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Van Life: How much does it cost to explore New Zealand?

Paul Ryken and Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Thursday 30 April 2020 Afford your trip, New Zealand Leave a Comment

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Those of you who’ve been following us for a while know that we keep track of and publish our travel costs all around the world. In this article, we share with you what it cost (us) to explore New Zealand for 12 months in 2018.

Why could this be of interest to you? By publishing our budget and our actual monthly costs, we hope it will:

Freedom camping at Papamoa Beach
Freedom camping at Papamoa Beach, New Zealand
Sale
Van Life: Your Home on the Road
  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 10/10/2017 (Publication Date) - Black Dog & Leventhal (Publisher)

We believe van life is a reasonably affordable way to explore New Zealand. That said, everyone has different priorities and lives differently, making budgeting a highly personal thing. Our numbers here reflect who we are. We are not pensioners, and we want to continue our lifestyle for as long as possible. Which means we may live more frugally than many.

Interested in learning about New Zealand through entertainment? These inspirational travel movies will allow you to go on your own virtual tour around the world.

Where We Traveled

We purchased our campervan in early November 2017 and made some improvements to it before hitting the road in January 2018. As you can see below, we’ve covered almost all corners of the country:

Map of New Zealand and the destinations we explored
Map of New Zealand and the destinations we explored

Being Kiwi (Paul) and having visited many times before we started this website (Sandra), we’ve obviously been to many more places in Aotearoa than just those we (re)visited with our campervan.

Accommodation and Utilities

This category includes campground fees, laundry costs and utilities (including potable water purification tablets, grey water chemicals, black water chemicals, smartphone connection and wireless broadband internet charges, as well as the costs for our Private Box mail service.

Our accommodation costs ended up almost 2/3 less than we had budgeted for. We mostly stayed at free or cheap campsites (including those provided by veterans and sports clubs, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association and private park over properties).

Given our 300-watt solar panels provide more than enough power for our appliances, we didn’t need to plug into mains power during the warmer months. During the colder months, especially during the New Zealand winter (officially June – August), we either house sat or stayed at powered campsites as our (water) heater only worked off mains power.

To be totally transparent: In 2018, we stayed in the following accommodations:

A weekly task - doing our washing at a laundromat
A weekly task - doing our washing at a laundromat

Groceries and Dining

We spent (a bit) more on groceries and dining than we had budgeted for. This is not due to us going out for dinner all the time (we hardly ever do). It’s actually our groceries that we have been overspending on (despite being very conscious shoppers). Groceries in New Zealand turned out to be even more expensive than in Australia. We had an inkling it would be like that but seeing it in black and white was still a shock.

Given the limited storage in our campervan (both in terms of cupboard and fridge/freezer space), we needed to go groceries shopping twice a week. We did save money on our groceries though by shopping in cheaper supermarkets and local greengrocers (which have the added benefit of providing fresher fruit and veggies without the packaging).

Dinner is served in our campervan
Dinner is served in our campervan

Make the most of your time (and budget) while travelling around New Zealand with the help of these essential travel apps for your New Zealand road trip.

Transport and Travel

This category includes on-road-costs (such as fuel and road user charges, which all Diesel vehicles incur at a cost per kilometer to be paid in advance), vehicle maintenance costs, as well as parking fees and road tolls. In 2018, we traveled just under 13,800 kilometers. The map above shows where we traveled.

Fuel Costs

We used Gaspy, a user-maintained smartphone application that shows fuel prices at the different gas stations around the country. Our budget for fuel was NZD1.35 per litre, and we stayed within budget for the majority of 2018, despite fuel price hikes that saw diesel go up to NZD1.92 at Queenstown gas stations at one point. Thank you, Gaspy.

Vehicle Maintenance Costs

Vehicle repairs and maintenance cost us just under NZD9,800, almost six times our budget of NZD1,640 for the year. Something to be mindful of when you buy an older vehicle as we did: you may save upfront, but you pay as you go.

We had to replace the indicator and window washer storks, all four tires and two ball joints. We got a full service of the vehicle in February 2018 and paid for 12 months of vehicle registration. In April 2018, MJ (how we named our campervan) had to undergo quite extensive rust repairs, which were necessary to get our Warrant of Fitness. In May 2018, our radiator hose blew up and needed to be replaced. In November 2018, MJ had to undergo further repairs to be WOF compliant (including further rust repairs, a new exhaust pipe and repairs to the brake system). And just before we sold the van in December 2018, we had the front brake pads, sway bar bushes and air filter replaced.

So another important learning: ALWAYS get a professional vehicle check-up – best through the Automobile Association or VTNZ – BEFORE you sign the dotted line and hand over any cash.

Parking Fees, Road Tolls and Other

We hardly ever incurred parking fees or road tolls as we always looked for free parking (for example, supermarket car parks are usually free, at least for 90-120 minutes) and given we were not in a rush, we used roads that don’t charge tolls.

In February 2018, we travelled across from the North Island to the South Island on the Interislander Ferry, and in March, we took the ferry to/from Stewart Island (sans MJ as there is no car ferry).

All in all, we spent about double on transport and travel than we had budgeted for.

Do you travel long-term/full-time (without fixed abode)? Find out how to still have an address and what to do with your physical mail.

Washing our campervan
Washing our campervan was a two-monthly task

Leisure

This category includes the costs of doing touristy things (such as entry fees for tourist attractions and day tours), entertainment (for example, going to the movies or buying a new book for our Kindle) and hobby related expenses.

What were some of the cool things we did? Let’s see. On the North Island, we

On the South Island, we had the pleasure to

As winter approached, Paul replaced some of the warmer layers in his running gear. But a running accident in August and our focus on getting Tirohanga Lodge ready, meant our Leisure activities ground to a total halt in September and October 2018.

In November, just before Tirohanga Lodge launched for business, we took a day off and did some touristy stuff, including a trip on the TSS Earnslaw, a coal-fired steamer that is as old as the Titanic and still takes passengers across Lake Wakatipu daily.

Thanks to many free and low cost activities, 2-for-1 deals and Paul’s injury, we didn’t even spend half of what we had budgeted for in the leisure category.

Waitomo Caving tour with Glowing Adventures

Health and Hygiene

The health category includes the costs of doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals.

Being a long-distance runner, Paul injured himself

  • in January 2018 while training for a 10km running race: He went to see a physiotherapist and paid for KT tape, bandages and medication.
  • in August 2018, while training for a marathon in Queenstown: Fortunately, given it was an accident, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) paid for a large part of his treatment (including his back surgery in December 2018). He only had to pay for one appointment, his pain medication and top ups where ACC didn’t cover the full treatment costs.

The hygiene category includes the occasional haircut, manicure/pedicure and massage – again mostly used by Paul to relieve running-related issues.

Overall, we stayed well within budget in this category despite Paul’s injuries and treatments. Thank you, ACC!

Insurance

During our year in New Zealand, we paid for private medical, vehicle and contents insurance. We also incurred one-off insurance costs in Australia to keep our private medical insurance there suspended for another two years (which gives us the option to return if need be without incurring higher costs from then on). All included, we were slightly over budget in this category.

Several mainstream insurance companies we spoke to couldn’t handle the concept/risk of us living in a vehicle full time. They wanted to know where the vehicle would be located for the majority of the time, and our answer somewhere in New Zealand didn’t amuse them. In the end, we went with Covi Insurance Limited (underwritten by Lumley, a business division of IAG New Zealand Limited).

Travel Costs Summary Table

The table below contains our actual expenses from 01 January to 31 December 2018. Given that we’re talking about New Zealand, the amounts quoted below are all in New Zealand Dollars (NZD).

CategoryBudget (NZD)Actual (NZD)
Accommodation and Utilities32.9111.08
Groceries and Dining17.3117.68
Transport and Travel10.7521.59
Leisure8.403.31
Health and Hygiene2.901.91
Clothing and Other Purchases7.133.46
Gifts and Donations0.730.41
Insurance4.494.85
Bank Fees and Government Charges0.270.37
Purchase, Improvements and Resale of Campervan0.0014.84
Total expenses per person per day84.8979.49
SaleBestseller No. 1
Van Life: Your Home on the Road
Hardcover Book; English (Publication Language); 256 Pages - 10/10/2017 (Publication Date) - Black Dog & Leventhal (Publisher)
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Bestseller No. 2
How to live in a van and travel: Live everywhere, be free and have adventures on a campervan or motorhome – your home on wheels
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Nomad: Designing a Home for Escape and Adventure
Hardcover Book; Reddington, Emma (Author); English (Publication Language); 336 Pages - 10/15/2019 (Publication Date) - Artisan (Publisher)
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The Vanlife Companion (Lonely Planet)
Hardcover Book; Lonely Planet (Author); English (Publication Language); 256 Pages - 11/20/2018 (Publication Date) - Lonely Planet (Publisher)
$15.49

What is your daily budget (per person)? What expenses have you found hardest to manage? Please leave a comment below.

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Do you plan to explore New Zealand in a campervan and wonder how much it might cost? Check out our budget and actual expenses.
Do you plan to explore New Zealand in a campervan and wonder how much it might cost? Check out our budget and actual expenses.
Do you plan to explore New Zealand in a campervan and wonder how much it might cost? Check out our budget and actual expenses.

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