How to choose the best car for a road trip in New Zealand

How to choose the best car for a road trip in New Zealand?

Before jumping online and searching for the car that you will drive around beautiful New Zealand during your gap year, it is important to take the time to evaluate your needs. It will help you narrow down your options and select the best ride for you. Taking into account a bunch of factors like: number of passengers, length of the trip, distance to be travelled, your budget, etc. Use this guide to find out what the best car is for your road trip in New Zealand, so you can make the most of your trip down here.

We will compare the following categories:

Small Cars

Smaller cars are excellent vehicles for couples or two friends. Inexpensive to buy and cheaper to run than any other option on this list, they are the ultimate way to save money on the road. With the ever-increasing price of gas, a smaller car is a sure way to save in the long run. Also, the ferry cost and car price in itself is cheaper.

Small cars are also a breeze to drive and park in urban areas, which makes them great to use to commute to work when settling in one place for a while. Due to the size of the car, you will have to rely on camping gear or hostels. Luckily, campsites and backpacker hostels are cheap and plentiful in New Zealand.

Small cars are recommended for:

  • People who have a small budget
  • People who are travelling in a group of two
  • People who plan to go camping or stay in hostels
  • People who are not well experienced in driving bigger vehicle

Station wagons

Station wagons are everywhere in New Zealand. Models like Nissan Wingroad, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Caldina are very reliable and relatively cheap throughout New Zealand. But most importantly, it is easy to source cheap parts for them if something happens, even in the remote regions of the country.

Station wagons are by far the most popular category of this list thanks to their flexibility. Either lay the back passenger seats back and put in a mattress, or travel with a bigger group of friends to split the cost of the trip. Bear in mind that you will still have to use campsites, if you decide to sleep in your car. Plus, you will need to purchase an air mattress, sleeping bags and pillows.

Station wagons are recommended for:

  • Groups on a tight budget
  • Couple of campers
  • People who plan to take hitchhikers along the road
  • People who are cool with sleeping in a car for months


The most popular vans in New Zealand are by far the Toyota Estima and Toyota Serena. You will see more than one of these vans every day on the road. Due to the fact that most people want to spend their whole trip in their vans, this option is most suited to couples. More than two people living in such a close quarter is usually too much to deal with.

Because of the gas mileage and sometimes challenging maneuverability, vans are recommended for those that plan to take it slow and travel at a relaxed pace. You will not want to chew on a long distances in a van. Count a 3-month trip minimum!

Vans are also the best options for small groups of 3-4 friends that want to travel together and stay in hostels. It will fit all the luggage and make a comfortable trip for all.

When buying a van, focus on low kilometres and preferably nothing older than 1995-2000 range. Generally, vans are a bit more expensive to purchase than the two previous options. Parts are also easy to find but they are a bit pricier too.

Vans are recommended for:

  • People who have a bigger budget
  • Two people travelling together or a group of friends that will stay in hostels
  • People who are planning to sleep the majority of the time in the van
  • People who have lots of time to travel around New Zealand


When talking about campervans in New Zealand, only one name comes to mind: Toyota Hiace! You can drive even the most travelled Hiace with over 500,000km on the counter around New Zealand multiple times. This model just doesn’t seem to die. We recommend you get a 2001-2006 model. They are currently the best value for money.

Campervans are most suited to 2-3 passengers who are planning to travel for a very long time, driver a lot of kilometres, and explore the countryside of New Zealand. Travellers in campervans must want to focus on camping and leave their somewhat luxurious lifestyle back home. It is also very important to budget correctly for such a trip as campervan will be very gas-guzzling.

Most campervans will come fully equipped with bed, kitchen, toilet, etc. But plan to invest a few dollars on a new gas bottle, pillows, blankets, cooking pots and any other items that you need but may not be supplied. (Or the ones supplied are too old/dirty).

Campervans are recommended for:

  • People who have enough money to purchase one
  • People who are travelling in a group of 2-3
  • People who prefer to cook for themselves
  • People who are planning to sleep every night in their campervan
  • People who have lots of time to explore New Zealand

Do you need to buy a 4WD to travel New Zealand?

4-wheel-drive or 4WD are by far the most expensive type of vehicle to purchase and operate in New Zealand. Aside from their extra comfort, they do not offer any real advantage in New Zealand as most places are easily accessible with a normal vehicle. The extra cost at the pump and at purchase is simply outweighs the extra comfort of a larger seat. Spend your money on experience in New Zealand, not on gas!

Car Insurance for Backpackers

Don’t forget that Backpackers Motor Insurance offers reliable and affordable car insurance for travellers like you. It includes unlimited kilometres, low excess and has no age limit. You can even add fire & theft cover and roadside assistance! Get a free quote right now:

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Ashley L. UK
Backpackers Motor Insurance was a great resource for me to buy my campervan in New Zealand. I used their guide step by step to check the campervan that I wanted to buy. Their cover was pretty cheap so I decided to go for it. The whole process was super easy!
James M. Singapore
I found out about Backpackers Motor insurance through a friend of mine that left New Zealand just when I arrived. It was perfect for me as I only wanted to travel for about 6 months and did not want to take the risk to travel uncovered but also did not want to spend too much.
Anna K. Germany
I was lucky enough not to have to claim anything during my trip - we had no accidents at all. But it was a great option to have this safety blanket at a cheap price. I compared quite a lot different insurance options before my trip and this one had the best cost-to-cover ratio.
Michael S. Canada
I was so relieved to be able to find an insurance option that would not cost me thousands after seeing the prices in the US. I only had a very small issue with the car and the whole claim process took only a few days. It was super easy. Thanks all!