Van Life in Australia and New Zealand

Last spring, we spent two weeks in Australia and three weeks in New Zealand, road tripping and camping in vans. Though we weren’t in either place NEARLY long enough, we learned a whole bunch about van life in Australia and NZ and wanted to pass on a few things!

Traveling by camper is extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand, so it’s a very easy and established way to travel here. There are caravan parks just about everywhere and they’re extremely well-equipped, particularly in New Zealand (where abundant holiday parks have full kitchens, good bathrooms, work space, playgrounds, pools, etc. for visitors to use.)

 Our van for three weeks in New Zealand.

Our van for three weeks in New Zealand.

There are a ton of companies in Australia and New Zealand that rent vehicles for camping, from hatchbacks to full RV’s. In Australia, we rented a Hi5 camper from Traveler’s Autobarn. It has a really short wheelbase for how much livable space there is inside, and seats five. As we were looking at vehicle options, we had more trouble finding enough seatbelts for the four of us than we did finding something with enough sleeping space, because we can all sleep in the same bed just fine but obviously we need spots for everybody to ride during the day. If you are solo or are doing this as a couple, you’ll have an easy time finding a vehicle that works.

 Our van for two weeks in Australia.

Our van for two weeks in Australia.

It’s easy to book a vehicle online; check this site to compare prices from different rental companies. Our van averaged out to about $100/night (AUD; about $80 USD), which was a little higher than normal because we were there over Easter weekend. Prices for caravan parks were comparable to those in the states ($20-$30 per night was typical). We also paid a bit more because we went from Sydney to Melbourne, rather than picking up and dropping off the van in the same city. These prices can go down to $50 per night with a smaller vehicle on non-peak dates.

The rental companies include cooking gear, bedding, towels, pillows, sleeping bags, and anything else you’re likely to need with your rental. Our van beds converted from benches to beds and the cushions were very thin, so it definitely wasn’t our most comfortable sleeping experience ever, but on the whole everyone slept pretty well in the van.

In the van we rented, it was quite difficult to remain off the grid. The water tank was very small (only a few gallons) and the house battery was hooked into the van’s battery bank, so it was only charged when the van was running. That’s fine if you’re driving all day, or if you’re able to hook up each night. But when boon docking on days when we weren’t driving extensively, our house battery was dead by the second day of use.

Laws on sleeping in your vehicle and “free camping” vary from state to state within Australia. We didn’t visit Queensland, but from the research we did, they seem to be quite aggressive about not letting people sleep in vehicles outside of designated camping areas. New South Wales (where Sydney is) on the other hand, is very supportive of free camping, and as long as we were parked legally for the night, we didn’t have to worry about sleeping in the van there. We slept near Bondi Beach and Manly Beach in NSW and had a great experience, and there were loads of other people staying there, too.

In Victoria, the other state we visited, the laws are generally loose, but different communities get stricter, so watch for signs and be very careful about where you park, especially along the Great Ocean Road. We got a ticket when sleeping near the beach in Torquay.

In New Zealand, there are designated “freedom camping” spots that you could use if you were designated self-contained (with an official bumper sticker marking your vehicle as such.) We stayed in a minivan with just an inflatable mattress in the back, so it had no tanks or batteries and was not self-contained, meaning we always had to stay at a holiday park if we wanted to sleep in our van.

We definitely recommend this mode of travel in Australia and New Zealand—it’s a fantastic way to see the landscape, save money on hotel costs and connect with a like-minded community.

Things we loved about van life in Australia and New Zealand:

We were able to be flexible; not everything has to be planned out in advance and we can make spur-of-the-moment decisions.

We were able to cook our own meals whenever we wanted and keep groceries and snacks on hand easily.

We saved money in Australia by boon docking most nights; we only paid for a caravan park once.

Travel by van was the perfect way to see a lot of the country.

The countryside in both Australia and New Zealand is absolutely stunning and there were some incredible scenic drives, some of the best we’ve been on!

Things we didn’t love:

Driving and parking in the cities (especially in Australia, where the cities are larger; we visited Sydney and Melbourne) was not as fun with a van. We couldn’t leave the van parked all day because of metered parking times, and while we were always able to eventually find a parking spot wherever we were going, it wasn’t very fun trying to park a large vehicle, or drive in city traffic.

Driving on the opposite side of the road was tricky at times (like when entering roundabouts). Also, in Australia kangaroos and wallabies will jump right out in front of you or right into you; very nerve-wracking! Because of the kangaroos, the rental company’s insurance didn’t cover night driving, so factor that in if you’re thinking you’ll be able to cover distances at night.

Our particular vehicle wasn’t great for boon docking in Australia.

Let us know if you have any more questions about van life in Australia or New Zealand! We can’t recommend it highly enough as a way to visit these incredible places!

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