Now that we’re finally in Alert Level 1, Kiwis around the country are being encouraged to explore their ‘own backyard’ while our borders remain closed.
People often seek versatile vehicles that can double as accommodation, making it their home away from home. With many of the most beautiful parts of our country only being accessible by vehicle, a recreational vehicle might just be the best way to explore New Zealand.
A recreational vehicle, or an RV as it’s more commonly known, is a motor vehicle or trailer which includes living quarters designed for accommodation. Types of RVs available in New Zealand typically include motorhomes, caravans and converted vans.
If you’re serious about exploring New Zealand and you have enough time and money to make it worthwhile, a motorhome is the clear choice. Motorhomes are a great alternative to caravans for those who are less confident at towing, with the drop in tourism there is currently quite a few option in the market for the sagacious buyer.
Buying brand new is ideal for those who have the money as it’ll give you all the latest safety features, such as Electronic Stability Control, traction control and roll over mitigation. Remember, in a taller vehicle it’s likely that you’ll be more exposed to crosswinds than you might be used to.
For those seeking a more reasonably priced option, second-hand shopping is an alternative route. Used motorhomes tend to be ex rentals, so many have high mileage and there will of course be signs of wear and tear on the inside of the vehicle.
You can also look at privately sold motorhomes which generally have a lower mileage and reduced wear, but these can be a lot tougher to come by.
Caravans are generally less expensive than motorhomes, but you’ll not only need a vehicle that can tow – you’ll need one that can handle the weight of your chosen caravan.
Typically, vehicles can only tow about 750kg unbraked, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Don’t make the mistake of buying a caravan without checking if your current vehicle is equipped to pull its weight or you may have to upgrade to something bigger in order to put your latest purchase to good use. And, if your vehicle requires brakes to be fitted to your caravan to help with slowing down, make sure you check this before you hand over your cash.
Caravans are more suited for occasional use and tend to require less ongoing maintenance than a motorhome. They have a simple substructure that’s much like a trailer, so you can park it up for a long period of time without incurring any significant deterioration of its mechanical or electronic components. If you’re a creative thinker, you could even turn a parked caravan into a place for guests to stay or a playroom for the kids.
If you’re simply wanting a less ‘house-on-wheels’ type vehicle, then an affordable used MPV or station wagon could also be worth considering.
More often than not, those heading off on an expedition in New Zealand will want a more spacious vehicle to carry their belongings and rest their head at night. It’s no surprise then that MPVs are so popular with backpackers as they’re a great alternative to camping without a tent.
The growing used MPV market has led to increased choices, including safer options that you wouldn’t get from much older vehicles. Here are some of the safer picks we found on the used market:
- Honda Odyssey 2004-2009 (5 Star UCSR)
- Kia Carnival 2006-2011 (5 Star UCSR)
- Toyota Estima 2005-2016 (4 Star UCSR)
MPVs that have been professionally converted into campervans or motorhomes can offer a similar amount of room to what you’d expect in a van. Lots of MPVs available on the used market tend to be later models and boast safety features that you should prioritise, such as air bags, anti-lock braking systems and other protective features.
When looking at these vehicles, remember that if you wish to partake in freedom camping you might need to look into a self-containment certificate, which allows you to camp on public land that isn’t a recognised camping ground or holiday park. However, according to the Responsible Campers Association Inc (RCAi), less than one-third of councils require this certificate.
Station wagons are another popular option for exploring New Zealand. You get the length as well as better handling, albeit at the sacrifice of some headroom. Here are some of the safer second-hand station wagons we would recommend:
- Subaru Legacy 2002-2009 (5 star UCSR)
- Audi A4 Wagon 2008-2015 (5 Star UCSR)
- Subaru Forester 2007-2012 (4 Star UCSR)
It can be all too easy to simply pick up where a group of other tourists left off and inherit some fellow travellers’ wheels. Sure you’re going to get some equipment thrown in such as pots, pans and plates, but do you really want to be driving an RV whose past owners haven’t necessarily been incentivised to look after it?
We recommend that you protect yourself by purchasing a RV with a good ownership history trail and service documentation if possible. Ensure that is comes with up-to-date registration, a fresh Warrant of Fitness (WoF) and, if applicable, road user charges (RUC).
From time to time RVs can be sold that have hidden problems that can cost new owners thousands of dollars, including outstanding finance, underlying damage after previously being written off or tampered odometers.
WHERE TO NOW?
AA Vehicle History Report
If the vehicle you’re considering has been registered in New Zealand, an AA Vehicle History report will give you the information you need to buy with confidence - aa.co.nz/vh
AA Pre-Purchase Inspections
When buying a car, we always recommend getting a pre purchase vehicle inspection to reduce the chance of problems further down the line - aa.co.nz/ppi
AA Member Benefits
Just fancy a one-off trip? AA Members can get 10% off the best daily price on Maui, Britz and Mighty campervans – aa.co.nz/travel/member-deals/thl-campervan-rental-for-members/