Where To Find The Best Campsites On The North And South Island Of New Zealand

Pancake Rocks Great Ocean Road New Zealand

New Zealand is my favorite country in the world and the perfect place to go camping! I loved everything about the country, from it’s gorgeous nature, the friendly people and tiny towns to the quirky flightless native birds and other wonderful wildlife.

I also loved driving around in our rented camper van, staying at the most beautiful campsites without anyone else around and waking up to breathtaking views of a beautiful lake or the ocean.

Camping in New Zealand

If you plan on going camping in New Zealand, which you totally should, always check if it’s allowed! Because as more and more tourists are traveling to New Zealand, the government has put stricter camping regulations in place and those not obeying the regulations risk a 200 NZD fine. My Kiwi friends Petra and Shaun have written an excellent post about freedom camping.

Also, whenever you are camping, please make sure to be a responsible traveler. That means: don’t leave a trace! Leave a campsite the way you found it (or better). Take all your trash with you, use the toilets provided and do not stay in places where camping isn’t allowed.

Lake Matheson - where to camp in New Zealand

Best campsites in New Zealand

During our 6 week trip around the North and South island of New Zealand, we stayed at 38 different campsites. These campsites can be divided into three categories:

  1. Freedom campgrounds
  2. Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites
  3. Paid Holiday Parks

On the South Island we stayed at 23 different campsites, on the North Island we spent the night at 15 different campgrounds. On the map below you can find all the camp sites.

1. Freedom campsites in New Zealand

We spent 18 nights at freedom campgrounds, free of charge. These campsites are really basic, usually nothing more than a grassy field or car park with access to a toilet that’s accessible 24/7.

To find these campsites we mostly used a great app called Campermate. This app is your best friend in finding freedom campsites. It tells you the location of the site and you can read reviews from people who have recently visited those campsites and commented on the facilities and status (e.g. if it’s still allowed for all types of vehicles to freedom camp there).

Another good way of finding these campsites is visiting the i-Sites that are located all around New Zealand. People working at the i-Sites can tell you more about local regulations and campsites in the area.

Finally, we found these campsites by simply keeping our eyes open while driving around. If you spot a cluster of vans just off the road, particularly after 5pm, it’s a 99% change there’s a free campsite there.

Below you find a list of the free campsites we stayed in, as well as directions and some information about the sites.

Please note that freedom camping regulations may have changed since we stayed at these sites (January/February 2015), so be sure to check them before you park your van or pitch your tent!

Emerald Lakes Tongariro Crossing New Zealand

Arundel Bridge reserve, south end of Arundel Bridge, SH72

Price: free.
Location: coming from the direction of Mayfield and driving to Arundel, take a right of route 72 just after crossing the Rangitata River to Peel Forest, the campsite is directly on your right.
About: grassy field lined by trees, the toilet is one of the dirtiest I’ve ever seen. The sound of the Rangitata River is very calming and the occasional car or truck driving over route 72 not very disturbing.

Arundel bridge reserve - free campsites south island New Zealand

Campsite next to SH8, south of Twizel

Price: free.
Location: coming from the direction of Twizel over route 8 to Omarama, take a right about 15km before Omarama where you find the camp site.
About: basic campsite with only a toilet, a stream and a lot of sandflies, not one of my favorites.

All Day Bay recreation reserve, Coast Road south of Kakanui

Price: free.
Location: just south of Kakanui on the Coast Road.
About: gorgeous campsite next to the ocean. Toilet was extremely dirty, other than that a great place to spend the night.

Best camp sites South Island of New Zealand
All Day Bay recreation reserve, a seaview from our van!

Freedom camping Colac Bay

Price: free.
Location: turn left once you enter Colay Bay (Oraka) en turn right at the end of the road (the sea is in front of you). Continue driving on this road and follow the blue camp sign.
About: we were not entirely sure if camping was allowed (the signs were not very clear). However, there was a toilet and other people in tents and vans so we thought it would be okay. Nice ocean view and very quiet spot for the night.

Campsite near Lumsden

Price: free.
Location: on route 6 to Queenstown, around 10km from Lumsden.
About: nothing special, has a toilet and some trees for shelter.

Donegal House/Campervan site

Price: free.
Location: coming from the north, take a right about 2km north of Kaikura to Donegal House (signposted by the road). Continue on this road for 1km and turn right (clearly signposted). If you ask the owner nicely (and buy a pint;-) he’ll let you the night for free.
About: the pub is awesome! Other than that, not much to say, you can use the toilet in the pub and park for a free night, what’s not to like.
Check the site

Update August 2018: unfortunately this site is no longer free, plus only self-contained campervans are allowed.

Uruwhena Bridge

Price: free.
Location: driving on the 60 road to Takaka, about 2km from Upper Takaka, turn right just before you pass the bridge over the Takaka River.
About: we arrived late and left earlt so I cannot comment on the condition of the toilet because I didn’t use it. It’s a convenient location for exploring the upper part of the Abel Tasman Park and Farewell Spit, it’s free and there are some trees for shade.

Waitohi domain Picton

Price: free (you can stay 1 night only).
Location: a 200-meter walk to the city center of Picton, located on Dublin Street (next to the sports field.
About: it’s a really convenient location for the ferry, it’s like 300 meters to Bluebridge and 500 to the Interislander which is ideal if you are taking an early ferry or if you are arriving late in the evening. Flush toilets and tap water. It’s just a grassy field with big bright lanterns lit during the night, but for one night and because of the location still very much ok.

Update August 2018: unfortunately this freedom campsite does no longer seem to be available according to this document. If you are in a self-contained van, you can use the car park between the Aquarium and Picton’s i-site on Picton’s waterfront. This is Picton’s new designated freedom camping area for a maximum of 12 certified fully self-contained campervans per night (between 5.30pm – 9am, from the 1st September to the 30th May each year).

Owhiro Bay (Te Kopahou Reserve, entrance car park)

Price: free (you can stay up to 4 nights in a single calendar month).
Location: it’s in Island Bay, south of Wellington.
About: really great location because it’s very close to Wellington which makes it an ideal base from where you can explore the city for a couple of days without going bankrupt on the expensive ‘campsites’ aka car parks in Wellington. The view is beautiful, the campsite is right by the ocean. There are two toilets, tap water and electricity during the opening hours of the information center. No tents allowed which is probably for the best because it’s really, really, really windy.

Glenfalls campsite (on the 5, between Taupo and Napier)

Price: free.
Location: on the 5, about an hour drive from Napier. If you’re coming from Napier keep your eyes peeled after you pass through Te Pohue, it’s around 5km to the Waitara Road, exit on your right). f you’re coming from Taupo, take a left approx. 2km after you cross the bridge onto Waitara Road. The campsite is about 8km up this road.
About: beautiful views from this campsite. Non-flush toilet, BYO toilet paper, no water facilities but there is a little stream (where you can swim). And the views, wow!
Check the site

Free camping in New Zealand - tips and where to find these free campspots
Glenfalls campsite, nice and quiet…

Urchin campsite

Price: free.
Location: about 15km south of Turangi, off the SH1 take a left turn onto Kaimanawa road, drive over bridge with the yellow bumps, than turn right onto a serious gravel road. Do not go left immediately at the small green campsite sign but continue on the gravel road until there is a t-crossing, then turn right and there you are.
About: the gravel road is quite bumpy and has a few serious potholes so be careful! The campsite has nice spots, a non-flush toilet, no running water but there is a BBQ place. It’s a good spot if you plan on doing the Tongariro crossing the next day, no facilities but very quiet and secluded. We did not have any trouble with bugs but I’ve heard some people say there can be quite a lot at times.
Check the site

Reid’s farm reserve

Price: free.
Location: coming from the center of Taupo follow the signs to the Huka falls, the campsite is approximately 1,5km from the main road on your right. There are actually two separate sites with separate entrances, first a small campsite and 100m further down the road a large and busy one next to the river.
About: easy to get to, very close to Taupo and the only free campsite in the neighborhood, meaning it’s quite busy during high-season. A lot of pretty spots but we arrived quite late so all the river spots were taken. We choose to stay in the smaller campsite a little more up the road. Non-flush toilets and no tap water.

Car park Hauraki District Council

Price: free.
Location: Orchard West Road, behind the Hauraki District Council in the tiny village of Ngatea.
About: just a park place with not-so-level spots but it’s free so no complaining. You can stay here between 6pm and 10am. The toilets are awesome, you’ll see why;-). Within walking distance of a Four Square supermarket.

I-site car park Whangarei

Price: free.
Location: follow i-site signs on the SH1, just before center of Whangarei (coming from the south).
About: this was definitely our least scenic campsite, it’s literally right on the side of the quite busy SH1. There were just 3 people staying over during the night (including us) and the girl of the i-site said she wasn’t sure if non-self-contained vans were allowed to stay. We didn’t see any signs saying they couldn’t and the toilets were open 24/7 so we decided to take the risk. There are coin-operated showers, we didn’t use them but could be convenient if you need a shower. My advice: find yourself a nice holiday park in this area, after 7pm the car park became a bit dodgy and there’s a lot off traffic on the SH1, also during the night.

Forest Pools campsite

Price: free.
Location: just of the SH1, about 30km from Paihia. Take a right off the SH1 onto Forest Road (gravel road). Follow this road for 2km and you’ll arrive at the campsite.
About: it’s a great little campsite in the forest next to a stream. It’s very quiet, there are nice grassy spots for both vans and tents. Non-flush toilet is located 150 meters from the campsite, not to clean. On a clear night you can admire an incredible amount of stars, really beautiful.

Erin park Auckland

Price: free.
Location: just before the SH1 Bridge over the water (the campsite is on the city center side of the water).
About: we stayed here without a problem but I’m not sure if it’s an official campsite. There are toilets which are open 24/7 and a pool where you can take a hot shower for 2NZD. Close to the city center and obviously awesome that it’s free.

2. Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites in New Zealand

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is a government agency that is charged with conserving New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage. You can read more about the organization and their work here.

The DOC also manages around 250 camping areas, usually with very basic facilities (think long-drop toilets) but located at stunning locations. Prices are 0, 6, 10 or 15NZD per adult per night, depending on the provided facilities.

We stayed at 9 DOC sites, some of these located at the end of very bumpy gravel roads. The most remote were also the most beautiful, my personal favorites were Purakaunui Bay and Moke Lake.

The best way to find DOC campsites is to pick up a free DOC brochure from an i-Site or check the Campermate app. Off course you can also look at the DOC website but changes are you won’t have a signal at the more remote places of New Zealand.

Here is the list of all DOC campsites we stayed at.

DOC campsite Purakaunui Bay

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 8 NZD per adult per night.
Location: coming from Oweka, turn left after crossing the bridge. Follow the sealed road and turn left at the sign Purakaunui Bay. After an approximately 5 km drive over a gravel road you arrive in the bay where the camping is situated.
About: there is a toilet and a little sink and trash cans, that’s it. Registration and payment is done via an envelope and you can park pretty much anywhere your car can get you. The view is gorgeous and the sea quite rough, we saw a couple of surfers riding the waves. Nice quiet campsite with an excellent view, one of my personal favorites.
Check the site

Where to camp in New Zealand
Wonderful skies at Purakaunui Bay

DOC campsite Papatowai

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 8 NZD per adult per night.
Location: follow the Southern Scenic Route from Oweka, when you enter Papatowai drive slowly and turn left at the blue campsite sign.
About: very green and although there were no views, the amenities block and clean toilets definitely make it a good place to stay a night. Convenient location as it’s just of the main road and close to the Cathedral Caves and the McLean falls.
Check the site

DOC campsite The Divide (car park /campsite in the Milford Sound)

Price: it’s supposed to be 6 NZD per adult per night. However, the DOC ranger did not come by to collect the fees when we stayed there. The signs in place said he would and there were no envelopes like at all the other DOC sites so for us it was a free night:-).
Location: on the way to the Milford Sound, 83km from Te Anau.
About: it’s a park place during the day and quite a popular one since it’s the start for a couple of tracks (Routeburn, Caples and Greenstone). You’re allowed to camp there between 6pm and 8am, there are toilets (but no flush ones), a shelter and fresh water. Unfortunately, there are also a gazillion sandflies which are terribly annoying. Nevertheless, it was fine because it was only a 50-minute drive to the Milford Sound which meant we didn’t have to get up that early to be in time for our cruise.

DOC campsite Moke Lake

Price: 10 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 13 NZD per adult per night.
Location: from Queenstown drive in the direction of Glenorchy for about 6km, then turn right onto road Moke Lake. After 3km the road turns into gravel and serious gravel this time. It’s advised not to drive without a 4WD in winter and spring but since it was summer season the drive was ok thought very bumpy. Continue for 4km, enjoy the beautiful views around you and arrive at Campsite Moke Lake.
About: thought it was the priciest DOC campsite, the views more than make up for this. It’s so unbelievably beautiful, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The walk around the lake is great (certainly not 2,5hours, more like 1,5). The toilets are non-flush but reasonably clean, there is a shelter were you can cook (if you bring your own cookers) and several water taps around the campsite. Also, the camp warden is very friendly and laidback. But the views, the views are what makes this campsite absolutely worthwhile.
Check the site

Best free and cheap camping spots on the South Island
Moke Lake… So beautiful!

DOC campsite Lake Paringa

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 13 NZD per adult per night.
Location: it’s on route 6, about 40km north of Haast, clearly signposted on the main road.
About: gorgeous view of the lake but a lot of sandflies. We were only here from 10pm until 8am so not that much to say about it.
Check the site

Best DOC campsites on the North Island and South Island of New Zealand
An early morning at Lake Paringa

DOC campsite Otto/McDonald

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 13 NZD per adult per night.
Location: on route 6, about 15km north of the Franz Josef Glacier, clearly signposted on the main road.
About: nice view of the lake and a little beach. Several picnic tables and… flush toilets! Also important: not that many sandflies.
Check the site

DOC campsite Lake Mahinãpua

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 13 NZD per adult per night.
Location: on route 6, about 10km south of Hokitika, clearly signposted on the main road.
About: quite a large DOC campsite, big grassy field with bushes around it, you can park pretty much everywhere. Drinking water available, flush toilets and even a little shelter to cook or do your dishes (no warm water).
Check the site

DOC campsite Puhi Puhi Valley

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 8 NZD per adult per night.
Location: about 10km north of Kaikura, turn left into the Puhi Puhi Valley Road. Road turns to gravel after 100m, continue on this narrow road for about 4km, the campsite is on your right.
About: quite small, only about 6-8 spots. Toilets but no drinking water, right next to the gravel road so not a great view. Just very conveniently located because it’s close to Kaikura.
Check the site

DOC campsite Dickey Flat

Price: 6 NZD per adult per night. Update August 2018: fee is now 8 NZD per adult per night.
Location: take the SH2 from Waihi to Paeroa, after 10km go left over the one lane bridge onto Waitawheta road. Then follow the signposts (DOC camping) onto Kennedy Road and Dickey Flat road. Last km is gravel but it’s fine for 2WD.
About: it’s quiet, green, there is a little stream suitable for swimming and surprisingly clean non-flush toilets with hand sanitizer and plenty of toilet paper. The tent spots are much prettier than the campervan spots.
Check the site

3. Affordable Holiday Parks in New Zealand

For us, the only reason to stay at a Holiday Park every couple of days was to shower or to do laundry (or both for that matter). We actually preferred the back to basic feel of the DOC and freedom campsites, but after three days involving a lot of hiking… Let’s just say our lovely campervan started to feel like to small of a space to be in.

Anyway, the plus side of staying at a holiday park is that there are lots of facilities, like drinking water (yes, this becomes a luxury after some time), hot water (even more of a luxury), a kitchen, showers, a laundry room and sometimes even a swimming pool or TV-room. We paid between 10NZD and 33NZD, usually for an unpowered spot (you can find all the nitty gritty details of these campsites below).

To find these campsites we used three information sources. You probably guested it already, but one was the Campermate app (I don’t get paid to mention them or have any connections with them whatsoever, it’s just a great app). The second one was a free AA travel brochure we picked up at an i-Site, more info can be found here. Finally, Rental Car Village, the company we rented our campervan from, provided us with a New Zealand Motorhome and Camping Atlas, listing loads of Holiday Parks and the facilities found at those.

Here is the list of the holiday parks we stayed at.

Camping Lake McGregor

Price: 5 NZD per person per night.
Location: coming from Fairlie over route 8 drive through Lake Tekapo town and take a right onto Godley Peaks Road. Follow this road until there is a split with two yellow signs that say Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor. Drive slowly over the gravel road for about 1km and find yourself at Camping Lake McGregor.
About: really basic camping so don’t expect much for your 5NZD. There are toilets but no electricity or running water. However, if you have a shower bag you can take a shower in the shower cabin. There is also a nice stream and you can swim in Lake Alexandrina or Lake McGregor or walk around the latter one in about 45 minute. The starry night is gorgeous and if you walk up the hill you have a beautiful 360-view of the surroundings.

Mosgiel Motor Camp, 221 Gordon road

Price: 27 NZD for a powered spot and two adults.
Location: drive through Mosgiel and turn right just before leaving the village. There are a sports field, a public pool and park place and 20 meters further on the entrance of the campsite.
About: the campsite is not very pretty but nevertheless very functional: free laundry, free showers and good cooking facilities. An added bonus is the friendly camp manager Tom who is about 85 years old and lives in his caravan on the campsite, he can tell you a nice story or two. Facilities are clean and it’s a short drive to the Otago Peninsula but also the right direction for trips further south to the Catlins. Altogether a good place to stay the night.

Luggate Cricket Club Campground

Price: 5 NZD per adult per night.
Location: coming from Wanaka just follow the signs to Luggate. When you enter the village, turn right at the blue camp sign.
About: This campsite is real good value, it’s cheap but has free hot showers, power (not for your van but for your phone or other electric equipment you can use the power on the porch of the club building) and water. There is a very relaxt vibe on the campsite, with people playing football or ultimate frisbee on the cricket field or chilling on the couches in front of the club building. 10km drive from Wanaka and really close to Wanaka Beerworks. What’s not to like:-)!

Luggate Cricket Club Campground - affordable campsite near Wanaka
Luggate Cricket Club Campground

Jacks Gasthof

Price: 8 NZD per adult per night (for unpowered spot, power is 5 NZD extra). Update August 2018: fee is now 10 NZD per adult per night.
Location: on route 6, about 21km south of Westport and 5km north of Charleston, turn left just over the Little Totara River if you’re coming from the south.
About: excellent campsite! Great price, good vibe, power, drinking water, free Wi-Fi between 9-11am and 4-8pm, an outside shower, swimming in the river, clean toilets, very cute campsites between the hortensias and if you want you can eat pizza at the small restaurant Jack and Petra (a German couple originally from Berlin) run here.
Check the site

Best campsites in New Zealand - affordable campsite on the Great Ocean Road New Zealand West Coast
A lovely spot

Alpine Holiday Park Hanmar Springs

Price: 11 NZD per adult per night (for unpowered spot). Update August 2018: fee is now 13 NZD per adult per night.
Location: drive to Hanmar Springs, on Jollies Road turn right just after you passed the Thermal Hot Pools.
About: friendly campsite with good facilities for a reasonable price. Free hot showers, a kitchen with some pots and pans, a fridge and a freezer and coin-operated laundry options (washing and drying). Grassy field with plenty trees for shade, a lot of families with young children on this campsite.
Check the site

Maitai Valley Motor Camp

Price: 8 NZD per adult per night.
Location: the campsite is on the Maitai Valley Road, about 5km from the town center of Nelson. Basically you have to drive to the east on Nile Street until you see the turn to the Maitai Valley on your left.
About: the campsite is basic, there are lots of trees so plenty of shade. The showers are operated by 2 dollar coins and they are closed off with curtains instead of doors. There is a kitchen with a fridge and drinking water. There is Wi-Fi but you’ll have to pay for that, as well as for powering up any electronic devices, charging costs 50c. It’s a convenient and relatively cheap campsite if you really need a shower or other facilities but if not, you can actually park in the city center overnight (i.e. Montgomery and Buxton square car parks).
Check the site

Kina Beach camp

Price: 5 NZD per adult per night.
Location: Kina beach road, coming from Nelson on the 60, turn right about 10km before Motueka (onto Aporo Road, you’ll see a sign that says Tasman). Keep driving for about 300m, then turn left onto Kina Beach road, follow until you find the campsite (it’s right by the sea).
About: cheap, basic, right next to the beach, shade from the trees, non-flush toilets that actually smell quite bad, drinking water and that’s it.
Check the site

Camp Elsdon in Porirua

Price: 20 NZD for 1 adult, extra adult +10NZD (powered campervan site).
Location: 18 Raiha Street, Elsdon, Porirua (about 23 km from Wellington).
About: nice campsite and about the only cheap one you can find around Wellington with facilities. Free hot showers, good kitchen, nice grassy spots and a good vibe. Friendly camp manager.
Check the site

Clifton Beach reserve motor camp in Te Awanga

Price: 10 NZD per adult per night (unpowered site).
Location: it’s on the coast road to cape Kidnappers in Te Awanga, you’ll find the well-known blue signposts on the road.
About: this is a great campsite with super friendly manager Noel. The campsite is wedged in between a river and the beach so nice views when you walk around the edge of the campsite. There is a kitchen and free hot showers, nice!

Affordable Willowhaven Holiday Park

Price: 15 NZD per adult per night (powered site).
Location: 31 Beaumont Road, Ngongotaha.
About: really nice campsite right next to the lake. Very clean toilets, free hot showers, clean and complete kitchen (with tea towels, some pots and pans, a fridge, a freezer and an oven). Beautiful view and very quiet. Close to Rotarua (6km) but no sulfur smells here.
Check the site

Tairua Holiday park

Price: 15 per adult per night, plus 3 NZD for power (powered site).
Location: in Tairua village (coming from the south on the 25, turn right just before the library, than go left after 20 meters.
About: functional campsite, not very pretty but has all facilities you need plus free Wi-Fi from the library which is really nice. We didn’t use the showers but they cost 2 NZD for 5 minutes. Kitchen is good, has an oven and microwave, fridge with small freezer. Grassy field with flat spots but as said not a very beautiful campsite in itself. Fairly close to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water beach though, about 25km.
Check the site

Utea park

Price: 5 NZD per adult per night for an unpowered spot (plus donations which you’ll definitely feel like making because this is an excellent campsite).
Location: take a left of the SH1 onto Hukatere Road, about 2km before Pukenui, follow the terrible gravel road for 10km (hang in there, it’s worth it, but drive slowly and carefully). Go right just before the beach and there it is.
About: great, great campsite, very relaxed owners (really kind, welcoming and friendly). A real gem, with well-equipped kitchen where you can charge your phone, free hot showers, drinking water, cabins you can stay in for 10 dollar per person per night, it’s right by the ocean and the starry nights are breathtaking.


Price: 5 NZD per adult per night.
Location: take a left of the SH1 to Waipu, when you drive into the town continue until a crossing where you’ll see the hotel right in front of you.
About: I’m not sure how long it will be possible to stay over with a van since this is actually a hotel/backpacker lodge but since it’s been posted in the Campermate app more and more vans keep turning up (quoting the very friendly owner of the hotel). It’s a nice place with clean hot showers (free), a kitchen and a nice bar that you’ll support of course since you can spend the night;-).
Check the site

Lake Paringa New Zealand South Island

Camping in New Zealand is amazing!

I really enjoyed camping in our little campervan, for me it was the best way to explore New Zealand. It’s also one of the most economical ways to travel in this expensive country. If you want to read more about traveling New Zealand on a budget, you can read a full cost-breakdown here. Or read more about our 6 week itinerary, beautiful lakes and hiking in New Zealand and other awesome activities in this beautiful country!

Like this New Zealand campsite list? Download it below!

Looking for more travel planning resources? Check out the Phenomenal Globe Travel Planning Library and my Travel Resource page!

How about you? Did you go camping in New Zealand?
Are there any campsites you recommend?

Going on a road trip in New Zealand and looking for campsites? Check out these 38 great sites on the North and South Island. In this New Zealand camping guide you can find the location of 16 free campsites, 9 beautiful DOC (Department of Conservation) camp spots and 13 very affordable holiday parks. #NewZealand #camping #roadtripGoing on a road trip in New Zealand and looking for campsites? Check out these 38 great sites on the North and South Island. In this New Zealand camping guide you can find the location of 16 free campsites, 9 beautiful DOC (Department of Conservation) camp spots and 13 very affordable holiday parks. #NewZealand #camping #roadtrip

This post has been updated in August 2018.

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  1. chaufmaurice
    December 23, 2015 / 10:19 pm

    I can’t find any information about ‘Waitohi domain Picton’ camp.
    Do you have official informations on it ?

    Thank you for all these very useful posts during our travel’s organisation !!

    • Lotte
      December 23, 2015 / 10:45 pm

      Hey Maurice, after some research I discovered that the council decided Waitohi domain is no longer to be used as a freedom campsite. I have updated the post to reflect this change.

      Are you in a self-contained van? If you are you can use the car park between the Aquarium and Picton’s i-site on Picton’s waterfront. This is Picton’s new designated freedom camping area for a maximum of 12 certified fully self-contained campervans per night (between 5.30pm – 9am, from the 1st September to the 30th May each year).

      I am really glad to read my posts are helpful in your travel planning:-) Have a great trip in New Zealand, it’s the best! Lotte

  2. Koen
    February 8, 2017 / 2:32 am


    We’re planning our trip for later this month. Was your camper van self contained or not?
    Did you have sometimes restrictions at some free campsites, or can just camp?

    • Lotte
      February 8, 2017 / 3:31 pm

      Hi Koen,

      Awesome you’ll be going to New Zealand, it really is the best! Our camper-van wasn’t self-contained, therefore, we were not allowed to stay everywhere. The app Campermate usually has up-to-date info about free campsites that allow non self-contained vehicles to overnight. I couldn’t find an affordable self-contained van for our trip but since you’re traveling in shoulder season you may be able to find a good deal. Having a self-contained van definitely increases your camping options even more!

      Have an amazing trip! Lotte

      • koen
        February 9, 2017 / 9:12 am

        Ok cool. Maybe things changed from the time you traveled, but it seems like Owhiro Bay (Te Kopahou Reserve, entrance car park) is no longer possible for NSC vans? Because we are checking for Wellington (hard one :D)

        • Lotte
          February 9, 2017 / 5:57 pm

          Hmm, that would be a shame! It was a great free camp spot and very close to Wellington… If the Campermate app says it’s only for self-contained vehicles now than that’s the most up to date information. It’s been 2 years exactly since I was in NZ, waaaaaay too long;-)

  3. Lindsay
    December 12, 2017 / 2:47 pm

    Who did you rent your van through? We rented a NSC Lucky Rookie van, but the reviews are terrible, so we are thinking of cancelling and renting a car to simply camp with our tent instead. We’re from Canada and will be heading to NZ (South Island) in February. What would you recommend, in terms of campervan vs tent camping? Any/all suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

    • Lotte
      December 13, 2017 / 8:35 am

      Hi Lindsay,

      In my article https://www.phenomenalglobe.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-renting-a-campervan-in-new-zealand/ you can read all about the van we rented and how much we paid. Personally I love road tripping with a van, I’ve done so in New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Ireland and Australia and love the convenience of just stopping in a beautiful place and stay the night (if it’s allowed of course!).

      That being said, a tent is also nice (we camped on some spectacular spots in Oman and Japan) but keep in mind that New Zealand can be cold, especially at night so make sure you have warm sleeping bags. Renting a car and buying a cheap tent could work out cheaper than a camper van so that’s also something to take into consideration. But you’ll also have to get some other gear (like cooking equipment etc) unless you plan on bringing this from home.

      I hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions! Have a wonderful trip in New Zealand:-)

  4. Sharon
    January 6, 2019 / 9:52 pm

    As a New Zealander, we love meeting people from all around the world. We’re a pretty friendly bunch. However, we do not like freedom campers who decide to defecate and urinate in our bush and parks. Also, parking in non designated camping areas or parks is a great nuisance. As locals, we have picked up poo and toilet paper from bushes, camp grounds, walkways, etc. We’ve even not been able to picnic in a rest area due to toilet paper and poo everywhere. If you want us to welcome you, please use the toilets provided. Also, the biggest shoplifters in our tourist destination town is young European tourists. Seriously something wrong with your upbringing if you think its ok to poo anywhere you like and steal from us. Please think about your actions as you are creating a ground swell of objection to freedom camping here in NZ. If you want to continue travelling on a budget, then use the toilets and don’t steal from us. Share this info with any and all who want to freedom camp in NZ.

    • Lotte
      January 9, 2019 / 9:12 am

      Dear Sharon,

      Thank you for reading my post and I can only imagine how horrible it must be to see your beautiful country suffer because of inconsiderate campers… I have added a couple of sentences to my post to stress the importance of being a responsible traveler. I completely agree it’s not okay for people to stay in places where it’s not allowed, to poo in places other than a toilet and to steal from hardworking shop owners. I hope anyone visiting New Zealand will do their utmost to make sure the country remains the most beautiful one in the world!

      Enjoy the New Zealand summer:-)

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