We spent five incredible weeks travelling New Zealand in a rented self-contained Volkswagen Transporter from Kiwi Campers and Happy Campers NZ. It was an unforgettable experience and we often joke that New Zealand has ruined the rest of the world for us. We were really happy with the VW Transporter although we had some issues with Happy Campers Auckland which we’ll discuss below.
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Guest Post Written By Christine from Travellers With Time
As far as we can tell, Happy Campers and Kiwi Campers are the same company, or at least partners in business. We booked our camper from Happy Campers; our final receipt says Happy Campers. We picked the Transporter up from the Happy Campers office in Auckland. However, there were plenty of Kiwi Campers in their yard, and in the end, we walked away with a Kiwi Camper. So, lets assume they are one and the same.
It is worth noting we originally booked a different model but they do specify at the time of booking that they have the right to give you a different vehicle and you may not get the exact model you booked.
Interested in booking a Kiwi Camper campervan or motorhome? You can do so HERE!
VW Transporter Camper Rental – Campervan Hire NZ
Inside the Kiwi Camper/Happy Camper
The inside of the Volkswagen Transporter was efficiently organised. A small kitchen and storage area sat behind the driver’s seat. A small couch that folded out into a bed was near the back of the camper and a detachable table was in front of the couch.
The kitchen area had a small sink and a two-burner stove. Underneath was cupboard storage and a small 40 litre refrigerator.
Extra storage space in the form of hanging pouches were attached along the walls above the kitchen and lounge. These were like deep fabric pockets that you could put things in. They weren’t always practical but they did offer storage where you wouldn’t have otherwise had it. You couldn’t have put hard cupboards or anything with corners there for risk of hitting your head.
When you first stepped into the camper you had a decent amount of space to move around and prepare food and there was some additional storage behind the folded-up couch area in the back, accessible via the back door.
Equipment in the Campervan
Almost everything you need comes with the camper itself. For example, you’ll have pillows, blankets and most basic kitchen equipment. If you cook a lot, you may have to buy some additional items, I think we purchased a chopping board, a strainer and a vegetable peeler for example. The items they give you a fairly good quality, the pillows and blankets for the bed were really warm and comfortable which made sleeping in the camper lovely.
We had the option of hiring additional items, like table and chairs for outside and we were glad we did, they were definitely useful.
Self-Contained Campervan NZ
Our camper was a self-contained campervan, meaning that it could carry enough water for 3 days and came with a small portable toilet. In New Zealand, having a camper that is certified self-contained gives you a larger range of freedom camping, and Department of Conservation camping options. A self-containment sticker/certification means that you essentially can disconnect and don’t need access to amenities.
Driving the VW Transporter Campervan
The Volkswagen Transporter drives like a dream and has very good contact with the road. Ours came with a 1.9 litre turbo diesel engine. Volkswagen creates some amazing turbo diesel engines and this one was no exception, it had plenty of power for the job at hand and was pretty good with fuel efficiency, which is an important aspect in a country where driving distance can be big and fuel price’s high.
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Pros of Hiring the VW Transporter Campervan
Great Size for Parking
The camper was a fantastic size. At 5 meters we were able to park easily anywhere we went so we never had any issues. This also makes it very easy to handle and drive. As mentioned, the smaller size and thus lighter build also worked in favour of fuel consumption.
Going Between the Front & Back
We liked being able to move from the cabin, or front of the camper into the back without having to exit the vehicle, this was great during wet and windy weather. The Transporter was comfortable and a decent enough size for the two of us for 5 weeks.
The camper was in good technical condition, it was recently serviced, brakes and tires were all good and everything worked as it should. This did make for a very comfortable and more importantly, safe ride.
Cons of Hiring the VW Transporter Campervan
Con’s with the VW camper van were generally personal preference. There were a couple of small things that we discovered we didn’t like.
Slightly Too Small
We learned that we would prefer to have a slightly bigger camper that had a permanent bed and separate seating area given the choice. Why? I always go to sleep earlier than Ben, who is a night owl. Having to convert our couch into a bed meant that Ben had to get into bed regardless of whether he wanted to sleep. We also just found it a little annoying to have to pull the bed out each night as it required packing everything away, and then pulling it all back out in the morning.
The seating area, while comfortable enough was quite small and we found it easier to put a camping chair on the other side of the table, so we were sitting opposite each other. It saved elbows banging at meal times. If the weather permitted it was easier to sit and eat outside.
The fridge was really small. This isn’t a problem if you don’t intend to cook a lot, but we cooked most of our meals. We found we had to go to the super market at least every second day.
Lack of Access
It also helped to be a little organised as once the bed was pulled out, you couldn’t access some of the cupboards and had very little floor space with which to move around. As I usually wake up before Ben, I found myself sitting in the front cabin, in the passenger seat having my coffee and reading until he woke up.
Interested in booking a campervan or motorhome New Zealand? You can do so HERE!
Cons with Kiwi Campers/Happy Campers Auckland
While most of the cons that we had with the campervan were personal preference and lifestyle issues, we also had some genuine problems with Happy Campers Auckland themselves.
Pick Up Issues
Ben had called ahead to tell them we would be there to pick the rental camper up first thing in the morning, and had asked them to have it ready. It wasn’t. We waited about 45 minutes for them to get our camper from another location. That was fine, but not really what we’d expected.
We left the office with our camper and went straight to the supermarket in Auckland to stock the fridge and cupboards. It was in the carpark that I noticed our self-containment sticker had expired. From everything we’d read online, if you weren’t certified self-contained, you risked a $200NZD fine for camping in self-contained only freedom camping places. We felt more comfortable with a valid sticker.
After completing our shopping, we returned to the office. We were surprised to receive a pretty frosty reception. They were clearly annoyed and tried to tell us that it didn’t matter. Now honestly, maybe it didn’t. Maybe no one regulates self-containment but as a tourist trying to do the right thing, and not wanting to pay a fine, I wanted my sticker to be in date. After way too much discussion, we had a new sticker. It turns out they just print them off.
The biggest issue arose within the first couple of days of our road trip as we travelled from Auckland to Cape Reinga and back. Remember that very small fridge? In those first four days we had two lots of meat go bad. When we inspected the refrigerator, we realised that the door was broken. The door locks at the top to secure it while driving. However, someone had obviously tried to pull it open near the bottom, and bent the door. There was about an inch gap between the door seal and the frame at the bottom of the fridge.
As we were heading back past Auckland anyway, we called Happy Campers Auckland and told them we’d be coming back to the office to either have the fridge fixed or swap campers. We quite liked the VW Transporter so we were really hoping they’d just fix the fridge door.
Switching Campers & Rude Staff
Despite us calling again the morning we were arriving, no one seemed to know we were coming. Not only that, we found the staff in the workshop to be incredibly rude. The man who was supposed to fix the door was trying to argue with us that the fridge was fine. My favourite line of his was “no one else has complained!”. Well, maybe the last person who had it was the one that broke it. Either way, we were complaining!
After a while he decided to attach a new seal between the existing seal and the fridge body. He then looked at us and said “see, fixed”. We said “No, not fixed” there was still a large gap. We were all getting quite frustrated at this point when finally, he said he would attach a new door. Great!
He did attach a new door and the fridge sealed perfectly. Even the technician said “it’s much better than before!”… Interesting, seeing as he originally didn’t think there was a problem. With the fridge fixed we were on our way and very glad to see the end of the Happy Campers/Kiwi Campers Auckland office and its employees.
The staff at Happy Campers or Kiwi Campers were really the biggest con of the whole trip. The rest were personal preferences. We had no problem with the hire campervan itself and the things mentioned above are the only problems we had on our 5-week trip while driving well over 8000km across both the North and South Island.
Maybe you are no longer convinced on a Kiwi Camper or Happy Camper? If that is the case CHECK OUT:
– Comparing the Best Motorhome & Campervan Hire – NEW ZEALAND
Pricing of Kiwi Campers/Happy Campers New Zealand
High & Low Season Differences
The price of hiring a campervan in New Zealand is largely based on the season. During peak season the prices can be more than double that of low season. We paid about $125 NZD per day to hire the Kiwi Camper Volkswagen Transporter at the height of peak season. Some research tells us that the same camper would only cost us around $90 NZD to rent from Happy Campers Auckland in the winter.
We did find the same VW Transporter for rent from other companies for as little as $60 per day in low season. If you’re travelling in the winter it may pay to shop around for a good price.
Book Well in Advance
It is advisable to hire your campervan in New Zealand well in advance as this will also save you a substantial amount of money. The further you book in advance, the cheaper the hire fees.
Diesel Tax & Extra Charges
You should be aware that one thing that adds to the price is the RUC or road user charges. This is an additional tax you pay to Happy Campers New Zealand when you return the vehicle. The cost is $72 NZD per 1000 km driven. This is applicable for all campervans that use diesel, regardless of where you hire them.
Alternative Models of Campervans/Motorhomes
If you were looking for something a little larger, the next size up would be something like a Mercedes Sprinter or a Volkswagen Crafter. These will vary substantially in price depending on the interior conversion.
The interior will have a lot more space and the seating area will be larger. Depending on the additions you may also have a microwave and a shower. They are a bit lusher and more comfortable inside.
The negatives of moving up a model are that they are usually at least 6 meters long which means you’ll lose some flexibility with parking as you will be pushing the length limit. Fuel consumption is also not as good as they’re a bit more cumbersome and heavier.
Who Would the Volkswagen Transporter Suit?
The Volkswagen Transporter is ideal for a couple who are travelling anywhere up to a few months. It will depend on your preferences of course, but if you were going to travel for longer, it may start to feel cramped and small, not to mention get quite expensive if you’re not travelling during the New Zealand winter.
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Where Did We Go with Our VW Transporter Camper?
Well, we went everywhere, and yet we only saw a fraction of what New Zealand has to offer!
North Island, New Zealand
On the North Island we travelled around Northland, before driving back down to the Coromandel Peninsula, via Auckland for our fridge repairs of course. We then headed to Rotorua, hiked the Tongariro crossing and explored Taupo before heading towards Wellington and catching the ferry to the South Island.
South Island, New Zealand
From the ferry port we headed down the east coast of the South Island, exploring Kaikoura, Christchurch and the Akaroa Peninsula before ducking in to see Lake Tekapo and then making our way down south to the Catlins. From the Catlins we explored Fiordland National Park and Doubtful and Milford Sound, then up to Wanaka via Queenstown.
From Wanaka we headed west to Fox Glacier, then up along the west coast, Hokianga Gorge, Pancake rocks and the gorgeous Abel Tasman National Park. Nearing the end of our trip we headed back to Picton to catch the return ferry to the North Island.
Back to the North Island, New Zealand
Once we left the ferry we travelled along the west coast of the North Island and saw the glow worms at Waitomo before heading back to Auckland. We were devastated that it was all over!
Time Spent and Kilometres Driven Overall
Overall, we were in New Zealand for 5 weeks and drove 8000 kilometres. While we did to a couple of very long drives, I tried to plan our trip so we weren’t in the car for more than a few hours each day. We were however, on the move constantly and very rarely stayed more than one night in each place. This is actually the opposite of how we usually travel but there was so much we wanted to see.
If you only have a couple of weeks, we would suggest only doing one of the islands as you’ll have a much more in-depth and less rushed experience.
Would I Recommend the VW Transporter and Happy Campers/Kiwi Campers New Zealand?
Overall, we would recommend the Volkswagen Transporter, however we suggest shopping around for a different company to supply it as dealing with Happy Campers/Kiwi Campers New Zealand really was the worst part of our trip. We had fairly ‘minor’ problems with the self-containment sticker and fridge, but what if you actually had some substantial issues and needed to deal with them?
If you’re looking for a fuel efficient, comfortable small camper that is easy to take anywhere, the Volkswagen Transporter campervan is great. Just make sure you read plenty of reviews and shop around for a good company and price.
About The Author
Christine is the author at Travellers With Time. She and her partner Ben have been on the road for almost 18 months. Having first backpacked through South East Asia, they decided to live their dream and campervan around the world. Having spent five amazing weeks travelling by campervan, exploring New Zealand, they knew they’d made the right move. They’re now campervanning their way through Europe with their adopted 10 year old dog Whiskey. They can be found at Facebook or on Instagram.