Beginners Guide for Motorhome Trip with Kids in New Zealand

It can be intimidating to even think of having a 2 weeks of staying inside a van with kids. What if the room is too small? What if the van is too big? What if it is too uncomfortable? What if I run out of electricity or water? What if I need to wash clothes? What does the budget look like? What if…?

We did have such questions and worries. Let us try to clear up some of the questions. Hopefully, It could ease your worry as well.

For our trip, it turned out great, things are much better than expected. Our itinerary here: Motorhome Trip with Kids in New Zealand South Island. 

Note that the info we are sharing is based on 2 adults with 2 kids and on our experience with Wilderness Motorhome.

1. Choosing Motorhome

Interior – passenger and driver is not blocked

There are many kinds of motorhome in New Zealand. It can be big/small/new/old/economical/expensive/etc. Few criteria we used to find our motorhome (ordered by top priority):

  1. Clean and New
    • Ain’t nobody want to sleep in a smelly/dirty bed.
    • The beds are comfortable.
    • New van is best to reduce the risk of van problem. Of course, trusted motorhome provider will also do.
  2. Heater
    • It is cold there in NZ, even in summer.
  3. No blocking between driver’s seat and the passengers (Tips)
    • It is painful when the driver is left alone while the rest are having fun at the passenger cabin.
  4. Fridge and Freezer
    • This is the one thing that makes stocking up local produce easy.
  5. Big Toilet
    • Should be big enough to shower the kids.
  6. Cooking facility (hob, oven, microwave*)
    • Good for flexibility in having meal. it would be good to have microwave to heat milk for the kids. Unfortunately the motorhome we got, did not have it.
  7. Permanent bed (Tips)
    • Imagine having to flip this and that to have a bed everyday, it’s going to be a pain. Having it ready would ease that pain.
  8. GPS (Tips)
    • South Island has many spots without signal, this helps a lot.
  9. The Rest
    • TV, Wifi, etc. Not so important, or have alternative.
Permanent Bed – need not keep everyday

2. Driving Experience

Driving motorhome

Unlike driving small car, driving motorhome has its own challenges, as motorhome is bigger and heavier. Apart from the challenges below, it is actually quite similar to driving an MPV.

  1. The motorhome still fits one lane.
  2. You will feel the speed(shake) when it reaches 90 kmph.
  3. Centrifugal force is stronger upon turning. Slow down.
  4. Let other cars overtake, as they are more agile.
  5. Pressure is high when you created a traffic behind. But be cool and do let them overtake in a safe situation. Pull over safely.
  6. Stop for picture or coffee, it will reduce sleepiness.
  7. lower gear when going downhill, the van will scream, but apparently it is better and safer for the break (from getting grilled).

3. Electricity, Water, Gas, and Fuel

Motorhome charging – Tekapo Holiday Park

Those are resources that we worried will run out. As long as it is use prudently, it can last about few days. However, we are kiasi guys who’ll play it safe, thus we’ll just top it up at 50%.

So far water is the most easily run out resource due to high usage: for cooking, drinking, washing hand/food/fruits/utensils, bathing, flushing, etc. It normally utilised 50% in 2 days.

Fuel is almost similar to water. However, this could probably depend on distance and terrain we travelled. it also reached around 50% in 3 days when we travel around 2-3 hours a day.

Electricity is next. Since it is summer time, the night start at 9pm. Not much lights are needed. We want to live off-grid as much as possible. Thus, no laptop, only phone for kids video, GPS, and research. Electricity usage was around 25% in 2 days.

Fridge is using electricity only when the motorhome is plugged into power source. Otherwise, it is using LPG.

Gas (LPG) is the surprising one. It was used for cooking, fridge, water heating and room heating. Probably we did stay in powered site most of the time. The 9 kg gas cylinder provided was not finished even after 14 days trip.

4. Parking for Day and for Night

For day parking, if your destination is for the towns and the wild, motorhome is best. However, if it is cities, normal car would be better. Driving motorhome in cities like Christchurch or Queenstown is terrible, especially the day parking. Many cars would mean, less place to park the motorhome. This is not the issue when we visited towns like Geraldine, Tekapo, Te Anau, Wanaka, Frankton, etc. (Except Arrowtown).

For Queenstown, we would suggest staying near the city centre. e.g.: Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. From there it is about 5 mins walk to city.

Find special motorhome carpark or parking slot, as it may take up 2 lots of common car parking lot.

Check the parking system here

Taking 2 normal spaces to park

For night parking, motorhome needs a special parking space. For our first trip, we planned for more powered-sites than free-camping-sites. However, we would prefer to have more nights in free-camping-sites next time.

Powered-sites normally offers more facilities, like power, water, showers, kitchen, laundry (washing machine and dryer), dump site. They are clean and tidy, just need to prepare NZ 2 dollar coins to use their washer and dryer.

Staying in Holiday Park

Apart from the facilities, we would suggest doing more free-camping than powered-site. Better experience, better views.

View for Freedom-camping

In summer, do book the Holiday Park in advance to be safe.

Some Parking sites are DoC (Department of Conservation). Mostly unpowered, but with basic facilities like toilet, washing basin, etc. We only park at this type of site at Mt Cook area.

5. Budget

Prices may change in the future. We will give rough gauge of the prices to expect.

  1. Fuel
    • Diesel price is around NZD 1.45 – 1.67 a litre. roughly paid around NZD 60-80 to fill 50%.
  2. Parking
    • Day Parking normally free for a fixed period. Learn the parking system here to prevent trouble.
    • Night Parking in Holiday Park powered-site ranging from NZD 80-100 for 2 adults and 2 kids. Kid is free in some place. This includes power and water.
    • Freedom parking site is totally free. Must be self-contained vehicle of course.
    • DoC night parking cost around NZD 50.
  3. Gas (LPG)
    • Normally the main cylinder is 9 kg LPG. Swapping is faster and safer than refilling. it costs around NZD 38.

Other costs like food varied greatly. e.g. eating out vs self cooking. While the price of motorhome can be checked at its website.

Happy Camping!

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