American tourist David DiMichele spent two years planning the trip of a lifetime in New Zealand, but says he'll be leaving the country early with a "sour taste" in his mouth after his dream journey became a nightmare.

Mr DiMichele and his wife Amber had long planned to travel New Zealand by campervan, he said.

"We had a big world map and on that map there was a big sticky note that said 'Campervan in New Zealand'."

He spent two years saving up the money to fulfil his ambition, he said.


"I spent almost US$4000 ($6016) getting here, and then another US$2800 on the campervan for 29 days."

Expecting the perfect holiday, he said he was disillusioned a week into his trip when the campervan he rented from Lucky Rentals in Christchurch on January 29 began to overheat.

After crawling through Milford Sound, the pair arrived in Tekapo and sought out a mechanic.

"They told us they couldn't get the part 'til the next day so we had to spend the night there."

They were told the van needed a new thermostat, and once the part was replaced, courtesy of Lucky Rentals, they set off for Lindis Pass.

Once again the van overheated, and Mr DiMichele said he became fearful for the pair's safety.

"I was worried as a husband. My wife was flipping out, we were stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone coverage, we couldn't even dial 111 if we wanted to."

They battled their way to Picton, and caught the interisland ferry to the North Island, he said.

He called Lucky Rentals but claims the company was not overly sympathetic.

"I gave them all the details, they accused me of not doing my due diligence and they just stopped getting back to me," he said.

The couple headed to Taupo where the van overheated again, he says.

Without a New Zealand sim card, they used Wi-Fi at McDonald's in Taupo to contact Lucky Rentals, who instructed the couple to contact roadside assistance.

After waiting in Taupo for a mechanic to open after the long weekend they were told the van needed a new radiator, and that the repair would take three to four days, he said.

"The insurance company wouldn't work with us, we couldn't get a hold of Lucky, they all have to get clearance from each other."

Frustrated and with few options, the DiMicheles decided to crawl the van to the Lucky Rentals depot in Auckland and cut their trip short by 11 days.

Arriving at the depot yesterday, Mr DiMichele said he was told he would only receive a refund for the remaining 11 days of his rental plus the day spent in Tekapo waiting for the replacement thermostat, totalling about $1500.

"They didn't get me a full refund but I really think they should've."

Lucky Rentals spokesman Nathan Brand said his company undertook "vigorous checks and regular maintenance services on our fleet, in the unlikely event a breakdown does occur during a hire, we utilise a network of skilled mechanics across New Zealand".

"Following the breakdown of Mr DiMichele's campervan, he was not happy to wait further for a repair to be undertaken and made the decision to return the vehicle early. We agreed to refund the remainder of his trip."

Mr DiMichele said even though he has a fondness for New Zealand, it was tarnished by this experience.

"Does it leave a sour taste in my mouth? Absolutely."