Before writing this post I thought I'd write two separate ones - one for Australia and one for New Zealand, but than I realized that I can't separate them. Different countries, but at the same time one experience is incomplete without another.
So I thought I will combine and share with you my thoughts and all the information I gathered while renting, driving and living in a motorhome during a 2 months adventure in the Southern Hemisphere.
But first lets clear the terminology - motorhome vs campervan. What's the difference you might ask? For many of us who face these two terms for the first time they might seem the same - was also for me. Motorhome is a huge vehicle, which offers you sleeping, cooking, showering and traveling opportunity in the most convinient way. You have space, you have a separate WC and a shower and you have the opportunity to leave your bed unfolded without loosing any space. You can stay inside when cooking your food. You can unpack your clothes inside the vehicle. Basically it is like a small home on the wheels.
Campervans are smaller in size and are usually convertible - meaning you will have to fold your bed to have the seating opportunity. They have a WC sometimes portable sometimes integrated ones and shower (but relatively small) and most likely you will have to get outside to cook your food. In most of the cases you will not have enough space to unpack your stuff inside and might need to get out of the vehicle to do so.
There are plenty of different configurations both with motorhomes and campervans (some have an extra roof, so you one could stand inside without bending) - in other words motorhome offers you more luxury and comfort.
I'm going to talk about our motorhome experience. So here we go - one day a three of us (my man, myself and our almost 2 y.o. daughter) decided to go on a motorhome adventure - first in Australia and later in New Zealand. And so the story begins.
3 reasons why we decided to road trip by motorhome?
Reason 1 Australia and New Zealand are some of the safest and easiest countries to travel in a motorhome. Infrustructure and country development offer endless opportunities for road trippers. With so much to see we felt that we might need a bit more freedom than motels and b&b's can offer. We wanted to have an opportunity to stop and enjoy a sunset or have lunch or dinner under the open sky.
Reason 2 Traveling with a kid. Since our little daughter came along on this trip one of the main goals was to bring the packing-unpacking process to minimum - living out of a suitcase could turn into a quite exhausting routine. The reason we chose motorhome and not campervan was the opportunity to have more space and comfort, especially in NZ where the outside temperatures could be very chilly.
Reason 3 When we started planning both trips and sat down at our planning spot aka kitchen table and drew a map (actually two maps - one for AUS and one for NZ) we figured out that some points of interest were accessable only with a help of a motorhome - our trip agenda was quite intense and it meant that we would have had to change far too many places, which automatically brought us to the reason 2. I was aiming for sunrises and sunset photos and these are hard to achieve when you are travelling with a kid - sunrise is breakfast time and sunset is time to go to bed. With motorhome one can combine parenting with being at the spot, which gives one freedom.
Choosing a motorhome
First of all we did a market research and figured out that if you are looking for a motorhome your options are quite limited, especially when you are searching for something particular. Campervan and motorhome market is vast both in Australia and New Zealand but most rentals are offered for campervans.
Maui, Britz and Mighly belong together - Maui vehicles are the newest (up to 2.5 years) and the most modern ones (large windows and modern interior included), afterwards they go to Britz (for the next two years) and then end up by Mighty. This reflects on the vehicles state of shape and age as well as inner equipment, but what surprised us the most not so much in renting price. Of course there is price difference between Maui and Mighty but it is not a significant one.
Apollo vehicles are a maximum of three years of age and are also well and modern equiped.
We didn't do much research on Jucy, but saw plenty of vehicles along the way and talking to people showed that most of them them were happy in their decision.
Another great source for finding best rental deals is Campervan Finder.
For New Zealand you might want to check Rankers page and App. It is a great source of all information about motorhomes and campervans - from caravan parks reviews to travelers reviews about renting companies.
What we learnt from the experience - sometimes it is worth investing a bit more. If the price difference is not too significant I would always recommend renting from a company which offers the newest vehicles - at the end it will save you some nerves. That is why we have seen way more Maui motorhomes on the roads than the Mighty ones, just saying.
But at the end the decision is made based on price and availability. When we were looking for motorhomes, about 1 month before the trip we figured out that a lot of motorhomes were not available for rent due to school holidays season both in Australia and New Zealand. And voila there were not that many option to choose out of.
Long story short for Australia we chose 4 berth Seeker from Cruising and for New Zealand a Maui, Platinum Beach motorhomes.
P.S. Be sure to check this post about best times to travel in New Zealand.
Renting a motorhome
It was our first experience renting a motorhome and we assumed that it is done similarly to renting a car - you go online, choose desired features, click "book" and wait for an email confirmation.
It wasn't quite so. There are two ways of making a booking:
Directly over company page (or making a call). You could do it online, but it won't be a direct booking - after completing the check out form you will receive a quote with all the booking details details. After that you could still decide if that's what you want (usually you'll have about 48 hours to confirm). It is easy if you already had experience with motorhomes and know excatly what you want. We actually wanted to talk to someone who could answer our questions - which was no problem, you just had to wait until midnight to make a call (time difference surely didn't make it easy).
Second way of booking is to rent your motorhome over third party. There are quite some companies on the German market like Bestcamper which have overview and price comparison from multiple companies. This is a good option for those who are limited in time and don't want to check through all possible separate web-pages. It is also a big advantage that these 3d party companies are working in your time-zone, meaning you don't need to stay up late to make a call. The disadvantage of this option is that you can't really rely on the information from the web-page, because they always have to double check with the provider whether the vehicle is available or not. We have faced some troubles when the chosen offer was no longer available or the vehicle was already rented out even though it was still marked as "available". This option is not necessarily a more expensive one, since 3d party companies also have special offers available.
And don't forget about an international drivers licence - you will need it both in Australia and New Zealand.
Costs of a motorhome
I'm going to talk more about it in my future posts, but let me tell you this - traveling in a motorhome is expensive. Yes, you read it right. During high demand periods the one night in motorhome will cost you about 150 Euro.
This doesn't include gas, extra costs and overnight stays at camping grounds or caravan parks. To compare prices - one can get some good old motels for about 80 Euro. A modern hotel in a city would costs you about 140 Euro (in both Australia and New Zealand). Motorhomes are not about saving - they are about adventures.
If you are looking for a budget option go for campervans.
Is it worth booking additional packages?
Yes, but choose wisely. I would definetely recommend you to book a full-cover insurance. We never booked one before, but with first time driving a motorhome gave it a try. We didn't have any accidents in Australia, but in New Zealand a grandpa drove backwards with his truck and hit us in the 'face'. Noone was hurt (he was driving about 5 km/h) but the vehicle got some serious damages as well as the windshield crack. We were fully covered so upon return noone even cared.
Child seat, camping chairs and table as well as gas bottle are also good ones.
I wouldn't recommend buying any Wi-Fi data packages though - in Australia you will have coverage all over as well as cheap sim-cards from supermarkets. In New Zealand it won't really work.
How many people fit in a motorhome?
It looked very confusing to us when we first started searching for a motorhome. But at the end it is quite simple - it all depends on configuration. A larger vehicle could sleep less people than a smaller vehicle. It is always written in the description how many sleeping places does one motorhome have. But it is the same as with b&b's when they offer you a couch - the amount of sleeping places doesn't guarantee you comfort of a normal bed.
That's why don't be surprised, when you see an offer for a larger vehicle sleeping 6 passangers which is priced chepaer than the one which sleeps 4.
While traveling we have noticed that people who drove motorhomes were traveling in couples or with 1-2 kids. Rarely we have seen 4 people sharing a motorhome (usually chinese tourists or younger groups). Only once we have seen 6 people actually living in one motorhome. This means that people opt for more space and comfort.
Always check for deals. Most of the operators have deals on their web pages and some are not bad at all. This relates to direct operators as well as to the third party ones. For instance, many would give you a significant discount if you rent for a longer period (usually from 16 days onwards).
Off season or weekend deals are also quite good.
Direction deals - one way trips are usually more expensive than round trips. Some directions are cheaper to drive than others. For example it was way cheaper to rent a motorhome for Cairns to Brisbane than from Brisbane to Cairns. Almost 50% cheaper. That's why we changed our original plans and flew to Cairns instead of Brisbane. Why does it happen? Because companies want to have their vehicles available at every station and not keep them at one location, so when there are way too many at one location they want to relocate them and thus reduce the rental price.
Some of the best deals are the relocation deals - here you would even get paid to travel, but you have to stick to the rules - usually it's a certain route in a certain amount of days. When we checked there were relocation deals where you had to go from Brisbane to Tasmania in 9 days. With these you will have to be flexible and understand that this is about relocating a car and getting some cash and not about relaxed traveling.
Buying a motorhome - if you are planning a long-term trip consider this option. It will save you a lot of money since in the end you can sell your vehicle to the next traveler. Many "work and travel" groups put money together and buy campervans and motorhomes to travel around.
I hope that this post was helpful. Be sure to drop me a message in case of questions. Stay tuned, in the next posts I will tell you about driving and living in a motorhome and about camping rules in Australia and New Zeland.