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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

When Travel Gets Real: Getting Lucky DownUnder in a Typical Kiwi Camper

Lucky VanLife in New Zealand

The Kiwi Camper holiday dream is out of reach for most people on a budget. Once the flights, rental, fuel, insurance and camping fees are added, you are better off to rent a little clunker and stay in motels. It is not ideal. At least you will be able to say you were there.

New Zealand is probably one of the most popular destinations to explore by camper. The weather is good (mostly), the roads are safe (mostly), camping spots are everywhere and many of them free or at a nominal fee. How does the term "freedom camping" sound? New Zealand may not have invented the concept, but they are working on perfecting it. You freedom camp and they actually encourage you to do it (mostly).

2019 - EP1

2019 - EP2

Previous Episodes

Lucky 1

Lucky 2

Lucky 3

Final lucky


Unfortunately, parking a camper by the ocean or on the beach comes at a price. It is in high demand with the retired older folk and affluent German tourists. A few large operators dominate the market. And as it goes with a service in demand, it usually comes at a higher price.

The alternative, for younger people, is to buy a cheap Van, fit it out with the necessary amenities when you arrive, and build more into it as you explore the country over several months. You are looking at the cost of around $5,000 to $10,000 for a reasonably conditioned Japanese imported passenger or trade van. The rest is for inexpensive planks to build a bed and some shelving, cooking gear, portapotty, mattress and bedding and water tanks. Budget around $2,000 for that. Give it a good mechanical service when you set out. Insurance is cheap from the AA. A warrant of fitness (WOF) will last you the duration of your trip. The good thing is, when you are done you will be able to sell it to the next eager student explorer at the same or even better price.

There is another choice if you want to dip your toe into the water of budget camping travel NZ-style. You can get Lucky. Seriously, Lucky Rentals arrived in NZ. If you are on a budget and want to give Vanlife DownUnder a try, you can get into a Lucky Van (or camper) and see what the great land of the Long White Could have to offer for a short 2-3 week explorative journey. It won't break the bank, thanks to Lucky. If you go longer, then it is better to buy a van.

The name Lucky Rentals rings more accurate than we thought. Look at their nice website. Make a reservation, and you cannot believe your luck to get such a sweet little camper for less than the hire of a small passenger car. The pictures conjure visions of adventure, comfort, utility and confidence. In their own words, "This 4 sleeper boasts a cooker, a fridge and a kitchen. That’s pretty much everything you’d ever need from a camper. Trust us, this thing is the goods."

Lucky Rentals squeeze the last of the life left out of end-of-life Ozzie Lucy rental campers, for what appears to be a song if you are willing to put up with all the "luckiness" that comes with it. Don't get me wrong. We think it is an excellent concept, if only they can pull it off (a little better). It operates in a market sector where there is a big demand. However, you need to know what you are getting into when you rent a Lucky.


In our three weeks during November we rented three vans from Lucky Rentals and ended up with four. Our experience started with the friendly staff at 08:00 in Christchurch on a typically miserable rainy Canterbury morning.

Our reservation was for 08:00. At 09:10 we were informed that the unit we were to get had some electrical troubles. They were looking into it. Two hours later, and terribly late for our appointment in Dunedin, we finally were on the road with our 566,000 km, 20-year old Lucky Roadie that looks like it's seen the Outback! The condition of the vehicle is a shock. But hey, it is an adventure, isn't it?

Credit where it is due. Everything worked, sort off, except for the air conditioner, and we couldn't get above 80km/hour. Truth be told. We didn't want a higher speed given the risk. We were surprised by the damage security hold of $2,500, which we thought a little excessive considering that the vehicle was probably not even wort that. Less is available if you are prepared to bump the insurance to almost the daily rental fee, which doesn't make sense. Nevertheless, we persevered and after a few days actually fell in love with our Van. Yes, it was slow, noisy, dirty, damaged and full of character. It worked. Thankfully!

Our next Lucky rental was in Auckland. Same routine. Booked for 10:00. Got it passed 12:00. By now, we were into Island time and knew what to expect. This one needed tyres apparently, which they only discovered when we arrived. It also needed more diesel tax. This was also quickly arranged while the hours ticked by. Finally, on the road, we discovered that the unit overheats in the hills of the Coromandel and there is funny hissing sound from the right rear tyre.

Seemed the new tire also acquired a brand new nail as we left the Lucky parking lot. It caused a slow puncture. We made it to Whangamata to get the tire fixed (our cost) and found that there were almost no oil or coolant in the engine. Topped her up. The overheating continued. Spent the weekend and took her back the next Monday to Lucky in Auckland.

Let's just say we had to remind Lucky of their customer service obligations under the consumer protection act of New Zealand. We managed to get a replacement "upgraded" Rover unit with a portapotty for the remainder of our journey. A few days later we also picked up a Rookie with a leaking sunroof and bald tyres. (The other Cowboy refused to continue bunking in the same Van - that's a story for another time.) By now, I think you get the Lucky picture.

We were Lucky to get a van from Lucky that is in a reasonable working condition, for the money we paid. Are they safe on the road? Hell no! After all our good luck we asked ourselves if it is worth the risk and trouble to get a Lucky van again. We think not.

Stay longer in New Zealand, buy an older model passenger or trade van. Fit it out during the first few days. Hit the road and sell it when you leave. At least then you know it is your own good luck that makes your adventures possible in New Zealand, and you can only blame yourself. Enjoy the ride!

P.S. Should you do VanLife in New Zealand. Hell, Yeah!! We cannot get enough of it. So, if there is an entrepreneur out there in Kiwiland that can make the business case work and provides a decent vehicle at a fair price. Let us know. We will jump at the opportunity.

VanLife Cowboy

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