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Travelling in a van in New Zealand in Winter (everything you need to know)

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Looking for the best way to explore and experience New Zealand? Taking a campervan holiday is one of the best ways to see more and do more in Aotearoa. Although summer is a popular time for holiday van travel in New Zealand, there are still lots of wonderful things to do in NZs winter.

Some of the most beautiful driving routes in New Zealand are visited during winter, and for very good reason. Stunning seasonal views, cold weather adventure sports and world-class events are just some of the many enticing reasons to book a wintertime campervan escape.

This guide covers everything you need to know about travelling in a van during Winter in New Zealand, including the benefits of travelling in winter, the best things to see and do as well as where to stay and what to pack.

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Why visit New Zealand in winter

If you are looking for some winter camper van travel inspiration, you are guaranteed to find images of things like snow-capped mountains, along with some pretty impressive adventure ideas.

There are lots of other reasons why winter van travel in NZ is a good idea, so let's get started!

 

Enjoy the views from the comfort of your home on wheels

Travelling New Zealand in a campervan during winter gives you the freedom to not only stop and appreciate the magnificent views at your own pace but also stay warm while you do it!

Sometimes a few moments appreciating the view from a car just isn’t long enough, so why not ditch the leaky tent and camp in your campervan right beside that stunning location to make the most of every minute.

Fewer daylight hours only means more time to snuggle under a blanket and enjoy some uninterrupted family time! Britz vans come equipped with warm bedding and heaters so it's easy to stay cosy warm.

Take advantage of the quiet season

With fewer locals travelling during winter in NZ, you will have your pick of DOC campsites, top-notch holiday parks and freedom camping spots.

Having fewer locals on the road means you can get from A to B faster, and pack more destinations into your itinerary, minus the traffic. If you are travelling rurally you might come across some sheep on the road, but that’s all part of the fun of sightseeing!

Areas where you normally have to book in advance to camp are much more likely to be available. Venture to those famous spots like Cathedral Cove in The Coromandel while there are fewer people around!

Even if the weather does get a bit drizzly, you have an abundance of restaurants and boutique shops that will be all yours, so you can take your time sipping hot drinks and finding treasures to remind you of your New Zealand campervan holiday.

Winter is also a great time of year to visit museums like Te Papa in Wellington. With so much to take in, you can easily spend a day exploring this interactive haven without a second thought about the weather!

For an experience special to New Zealand, why not visit the National kiwi hatchery where you have the opportunity to see this rare bird, and maybe even watch them feeding!

Enjoy the great outdoors

It wouldn’t be a New Zealand holiday without exploring the great outdoors. Rent a travel van to save money on accommodation, and put that towards some special New Zealand experiences.

The scenery around New Zealand changes dramatically over winter and it is one of the prettiest times of year to travel.

Early mornings bring frost-covered grass that twinkles in the light, and evenings have a stunning display of clear skies scattered with highly visible stars. The sun starts to set around 5 o’clock in the evening, so even the kids can get in some stargazing before bedtime!

Areas near hills and mountains can enjoy picturesque views of snow, whether its a light sprinkling or a full covering. You might even be lucky enough to enjoy the view with a morning walk and blue skies.

Whether you are an extreme sports enthusiast, or just prefer a light walk to stretch your legs after driving in the campervan, you can visit almost anywhere in the country and find something amazing to do.

Sometimes the more snow the better, which is definitely the case if you head to Queenstown for a snowmobile adventure! Carve through the snow with the whole family and enjoy the stunning views along the way.

There is no better way to warm up than to get your heart racing with bungy jumping! This extreme sport was made famous in New Zealand, and you can try it for yourself in multiple locations around the country.

Unpack your hiking boots from the campervan and get the best icy views on one of the easy walks near Franz Josef Glacier, then defrost surrounded by rainforest at the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.

 

What winter is like in New Zealand

Though it certainly can get chilly, New Zealand winter is fairly mild in comparison to other parts of the world.

The months of June through August bring an average temperature of around 12 to 16 degrees celsius, so we are incredibly lucky to be able to carry on exploring in campervans without much hassle!

The South Island experiences heavier snow in areas like Canterbury and Otago. These destinations are particularly beautiful to explore in a campervan (and take holiday snaps of!) over winter.

The North Island rarely experiences snowfall, with the exception of the central plateau. New Zealand's largest ski fields Whakapapa and Tūroa are located centrally and enjoy enough snow to make them a top winter van travel destination.

All parts of the country experience rainfall throughout winter, which means the landscape stays lush and green for most of the year - what a great sight to see from your campervan windows! Travelling in colder seasons may reward you with clearer, still weather.

Road conditions in New Zealand over winter

For the parts of New Zealand that don’t experience snow, travelling in a campervan is easy and fuss-free as there is no need to wait for roads to be cleared.

Is it safe to drive in New Zealand in winter?

It is important to remember that although there may not be snow, the temperatures can still get low enough for ice to form on the roads. All the more reason to take your time enjoying the scenery from the van, or have a sleep-in till things warm up a bit!

In the areas that do experience snow, it is worth making sure you take a safe planned route and only travel on sealed or well-maintained roads.

For those looking to tackle the ski fields, you will need to park the campervan then head up, as they can’t be taken on the entry roads between June and October. There are a few other areas you can’t take your campervan, so make sure to plan ahead.

Other than that, Britz campervans have snow chains available so you can get to where you are going safely.

Choosing a van for winter travel

Whether you are a couple looking for a compact van for your romantic getaway, or a family looking for space and luxury, Britz have campervan hire options for everyone.

Choosing a van is as simple as deciding where you want to go, and what you will need to make the escape your best adventure yet.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing your home on wheels.

Will you need equipment storage space

When you rent a travel van it’s a good idea to consider whether you will be bringing oversized gear such as skis or the family bikes.

Having to leave your sporting equipment behind might mean expensive hire, or even missing out altogether if you can’t find what you are looking for.

Those travelling with kids might also want a bit of extra storage to tuck the toys away so they are secured whilst you are on the move!

Since you could be spending a bit of time in the campervan, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of space to stretch your legs and lay out the board games!

 

Will you need to be fully self-contained

Running out to the campground communal showers in the middle of winter in NZ might not be ideal, especially if you are travelling with little ones. Most Britz campervans have a shower with hot pressurised water, but a few smaller models don’t so it pays to check when you book your camper.

Being fully self-contained means you can stay warm in the comfort of your campervan, and as an added bonus you don’t need to wait in the shower or toilet queue!

All Britz vehicles are certified self-contained and come equipped with a toilet so freedom camping is a breeze. Check out our handy campervan compare chart to pick the best vehicle for your needs.

What kind of heating will you need

If you want to use heating during your winter trip, it’s worth checking whether the campervan you want runs on electric, gas or diesel power.

If your campervan heater is run with electric power, you will need to be plugged into a 240v power source. If you are planning on staying at a powered site, electric heating is a simple plug in and warm up option!

If your campervan heating is run on gas or diesel power, you will be able to use the heaters without being plugged into a power source, so long as you have a quarter of a tank of diesel, enough charge on your house battery for the ignition.

Gas heaters provide great flexibility as you can use the heating wherever you are, which is fantastic for those who are staying at unpowered sites like freedom camping spots.

What tourist areas you will be visiting

Some campsites are much more suitable for campers that have toilets or showers on board, such as freedom camping areas or the more remote Department of Conservation sites, as they tend to be minimal with their facilities.

compact Britz camper also has its benefits, especially if you are looking to visit areas where you want lots of flexibility with parking such as city centres.

With Britz, you have branch locations in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, so no matter what tourist spots you are planning to visit, you will have top-notch vehicles and expert advice nearby.

Where to stay

Whether you want a campsite that has all the bells and whistles, or somewhere a little more nature-based, you have so many options for places to stay all around the country, and very little competition when it comes to securing a spot in winter in NZ!

It’s a good idea to utilise campsites that have facilities to help make your winter trip go off without a hitch.

Even if you don’t stay at a powered site every night, it’s worth considering making an itinerary that includes visiting one every couple of days so that you can charge up the campervan battery for heating, and wash any muddy clothes from your adventuring.

The types of campsites available in New Zealand include:

  • Department of Conservation sites... DOC sites range from simple back-to-nature areas to powered sites with basic facilities. Find a DOC campsite around the shores of New Zealand and you are likely to see seal pups that wean from their mothers over winter! DOC sites cost around $15 per person.
  • Holiday parks... Holiday parks are often located in the most desirable tourist spots, are powered, and can also include extra facilities like laundry areas so you can wash off your hiking boots and dry out your clothes. These are usually $35-$40 per night.
  • Freedom camping areas... Freedom camping spots are suitable for self-contained travellers looking to save some money, as they are usually free of charge being unofficial campgrounds. Just make sure you understand the rules around freedom camping as parking illegally can mean hefty fines.
  • Council campsites... Most councils will have areas where you can park your campervan, whether that be a car park lot or a forest park. Utilising a council campsite is a great way to explore smaller towns in winter in NZ, enjoying quaint local museums, op shops or boutiques. Some sites are free of charge, and others may cost around $10 per person per night. winter packing

What to pack for winter van travel

If you are heading away on a winter trip, there is a good chance you will be tempted to pack everything but the kitchen sink!

Though it is a good idea to be prepared, overpacking can cause your campervan to become overrun with extra items.

What is already included in the campervan hire fee

  • Linen... There is always enough linen provided for each bed in the campervan. This includes pillowcases, sheets, towels, bathmats and tea towels.
  • Bedding... The campervan will have duvets for each bed, as well as blankets for all the beds. Additional blankets are provided in winter so no need to bring your own!
  • Household items... Essential household items are also included in the campervan hire, which covers everything from crockery to appliances and cleaning supplies.

Rest assured you will feel cosy and at home with an electric jug for hot drinks, a clothesline to dry any wet items, and a toaster so you can enjoy some brekky waking up to the best views from your campervan.

Extra items you should pack for winter travel

Though your campervan hire will come with everything you need to enjoy your winter trip, there are a few extra personal items that are great to bring along.

Winter clothing

Waterproof raincoats and sturdy footwear are an absolute must for winter in NZ. The terrain here ranges from sand to soil to snow, and although the views are stunning, the weather can take even locals by surprise!

Campervan extras

For life inside the campervan, a hot water bottle will help to keep you warm, especially if you are in between battery charges for the heater! Grab an extra blanket too, so you can sit out and enjoy stargazing on cool winter nights - remember to pack that torch so you can find your way around!

Don’t forget to gather up all your coins, as you may need to pay for parking in smaller towns!

 

Popular winter destinations for campervan travel

Now that you have all the helpful tips on travelling in winter in NZ, let’s talk about the best winter destinations to visit!

Queenstown

As one of the most visited and famous destinations in New Zealand, Queenstown is absolutely worth a winter trip.

Rent a van in Christchurch to travel this gorgeous area, and check out the Queenstown Winter Festival in July where you can enjoy music, and get involved in some hilariously silly sporting events!

If you are travelling at the end of August, grab a ticket for the Winter Pride Festival, which boasts everything from themed ski race days, to boat parties and karaoke over a span of 10 days!

Book a campervan spot at the Queenstown Top 10 holiday park, right on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, then take a cruise across with Southern Discoveries to see secluded bays and stunning snow-capped mountain views.

Warm up after your lake adventure, and have a bite to eat at the iconic Fergburger restaurant, and decide for yourself if it really is the best burger in New Zealand!

Wanaka

A New Zealand campervan holiday to Wanaka has to include a visit to Mount Aspiring National Park. For the ultimate winter views, the half-day Rob Roy Glacier walk boasts photo-worthy 600ft waterfalls and is classified as easy so the whole family can enjoy this adventure together.

Having the Mount Aspiring Holiday Park nearby means you will be able to take a load off and warm up together afterwards with some stargazing!

With little light pollution, Wanaka is the perfect spot for some evening stargazing. Park up at the Top 10 Wanaka holiday park, and either sit out under the stars with a blanket or go for the official Stargazing experience at Cardona. Warm up afterwards with some gourmet hot food at Cardrona distillery.

Franz Josef Glacier

See the glacier from a different perspective, on a cross country quad bike tour! Ride through rivers and over an ancient glacial riverbed enjoying the wintery views as you go by.

Looking for an indoor activity for a rainy day? Grab yourself a campervan spot at the Franz Josef Top 10 holiday park then take a visit to the West Coast Wildlife Centre and check out New Zealand’s rarest kiwi bird. You can even take a VIP tour to see the hatching and incubation program in action.

 

Rotorua

What better way to warm up in winter than to explore the unique geothermal pools Rotorua has to offer. Visit Hells Gate where the mud water pools can help you to relax in the nutrient-rich water after a day of exploring in the campervan.

If you are looking for something to do in the evening, check out the eco tourism Nightlights treewalk where you can experience this illuminated nature-based experience with the whole family.

Book the campervan at the Rotorua Top 10 Holiday Park, and you can even use the mineral pools free of charge for that lovely evening soak after adventuring.

Those looking for a short walk to stretch their legs after van travel have to visit the unbelievably clear waters of Hamurana springs. This is a great activity for the whole family, which can either be done self-guided or via a tour.

 

Hawkes Bay

Hawkes Bay, otherwise known as food and wine country, has to include some tasting! Drive the campervan to one of the many wineries, like Crab Farm where you can warm up around the fire pit in winter, and enjoy some fresh food prepared to go perfectly with their boutique wines.

For a true kiwi experience, see the Hawkes Bay coastline on a Gannet beach tour, where you ride on the back of a trailer, towed by a tractor! This half-day tour will take you by four gannet colonies and is safe for the whole family. Stay at the nearby Hastings Top 10 Holiday Park.

For an indoor experience that mixes food and learning, drop by the Hawkes Bay Arataki Honey visitor centre where you can shelter from the cold and learn about honey making (as well as taste the product!).

Recommended winter road trips

Experience all of these amazing locations with one of the many Britz New Zealand self drive campervan holiday itineraries.

Check out Queenstown and Wanaka on the Southern Explorer Road Trip, and add Milford Sound to the list of places to go.

If a Franz Josef trip is on the cards, the West Coast Road Itinerary is for you.

Tick off Rotorua and the Hawkes Bay in one go, with the Thermal Explorer Highway.

Get Going

Ready to go on your winter wonderland New Zealand adventure? To get started, book a Britz campervan today, we have branches in Auckland, ChristchurchQueenstown and Wellington. Remember to check out our latest deals and specials.