On our recent trip to New Zealand's North Island, we decided to keep it simple and more or less play it by ear. Rather than mapping out every destination, activity, and place to stay, we just formed a general plan - visit some friends and family, watch a game of rugby, and check out some lovely scenery. Simple. Easy. We had already done a two week driving holiday around the South Island in a cheap rental car but this time we wanted to have even more flexibility and freedom. By booking a campervan we gave ourselves loads of options. We could take advantage of New Zealand’s numerous freedom camping sites, stay at any of the hundreds of holiday parks, park up on a friend's front lawn, or even find a last minute hotel.
For a small country New Zealand has quite a few campervan rental companies to choose from, with options for every budget. All of the campervan rental companies have a variety of vehicles to choose from, are close to major airports, and offer complementary shuttle bus services to make life easy. I spent quite a few hours searching for the best campervan deals and at the end of that search I settled on the Hippie Hitop Camper from Apollo Motorhomes.
While all the rental companies had similar vehicles on offer, Apollo Motorhomes were the cheapest by far. If you are wanting to compare prices make sure you don’t just look at the daily rental rate. Use the company websites and go through the booking process to make sure you’ve factored in all of the extra costs – most importantly the cost of insurance cover. In a lot of cases the insurance ended up more expensive than the rental. Always get insurance cover!
The total cost for the Hippie Hitop Camper for a 9 day period (including insurance cover) over the long Easter Weekend was about $500. That was roughly $200 less than the next cheapest quote or about 30% cheaper. Yay, deal! That $200 dollar savings could be better spent on supplies from the Auckland Cruelty Free Shop– which is exactly where it went.
However the risk when you go with the cheapest price is that you get what you pay for. So how did the Hippie Hitop Camper stack up and what about the service from Apollo?
The service from Apollo was fairly good. They were kind enough to send out an email a week before our departure date to warn us that, since we were picking up on Easter Saturday, they would likely be very busy. Their advice was to get there early. Unfortunately they must have sent the same warning to everyone so when we arrived at 8am on the Saturday there was already a pretty big queue of people waiting to get their vehicles. Even with the rush of people it wasn’t a significant wait. We signed the rental agreements, got the campervan tour and how-to guide, and were on the road by a little after 9am. Not bad.
On the return there was no queue at all and the whole process was pretty speedy. A quick check for damage and then they dropped us at Auckland Airport in their shuttle bus. The staff are friendly enough and fairly efficient to help you get underway quickly. The Apollo website (like most of the others) has believable reviews, image galleries to show you what you’re getting, and some useful videos which are well worth watching before you pick up for rental.
Hippie Hitop Camper
The Hippie Hitop Camper ended up being well beyond what we had expected. It’s running a grunty little petrol engine so it’s got a bit of power – enough to keep up with the traffic and make it up steep hills without everyone having to lean forward.
In the back there is plenty of space. I was surprised that I could stand up without hitting my head on the roof. Always nice to end a trip without bumps on your head. Once you get the table out of the way and put the bed together you have a decent size sleeping area. The downside is that the “mattress” is very thin. There is also another raised bedding area suitable for a small child (or very light adult). We made our bed more comfortable by grabbing the mattress from the single bed and using that to pad ours out a little. That worked a treat and was nice and comfortable.
Inside you have a small fridge, sink, microwave, and stovetop. In some of the smaller towns we visited there were no vegetarian or vegan menu options, so having the ability to cook our own meals was great! It’s not a must if you are staying at camp grounds as they all have shared cooking facilities you can use.
- If you are going to drive around New Zealand make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, and aim to get there before dark. The roads are often windy, narrow, and wet (it rains a lot in New Zealand even in summer). Drive carefully and remember it’s better to get there safely than to get there quickly. Also, keep an eye out for signs warning you of sharp corners and recommended speeds for upcoming turns. When you see a sign telling you to take a corner at 30km/hr you should take heed.
- There is a petrol station just a few moments down the road from Apollo. As you need to return your vehicle with a full tank of gas this is helpful. Unfortunately we didn’t notice it until after we had found a petrol station and filled up somewhere else.
- The pillows are terrible. Thin and mostly pointless. I had seen this mentioned on the reviews on their website but didn’t think much of it. Next time I’ll pay some more $$ and get a couple of extra pillows.
- There is no built in toilet facilities on the Hippie Hitop Camper, though that’s clear from the description on the website. It’s not a problem because there are plenty of public facilities but it does mean you can’t stay at some of the freedom camping sites restricted to certified self contained vehicles.
- You can purchase a mobile Wi-Fi device to use during your trip from Apollo if you wish. We found it cheaper to just buy a SIM card from Telecom that included a decent data allowance at the airport. Vodafone is also at the airport but the Telecom deal seemed better.