AUSTRALASIA Lifestyle New Zealand Travel Advice Van Life


When planning our trip to New Zealand, we knew we wanted to explore the country’s epic scenery by campervan. We’d heard so many people say it was the best thing they’d ever done and how you just don’t get the same experiences travelling by bus. Three months in and we totally agree! We can’t imagine travelling by public transport, now we’ve experienced the freedom of living in a van.

If you decide that’s how you’d like to see New Zealand, you then face the decision of whether to hire a campervan or buy one. After looking at the extortionate prices for hiring, we decided we’d be better off buying our own. It actually worked out cheaper! It was our first time purchasing a campervan, so we did a lot of research and ended up with a great van. I thought I’d put this post together to help anyone looking to buy a campervan  (or any other vehicle) in New Zealand – you won’t regret it! 🙂

buying a campervan in new zealand


Give yourself at least two weeks to find the perfect van. You can look at ads online for before arriving and could even book in some viewings, but you obviously won’t be able to see any vehicles until you arrive. We were planning to find something in 3-4 days and be off on our travels. We arrived at the peak selling season, so there was A LOT for sale. Even though there was so much on offer, we were fussy and the right one didn’t come along for over 10 days. We saw a lot of terrible vans, falling to pieces or with internal damage – one had the entire front bumper held on with black tape! Most backpackers will try their luck at selling their van for the same price they paid, or more. This leads to a weird cycle of overpriced cars that are not in the greatest condition! Hence the need to be fussy.

Budget more for Auckland and more for self contained. I’d definitely recommend a self-contained van over a non self-contained van. Not sure what I’m on about? Check out my guide to self-contained vehicles in NZ. Due to the benefits that come with a self-contained vehicle, they are more expensive. Totally worth it and you’ll make your money back within the first few weeks, but something to bear in mind when looking. Vans also sell for wildly different prices depending on where you are. We bought ours in Auckland, which was a bit more expensive than Christchurch. The cheapest cars seemed to be in Queenstown. So budget a little extra if you plan to buy in Auckland.

buying a campervan in new zealand

Freedom Camping near Mount Cook

Where to look? 

There are lots of places you can look for vehicle adverts….

Facebook groups: We found a lot of vehicle adverts on backpacker groups on Facebook. Join the following and you’ll soon be bombarded with ads!

Trade Me: This is where we eventually ended up finding our van. Trade Me includes locals and traders selling vehicles, as well as backpackers.

Newspaper: Keep an eye on local newspapers for adverts.

Street: You’ll often spot cars parked up with for sale signs on.

Car Fairs: Check if there are any car fairs/shows on in the area you are looking in. We went to two car in Auckland – City Car Fair on Saturday and Ellerslie Car Fair on Sunday. We didn’t have much luck at either, but you might!

buying a campervan in new zealand

Tips for viewing a car

Where possible, arrange a viewing earlier in the morning and on a day when the post office open. If you like the car and want to take it, it’s worth getting a pre-purchase check done before you pay anything to the seller. Most companies can do a check on the day you call up, but they’ll stop taking cars around 4pm. If everything is OK with the pre-purchase check and you want to go ahead and pay, you’ll also need the post office to be open so that you can register the change of ownership. Early morning viewings allow the time for a pre-purchase check and change of ownership on the same day.

Of course, you could arrange to meet the seller the next day or something, but we had a problem where the seller had a viewing straight after us and it was past 4pm so we couldn’t get a pre-purchase check done. We didn’t want to buy the car without the check, so had to let it go and hope the next buyer wasn’t interested. Lucky for us, they liked it but didn’t want to buy it for another week, so the seller drove back to us the following morning so we could sort everything out. 

Also if it’s pouring with rain, try and arrange to meet somewhere dry like an underground car park. It’s hard to spot any leaks if the car is dripping wet!

Vehicle Checklist

Most people don’t know much about cars, aside from the basics (and I didn’t even know that when we began!) but it’s important to know some of the warning signs. Gary did a lot of research and actually read a book called Mechanics for Dummies! He went on to create a checklist of things to look for, what to avoid, and questions to ask the seller which I have detailed in this post:

>> Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Car or Campervan in New Zealand <<


Everyone exaggerates their prices, so don’t be afraid to haggle. The worst that will happen is they say no! We managed to knock a total of $600 off the price of our van. Once you’ve had a look and have had the pre-check done, you’ll know if there is work to be done or not. If the pre-purchase check highlights work that needs doing, get a quote from the mechanic and try and knock that off the asking price of the vehicle. Through the pre-check, we learnt that there was a small chip in the windscreen of our van that would need repairing. We managed to knock another $50 off the price to cover the repair.


It’s really worth getting a pre-purchase check done before you part with any large amounts of money. Take the car to an impartial garage (most offer this service) or contact VNTZ or AA. Don’t go with a company suggested by the seller – it could be their mate who’s just going to tell you everything is fine! The garage will take 30-45 minutes to thoroughly check the vehicle. They will check all fixtures and fittings, door handles, locks, AC, heating, steering, brakes etc and all internal parts. Prices differ from place to place, but we paid just $50 with an independent garage in Auckland. 

Online pre-check: We also paid $11.95 for an online check with Car Jam. This check shows whether the car has any debt attached to it, how many previous owners the car has had (and who they were) and loads of other useful information. This should flag up anything dodgy and you can compare this with what the sellers are saying to make sure they are being honest!


You’ve found your perfect vehicle.. hurrah! The last thing you’ll need to do is part with your hard earned cash. If you have a New Zealand bank account and so does the seller, the easiest thing to do is make an online bank transfer. It’s worth setting a bank account up beforehand – I’ve written a post about how to set up a bank account here. Just make sure you have decent wifi or 4G and try transferring a small amount first to check it goes through. Another option is cash, but you may need to go inside a bank to make a large withdrawal.

If you don’t have a NZ bank account, your money is still in your home currency, or the seller is asking for a different currency, you can use a money transfer site. We used TransferWise to convert thousands of UK pounds to NZ dollars with minimal charges. For a FREE £500 (or equivalent) transfer, click here!

The last thing you’ll need to do is head to the Post Office and fill out a change of ownership form. It’s really easy and costs around $10 to sort out and send off. 


Once you own your new car/van, it’s worth getting it insured. It’s not compulsory in NZ but it only cost us $299 for 6 months (third party, fire and theft). As a backpacker, you won’t be able to get fully comprehensive cover as companies do not offer that service to people without a fixed address. Of course, you could put down the address of a friend, or a hotel, but if you need to make a claim and you are miles away from where you’ve said you live… you are going to run into issues!

buying a campervan in new zealand

Van Life, Lake Tekapo

buying a campervan in new zealandSo they are my top tips for purchasing a vehicle in New Zealand – I hope this comes in useful. Travelling around this country in a campervan has definitely been the highlight of our 10 month world trip and I would recommend it to everyone!

>> Don’t forget to check out my guide to buying a used car or campervan in New Zealand.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions about buying a car/van in NZ 🙂

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