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Camping in New Zealand | Top Hidden Gems and Scenic Views

camping spot

Camping in New Zealand has been my favorite trip so far, and I’m dying to go back for another epic road trip. From stunning landscapes to endless outdoor adventures, New Zealand offers a camper’s truly unmatched paradise.

Whether you’re a seasoned camper or just starting out, you’re in for a treat!

In this post, I’ll share the best spots for camping, exciting activities you can enjoy, and tips on how to plan an unforgettable camping trip in New Zealand.

Let’s dive into the magic of New Zealand’s great outdoors and get ready for your next adventure!

Why New Zealand Is the Perfect Camping Destination

New Zealand is a camper’s dream come true for many reasons. Here’s why it stands out as an incredible camping destination:

roadtrip in new zealand
  • Stunning Natural Beauty: From lush forests and pristine beaches to majestic mountains and serene lakes, New Zealand’s diverse landscapes offer breathtaking views at every turn.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Encounter unique wildlife, including kiwis, dolphins, and a variety of bird species, as you explore the great outdoors.
  • Adventure Opportunities: Engage in thrilling activities such as hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and stargazing in some of the world’s most picturesque settings.
  • Friendly Locals: The warm and welcoming locals add to the charm of your camping experience, often sharing their tips and favorite spots.
  • Free Camping Sites: New Zealand boasts a ton of free camping sites and holiday parks that are great for budget travelers. These freedom camping sites, often located in stunning locations, allow you to fully immerse yourself in nature without breaking the bank.
  • Well-Maintained Facilities: Many campgrounds and holiday parks are equipped with excellent facilities, including clean restrooms, kitchens, and even hot showers.
  • Cultural Richness: Discover the rich Maori culture and history as you travel through the country, adding a unique cultural dimension to your trip.
  • Safety and Accessibility: New Zealand is known for its safety and well-developed infrastructure perfect for wild camping, making it easy to navigate and find camping spots.

With so many reasons to love camping in New Zealand, it’s no wonder it has become a favorite destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

Why I Chose To Road Trip

Renting a camper and setting off on a road trip was the best decision for exploring New Zealand! Here’s why:

Firstly, it saved me money. Having a camper meant I didn’t have to spend on both accommodation and transportation separately. Plus, with a built-in kitchen, I could cook my own meals, cutting down on dining costs.

The freedom a road trip offers is unbeatable. You can create your own schedule and change plans on a whim. If you hear about a hidden beach or a cool little town from the locals, you can easily take a detour.

Want to stay an extra day in a beautiful spot? No problem.

Driving through New Zealand also means you get to see some exclusive and deserted places that aren’t easily accessible by public transport. From secluded beaches to quiet mountain trails, there’s a special kind of magic in discovering these hidden gems.

And let’s not forget the roads themselves – they’re simply unbelievable. The scenery changes dramatically from one moment to the next, with sandy beaches, lush forests, and snow-capped mountains all within a day’s drive. Every stretch of the road offers breathtaking views and new adventures.

road and views NZ

In short, renting a camper for a road trip in New Zealand gave me the perfect mix of freedom, savings, and unforgettable experiences. It’s the ideal way to truly immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and unique charm of this incredible country and what I would highly recommend.

Camping in New Zealand: Best Places I Went

Exploring both the North and South Islands of New Zealand in a camper van was an unforgettable adventure.

Here are some of the best places I visited, each offering its own unique charm and stunning landscapes.

Best Places I Visited on The North Island

Tongariro National Park

Wellington: Start your North Island journey in Wellington. This city is buzzing with cool spots like Cuba Street and Courtenay Place, famous for their vibrant café culture and nightlife.

Kaimanawa Forest Park: Spend a few days soaking in the stunning landscapes and ancient forests of Kaimanawa Forest Park. It’s just a short drive from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tongariro National Park.

Waitomo: For a unique experience on the North Island, head to Waitomo to witness glowworms in their natural habitat. Book a caving tour and get ready to be amazed by an underground sky lit up by these fascinating creatures.

Taupo: Nature lovers, don’t miss Taupo! Home to the picturesque Huka Falls and the famous Maori Rock Carvings, Taupo is a must-visit on the North Island. And while you’re there, be sure to check out Lake Taupo.

Matamata: Fans of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series will love Matamata. This charming town is home to the iconic Hobbiton Movie Set, a real treat for any Tolkien enthusiast.

camping in new zealand

Auckland: Continue your North Island adventure in the vibrant city of Auckland. Shop on Queen Street and enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants at the harbor. For a mix of city and nature, try lakefront camping and commute into the city.

Rotorua: Known for its geothermal activity and rich Maori culture, Rotorua is a must-visit. Check out the hot springs and mud pools for a truly unique experience.

Bay of Islands: Head to the northern part of the North Island for the Bay of Islands. It’s perfect for water activities like sailing, fishing, and snorkeling in the sheltered bay.

Coromandel Peninsula: Famous for its stunning beaches, the Coromandel Peninsula boasts spots like Cathedral Cove and the unique Hot Water Beach. Perfect for a beach day!

Check for some of the best tours on the North Island you can do while you’re there:

My Favourite Places on the South Island

My personal favorite out of the North and South Island was the South. If you only have time to do one, I’d recommend you prioritize this part!

Christchurch: Kick off your South Island adventure in Christchurch. A day’s visit is enough to soak in the city’s charm with great activities to keep you entertained.

Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki: Just a few hours’ drive from Christchurch, these stunning lakes feature crystal-clear, turquoise waters set against the majestic Southern Alps. Truly breathtaking!

camping in New Zealand

Queenstown: Known for its extreme sports and stunning scenery, Queenstown is an adventurer’s paradise. Don’t forget to try the famous Fergburger while you’re there!

Te Anau & Manapouri: These spots are renowned for their beauty, offering spectacular views of rivers and lakes.

Milford Sound: A bit off the beaten path, but absolutely worth it. Book a kayaking tour in advance to fully appreciate this unforgettable location.

Kayak in Milford SOunds NZ

Wanaka: Think of Wanaka as a smaller, quieter version of Queenstown. Enjoy stunning views and activities, including a short walk or trek like the Mount Iron Loop track.

Kaikoura: This quaint beach town is famous for its massive seal colony at Point Kean and thrilling whale tours.

camping in New Zealand

Havelock: Known as the mussel capital of the world, Havelock is a great spot for a seafood treat. If time permits, visit the nearby Abel Tasman National Park.

Fiordland National Park: Besides Milford Sound, don’t miss Doubtful Sound and Nelson Lakes National Park for their scenic beauty.

West Coast: Driving along the West Coast reveals the rugged beauty of the South Island. Make stops at scenic spots like the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki and the glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

These are some of the best tours of the South Island:

Best Campgrounds in New Zealand

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New Zealand boasts some amazing campgrounds that offer stunning views and great facilities. Plus, there are plenty of freedom camping spots for those who love a bit more adventure.

I’ll share the app I used to find these great campgrounds further down below, but for now, here are the best campgrounds on both the North and South Islands.

Premier Campgrounds on the North Island

Matauri Bay Holiday Park, Northland: Located on the picturesque northern coastline, Matauri Bay Holiday Park is perfect for those who love a mix of leisure and adventure. From coastal walks and fishing to water sports, this campground offers plenty of activities. Plus, it’s super close to Cape Reinga for a fun day trip.

Urupukapuka Bay Campsite, Bay of Islands: Accessible by boat or water taxi from Russell and Paihia, this North Island campground is on the stunning Urupukapuka Island. Popular activities include walking, fishing, and swimming, all with mesmerizing seaside views.

Poukaraka Flats, Waiheke Island: Nestled in Whakanewha Regional Park, Poukaraka Flats Campground is a great base for exploring nearby beaches, forests, and historic reserves. The facilities are basic, but the serenity and beauty of the location make it worthwhile.

Matai Bay Campsite, Karikari Peninsula: Matai Bay is a paradise for camping enthusiasts and marine wildlife lovers. With a first-come, first-served policy, this campsite is great for snorkeling and exploring local walking trails and culturally significant spots.

Opoutere Coastal Camping, Coromandel: Opoutere Coastal Camping offers the quintessential Coromandel experience with white sand beaches, native Pohutukawa forests, and tranquil surroundings. Just remember to book in advance during peak season!

Te Araroa Holiday Park, East Cape: Surrounded by trees, gardens, and a freshwater stream, this campground gives you a classic Kiwi camping vibe. It’s perfectly located between Opotiki and Gisborne, making it an ideal spot to catch the famous East Cape sunrise.

Must-Visit Campgrounds on South Island

Totaranui Campground, Abel Tasman National Park: Planning to tackle the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk? Totaranui Campground is a perfect spot to stay. With space for many campers, it stretches from golden-sand beaches to an estuary. Just remember, bookings are required!

Pohara Beach Holiday Park, Golden Bay: Located in Golden Bay, this campground is close to Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, and the magical Te Waikoropupu Springs. It gets lively in the summer with visitors enjoying the turquoise waters.

Makarora Tourist Centre, Southern Lakes: On the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park and just beyond Lake Wanaka, this campground offers fishing, hunting, hiking, and more. With river views, a swimming pool, and a restaurant, it’s perfect for a peaceful holiday. Plus, Wanaka’s city amenities are just an hour’s drive away.

Safety Considerations When Camping in New Zealand

  • Check Campground Conditions and Rules: Before heading to your chosen campsite, familiarize yourself with its specific rules and regulations. This may include fire safety guidelines, pet policies, and check-in/check-out times.
  • Stay Aware of Your Surroundings: Whether you’re camping in the woods or on the beach, always be mindful of potential hazards such as rising tides, falling branches, or wildlife.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Keep a first-aid kit handy and know the location of the nearest medical facility. Let someone know your travel itinerary before you go.
  • Unpredictable Weather: New Zealand’s weather can be unpredictable. Check the forecast before your trip and be prepared for sudden weather changes.
  • Pack Suitable Clothing: Bring weather-appropriate clothing for all conditions. Layers are key, and a waterproof tent is essential for the rainy seasons.
  • Pack Smartly: Ensure you pack the essentials such as a good quality sleeping bag, cooking equipment, water storage, first aid kit, road maps, and weather-appropriate clothing. Don’t forget a torch and extra batteries!
  • Navigating The Roads: New Zealand’s roads can be narrow and winding. Drive with caution, especially in unfamiliar areas. Remember that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, and always adhere to speed limits.
  • Freedom Camping: If you plan to freedom camp, make sure you follow local regulations and respect the environment. Leave no trace and only camp in designated areas.
  • Local Wildlife: Be respectful of local wildlife. Do not feed animals and store food securely to avoid attracting pests.
  • Stay Connected: While many campgrounds have good connectivity, some remote areas might not. Consider having a portable charger and offline maps.
valley views in NZ

By considering these factors, you can ensure a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable camping experience in New Zealand.

What to Budget for Your Camping Trip

New Zealand isn’t the cheapest place to travel, but having a campervan to cook, travel, and sleep in helps a lot. You can find plenty of free camping sites, but costs can still add up with fuel, food, and tours.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about NZ$185 (approximately $125) per day per person. This should cover your costs with a nice buffer for extras and unexpected expenses.

Best Time to Go Camping in New Zealand

The best time largely depends on your preferred activities. If you love beach camping and water activities, aim for the warmer months from December to February.

The summer weather is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and soaking up the sun.

However, this is also the peak camping season, coinciding with school holidays and public holidays. Campgrounds can get pretty crowded during this time, so it’s wise to book your spots well in advance.

eating while camping - new zealand

If you prefer hiking and cooler weather, consider camping from March to May. The autumn months offer cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, making it ideal for exploring New Zealand’s stunning landscapes. You’ll also avoid the peak tourist season, allowing for a more peaceful camping experience.

In general, avoiding peak periods can make your trip more enjoyable. Not only will campgrounds be less crowded, but you’ll also have a better chance of finding those perfect, secluded spots. No matter when you decide to go, New Zealand’s natural beauty and diverse activities make it a fantastic camping destination year-round.

Camping and Free Camping Regulations in New Zealand

Camping in New Zealand offers unforgettable experiences, from close encounters with wildlife to a wide range of outdoor activities. However, it’s important to be aware of and respect local regulations and environmental considerations to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip for everyone.

camping spot - camping in New zealand
  • Wildlife Encounters: Many campgrounds provide opportunities to encounter local wildlife, from native birds like the Kiwi and Tui to marine life in coastal areas. Enjoy these encounters from a distance and avoid feeding or disturbing the animals.
  • Outdoor Activities and Adventures: New Zealand opens up endless opportunities for outdoor adventures such as hiking, biking, fishing, and kayaking. Whether you’re at a beachside campsite or nestled in the mountains, explore the diverse landscapes and make the most of your trip.
  • Leave No Trace Principles: Adopt the Leave No Trace principles to keep New Zealand’s natural beauty intact. Take only photos, leave only footprints. Dispose of waste properly, respect wildlife, and leave natural and cultural features as you find them. Clean up after yourself and ensure you leave your campsite and holiday park as pristine as you found it.
  • Supporting Local Communities: Buy local products and use local services where possible. This not only supports the local economy but also reduces your carbon footprint, making your trip more sustainable.

Freedom Camping Regulations

  • Freedom Camping Rules: Freedom camping, or camping outside of designated areas, is allowed in some parts but prohibited in others. Always check local rules and regulations before setting up camp to avoid fines and ensure you are camping legally.
  • Where and When You Can Camp: The Department of Conservation manages many campsites throughout the country and refers to the Freedom Camping Act. Always check their website for up-to-date information on where and when you can camp, as some sites may be closed during certain parts of the year or require prior booking. Following these guidelines ensures you have a safe and enjoyable experience while protecting New Zealand’s natural beauty.

By following these tips and regulations, you can enjoy a memorable and environmentally friendly camping trip in New Zealand. Respect the wildlife, support local communities, and always be mindful of the environment to make the most of your adventure.

Useful Resources For Your Camping Adventure

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When I planned my camper van adventure across New Zealand’s stunning landscapes, I found a few tools that really helped me out.

These are the apps and websites I used for pre-trip and on-the-road planning, along with camper van rental services that offered fantastic vehicles and top-notch customer service. They made my trip smooth and unforgettable.

Apps and Websites That Helped Me

The digital age has made travel planning easier than ever. One app that I found incredibly useful for my adventure was the Ranger Camping NZ app.

This tool was a lifesaver, helping me locate both paid and free camping grounds across the North and South Islands. It also identified amenities like dump stations, hot showers, cold showers, powered sites, toilets, hiking trails, supermarkets, petrol stations, visitor centers, and more.

Its ability to filter results based on my specific needs made it an invaluable resource for planning my route and ensuring all my needs were met along the way.

Where I Rented a Campervan

Finding your “home away from home” on wheels is a crucial part of your trip. There are plenty of companies where you can rent a camper van, each with its own perks and price points. Just be mindful that some places and parks only let self-contained vehicles enter. I went with Happy Campers, and they were fantastic.

Their vans were well-equipped with bedding and kitchen necessities, and their customer service was top-notch, making sure I had everything I needed for my journey.

New Zealand’s roads are well-maintained and offer easy access to stunning scenic views, making the drive itself part of the adventure. Take your time, snap lots of photos, and share the driving duties so everyone gets to enjoy the amazing scenery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you camp everywhere in New Zealand?

No, you can’t camp everywhere in New Zealand. You can only camp in designated camping sites and areas marked for camping.

Is it legal to camp in New Zealand?

Yes, it is legal to camp in New Zealand, but only in permitted areas according to local regulations and guidelines.

Is free camping legal in New Zealand?

Yes, free camping or “freedom camping” is legal, but it is subject to varying regional rules. It’s crucial to check local rules before setting up camp to make sure it’s actually a free campground.

How much are campsites in New Zealand?

Costs vary depending on the location and facilities. Basic campsites can be free or cost up to NZD 15 per person per night, while serviced campgrounds can range from NZD 20 to NZD 50 per person per night. Freedom campsites are free of charge


Camping in New Zealand is an unbeatable way to dive into some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. Whether you’re wandering through lush forests relaxing on the white sand beaches of the North Island or exploring the majestic fjords and snow-capped mountains of the South Island, this journey will be unforgettable.

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With this guide, you’re all set to plan an epic freedom camping adventure. From knowing the best times to camp, the top spots to visit, and the most impressive campgrounds and holiday parks, to getting the hang of camper van travel, safety tips, and respecting local environments and communities—you’re ready to hit the road.

Don’t forget to use handy tools like the Ranger Camping NZ app and pick a reliable camper van service to be your cozy home on wheels. With some careful planning and an adventurous spirit, your trip will be a perfect mix of relaxation, excitement, cultural immersion, and jaw-dropping sights.

And if you’re planning a solo trip, check out my guide on the best places for solo travelers to visit in New Zealand. It’s packed with tips to make your solo adventure amazing!

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments.


The article may include affiliate links, meaning that I may receive affiliate compensation at no cost to you if you decide to purchase. Read more in my Affiliate Disclosure.


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