The Spaceships Rocket, you will see this campervan driving around in New Zealand everywhere as this is one of the most popular brands in the country. Of course, they are, because they are one of the cheapest. According to their website, they have won a few awards, but we wouldn’t put much weight into that. Personally, we based our choice on a mix between positive reviews and price. Their main competitor in New Zealand is probably Jucy, but their reviews are nowhere near as good. There are many other companies as well for you to consider, and we hope this little review will help you somewhat in taking a decision.
Spaceship Rentals is an established player in the New Zealand campervan rental market. They also have offices in Australia and the UK, and not much will distinguish their cars in either country. You will probably benefit from reading this review, even if you are looking for a campervan there instead.
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Guest Post By Nick & Kia
The Size of You Spaceships Campervan
Before we get started, there is an important decision you need to take. If lots of space is important to you, you might as well stop reading this review right away. Spaceships only have small campervans less than 5 metres in length. Here are the main pros and cons of that:
Advantages of a Small Campervan
- Parking is a breeze
- Saving money on fuel
- Fewer things that can break
- Cheaper ferry tickets
- The price will be MUCH lower
Disdvantages of a Small Campervan
- Less space inside (for you and your belongings)
- No way to stand up inside the van (or cook)
- Not self-contained (no toilet = no freedom camping)
Your final choice will entirely be up to your personal preferences. For us, the pros of having a small car easily outweighed the cons. This was particularly thanks to the price point, which is MUCH lower on a small campervan. By going for a bigger van, you can easily double your price, and it’ll be even worse when you start to factor in fuel costs.
Personally, we would always rather spend that money on ticking off amazing items on our bucket list rather than a bit of extra comfort. And you should know, there is a lot of once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be had in New Zealand!
There is a significant point to be made about the car not being self-contained though. This means you cannot freedom camp anywhere in New Zealand, and that can be quite a big thing. We suggest you do a bit of research whether that’s right for you. You can also read what Spaceships Rentals themselves have to say about not being self-contained.
If you continue reading this review, it means you want to go with the budget option. A small campervan it is! Now, let’s go through what you can expect from Spaceships as a company before we dive more into the specifics of the “Rocket” model.
Spaceship Campervan NZ
The Ins & Outs of Spaceships on Arrival
When you arrive in New Zealand, you must arrive in either Auckland or Christchurch because these are the only cities Spaceships have offices in. Like all the other rental companies, their offices aren’t located too close to the airport. However, if you’ve booked a car for more than 21 days, they’ll pick you up for free. Otherwise, you just grab an Uber. In case you are arriving outside of their opening hours, you need to contact them for after-hours pickup. The same is true when the time comes to return the car again.
Their customer representatives seem down to earth and easy to talk with. When you arrive they’ll just need to see your drivers license (remember the international one as well) and your passport. As long as you are 18 years old, you can rent a van with Spaceships, and extra drivers are free of charge as well. We were glad to learn that unlimited kilometres were also included, there was no one-way hire fee, and most importantly, that we could get a free cup of coffee while the paperwork was sorted.
The company is quite professional, and the car will be ready for you on time. Once you see it, you’ll immediately notice that their cars have cool names. Examples include Yoda, Chuck Norris, The Hoff, R2D2, James Bond, and pretty much any other geeky reference you can think of. It turned out our van was called Spaceman, which we rather liked.
Getting the Campervan
Eventually, a customer rep will go through the features of the car with you in person. After quickly showing us how to unfold the bed, where to find the linen, how to drive the beast and a few other bits and pieces, the employee was quick to leave. Interestingly, they don’t actually give you a checklist of scratches and damages; instead, they send you this via email. We suggest you take a thorough video then and there of the car, to protect yourself. Remember to include the mileage on the video as well for later proof. Another peculiar thing here was the gas level. We are quite used to having to hand a car back with a full tank, but at Spaceships, you have to try and hit the random gas level that the previous person had returned the car with. That was a bit of a hassle, especially because we almost immediately had to find a gas station. However, if this helps Spaceships lower their prices compared to their competitors, we’ll survive!
Spaceships offer three insurance levels. Here’s a short overview, but you can read much more on their website.
All-inclusive: 30 NZD per day but no excess
Partial: 20 NZD per day with a 1500 NZD excess
Standard: Free with a 3000 NZD excess
What you choose is entirely up to personal preferences. We chose to go without insurance because we simply thought they were too expensive. The partial one, in particular, is a joke because it offers no protection whatsoever except a lower excess. For the all-inclusive option, at least you are fully covered for a number of problems you may run into. In our personal opinion, when you go for the cheapest possible campervan rental, it doesn’t make sense to splurge on insurance. Again, this is entirely up to you, and there’s nothing wrong with playing it safe!
More Useful Information
Here’s a bit more useful info about renting with Spaceships in general. The below holds true for any of their vehicle models.
- The minimum hire is 5 days in winter and 10 days in summer. However, this might be negotiable if you call them upfront.
- Cancellation is free within 7 days of making a booking.
- You are allowed to take the ferry between the South and the North Island (Picton and Wellington). You can even buy a ferry voucher directly with Spaceships during booking. Many car rental companies do not allow this and force you to change vehicles on either side of the crossing.
- Spaceships are very popular so you should book your campervan well in advance. This is especially true in summer where you should book at least a few months prior.
- You can’t request a specific name for your campervan during summer, but in winter you can give them a call to ask. Personally, we think it’s part of the excitement seeing what/who you get. In the end, we were very happy about our “Spaceman”.
The Spaceships Rocket
The first thing you should know about the Spaceships Rocket is that it’s one of the cheapest campervans for hire in New Zealand. Full stop. While the company has a number of higher-end vehicles as well, the Rocket isn’t it. This campervan is the cheapest of the cheapest in their fleet. Keep that in mind as you read through the review. Remember that choosing the extreme budget option will always have some sort of price. Keep on reading to learn what the trade-offs are and whether the Rocket is right for you. It was for us, but we honestly don’t think it will be for everyone.
The Car Itself
The Spaceships Rocket is actually a Toyota Estima. However, in Europe, it will be known as a Toyota Previa, and in Australia, it’s a Toyota Tarago. Tomayto, tomahto. They all have a 2.4-litre gasoline engine with a fuel consumption of 10-11 litres per 100 km. It runs on unleaded petrol and boasts a 4-speed automatic transmission. It’s less than 5 meters long, and less than 2 meters tall. It comes with air conditioner and heating, as well as a respectable stereo system. Spaceships supply an AUX cable you can use with your phone to listen to music, but there’s no Bluetooth connectivity.
In short, it has everything you need but nothing too fancy. As a matter of fact, you don’t even get cruise control. Everything just kind of works, but you don’t get any bells and whistles. Try to think of the kind of car an American soccer mom would drive. The Toyota Estima is exactly that. It’s reliable, it’s safe, it’s simple, it’s unpretentious, it’s easy to drive, and above all else, it’s economical.
Spaceships Rockets are Old But Cheap
However, it’s also quite old. For the price, that is probably understandable. We paid 53 NZD per day, and we dare say you won’t find anything cheaper than that. Again, this is about managing expectations. 53 NZD will hardly get two people dinner in New Zealand, but it got us a fully functional van that we could sleep in, with unlimited kilometres and which performed adequately for 4 weeks straight without any issues. Of course, it was old. Based on the stickers in the car, it was from the year 2000 and had been imported used from Japan. It had driven almost 200.000 kilometres and time had not been particularly kind to it. However, we had previously rented a Jucy van, and that one had almost double the mileage!
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Ugly Interior & Exterior
In addition to being very old and well used, one thing all Jucy vans and Spaceships Rockets have in common is their exceptionally ugly exterior. It’s almost impressive how hideous the cars are. It’s not just because it’s a Toyota Estima, it’s also the paint job. The orange colour of the Rocket was a bad choice to begin with, but then the sun and the rust started working its magic on it. The result is an abomination on four wheels. If you want a pretty van for your Instagram pictures, the Rocket won’t help you out. That being said, we drove around for 4 weeks and not once did we see a stunningly beautiful rental vehicle. You’ll have a real struggle finding something that is aesthetically pleasing.
Note that Spaceships Rentals do have models in their range which are newer and less heavily branded. They just aren’t very pretty either. We knew upfront that driving around in an ugly car wouldn’t ruin our holiday in any way. What we were more concerned about was the practicality of living day in and day out in such a small campervan. And there were some issues in this regard.
Check out the availability and prices of OTHER SPACESHIP MODELS – HERE!
Problems with Space
The biggest problem we had with the Spaceships Rocket was space. The first few nights, the bed felt too short, and we couldn’t figure out a good way to store our luggage. Over time, these things improved, and after about a week, we had it all figured out. It wasn’t easy, though.
The Spaceships Rocket is actually rated for four people if two of those sleep in a tent outside. There is a set of backseats which seem to function quite well so you could comfortably drive four people around. However, four people would run into huge luggage space issues. In our opinion, it wouldn’t be possible. If you are more than a couple, get a bigger car.
For one, we were lucky to be bringing soft backpacks with us. If you are carrying hard suitcases, you might really struggle to find space for them. They are supposed to go under the bed, in a fixed compartment, but if you can’t squeeze them tight, you can’t be sure they’ll actually fit. Otherwise, the compartment is great because it comes with a key and a lock. This is a good extra level of security in case you need to store some stuff in the car while out for a hike.
The Size of the Bed
Secondly, if you are rather tall, you won’t fit the bed. Spaceships quote the bed as being 192 centimetres long, but Nick struggled quite a bit, and he is only 181. Just because the mattress might be longer, remember to factor in the fact that you can’t use each and every inch of space without hitting your head into the rear window and your feet into the front seats. We found the window blinds to be rather annoying in this respect as well because they hang down into your face (the worst part about them, though, is that they actually don’t filter the light out very well). You can get an extension to make the bed almost 240 centimetres long, but in that case, it will extend outside. There is a waterproof piece of fabric you can then attach, but that’s hardly a long term solution – especially if it’s cold outside. As a result, we wouldn’t advise you to pick this van if you are much more than 180 centimetres tall.
Note, though, that we had the same problems when we drove around in a Jucy campervan in Australia. It seems to be a general problem with vehicles of this size.
If You Suffer From Claustrophobia...
If you are taller, or if you suffer from even from a mild degree of claustrophobia, we suggest you get a properly sized motorhome. This would also allow you to stand up inside the van, which can work wonders, especially if the weather forces you to spend a full day inside. We had a few of those days ourselves and spent them sitting in the front seat reading. It does get a bit tiresome, really. Because there is room for luggage under the bed, the bed is raised so high that you can’t actually sit on it. The biggest problem with that is in the evening. Here you might want to watch some Netflix, preferably sitting on the bed, leaning yourself against the rear window. That is NOT possible. You will have to lie down entirely or sit in the front seat.
Cooking Within the Spaceship Rocket
In some campervans you get a small kitchen in the back, but not in the Rocket. We actually liked this fact because a kitchen like that would take up a lot of space. There’s no point in having a kitchen sink in a small vehicle like this, you end up not using it. You would only have cold water anyway, and you would need a manual pump to make it run. You think to yourself that you might make use of it, but in reality, you don’t bother. It’s pretty much useless for washing dishes and, in our experience, you just end up filling the sink with junk.
In the Rocket, you put up a rectangular piece of wood behind the bed in the back of the car. This piece of wood can function as a table for you to prepare food on. You open the hatch upwards and stand under it. In theory, this would keep you dry if it’s raining. In reality, it doesn’t offer much shelter. The hatch will not stop the rain unless there is no wind at all. Unfortunately, there is pretty much always a bit of wind in New Zealand!
We didn’t use this back table much. Instead, we got ourselves a camping table and two camping chairs and did most of our cooking there. If it was raining, we took shelter inside the common area of the campground or found somewhere with a roof to do our cooking. In the rare cases where there wasn’t a roof available, and it was raining, we skipped hot dinner.
The Spaceships Rockets come with two mobile gas stoves which function quite well. Of course, the wind will render them completely ineffective, even in the absence of rain. That’s just the way things are in a small campervan. The only way around this is to get a larger sized motorhome where you can cook inside in a proper kitchen.
glistening shores of the Mediterranean at Monaco. What more could ask for than starting in the mountains and ending on warm sandy beaches?
No Auxiliary Battery
The Spaceships Rocket doesn’t come with an auxiliary battery. This means there is no fridge, and it also means you can’t run the air conditioner or the heater without turning on the ignition.
The lack of a fridge wasn’t a problem for us. In fact, we preferred it this way. Based on prior experience, the fridges running on 12v batteries are completely unreliable. They take 5-6 hours of continuous driving EACH DAY to recharge, and they still don’t get quite cold enough. Instead, Spaceships supply a 20-litre coolbox that we used for food and then we bought an extra one for drinks. We filled them up with ice every third day, costing us about 10 NZD on every occasion. That way we had total control of keeping everything cool, although, the ice does take up a lot of space inside the boxes. You won’t have space for food for more than 2-3 days, which is fine since the ice melts in that time anyway.
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The final thing we want to touch upon in this review is accessories. During the booking process, you can choose from a wide range of different ones.
We didn’t go for any of the accessories because we expected they were just a way for Spaceships to extract a bit of extra money from us. We later came to regret that decision.
First and foremost, we highly recommend you get the 240-volt mains plug. You need it whenever you are in a proper campground to get power. Combine it with a regular extension cord to recharge your phone, power banks, laptops, camera, etc. We needed it pretty much right away but didn’t find one for weeks. There aren’t that many hardware stores around, and it was sold out in the first few we visited. It would have been much easier to get it from Spaceships.
We also recommend you rent tables and chairs through the company. We bought our own stuff but were surprised by the high prices. You will probably save money by renting from Spaceships.
You should also get a car charger for the cigarette plug. You’ll need that for charging your phone on the go. This is essential since you’ll be using your phone for directions. Don’t get their GPS! It’s way too expensive as you pay per day. Just download offline maps with the Google Maps app instead and use your phone. It works wonders.
There is the option of a mosquito net for windows, but it doesn’t seem to be compatible with the Rocket. You might inquire to Spaceships whether they have a solution for that because it is quite annoying not to be able to open the windows. Some places have a ton of sandflies, and you really don’t want those little buggers inside. It can get really hot in the small car and in those cases you must either sweat or get eaten alive by bugs. An impossible choice really.
It also seems there is no child seat support in the Rocket, but again, you should inquire directly with Spaceships to see if they have a solution for that. They are generally really helpful and will do their best to figure something out.
Book a Spaceships Rocket HERE!
That’s it for this review of the Spaceships Rocket. We hope it helps you take an informed decision. In general, we really liked our car, but we weren’t too sad to say goodbye to it either. Luckily, whichever vehicle you choose, you’ll have a wonderful time in New Zealand. Ask anybody, and they’ll say New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with some of the friendliest people. We found that to be entirely true!
If you still have any unanswered questions about the Rocket, we apologize! However, you are very likely to find your answer in this Spaceships FAQ.
About The Author
This review is a guest post written by Nick & Kia from The Danish Nomads. They are full-time travel bloggers who quit their job, sold all their possessions, and are now living an exciting life on the road. Through their blog, they help others travel more and live a life of adventure as well. Follow them for travel inspiration, itineraries, destination guides, and much more. They are also active on all major social media channels, including Twitter and Instagram.
Nick & Kia have spent 4-weeks on New Zealand’s beautiful roads behind the wheel of a Spaceships Rocket. This review is based on their personal experience, with the aim of making it fact-based and unbiased.