Danu Travels

Hello! We are Dan and Manu, an international couple from Australia and Germany. Through our articles we share our travel knowledge and personal experience with you. We hope to help you with your travel planning, inspire you to add new places to your travel list and contribute to you having the best time when abroad.

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New Zealand Vanlife

Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan: Our 5 Week Budget

December 19, 2019

Why we created a budget for our trip?

We came to Dunedin in New Zealand in October 2018. Our plan was to work there for a year, buy a campervan and save for a 5 week campervan trip around New Zealand: from end of September to early Nov 2019. It was important for us to have money left over after New Zealand – as we planned for a further 4 months of traveling through Asia and an additional 2 months of visiting family in Europe and Australia without generating an income. 

How we began with creating our 5 week budget?

To begin the budgeting for our ‘Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan’, we plotted out our ideal route (from Dunedin in the South, to Cape Reinga in the North). This route is shown below: 

We considered where we would sleep, which activities we would do, how much fuel would cost and our weekly spend for groceries including some pocket money for impulse purchases. By creating these allocations we had concrete budgets which we could stick to.

Researching our route gave us confidence

It was quite interesting to meet many travelers who had no idea which place they were heading to next. With many only having a limited time in New Zealand, we found that most only stuck to the tourist locations of New Zealand due to their lack research. There are so many beautiful, local and natural gems around the country – and we felt as though many travelers were missing out these gems by not researching their routes ahead. Additionally, this form of traveling can be financially inefficient as the tourist hot spots are usually the most expensive. 

Although we would at times deviated from our planned route, we always felt confident by knowing what was around us and roughly how much each day would cost.

Our travel style is low-cost

We are budget travelers and a ‘Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan’ was always our goal. We saved costs by researching the free and natural gems ahead on our planned route; and also by choosing the best valued activities (longer tours rather than short and expensive tours).

Exploring Castle Hill near Christchurch

Below we will show how we budgeted for each main category:

  • Campervan related costs
  • Fuel
  • Accommodation and campsites
  • Groceries and weekly pocket money
  • Activities, tours and ferry

Throughout our budget we also used buffers. We considered categories where unexpected costs might arise such as engine repairs/tire punctures, accommodation/campsites, and unplanned activities/tours. As we had already committed to a further 6 months of travelling after New Zealand, these buffers would be our safety net; and not to eat into our other savings.

Please keep in mind that we lived in Dunedin for nearly a year, and owned the van for about 6 months. However the costs below are only relevant to our 5 week campervan trip around New Zealand (from the end of September to early November 2019). We have excluded all other travel and activity costs which we incurred whilst living in Dunedin.

Campervan related costs

We purchased our campervan back in March 2019 and sold the campervan in November 2019. Although we purchased the van during the low season, and sold the van during the high season: we sold our van for the same price as purchased. 

Campervan acquisition and sale

TotalPer Person
Car Purchase Price (Acquired Mar 2019)3,5001,750
Car Sale Price (Sold Nov 2019)3,5001,750

If you are still trying to figure out whether you should buy or rent a campervan, check out our article ‘Everything you need to know when buying and selling a Campervan in New Zealand’ which will help with your decision.

Saying goodbye to our campervan ‘Herbie’ before leaving New Zealand

Costs for running the campervan

TotalPer Person
– Licence (Rego) – 3 month cost6030
– WoF (1 x 6 months)6030
– Repairs for WoF (unexpected cost)440220
– Insurance (3rd PF&T) $20 per month4020

Licence (Rego)

The campervan licence (rego) is quite fixed dependent on the weight of the van and cc of the engine – keep in mind though you can choose how long you register it. Our prices offered were 3 months $60.20, 6 months $116.02 and 12 months $227.73. It becomes cheaper if your purchase more months at a time. 

Warrant of Fitness and Repairs

The WoF (Warrant of Fitness) was a half yearly inspection for our van to make sure it was roadworthy. Please note if you buy a van newer than 2000, you will only need to conduct an inspection once a year.

Although the inspection cost is roughly $60 keep in mind the inspector may find some deterioration or damages which need to be repaired. For our van the inspector found two sections which needed to be repaired for road-worthiness. These costs were quite unexpected and we paid where necessary:

  • Patching up an Exhaust Leak $110
  • Repairs to bent mounts on the chassis under the van $330

If you are about to purchase a van with an upcoming WoF inspection, we first recommend taking the van to a local mechanic for a pre-purchase check (approx. $80-100). They will review the van both mechanically and structurally, and identify if there are any existing mechanical or safety issues which could arise in the future. Click here to see what criteria they follow during the inspection.

General Maintenance and Buffer for Repairs

Before we hit the road we got the van serviced with a fresh oil change. The engine condition was inspected and fluid levels were topped up. We also got the van coolant system serviced – being flushed and topped up – as we would be driving long distances at a time. 

TotalPer Person
Maintenance (Inc Engine & Coolant Service)200100
Buffer for Maintenance500250

If you are in Dunedin looking to get your van serviced we highly recommend seeing Neile at The Oil Express. We found he was very friendly, knowledgeable and thoroughly inspected the van (above our expectations).

We paid approximately:

  • $120 – Engine service including oil change
  • $80 – Coolant system service and flush

We allocated a $500 buffer in total for unexpected maintenance costs. We never had to use it but it factored in tyre punctures, emergency towing, and unexpected engine repairs whilst on the road. 

Fuel and RUC

Total Per Person
– Fuel Estimate
(6,000km until traveling in early November)
– 5 Weeks
(1200km p/w @ 10L/100KM @ $1.45 per litre

– RUC (6x1000km + Admin Processing Fee)440220
Total Fuel & RUC1,310655

When we originally plotted the 5 week route for our ‘Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan’ into the map above, we calculated a total distance of 4,670km from Dunedin to Auckland:

  • South Island
    • Dunedin to Picton (including Mt Cook, West Coast, Christchurch, Abel Tasman and Cape Farewell)
    • 2,370km
  • North Island
    • Wellington to Auckland (including Mt Taranaki, Tongariro, Lake Taupo, Rotorua, Taranga, Coromandel National Park, Kerikeri, Cape Reinga and Piha) 
    • 2,300km
The mountains are calling at Mt Cook National Park

In actual fact, by the end of our trip we traveled an additional 1,300km to the planned route. This excess 30% was due to the additional sights we saw on the way, intercity driving; and driving back and forth on rural roads.

Our van was diesel so every 1,000km we had to buy more units for the Road Users Charge (RUC). We bought six in total. Please note, it’s better to buy more units at once as you avoid further admin fees upon each subsequent purchase ($7.80 per transaction).

For testing our fuel efficiency we used the app ‘Drivvo’. By entering the fuel cost and odometer reading at each fill up, we found that our old campervan maintained an average fuel efficiency of 10L per 100km – not the best economy but decent enough.

‘Gasby’ was really handy for finding the cheapest fuel in the area and on the route ahead. For Diesel fuel we personally found the McKeown, NPD and Allied Fuel were the cheapest at approximately $1.45 per liter**. 

Both of these apps are available on both iOS and Android.

Accommodation and Campsites

When we planned for our ‘Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan’, we didn’t just stop with plotting the driving route and things to do. Among points of interest, hikes and activities; we also added in where we wanted to sleep; our planned campsites and accommodation. 

TotalPer Person
– Accommodation/ Campsites ($160 per week)800400
(Blend of free & paid campsites & hostels)

Using the ‘Campermate’ app we were able to find a combination of freedom camping sites ($0), DoC sites (usually $15 per person) and Top 10 campervan park sites (unpowered sites were about $40 per van per night). We also stayed at hotels/hostels for two nights (average $60 per night for two).

Even though we factored in a budget of $800 (including buffer) for the 5 week road trip, we actually only spent about $650. This amount also includes our weekly laundry costs of about $12 and showering costs of about $15 per week. 

Groceries and Weekly Pocket Money

TotalPer Person
– Groceries $100 & Weekly Pocket Money
($200 per week)

During our time living in Dunedin, we found that our weekly groceries were about $100 (70% food and 30% miscellaneous items). This amount is based predominantly on a vegetarian diet; typically cooking loads of veggies in Asian, Indian and Mediterranean styles: $70 is more than enough for us. The remainder of our grocery purchases would change each week depending on laundry, cleaning and other needs: however it was about $30. 

As we were saving for further travels, we agreed that our weekly pocket money would be $50 each. This money went typically towards snacks, souvenirs, takeaway coffee and beer. Personally, on the road $50 per person was quite strict, and would recommend to allow a little extra in your budgeting (especially if you love your ‘barista made latte’).

A typical veggie based dish made ‘on the road’

Picton to Wellington Ferry

We took the ferry from Picton to Wellington which cost us $235 with Interislander. You can find current prices below with Direct Ferries:

TotalPer Person
– Ferry 235117.50

There is another company called Bluebridge which provides the same service too. The ferry price can vary so the earlier you book the ferry the cheaper it will be. During your planning, if you adjust the dates and search for ferry tickets a few days before and after your intended date you may also find even cheaper deals.

Activities Fund

When planning your activities for your ‘Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan’, we highly recommend that you look at BookMe. They  usually have the best deals for activities: sometimes even offering deals for only $1 (like the Shotover Jet in Queenstown). Our activities fund was made up of our favorite activities and a generous allocation of funds for exploring the big cities – Auckland & Wellington.

TotalPer Person
– Activities Fund, Nights out, tours etc2,4001,200
($1,200 pp)
Additional Buffer for Activities Fund400200

We highly recommend to check out the following activities during your trip. These prices are what we paid per person:

Although our activities allocation was already more than enough, we added an additional $400 to buffer for activities just in case we went over with our spending. 

End of the Road

When we finished our 5 week ‘Low Cost Trip through New Zealand in a Campervan’, we saw that compared to our budgeted figures we had saved quite some money. As we were quite generous with our budgeted figures (including buffers) we didn’t even get close to overspending. We also managed to find some cheaper deals along the way – either by coincidence or by consciously choosing a better value tour. 

Here is a summary of the savings from our original budget:

AllocationsBudgeted AmountApprox. Amount SpentSavings / (Overspend)
Campervan Profit$0
Fixed Campervan Running Costs$160$600 
(inc. unexpected WoF repairs)
Maintenance Costs & Buffer$700$200$500
Fuel Estimate & RUC$1,310$1,270$40
Accommodation & Campsites$800$650$150
Activities & Buffer$2,800$1,100$1,700

Overall, we saved $1,950 from the original budget. By planning ahead, and estimating our costs we were able to create tangible targets for each category. And by reviewing our expenditure every day and comparing these figures to our category targets, we were able to see whether we were on track. 

We hope this article helps you to get a better feel for approximate travel costs in New Zealand and create your own budget.

*All prices are in NZD

**Average Diesel price during October and November 2019