Luckily renting a camper van in New Zealand doesn't have to cost a New Zealand zillion. With camper van relocation websites you can travel the islands and even cross the ferry for as little as $1/day.
Relocation is just as it sounds, rental companies need to relocate their cars in order to fill their future orders. The most cost effective way for them to do that is find a third party willing to move the vehicle paying as little as $1/day to $5/day depending on the type of vehicle you’re opting to move. That’s a crazy good price, especially for New Zealand.
Our first thought was why so cheap? What’s the catch?
Well, companies can either hire a driver to move the vehicle or put it out to a third party source who will actually pay them to do the job. Sure you’re paying the company to do their job, but as a traveler you’re filling the demands of transportation for an affordable price and if you find the right vehicle it can double up as your accommodation costs.
The trick we found after trying out different relocation jobs was making sure that your costs of gas and insurance don’t double up to be more than you would normally pay to rent a car. In the six months we were traveling New Zealand we had a chance to compare relocation vehicles with rentals and we also compiled a solid list of all the camper van companies to compare and rent from. It can be a costly journey around New Zealand, but hopefully by sharing our own trial and errors you can travel smarter.
How The Relocation System Works
Relocations happen all over the world, most popular places are Australia and New Zealand, but you can find opportunities in Europe, Canada, and the USA
In New Zealand, the relocations are primarily from one big city to another. You might find the occasional trip to Greymouth (West coast of the South Island) or Dunedin (pretty far south), but the most frequent routes set out from Auckland and Christchurch. Sites or companies that have relocation options will list their cars and the window in which they need them by.
They usually allow for 2-4 days of travel. We gather that their calculation of time allotted is based on the distance traveled and a calculations of how many hours drivers can safely drive on New Zealand roads. There’s usually a set “earliest pick up date” and a set “last day to drop off.” On average, there’s a window of two weeks in which you can pick the dates that best suite your trip. Keep in mind that just because there is a two week window between pickup and drop off, it doesn’t mean that the vehicle is available for a two week hire. Companies are trying to relocate vehicles for the next renter, so the faster they can move cars the better.
The key to snagging the best deals is moving a car or camper van right when the companies need it most.
Meaning when cars are approaching the “last day to drop off” date. They’ll often be willing to throw in some gas and potentially pay for a portion of the journey. We found the best deals when we continuously checked relocation sites, keeping an eye on the routes we were interested in and the approaching dates.
How To Find These Relocation Deals
We followed the advice of Thrify Nomads to find two great companies: iMoova and Transfer A Car. Both provide lots of opportunities to relocate vehicles for cheap, sometimes even for free. We used iMoova as we were looking for camper vans to move. Because the freedom camping laws in New Zealand specify only self-contained vehicles can freedom camp, we wanted to find a deal that allowed us to sleep wherever—meaning free accommodation.
You can search iMoova’s website setting criteria such as pickup and drop off locations or pickup times. The site will list any vehicles in need of relocation and how many days you have to get the vehicle to the drop off point. Depending on the distance, the company will allow anywhere from 2-5 days of time to complete the journey. Some relocations list an option to add extra time to the journey, which will come at an additional charge, but they’re usually reasonable about the time they allow. Imoova lists deals about one to two weeks in advance, which means planning on the fly and checking the site regularly.
Other options for finding deals include checking the homepage of major rental companies like Juicy, Britz, and Wicked where they have a separate section listed for relocation camper vans. You can also contact rental car companies like Apex and Hertz to see what relocation vehicles they may have available and from where. It takes a bit of creativity and patience, but there are a lot of vehicles moving in New Zealand and a demand for people to move them.
**FREEDOM CAMPING: As the title suggests, travelers are welcome to camp for free with some minor regulations. Camping is free in designated areas widely spread across New Zealand. This can be anything from a parking lot, to amazing lake side camp grounds. Don’t risk a $200 fine by sleeping where you’re not welcome. There are plenty of places to camp and they’re easy to find using Camper Mate. Most importantly, freedom camping is strictly for self-contained vehicles only. This means that you carry your own water, and waste tank with you. Places designated for self-contained camping, will often send around someone in the evening to check that all vehicles have the self-contained registration and sticker. Most camper van rentals come as self-contained, with the sticker. If you are not self-contained, meaning you require bathroom facilities there are still places to camp for free. Free camp sites for not self-contained have bathroom facilities. **
How To Book a Relocation Vehicle
Websites will have potential drivers apply for a specific relocation vehicle. You’re not automatically approved if you enter in your credit card details. This seems to be a chance for companies like iMoova to check the details of the journey and to assign the appropriate vehicle that matches. For example when we applied for a relocation across the Cook Strait up to Auckland, we had set our pickup date and drop off date and before being approved we received a call from a customer service representative who worked with us to make sure we had a vehicle that matched our outlined journey. If we didn’t receive a call, we were approved within 48hours via e-mail.
There are some requirements for relocations in New Zealand the first of which being that drivers must be at least 21 years old. The second, is that drivers are required to have a valid drivers license. This doesn’t mean you have to have an international drivers license. If you possess a valid license from an English speaking country, it is suitable for renting in New Zealand. We don’t have the specific details on what licenses work when not from an English speaking country (just meaning English is not the primary language), but we met plenty of travelers from all over Europe and South America that were driving and renting without any trouble. Companies also require a bond to cover the car. It’s usually held on a credit card, that is returned (or not charged) upon completing the journey.
What Happens After Your Booking Is Confirmed
When your booking is confirmed you’ll be sent an e-mail detailing the specifications of the rental—where to pick-up, drop-off, and for how long. Most rentals set out from the airports. This worked out for us as we were able to return our motorhome at the airport the day we were flying out. It can be a bit of a pain if you’re not flying or if the previous relocation was not set to be returned at the airport, as then you have to pay for a bus or a taxi to get to the rental terminal, but most often you can line up your relocations to match your flight plans.
Picking up your relocation vehicle is surprisingly easy. Through the website we were confirmed and given an address to pick up our vehicle. When we first booked online, the specific types of vehicles and the rental companies weren’t listed. The listings were organized according to size, anywhere from sudan to four berth motorhomes. Once confirmed, we received the details about where to pick up the vehicle, meaning what rental company we were working with. It wasn’t until we got to the Hertz that we actually got to see the type of car we were set to travel the south with. It was an amazing surprise when we applied for a “car” and we picked up a brand new Ssangyong SUV with all the bells and whistles and plenty of room for us to sleep in the back for just $1/day.
We also applied for a relocation from Christchurch to Auckland that included the ferry and ended up moving a four berth Maui BMW motorhome for just $5/day.
Something important to consider upon pick up is insurance. The rental companies will have more information about the best insurance and the options possible when you pick up, but it’s definitely worth consideration. This is the part that makes relocations more expensive. It is certainly an option to go with no insurance and simply pay the $1-$5/day for a vehicle making it ridiculously cheap, but it is advisable to get some sort of insurance.
What It Actually Costs
Vehicles are listed for their renting price not including gas or insurance and of course there is a booking fee. The ridiculously cheap prices of $1-$5/day is the renting price. Some bookings also require a deposit that is returned once you pickup the vehicle just for good measure in case renters have to cancel. So what does it come out to exactly? We have two specific examples, the brand new SUV and the four berth motorhome, in which we broke down the costs to see which one was a better deal.
Ssangyong SUV from Queenstown to Christchurch: 2 Day allowance; unlimited kilometers
iMoova Rental—$1/day x 2 days = $2
iMoova Booking Fee— $25
Insurance With Rental Company (optional)— $62
Gas For the 643.2km driven —$140
*Normally only 490km
Total = $229
Divided by 2 days brought it to $114.50/day with gas price/km = 0.22
Motorhome from Christchurch to Auckland: 4 Day Allowance; Unlimited km
iMoova Rental — $5/day x 4 days = $20
Extra day extension (optional) — $100/day x 1 day = $100
iMoova Booking Fee — $25
Insurance With Rental Company (Optional) — $54
Gas For the 1,114km Drive— $209.5
Surprise Disel Tax — $83.5
Total = $492
Divided by 5 days brought it to $98/day with gas price/km = 0.19
Backpacker Special From Apex Rentals: 5 day hire; unlimited km
Rental Cost = $257 (including insurance)
Gas For The 831.4km driven = $140
Total = $397
Divided by 5 days brought it to $79.4/day with gas price/km = 0.17
If we drove all three options from Queenstown to Christchurch (483km) here’s what we found the daily price to be:
Motorhome iMoova Relocation
Ssangyong iMoova Relocation
Based on our cost break down we uncovered that despite the motorhome rentals high overall cost, it turned out to be the best daily cost. Diesel is the cheapest option in New Zealand and although the rental companies hit you with a surprise diesel tax, it still turned out to be a cheaper way to move. What really saved us in the end was not having to pay for accommodation with the motorhome. The rental car from Apex was certainly an affordable option, but because it wasn’t self-contained and there wasn’t any room to sleep in the back, we were spending lots of money on hostels. Overall advice, we learned that relocations aren’t worth it unless they either include accommodation or you have a plan for affordable accommodation wherever you’re headed.
Sure it’s frustrating that something listed as $1/day turns out to be X amount when all the fees are tackled, but if the goal is to get from A—B then the right relocation (including accommodation) is the cheapest option other than hitch hiking. Relocation vehicles give you the convenience to drive at your own pace and stop where you like. Plus you may get to live out of a sweet motorhome for a week on a backpacker budget, something we never thought we could afford. It takes a bit of luck and some patience, but it’s an amazing way to see the whole of NZ as it should be seen— driving.
Tips For Relocating
The best deals and most frequent options were from Auckland heading down south
Search early and search frequently
Purchase the insurance
Download Camper Mate
Give yourself time to make the journey
Realize it maybe a lot of driving
Relocation vehicles move quite quickly, especially during the summer season, so search often and if there is a good deal jump on it