How to buy a Camper Van for your NZ adventure!

Like most, you are probably looking to arrive in Auckland and search for your dream camper van. This is exactly what we did and it worked out for us. In Auckland you have a hub of backpackers who are looking to sell their camper van before flying out. Hostel notice boards are always a good place to start and are worth checking as it gives you a good idea of what you get for your money. By far the best resource we used was the buy and sell pages on Facebook. Here you have a huge community of fellow backpackers selling their beloved vans. But a word of warning, as there are so many backpackers arriving in Auckland looking to buy, the competition for that dream camper is high, so it may be worth checking out a few Facebook pages and contacting sellers prior to your arrival. We used Van NZ Buy and Sell, check it out!

Alternatively you have a huge Car Fair located in Auckland (www.carfair.co.nz/sellers) where you can browse hundreds of Vans ranging in price. The Fair runs every Sunday even has the AA service on hand who can check and highlight any mechanical issues you may have with the camper you’re hoping to buy. The AA vehicle check costs around $100 but believe me, if it saves you spending $2000 later down the line it’s very much worth having. Please be aware that most camper vans have accumulated in excess of 150,000KM and have a few battle scares, meaning they always have something wrong with them, be it minor or major. Each new owner usually adds / replaces something when they buy a camper van so please keep this in mind when budgeting.

Nelson Lakes

The importance to buying a “Self Contained” Camper

New Zealand is known for the outdoors lifestyle and one of the main things that attracts backpackers is the freedom to camp. Now the freedom to camp motto can be a little misleading as actually you can’t just park up anywhere you like and set up camp (if you do, you will likely receive a large fine from a friendly police officer). Although you must be aware of this, most public land in New Zealand is free to use for people with a “Self Contained” camper van, this mean a van that has been certified by an authorized body who has inspected the van and has deemed it “Self Contained”.

There is an awesome app called Camper Mate which shows you all the places to freedom camp. The app also has a great filtering feature, where you can refine your search such as, self contained only sites, water fountains (life saver) , showers, view points and petrol stations etc.

So what is Self Contained and why do we need it in order to have an awesome time in NZ? Well “Self Contained “is simply a certificate and a sticker that sits on your windscreen showing that your van relies on no other source. To be classed as self contained by the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, your camper must have:

  • Cleaning facilities i.e a sink that is connected to a waste water tank and can hold up to 4 liters per person per day. Waste water tank must have a specific evacuation hose.
  • A Fresh water supply i.e a tank large enough to supply 4 Liters of water per person per day
  • A toilet (portable and costs around £100)
  • A refuge facility, i.e a bin

It’s important to have this not just for your own benefit but to help New Zealand stay the way its is. Over the years, as NZ got more and more popular, certain unsavory backpackers were disrespecting the land and residents by littering, defecating, and leaving a trail of mess behind as they made their way around the beautiful country. Obviously it only takes a few people to ruin everyone’s fun but take it from me, after creating a self contained camper van and living in it for 9 months, having those facilities to hand really makes life a whole lot nicer and really enhances you camper van lifestyle!

To learn the specific requirements for self contained Camper please visit the official NZMCA website here.


When is it the best time to buy a camper van in NZ?


For sure the best time to buy a camper van is when all the backpackers are leaving before winter comes. Personally we bought our camper van in April, which was a great time to buy as summer had just ended. For us, the time of years didn’t really matter as we expected to be in NZ for a long time. The competition in April wasn’t as bad as the peak of summer but we still had a hard time deciding on what van was right for us, i.e, price, age, size and style. One bit of inside knowledge i can share is that no mater what time of year you buy the van always have it checked out before purchasing. Honestly, you would be surprised how good people can be at lying, i mean think about it, they have a van to sell, you will never see them again, leaving the country, need the cash to explore the next destination….. what do they care? So please just invest in a little AA check before parting with you hard-earned cash.

Living in a car compared to a Camper Van
As previously mentioned, having a camper van is way better than a car. I had many friends living in their cars and after a long days hike they had to cook on a stove in the dark and curl up in a small car using their backpack as a pillow, Not much fun right? (especially if you’re living in it for months). Where as we on the other hand had a sweet little living area to chill out in, a source of power to light up our kitchen area (where we cooked up some insane veggie meals) and a cozy 2 meter bed to snuggle up in while looking at the stars from our window… Perfect.

Another reason why campers trump cars is that your self contained van gives you access to hundreds more awesome places to camp up completely free of charge, where as your friend in their car will have to take time out to find a paid camp site so sleep in. I mean picture this, after a long drive to your next destination you pull over and park up on a freedom camp beach in the dark. The next morning you wake up to the sun shining with nobody around and dolphins jumping out the sea. This is what happened to us and it wasn’t a rare occurrence either.

In our opinion, investing in a self contained camper is most defiantly the best option as it saves you money in the long run as you have a much better chance of getting the same price or if you’re lucky a profit when selling. Which leads us onto our next question…


Wanaka – A perfect spot to pull over and have lunch



Can you actually make a profit?

Yep absolutely, if you have read all of my post, then you will now know to always buy a Camper Van and not a Car, to have it certified as self contained, to have it checked before buying and to never buy it in peak summer season. For us, we bought our little camper in April for around $2500 NZ dollars, spent around $2000 on repairs and making it self contained and then sold it for $4700 the following January. After petrol and tax etc I believe we just about broke even. Meaning traveling around New Zealand including accommodation, didn’t cost us a single penny. Only expenses we had, were of course food, drink and activities. Not to bad for 9 months in New Zealand.

Things to keep in mind

Most camper vans need a 6 monthly MOT or as they call it in New Zealand a WOF. This a simply the safety check of the car to deem it road worthy. Don’t be under any illusion that this is a stress free process. Don’t get me wrong, some people may be lucky and sail through the check with no problem, but most don’t. Please remember, if you do go through a WOF and you fail, it’s not some money-making scheme of the mechanic, it’s just their professional opinion and in my experience (failed twice) they were very helpful and honest. Just make sure you have a little bit of money set aside on your camper van budget to cover this sort of thing.

Backpackers never use VTNZ when looking for a WOF and for good reason. Basically VTNZ are an independent company that solely perform WOF’s and never repair, meaning they pick up on the smallest of issues. Now that’s all well and good, but if you are traveling around in a 30-year-old Camper Van, chances are these guys will pick up on a number small things which other mechanics wouldn’t consider. Instead always use a local mechanic to perform your WOF, most are fair and want you out of their hair as fast as possible anyway.

Unlike most European countries, car insurance isn’t something that is ingrained into New Zealand’s driving culture, meaning there is a fair few people not insured. To combat this, I would most definitely purchase the AA private breakdown cover and insurance package, so check them out before you arrive. Don’t worry its not that expensive and you can just add it to your selling price when you leave.



Our snug bed!



If you’re traveling alone (many people do), don’t worry! We met so many wonderful people traveling solo and noticed one distinct advantage… You have the opportunity to meet new friends and offer to share a camper van together, whilst splitting the cost. As mentioned earlier, Facebook has lots of NZ backpacker pages which are basically used as bulletin boards, so have a look and make some new friends! You never know what’s around the corner.

Lastly when buying a diesel car, please take into account that you will need to pay diesel tax. Diesel is very cheap in New Zealand, but it does incur a tax which can be purchased in any post office around the country. The process is simple, you fill in a form stating your reg number, name and how many km’s you would like to purchase (we usually bought 3000kms at a time. You then receive a card to place on your window which shows you have paid your tax…. EASY!

Ok so, that’s all I have on buying your dream camper van in New Zealand. Believe me, you will have the time of you life and please drive safe and responsibly. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below and I will try to point you in the right direction. Happy camping guys!!!!






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