Travel advice: Winter in NZ

Travel advice: Winter in NZ

Keen to hit the road this winter and enjoy the crisp air and cosy nights? Claire Smith shares tips on how to embrace the chill as you explore New Zealand at this time of the year.

The weather may be cooler and the days shorter, but winter has a unique charm for RV travellers.

In fact, the winter months offer a few benefits that make them attractive for those of us lucky enough to explore by motorhome or caravan. The roads are generally quieter, campgrounds and attractions often have discounted off-season rates, and the snowcapped mountains and frosty landscapes are simply magic. But before you pack your thermals and hit the road, we’ve got a few tips to help you make the most of your winter travels.

Preparing your motorhome

Travel advice: Winter in NZ
Winter has a unique charm for RV travellers

Before hitting the road, it’s important to make sure your RV is in tip-top condition. Winter can be tough on vehicles, and the last thing you want is a breakdown in freezing conditions. If you haven’t had a service in a while, now is a good time to get this done.

Here’s a handy checklist of items you can check yourself to ensure your motorhome is ready for winter travel:

  • Fluids: Check that all fluids are topped up, including coolant, engine oil, and windshield washer fluid.
  • Tyres: Check the tyre pressure and tread depth. Winter roads can be slippery, and good tyres are vital for maintaining grip. Don’t forget to give your spare tyre the once-over.
  • Brakes: Inspect your brake pads for wear and tear. Good brakes are a must for safe driving on potentially icy roads.
  • Battery: Cold weather can affect battery performance. If your battery is getting a bit older, it may be worth testing it to its holding the charge.
  • Heating system: Test your RV’s heating system to make sure it’s in good working order. If you don’t have an integrated heating system, you may want to consider investing in a portable heater.

Packing essentials

Travel advice: Winter in NZ
Breakfast beneath the South Island’s snowcapped peaks

Winter travel is no fun if you’re not warm, comfy, and safe. So, it’s worth taking a bit of extra time to plan your packing list. Staying warm and cosy is a top priority when travelling by RV in winter. Proper clothing and bedding can make all the difference in keeping you comfortable, no matter how cold it gets outside. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Layered clothing: Pack plenty of thermal layers, including long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and thermal leggings. Layering helps you adjust to varying temperatures and keeps you warm without overheating.
  • Warm accessories: Don’t forget thermal leggings, hats, gloves, scarves, and warm socks to keep your extremities warm. These items are small but make a big difference in keeping you warm as you explore.
  • Heavy blankets: Invest in good-quality, heavy-duty blankets and sleeping bags designed for low temperatures. A cosy sleeping set-up makes all the difference for a good night’s sleep in winter conditions.
  • Extra warmth: You can’t beat the good old-fashioned hot water bottle for some extra comfort and warmth. They don’t take up much room, are easy to use, and provide warmth that lasts for hours. Another popular option is an electric throw blanket – perfect for keeping snug while you’re watching TV or relaxing before bed.
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Kitchen and food supplies

Travel advice: Winter in NZ
Hot chocolates, a winter essential

Winter RV trips are the perfect opportunity to indulge in comfort foods and cockle-warming drinks that make the chilly weather feel a bit more bearable. A great option is to prepare a few stews, casseroles, or soups in advance and freeze them in portion-sized batches. These easy-to-reheat meals are perfect for nourishing you after a day of winter adventures.


Don’t forget to stock up on ingredients for your favourite hot drinks. Whether it’s coffee, herbal tea, or drinking chocolate, having these on hand is essential. Bring along marshmallows for a special touch to your hot cocoa. Even better, pack your favourite liquor for an indulgent winter night-cap. A little warmth from the inside out can be the perfect end to a chilly day.

A thermos or travel cup comes in handy, too. Fill it up in the morning, and you’ll have a hot drink ready whenever you need a little warming up.

Safety and emergency gear

When you’re hitting the road in winter, it’s always better to be over-prepared than caught off guard. Having the right safety and emergency gear can be a lifesaver, especially when Mother Nature throws a curveball. You may like to add these must-haves to your packing list:

  • First-aid kit: A well-stocked first-aid kit is a must for any trip. Make sure it includes items such as bandages, antiseptic, pain relievers, and any necessary medications. It’s always comforting to know you’re prepared for minor injuries or ailments.
  • Snow chains: These are a lifesaver for driving in snowy or icy conditions. Practice fitting them before you need them to ensure you can do it quickly and safely when the time comes.
  • Ice scraper: Don’t let a frosty windshield slow you down. An ice scraper is a simple but indispensable tool for clearing ice off the windshield and windows.
  • Traction mats or sand: If you find yourself stuck in ice or mud, traction mats or a bag of sand can help you get unstuck and back on the road.
  • Tool kit: A basic tool kit is crucial for minor repairs and adjustments. Make sure to include essential spare parts, such as fuses, light bulbs, and batteries. Being able to fix small issues on the go can save a lot of headaches.
  • Chargers and power banks: Keeping your devices charged is crucial, especially when you’re on the road. Ensure all your electronic devices have chargers and carry a few power banks for backup power.

Entertainment and electronics

Travel advice: Winter in NZ
A cosy bed, great views… bring on winter!

When the weather outside is frightful, having the right entertainment and electronics can make your RV trip delightful. Here are some essentials to keep you entertained and connected during those cosy nights in your motorhome:

  • Books and games: Long winter nights are perfect for diving into a good book or enjoying a game night. Bring along your favourite books, board games, and a deck of cards to keep everyone entertained.
  • Smart TV: If you haven’t invested in one already, consider getting a smart TV. It’s perfect for those cosy evenings when you want to catch up on your favourite shows or watch a movie. There’s nothing like snuggling up with a good film on a cold night.
  • Wi-Fi set-up: Planning a Netflix night or need to stay connected? Make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi set-up. A 12-volt modem paired with a mobile broadband plan is an easy way to ensure you have internet access wherever you go.
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Driving tips

Winter driving can be tricky, so it’s worth taking a bit of time for some essential preparation and planning. Here are some useful tips to help keep you on track:

  • Check the weather forecasts and road conditions: Before you head out, take a moment to check the latest weather forecasts and road conditions. The MetService weather app provides real-time updates, helping you avoid any nasty surprises and plan your trip accordingly. If you know what to expect, you can make better decisions on the go.
  • Adjust your driving speed and style: On icy or snowy roads, it’s best to slow down a bit. Drive more cautiously, keep a safe distance from other vehicles, and avoid sudden movements that could cause you to skid. Think of it as an opportunity to take in the scenery.
  • Take regular breaks: Don’t push yourself too hard. Stop regularly to stretch, rest, and stay alert. Winter driving can be more tiring than usual, and breaks help keep you fresh and focused. Plus, it’s a great excuse to enjoy a hot drink and a snack.
  • Have a reliable GPS and backup maps: A good GPS is a must, but because technology can sometimes fail, it’s good to have a backup plan. Paper maps might feel old school, but they come handy if your GPS loses signal or runs out of battery.

Campground safety

Staying safe at the campground is just as important as staying safe on the road. Below are tips to help you enjoy a secure and comfortable stay:

  • Choose winter-friendly campgrounds: It’s worth seeking out campgrounds that cater to winter travellers. Look for powered sites, hot showers, laundry facilities, and, if you’re lucky, a hot spa to soak in. These extras can make a big difference in your comfort.
  • Arrive during daylight hours: Plan to arrive at your campsite during daylight hours. This makes it easier to park and level your RV, and you can see any potential hazards clearly.
  • Park on the level: When parking your RV, choose a spot that’s level and clear of slippery surfaces. Use wheel chocks to prevent rolling and double-check that your stabilisers are secure.
  • Take care with awnings: Be cautious with awnings in winter conditions. Snow, rain, and ice can make them slippery and heavy, so always clear off any accumulation and retract awnings before heading to bed or if the weather looks a bit iffy.
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