A road trip is definitely the best way of exploring New Zealand. With its incredible snow-capped mountains, lush forest and turquoise lakes, Aotearoa is surely one of the most beautiful countries to visit by car or campervan. Traveling the open road is a liberating feeling everyone should experience, and having reliable equipment and gear to support you through your journey can really make a difference. Your car becomes your home and your items become your sole belongings. So make the most out of your New Zealand road trip with my tips and road trip essentials list.
Note: Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my affiliate link. Read my full disclosure policy here.
Tips to plan the perfect camping road trip in New Zealand
Planning a road trip can be difficult, especially if you’ve never done it before. Here a few tips to help you plan the road trip of your dreams.
Decide on your destination and choose a route
The first thing to do is to choose your destination. Once you know where you’re going you can choose your route. Most people choose to follow the scenic route, as it is obviously a lot more beautiful than driving on the highway. New Zealand’s roads are almost all scenic, to be honest, and they have two lanes.
I recommend using Google Maps to plan your road trip. You can easily calculate the driving time between destinations with this app, which will make it a lot easier to plan your stops and estimate the distances. You will also be able to see the main towns on your route, so you know where you can buy snacks and refuel.
Once I’m on the road, I use Maps.me. It’s an app that works offline, so you don’t need to have the internet to see where you are and where you’re going which is very useful when you get lost or take the wrong turn. If you plan on using this app, you will need to download the map of New Zealand before you leave. The map will be stored in the app, and then you can use it offline and see the roads, towns, and attractions.
Check your car before you leave
This is probably one of the most important things to do before you go, especially if you’re planning a long road trip of a few weeks/months. Take your car to the garage and have it checked. Make sure you have a spare tire, and jack, and have your oil changed if needed.
Book your campsites
If you’re traveling in high season, I recommend you book some of your campsites before you go. In New Zealand, most you’ll find campsites in the most beautiful regions of the country. They are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). You can also choose to stay in holiday parks. In summer, campsites can get full really quickly and it can be difficult to find a spot. If you don’t want to book, showing up early (before 5pm) will give you more chances to find a spot for the night especially if you’re planning to stay in a free camp. If you travel in low season, no need to book in advance, you can be more spontaneous. Robin and I did our New Zealand road trip in winter and didn’t book any camps in advance. We were basically alone every night and could enjoy beautiful and quiet nights under the stars. How romantic!
Make a road trip playlist
No road trip is complete without a great playlist! You can find made-up playlists on Youtube or Spotify but you can also make your own. Actually, it’s better to make more than one (especially if you’re going for weeks) or you will quickly get sick of listening to the same songs over and over again. Try to make at least 3 playlists in 3 different music styles. The perfect playlist should be a mix of new and old, with plenty of references to the open road of course.
It’s very important to stop frequently on a road trip. Driving for a long time is really tiring, so try to stop every 2 or 3 hours. If you’re tired, stop on the side of the road and take a nap or ask another passenger to drive.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, so keep an open mind and go with the flow. You also need to be open to detours. You will probably drive by interesting or scenic places, so allow some extra time in your schedule. When we visited New Zealand, we stopped a lot more than we expected simply because in some places the scenery was so stunning, you just want to stop and enjoy!
Now that you know how to plan the perfect road trip, let’s have a look at what you will need to take for your camping road trip to New Zealand.
The best packing list for an epic camping road trip in New Zealand
For Your Car
Spare tire, jack, and pump
Make sure you have a good spare tire, your jack, and pump.
Refill before you go, and take extra fluids with you.
Tent with rain cover
We made the mistake of buying a tent that didn’t have a rain cover, and when it rained a lot, the water would just go through and make small puddles in the tent. It’s definitely not cool, so it’s better to have a rain cover for your tent even if you think it’s not going to rain.
Self-inflating camping mats are very comfortable, and they take little space. They can easily be folded back into their carrying bag after use. If you need even more comfort, you can buy an air mattress but they take more space.
Four season sleeping bags are pretty good. The most important is to have one that is lightweight and waterproof. Trust me, you don’t want your sleeping bag to get wet.
Essential for a good night sleep in the great outdoors. Like the mats, camp pillows are inflatable and take little space.
Some campings don’t have table and chairs, so I recommend carrying your own if you’ve got space in your car.
Don’t you dream of drinking beer around a nice fire in your own camping chair? If you do, bring your own chairs!
They take very little space and are a must-have on any road trip. They are ideal to carry your snacks and water.
Torch lamp and headlamp
Another thing you can’t go camping without. You’ll definitely need a torch lamp to cook in the evening. You might be thinking you could use the flashlight of your phone, but you could also drop it in the pit toilet and never see it again.
You almost always have to take your rubbish with you especially when camping in national parks so don’t forget this one.
We carried one in our car to have water to drink obviously, but also to do the dishes and sometimes wash when there were no showers around.
First aid kit
Because you never know what could happen, it’s better to always carry a first aid kit with you.
Backpack or suitcase
I prefer backpacks because they are smaller but a suitcase will do, you can just leave it in the car at all times.
There are all kinds of small backpacks out there. Look around the market and see what works best for you. For day hiking, I usually like to make sure the bag is about 20-30 liters, and that I can put my snacks and water in it and also all my valuables (phone, camera, wallet…).
Fast drying towel
I use a fast drying towel all the time when I travel, but it comes very handy when you camp.
Water bottle with filter
If you go on a long hike, take a water bottle with filter, this way even if you run out of water you’ll still be able to take some from a river and drink it. The LifeStraw is a good option if you want something lightweight and quick to filter water with.
Bring your own snacks with you, it’s cheaper than buying them at a gas station. Nuts, seeds and dried fruits are super healthy and make a fantastic snack.
An all-purpose tool might be useful. If you’re like my boyfriend and break everything, a Leatherman will save your life.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time outside, so wear sunscreen even if it’s not super sunny.
You will have weird encounters with many different bugs during your camping trip. We had ants in our tent at some point, so the bug spray was very handy. Also, sandflies will probably be your worst enemy.
Nobody likes to be blinded by the sun.
You don’t want to forget all the beautiful moments you’re going to live on this camping road trip, so take a good camera to create wonderful memories.
Don’t forget your chargers for your phone and camera, you’ll be able to charge them with a power bank. Or you can charge them directly from the car if you have a USB car charger.
Well, there won’t be any power sockets in the bush that’s for sure. Don’t forget to charge your power bank before you get on the road.
Kindle or Book
No wifi in the forest means no Facebook so take a book or kindle to keep yourself entertained in the evening.
Plates, bowls, and cutlery
To keep your snacks or food when you go on a hike.
Pots and pans
You’ll need a big pot to do the dishes in. One big pot and one pan are enough.
Hot tea in your own mug, how does that sound?
Portable mini burner and fuel
Very handy to cook a nice dinner in the evening. Make sure you buy enough fuel cans.
Other Camping Supplies
Lighter or matches
Use wipes for quick, on the move cleanups. Wipes are super useful and make ideal travel companions.
New Zealand’s nature is precious. Try to use biodegradable soap instead of normal soap.
Because when you use public showers you don’t want to put your feet where everyone else did.
Hand sanitizer is considered as effective at killing germs as washing your hands with soap and water. So grab one before you go.
You don’t want to end up with cracked lips.
Because there is no such thing as toilet paper in the woods.
Everyday walking shoes are a must-have for whenever you’re not hiking. Make sure they are comfy.
I was wearing my fleece almost every day on our New Zealand road trip. Wear a light long sleeve shirt underneath.
To keep your head warm when it gets colder at night or on top of the mountain you’re going to climb.
I actually put my scarf around my shoulders when it gets cooler at night.
Make sure to wear good hiking boots for your trail. Ideally, they should be light, waterproof and comfortable.
It’s important to keep your feet warm at all times. So a few pairs of warm socks are essential for your camping trip.
A nice lightweight, breathable pair of hiking pants is the best for a day hike.
We were always wearing waterproof pants when hiking in New Zealand, simply because if it starts raining a lot at least your legs will stay dry and the pants dry super quickly.
If it looks like the weather is going to turn, bring a rain jacket or a poncho. They’re light to carry.
I know you might be wondering why you’d bring a swimsuit on a road trip (especially if you’re road tripping in winter), but you actually might need one if you come across natural hot pools.
Road trips are the best way to see New Zealand and create wonderful long lasting memories. To make a great road trip even greater, make sure you have all these camping gear essentials. Are you planning a camping road trip to New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!
Are you traveling soon? Don’t forget your travel insurance!
Travel insurance is the only thing I don’t go anywhere without. Your travel insurance covers you against travel risks such as lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellation, and most importantly, unexpected medical costs abroad. I like WorldNomads because they are backed by reputable insurers, have 24h assistance providers, and are affordable. Get a quote and read the policy details to ensure that it’s right for you. For more information, read my travel insurance page.
Did you like this post? Pin it!