If you prefer solitude and peace and quiet to crowds of tourists, winter is definitely the time to explore New Zealand.
While there are plenty of places you can go to escape the crowds even in peak season, in winter, you can drive for miles without seeing a single other car or campervan on the road. You can enjoy stunning empty beaches and landscapes without a soul in sight.
You also won’t need to book ahead at popular campsites so you have more flexibility – you can just turn up as and when it suits you.
Popular skiing locations will obviously be at their busiest times in the winter, but you’ll feel as if you have the rest of the country to yourself. It really is the ultimate wilderness experience!
Amazing Snow-capped Vistas
Talking of stunning landscapes, you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier time in New Zealand than the winter months. Snow on the mountains makes for amazingly beautiful views and photographs that are sure to make your friends and family back home jealous.
All that snow isn’t just pretty to look at either. If you’re looking for a great opportunity to teach the kids to ski, or you want to hit the slopes and try out snowboarding for yourself, New Zealand has no shortage of mountains and plenty of powder snow in the winter months
Travelling in the off-season means you can take advantage of cheaper rates. Renting a campervan is cheaper for a start, with prices as low as $29 a day between May to September.
This means your money goes a lot further and so you can stretch out your road trip for longer – hurray! You can also treat yourself to a night or two in a hotel along the way if you’re craving a little luxury. Hotel rates drop in the winter along with everything else.
2. Best Places to Visit in New Zealand During Winter
Now that you realise winter is most definitely the best time for a campervan holiday in New Zealand, you can start planning your trip.
Of course, many of the must-visit places on the North Island and South Island are worth travelling to at any time of the year. Still, there are some extra special experiences you can enjoy in the wintertime:
Wanaka on the South Island has some great winter activities on offer including dog sledding and snow and ice driving experiences.
Queenstown holds a four-day winter festival that’s well worth a visit if you’ll be around at the end of June. With live music, street parties, and mountain races, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy.
Tekapo Springs in Christchurch is a must-visit for adrenaline junkies of all ages to try out the snow tubing on a 150-metre downhill slope. For a more sedate activity, you can relax in the natural hot pools with stunning views of the Southern Alps.
Kaikoura is a haven for animal lovers. It’s one of the best locations in the country for whale watching. Their migration period falls in June and July so you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of a humpback or blue whale. There’s also a seal colony at Kaikoura Peninsula, just south of the town.
TheFranz Josef Glacieris at its best in the winter months. There are plenty of hiking opportunities on the glacier itself or up to the vantage point of Alex Knob.
Skiing is, of course, a must-do activity during the New Zealand winter. There are plenty of places to hit the slopes, with most of the ski areas found on the South Island. Cardrona Alpine Resort in Wanaka is one of the best resorts for family skiing and offers child-friendly slopes, ski school, and childcare options.
3. New Zealand’s Best Campsites
Powered campsites are a must during the winter months so you can run a heater and stay toasty warm inside your campervan.
The best campsites offer a combination of a beautiful setting, convenient location, and great facilities. Of course, you want to plan your trip around the places you want to visit, rather than choosing the best camp sites, but it’s helpful to know what the best options are for bedding down for the night in the area you’re travelling to.
There are many great campsites that are worth staying at for a night or two in the winter months. Here are just a few of our favourites:
Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
Within easy walking distance of the town centre, this campsite offers powered sites with great shower and kitchen facilities, Wi-Fi, and even a playground for the kids.
Only a couple of minutes from the lake and a 10-minute walk into town, the location of this campsite can’t be beat. The spacious grassy powered sites are serviced with full amenities including toilets, showers, kitchen, a children’s playground and small petting zoo.
After a busy day of sightseeing, you’re sure to appreciate the thermal pools and swimming pool that are free for campsite guests. What more could you ask from a camping spot? Other facilities include a BBQ area, children’s mountain bike track, playground, TV lounge, laundry, kitchen, and shower block.
Dotted all around New Zealand are “freedom” camping spots that allow you to park up and stay the night for free. These camping spots don’t usually have any facilities such as toilets, and you’ll need a blue “self contained” sticker on your campervan to be eligible to use one. Travellers Autobarn offers self-contained vehicles that meet this requirement.
It’s important to use one of the designated areas and not just stop your campervan wherever you want. Even if you’re in a remote location and think you’re not bothering anyone, you can be fined for camping in a restricted area. These fines were put in place in 2011 to protect the environment.
To find out where you can camp for free, you can use the official NZ camping map app, which includes over 500 free camping spots on both the North and South Island. You can install this handy app on your phone and the maps even work offline so you’ll be able to find somewhere to camp for the night, wherever you are.
5. What to Take on a New Zealand Campervan Trip in the Winter
Packing for your first campervan holiday can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ll be travelling in winter, but there’s no need to get stressed about it. If you forget anything, it’s usually easy to buy while you’re on the road.
Of course, you should pack your usual clothes, documents, toiletries, and other bits and pieces that you’d take when travelling. For a campervan holiday in the winter you should also consider bringing along the following:
Plenty of bedding – take an extra duvet or sleeping bag for those chilly nights.
Lots of warm clothes – dressing in layers is best as the temperature can be quite changeable throughout the day. This gives you the flexibility to just strip off or add an extra layer.
Hot water bottles – to keep you extra toasty in bed.
Portable heater – will heat your campervan to a cosy temperature when you’re staying at a powered campsite.
Snow chains – you might not need these, depending on your itinerary, but they’re a requirement for certain roads and mountain passes on the South Island in extreme weather. You can hire snow chains at the same time you pick up your campervan and remember to check the forecast before you go!
Plenty of coins – most campsites have coin-operated laundry and shower facilities so you’ll need plenty of spare change to use them. Start stocking up on coins before you leave.
Torch – a good torch or headlamp is essential for those late night trips to the toilet block, or if you want to conserve your campervan battery by not turning on the lights. Make sure you have spare batteries too.
·Extension cable and electrical adaptors
First aid kit – including bandages, Elastoplast, antiseptic cream, painkillers, bite cream, diarrhoea medication, etc.
Insect repellent – mosquitoes and sand flies aren’t so much of a problem in winter but it’s best to be prepared.
Music – most rental campervans come with a stereo. Make the most of it and create a road-trip playlist that will help you to remember your adventure every time you hear it in the future.
Books – you’re unlikely to have internet access everywhere you go and the internet at campsites can be painstakingly slow. Instead of getting frustrated, enjoy the opportunity to curl up with a good book instead. See the end of this guide for some helpful book suggestions.
Food – stock up on packet pasta and noodles for when you need a quick and easy meal in the middle of nowhere.
Hiking boots – the best of the country is off the beaten track so be prepared to do some walking to see it.
6. Best Road Trips on the North Island
The climate is mild on the North Island in winter. Temperatures in Auckland are usually between 9 and 15°C. The scenery on the North Island isn’t any less impressive in winter and while it will be too cold to swim in the ocean, there are plenty of natural hot springs to enjoy.
1. Auckland to Wellington
The “Thermal Highway” runs from north to south along some of New Zealand’s most interesting volcanic sites, including the Rotorua geysers and the Lake Taupo crater. These places are not only great fun to explore and to get some amazing holiday snaps, but they’re also a great educational opportunity if you’re travelling with kids and trying to squeeze in some “road schooling”. There’s also the Hobbiton movie set at the start of the route, which is a must-stop for Lord of the Rings fans.
For the grown-ups, this route also includes some of the island’s best wineries, so you can relax and explore with a drink or two. Plan around two weeks for the whole trip, with plenty of stop-off.
2. Taumarunui to Stratford
The 150 km “Forgotten World Highway” is a driving experience to remember (although perhaps not for the faint of heart!), with roads passing over mountains and alongside river gorges.
Taumarunui is a friendly town with plenty of shops, accommodation, and eateries. There’s so much to see along the way including Damper Falls, the Whangamomona Saddle, and the enigmatically named “Bridge to Somewhere”.
Plan three days for this trip and use Stratford as a base for exploring Mount Taranaki and Egmont National Park.
Download the full guide for details on the Pacific Highway roadtrip!
7. Best Road Trips on the South Island
The South Island is arguably at its best in winter when its impressive mountain ranges are capped with snow. Expect the weather to be chilly (but the scenery more than makes up for this) but there are still places on the South Island with a mild winter, such as Nelson, which boasts the highest annual amount of sunshine in the country.
1. Queenstown to Milford Sound
The stunning drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is considered by many to be one of the best road trips in the world. You’ll pass through snowy landscapes, majestic mountain ranges, and ancient rain forests.
The full drive is around eight hours and is best split over a few days with stops for attractions like the mirror lakes and the Fiordland National Park.
2. Queenstown to Christchurch
This road trip takes you through some of the best that the South Island has to offer in winter with plenty of opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, and relaxing under the stars.
Along the way you can visit must-see tourist spots including Wanaka, Lake Tekapo, and the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, all which offer some of the country’s most stunning scenery and are particularly spectacular in winter.
Plan around 10 days for this trip, which is enough for a few days to explore all Queenstown has to offer, with a day or two spent at other spots along the way.
Download the full guide for more roadtrips.
8. Top Cities to Visit in New Zealand
New Zealand is famous for its sweeping landscapes and beautiful wilderness locations, but it also offers exciting metropolitan cities.
Balance out your campervan trip by spending a few nights in the city in between exploring the countryside. You’ll also find, cities have some of the best-equipped campsites and, of course, a great opportunity to stock up on supplies.
Auckland on the North Island is the largest city in New Zealand. It is also an international flight hub so there’s a good chance your holiday will start off here.
There’s lots to see and do here, including museums and art galleries, parks, and of course many world-class bars and restaurants.
Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city and is located near the southernmost point of the North Island. It’s a quirky and creative city with a strong art scene and a good dose of coffee and craft beer culture.
Wellington’s attractions include Oriental Bay – the city beach, and plenty of opportunities for walks and outdoor activities. Food is also king in the city with many restaurants, food trucks, and night markets.
Christchurch suffered massive damage from the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 but its spirit has not been broken. Most of the original attractions are still standing or have been re-built.
The Botanic Gardens is definitely worth a visit and a ride on the Christchurch Gondola will take you to the top of Mt Cavendish for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Queenstown on the South Island is a popular hub for adventure sports all through the year, including sky diving, bungee jumping, and white water rafting. In the winter months, skiing is the main attraction and the town celebrates the start of the season with their four-day winter festival.
Nelson is a small city but it’s worth a mention as it’s so popular with visitors for its laidback vibe and sunny climate. The region boasts a long history of creative culture and it’s a great hub for exploring the surrounding areas such as Kahurangi National Park, the Abel Tasman National Park, and Golden Bay.
9. Driving a Campervan in Winter in New Zealand
To drive a campervan in New Zealand, you’ll need an international driving licence, which you must keep with you while driving. The legal driving age in New Zealand is 18 and you can rent a campervan from this age too.
Drivers in New Zealand drive on the left side of the road, which can take a little getting used to if you’re from a country that drives on the right. As some of New Zealand’s quieter roads are almost empty of traffic in the winter months, it’s not unknown for visitors to drive for several kilometres on the wrong side of the road before they realise their mistake!
Driving in winter can be more hazardous, especially on the South Island where snow and ice can make the roads slippery. You might need snow chains for some of the more remote mountain roads in winter. Road safety in New Zealand is generally very good and roads are usually closed when snow starts to pose a safety hazard.
It’s best to research the route you plan to take by consulting guidebooks and searching online before you set off. Some roads are unsealed, which require careful and slow driving. Steep and winding roads can also be difficult to navigate for inexperienced drivers. Your insurance may not cover driving on unsealed roads so make sure to check this before you plan your route.
Download the full guide for top tips on campervan life and our teams recommendations on the best books worth reading before you go
To put it simply, any time of year is a great time to travel New Zealand in a campervan. Speak to the team at Travellers Autobarn for more information and to book your campervan today.
We look forward to welcoming you on the trip of a lifetime!
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.