with you and the car. Now the forms do require an NZ address, we just used our hostel address and it was fine.
Insurance isn’t mandatory in NZ so you can choose to risk it or purchase through a third party insurer. Budget Backpackers Hostels (BBH) and Banks offer third party insurance that you can purchase. The prices all vary depending on where you go so check out a few options. We found the average price was around $400 per year for fire, theft and accidental.
Winter is probably one of the best times to find a van. A lot of people are at the tail end of their visas and flying home. Which means an abundance of cars on the market at lower prices. Come summer…it’s completely opposite. Everyone wants to buy a van and prices soar sky high.
Overall just be smart when buying a vehicle. If you aren’t sure about it, don’t buy it. You are never obligated to spend your hard earned travel money on anything, it is always your choice. Scope out the market before settling on a vehicle to ensure you are getting the best deal and price. Buying a campervan in NZ doesn’t have to be hard just use your head and these tips!
Have you thought about buying a campervan in NZ or anywhere else? Let us know your experience or thoughts! Sound off below.
Liked this article? Share it!