Costs Of Living In A Campervan In New Zealand

Our most popular page, first posted in 2015, is ‘The Costs Of Living On A Narrowboat‘. It’s updated annually. Having kept detailed weekly accounts, from arrival in the UK in March 2013 and moving aboard NB Areandare in April 2013, we could competently detail our living costs.

Now it’s time to share our living costs in a campervan in NZ. We hope you find the following information useful.

A Bit of Background

By the end of March 2021, we’d been living in our campervan for six full months. As the disclaimer on the narrowboat costs page, we can only report what OUR costs have been to share an overview for others who may be living a similar lifestyle or are considering doing so in the future.

We’d planned to return to NZ in August 2020 for a couple of years, long before COVID-19 wrought havoc in the world. Having sold our Gisborne home in March 2013, returning to NZ for a while meant we needed somewhere to live. Relying on friends and family to put us up for months wasn’t a viable option. It’s not that we don’t have amazing friends who would’ve offered, but we didn’t want to be or feel a burden – and importantly, we wanted to spend time exploring this spectacular country while we were here. We’d expected to only stay around six months, but with the chaos of COVID-19 in the UK making life there challenging (and we felt unsafe for us compared to remaining in NZ), we’ve extended the explorations considerably.

Our Campervan

Barry pontificated about the size and type of vehicle to buy. Over time he’d considered finding a big old bus, either in the UK or NZ, to buy, strip out and build a travelling home inside. But we were concerned about the limitations of this. Many roads in NZ are unsealed, limiting our experiences, and we wouldn’t have a car, so visits to the supermarket could be challenging. Parking on family and friends drives would also have been difficult, if not impossible!

In managed isolation at the Sudima Christchurch in August 2020, Barry had plenty of ‘free’ time to search online. He found something interesting on the Auckland Wenderkreisen website. We discovered that at the end of the main tourist season, each year, they sell off their old stock. Looking in April 2021, they had new ones – https://newzealandcampervan.com/sales/brand-new-auckland.aspx – and just one pre-used – https://newzealandcampervan.com/sales/used-ex-rental.aspx. It’s likely more will appear soon if you’re interested. Other rental companies probably do similar things. There’s also an abundance of Facebook buy and sell campervan groups, but they seemed mainly far too expensive or the older, smaller vans that younger travellers prefer. We’re kind of in the middle of those scenarios.

After leaving MIQ, I had the opportunity to look at the campervan Barry saw, and we made the decision to buy from that. There was no test drive – as we were subsequently staying in Gisborne. We put a 10% deposit down, and paid the balance before heading to Auckland three weeks later to pick it up.

The van is a 2006 model Volkswagen LT35, 2.5 litres, 2-berth campervan with shower and toilet. The mileage on the clock was 519,195km. The van was for sale for NZ$26,990, but we decided to add on two new RM12-120DC batteries and a 350W solar panel and MPPT controller installed – bringing the cost up to NZ$29,240.

Our Main Outgoings From October 2020 to April 2021

These aren’t in a set order of priority, more a structured outline of spending.

NZMCA

This is an amazing organisation for anyone with a campervan. Members get a range of discounts on things such as insurance, Bluebridge ferry crossings, Great Train Journeys, and Noel Leeming. Annual membership cost us $240, including a one-off joining fee of $150 and an annual subscription of $90. You can check out the benefits of becoming a member here – https://www.nzmca.org.nz/member-benefits.

We’ve found it invaluable. Their directory of campsites, with detailed maps, is fantastic. Barry uses the App more than the hard copy – which is fine until you have no signal! I prefer the hard copy.

Insurance

We went with the COVI campervan insurance, recommended by NZMCA. Of course, we could’ve shopped around and possibly found one a bit cheaper, but this one seemed to cover all we needed.

Covi has an unmatched knowledge of our market and the specific insurance needs of RV owners. 

What’s more, Covi is the only insurance provider to reinvest back in to our industry through the money it returns to the Association each and every year. This enables the NZMCA to provide numerous membership benefits such as NZMCA Parks, the NZMCA Travel Directory, dump stations and protecting members rights to freedom camp.

NZMCA members benefits area of the website

It doesn’t include breakdown insurance, which would’ve cost another $57.53 for silver or $87.53 for gold.

It cost us $607.99 for a year, with a $500 excess for claims.

Van Living Essentials

When we picked the van up, it was empty! Fortunately, Wenderkreisen generously gave us many things like cutlery, camp chairs, a fold-up table, some pots and pans. Great friends in Auckland donated other things to us like bedding, plates and cups, tea towels, towels. We bought an NZ wool quilt and chose our own pillows (for our old necks!). Along the way, we’ve sourced all manner of useful items, mostly from the outstanding ‘Opportunity’ shops around the country. You’d never know now that on 29th September the van was empty.

The total we’ve spent kitting out the van with our ‘essentials’ is $685. This figure will obviously vary significantly depending on personal needs and the space available.

Modifications Made To Date

Since buying NZ Areandare, Barry’s hooked up an inverter, so we have mains power whenever we want. As I work online from the van (more about that later), we needed to charge laptops and phones. We didn’t want to have to pay for electric hookups at campsites if we stayed at one. Barry chose a Repco 12 volt 1,000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter, which cost NZ$464.

Fitting the inverter

Other modifications have included extra storage. As it was an older model ex-rental campervan, the storage cupboards were limited. Barry sourced three black boxes for $16.30 each, lengths of aluminium for $25, and secured this across the back above the sleeping/living area. They work extremely well. He’s also put a couple of baskets behind these, which he sourced for a few dollars.

I bought a gold-coloured sparkly scarf from the Art Deco shop in Napier for $39 in an attempt to camouflage them! That’s almost as much as the cost of the shelves and boxes. Admittedly, I made a half-hearted attempt to find a cheaper scarf in Op Shops but had already fallen in love with the gold scarf. When you live with things day in day out, I believe it’s best to find ‘nice’ things that resonate with you.

Barry’s recent small extravagance was buying four new wheel hubcaps to smarten up our travelling home’s appearance – he couldn’t resist them. They cost $56.99. I must admit they look classy.

Van Maintenance

As with our narrowboat, Barry looks after the maintenance side of the van. He makes sure we have enough water, oil, and whatever is needed for the engine. I collate the outgoings for this but couldn’t categorise a detailed outline of our outgoings.

However, grouped together, van maintenance has cost us $480 over six months.

Diesel Costs

Our van uses diesel for fuel. The cheapest we’ve paid was 83.7c from Pak n Save Gisborne in December 2020 – when it was 93.7c a litre, and I got a 10 cents off voucher. One of the most expensive we’ve seen was at Zed in Whangaparaoa for 144.9c. Quite a marked difference. Barry has an App on his phone called Gaspy, which shows where the cheapest diesel is nearby, which has proved invaluable.

We also purchased Kiwi fuel cards. It initially cost $10 to join, plus $5 per card. We got all three. Caltex (which also covers Zed), BP and Mobil, though you can get individual cards. The fuel is charged to the card, and you pay Kiwifuel on the 20th of the following month. The discounts vary in different areas and at different times – which is why we chose all three.

It’s not just the diesel that costs, of course. Here in NZ, we must also pay ‘Road User Charges‘ per 1,000 km. This is around $80 per thousand kilometres.

The costs of both diesel and RUC will obviously depend upon the distances travelled. We’ve been up to Cape Reinga from Auckland, where we collected the van at the end of September and all the way down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. In between, we’ve travelled to friends’ around the North and South Island and extensively around South Island (check our blog and our location pages to see where we’ve travelled over the six months).

Our total spend on diesel and RUC in six months is $1,660.

Van Registration & WOF

Twelve months campervan registration cost us $252.83 in January. By paying online, we saved $3.09! Obviously having the van registered is compulsory.

Our Warrant of Fitness (WOF), similar to a Uk MOT, isn’t due until September – as Wenderkreisen make sure this is up to date before purchase.

Campground Costs

We do our best to stay in free campgrounds whenever possible to reduce our outgoings. NZMCA places are great at $3 per person per night.

We sadly (foolishly, I’d say in retrospect!) failed to take the opportunity to buy an NZMCA/DOC pass in January, which would’ve cost us $175 and lasted from 8th February to 20th June 2021 (you can’t use a pass between 20th December and 8th February, as it’s the height of the summer holidays in NZ). That’s the period of use; you can’t just buy one for a month or two whenever you feel like it. We’ve stayed in many DOC & NZMCA camps in the past few months and would certainly have got our money’s worth and more. I’d definitely recommend buying a pass if/when it’s available if you’re doing lots of moving around.

We’ve generally chosen to stay in a paid campground about every couple of weeks – as I relish a proper hot shower and a hair wash. The shower in the van is adequate for an extremely quick rinse only.

The most we’ve paid was $60 for one night on an unpowered site at Milton Sound Lodge. Some areas of NZ are better at offering freedom camping areas and are much more welcoming than others. However, I shan’t ‘name names’ as this provision could be fluid. Having said that … we’ve never really had too much problem finding free or cheap sites for the night when we’ve needed them, which we’re extraordinarily grateful for.

In addition to the NZMCA booklet or App, there are several websites and Apps, which you can use to help source these. For example, there’s the ‘Camping in New Zealand’ site – https://www.freedomcamping.org. Barry often uses the ‘Campermate’ App – https://www.campermate.co.nz.

We spent $694 on campgrounds, DOC camps and ‘Park on Property’ sites in our six months.

Gas Costs for Cooking and Heating

The storage space for food in our van is quite limited. We have only a small fridge, but helpfully it includes a tiny freezer. We also have sparse cupboard space. It all adds up to the need to so shop frequently (see below). Cooking and grocery shopping are ‘pink’ jobs. There’s a two-ring gas hob and a grill for cooking. Although we have a microwave, we’ve rarely used it as we need an electric hook-up.

Our spend on LPG gas in the six months was $135. That cost will increase over the winter months as we’re finding that the heating needs to be on first thing in the morning and during the evenings now. Although we have an electric heater on board, we can only use that if we’re hooked up to electricity.

Groceries

Due to the compact nature of our chosen campervan, we can park up in a supermarket, eat lunch, then shop for groceries with a full stomach! We find food is more costly here than in the UK as there’s the full 15% GST on all food items in NZ, but very little food in the UK has VAT added. When in Gisborne, we’re gifted with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables from friends, which we adore. Having been travelling the South Island since the end of January, that’s sadly stopped.

When we’re travelling in our narrowboat, we have to make do with whatever shops are around. It’s the same in a campervan.

The cost of groceries for six months has been $4,250. Approximately $700 a month.

Black & Grey Water

Black Water

There are several differences in practicalities and expenditure between living on a narrowboat and in a campervan. Onboard Areandare, we have a pump-out toilet that can last up to three weeks with two of us on board. But we do have to pay around $30-$40 each time we empty it.

In the van, we have a cassette which must be emptied roughly every three days (called blackwater) with two of us living in it without recourse to public toilets. However, the emptying is free, and there is an extensive network of dump stations around the country. We do have to pay for the chemicals that help reduce the odour from the cassette. These aren’t cheap, and different types vary. It’s recommended that only biodegradable chemicals are used. However, I haven’t categorised the costs of these separately, sadly. Toilet emptying and maintenance is a ‘blue’ job in the van, as it is on the boat.

Grey Water

We have two large stainless steel water tanks in the boat (about 400 litres, Barry thinks). Whereas in the campervan we have a limited amount we can carry – about 60 litres. On the boat, greywater goes straight out into the canal. Whereas in the campervan it’s collected in a container which we must empty at an appropriate location.

Our campervan is ‘Certified Self Contained‘, which means we have the capacity for two people to stay in one place for three days without having to ‘dump’ our black water (aka the toilet cassette) or greywater. Dump stations are free and prolific in NZ.

A certified self-contained vehicle meets the ablutionary and sanitary needs of the occupants for a minimum of three days, without requiring any external services or discharging waste.

https://www.nzmca.org.nz/certified-self-containment-csc

Washing – Clothes and Ourselves

Unlike our narrowboat, there is obviously no washing machine in the campervan. When we were staying in Gisborne, we relied on using friends machines. Launderettes are prolific in NZ, so long as we’re not too far from a fairly large town. I occasionally hand wash (mostly my ‘smalls’!), but this uses a lot of water; then there’s the challenge of drying the damp clothes.

We’ve found a variety of launderettes, all fantastic. One you could drive up to, park, use the machine and dryer right outside the van while waiting inside. They’re a chain called laundry or naked. We used one in Greymouth, and other locations are opening all the time. Hokitika. Motueka. Reefton.

Laundry or naked Greymouth

Alternatively, we’ll book into a campsite with washing and drying facilities. Generally, wherever it is, it costs $4 for a wash and around $4-8 to get that wash dry in a dryer.

It’s cost us $94 for washing in six months.

Staying in campgrounds generally gives you the right to use the shower too. But occasionally it’s extra. We spent $14 on showers in six months.

It’s hardly worth mentioning, but we did once pay $2 to get rid of rubbish!

To Sum Up

From the above, the total costs over six months have been $9,748.71 (excluding the purchase cost, but including groceries). I haven’t included social outgoings as that’s much too variable from person to person.

Which works out at $1,624.78 a month.

It may not be as cheap as some people imagine! I’m also conscious it’s likely we could’ve saved in some areas – and that we’ve travelled extensively.

We have no house as a ‘back-up’ as most people do, so there aren’t any of those costs. However, we do have our narrowboat home in the UK which is in a Marina out of the water, and we have to cover those costs.

Where Do We Get Our Income?

As we’re travelling on roads, rather than canals and rivers, I can’t work while we travel because we must have a seat belt. We have to put everything that can fall over away before we move. We quickly learnt how crucial that is early on after a few breakages! Consequently, we stop for me to catch up on work for at least two days a week.

I work as a Digital Marketing Consultant, in a self-employed capacity, with a company in the UK called Ad-Extra. The crazy thing is for the tax year March 2020 to April 2021, I’m going to have to complete a tax return for both the UK AND NZ. This isn’t likely to be an issue in the UK, as I’ve earned just below the tax threshold. The personal allowance threshold is £12,570, for which there is a 0% tax.

However, I’m disconcerted to discover that in NZ, on earnings up to $14,000 a year, people pay 10.5% in tax. Income between $14,000 and $48,000 is taxed at a rate of 17.5%. It remains to be discovered if they’ll count income earned in the UK in GBP as NZ $ income! I shall be scheduling in time to complete both returns soon …

Since 6th December 2020, Barry has been claiming his tax paid over the years via his NZ pension. This was $652.04 a fortnight from then to the end of March. He also earns a small income from selling his extraordinary Inland Waterways related Greeting Cards and Digitial Jigsaw Puzzles. There are now five series of the latter, the most recent being one of NZ scenes.

What Have I Missed?

Phones and the Internet aren’t included above, as we’re probably quite different to others. I have an iPhone 8 on contract with Three in the UK. On that phone in New Zealand, I have Global Roaming of 12GB of data, unlimited UK calls (to the UK), unlimited texts (to the UK) for £19 a month with that provider – though I’m unsure how much longer they’re going to allow that! I also have an NZ phone; a Nokia 2.3. I have a month-on-month endless data plan with Skinny for $70, which gives me unlimited calls and texts, plus 40GB maximum speed data and unlimited slow-speed (including tethering).

Barry has a UK contract on his SIM card to retain his phone number, for £10 a month. He doesn’t use that SIM here. He has an NZ phone Vodafone SIM which gives him 4GB of maximum speed data per month, then unlimited slow speed, plus unlimited calls and texts for $40. By having different providers, our hope is we always have a signal wherever we are. It’s mostly worked that way!

I have no doubt there will be outgoings I’ve missed, and I am happy to be corrected or nudged to share these. I’ll also update this page in three months, which will give a better idea of winter months costs too.

Please feel encouraged to comment below about any of the information as your thoughts could be helpful to readers too.

2 thoughts on “Costs Of Living In A Campervan In New Zealand

  1. Good article. I did a similar thing the first year in my bus. It came to around $250 per week, for one person. Only thing I included in addition, was maintenance (service/repair etc.) in my costing.
    Van life = good life. 😆

    • Thanks Kiwi Girrrl. I’m fortunate as Barry does all the maintenance/servicing. Though the van is going into the Panel Beater’s on Thursday to fix a scrape. He’s not that good 😂

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