Tips On Camping In New Zealand

Camping in New Zealand is an adventure of a lifetime. Whether hiking or road tripping, you’re bound to take in some of the most beautiful sights in the world. The landscapes are very different on both islands so the more time you can spend exploring, the better. Fortunately, the country is dotted with campsites all throughout so you never have to travel far to find a place to settle down for the night.

Furthermore, New Zealand very much lends itself to campervan or motor home touring and it has become extremely popular with locals as a holiday mode.Tourists with families in particular, also find this a very convenient means of touring the country.The camping facilities are usually excellent, and readily available.

With a choice of free camping or staying in camping grounds and holiday parks you should never have a problem finding somewhere to stop for the night.


Free Camping in New Zealand

Freedom Camping is a very popular activity in New Zealand, both for the locals and tourists. You always see campervans on the road – they’re great for getting around the country, combining travel with accommodation to keep expenses down, and allowing you to spend the night in beautiful locations, surrounded by nature.

Freedom Camping, by definition, is spending the night in the wilderness, not on a site you have to pay for: you have the freedom to stop wherever you want and it’s free.

If only it were as simple as that.

It’s a paradox, but Freedom Camping in New Zealand is restricted. In 2011, just before the country was inundated by a tidal wave of Rugby World Cup tourists, Parliament passed the Freedom Camping Act. You can now be fined up to $10,000 for camping in the wrong place or in the wrong way.

In many ways, this is a good thing. Although most campers are sensible, respectful people, there are always some who are quite happy to leave their rubbish behind, including used toilet paper. Before the introduction of the Freedom Camping Act, there was no effective deterrent to this sort of behaviour. The odd irresponsible person, for example, would empty the dirty water and human waste from their campervan in an inappropriate place, risking the health of the environment and other people.

Understandably, locals were becoming increasingly frustrated at the pollution of their countryside. This was a classic case of a few unthinking people ruining things for the majority.

The problem is that different councils have different by-laws concerning Freedom Camping, which can cause confusion among campers, seeing as Freedom Camping, by its very nature, means moving freely around the country.

Of course, you could always play it safe and camp at a regulated campground – there are, after all, hundreds of them all over New Zealand – but, although they can be very cheap, they are not free.

Freedom Camping is still possible, but it is governed by strict rules. You constantly have to check if you are allowed to be where you are – and remember that there is a difference between a campervan and a self contained campervan.

(A self contained campervan has a sticker on it that certifies it can go for a minimum of three days without having to discharge its waste. If you are hiring a campervan in New Zealand, you should make sure that it has this sticker, as not only does it make your trip easier, it helps to protect the environment.)

That said, while you may have free camp in many locations, it will sometimes be necessary and more desirable to stay in a camping ground, especially in cities or larger towns. You need to check at the local Tourist Information Offices to find out what the regulations are for free camping in their areas as it varies. Sometimes there is a very small charge – about $5.Check for the red, black and white camping signs.

There is also a relatively new Native Parks Organisation where for a fee of $70 you get to stay in up to 50 camping spots on private property. You need to be driving a totally self contained rental campervan or motorhome to take part in this scheme. This is a great way to meet the locals.


New Zealand Camping Grounds

Being a nation of campers there is plenty of choice when it comes to finding a camping ground. You do need to be aware that over the peak summer period (December-January) the camping grounds will be busy and you need to arrive earlier in the afternoon if possible to ensure you get a site.


Backcountry and Conservation Campsites in New Zealand

New Zealand has over 250 campsites on conservation land that can be accessed by a vehicle. Camper sites are categorized as Serviced, Standard and Basic. There are specific rules and guides for campers to follow to help preserve these areas and keep them open for holiday makers to enjoy.

-Serviced Sites have a range of facilities and services such as flush toilets, hot showers, kitchen / laundry facilities and rubbish collections. This is a good option for those campers whom want to enjoy the atmosphere of a New Zealand campground holiday without missing out on modern day conveniences. Fees range from NZD$8.00 to $14.00 per night.

-Standard sites have more limited facilities and services. Toilets tend to be of the composting or pit variety and running tap water is available. Services such as rubbish bins and fireplace / bbq areas may or may not be present depending on the campground. This form of camping requires more organisation on the campers’ part to ensure they have sufficient supplies such as bottled water and rubbish bags. Fees range from NZD$3.00 to $10.00 per night.

-Basic campsites are just that, campers are generally self sufficient in these areas as faculties and services are very limited. Basic toilets and water from a tank, stream or lake are available. This form of camping is really for the keen camper who is fully prepared and knows how to survive in the outdoors. This style of camping is free of charge.


Where Can I find Conservation Campsites in New Zealand?

As mentioned above campers have a choice of 250 sites spread across the North and South Islands of New Zealand. A few places to check out include:

– Akapoua Bay camp site – Great Barrier Island (north east of central Auckland)
A popular place for families and boaties, with fantastic walking / hiking tracks.

– Mangamate camp site – Rangitaiki in the Bay of Plenty.
Located next to the Whirinaki River – Fish for trout, swim in the river or hunt.

– Mangahuia camp site in the Ruapehu area (central North Island)
Located on the edge of the Tongariro National Park – New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage area.

– Courthouse Flat camp site in the Motueka area (Nelson/Marlborough)
Located near an historic goldfield and the Kahurangi National Park. Family activities include: caving, gold fossicking, picnics, hunting and walking.

To check out the rest of 250 sites available in NZ to enjoy you nature based camping holiday, check out the New Zealand Department of Conservation website which provides details maps and information on where to find various sites across the country.


Lakeside Camping Options in New Zealand

Here are just some of the lakeside options you can choose:

Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and offers plenty of camping options around the perimeter. Located in the central plateau of the North Island, Lake Taupo is a sought after holiday destination as it offers many great activities to visitors to see and do during their stay, not the least of which is fishing on the fresh water lake. Try your hand at catching brown or rainbow trout for dinner. Some of the other lakes in the Waikato district are Waikare, Rotoaira and Ohakuri.

Just down the road from Taupo is Lake Rotorua, New Zealand’s 11th largest lake and located in the geothermal centre of the country. Rotorua is also known as the cultural capital and you can experience Maori culture and well as food and entertainment whilst you have your camper rental parked at one of the holiday parks in the area. Other lakes in the Bay of Plenty region are Tarawera and Rotoiti.Others in the norther island are:

Coromandel – This region is home to the popular Whangamata and Whitianga and the famous Hot Water Beach – where you can dig your own spa pool in the sand! For those looking for a little bit of adventure, kayaking the breathtaking coastline and visiting Cathedral Cove is a must do! This region offers plenty in terms of scenery too – beaches, forests and townships to wander through.

Waikato – The Waitomo Caves, the popular surfing destination of Raglan and Taupo, famous for having the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, are all located within this region. Each offering something a little bit different. The caves allow for abseiling and black water rafting, whilst Taupo lets you enjoy anything from adrenalin pumping activities such as skydiving and white water rafting through to trout fishing and spa treatments.

Taranaki – Home to one of New Zealands famous mountains – Mt Taranaki (aka Mt Egmont), Taranaki consists of a main centre, New Plymouth and many smaller farming towns such as Eltham. There is no shortage of coastline views in this area either, towns such as Opunake provide a great place to stop and enjoy the contrasting scenery.

If Hawke’s Bay is your preferred destination then Lake Waikaremoana located in the Te Urewera National Park would be a great choice. The lake is suitable for many water sports including kayaking and waterskiing. There are also caves in the area to discover.

In the South Island one of the most awe inspiring lakes is Wanaka. The crystal clear waters of the lake are further enhanced with the stunning Southern Alps and the lush greenery that are synonymous with the area. Wanaka is the 4th largest lake in New Zealand and is about a third smaller than big brother Wakatipu, which is also found in Otago, and is bordered by The Remarkables mountain range. You’ll also find Lake Hawea in the area as well as Lake Dunstan which is one of the few artificial lakes in New Zealand.

Canterbury is home to the largest of the artificial lakes, Benmore as well as the naturally occurring Ellesmere. This body of water is also known as Te Waihora and is a site of traditional significance to Maori since ancient times, in fact it remains just as important to the many Maori who live in the area today. You will also find Tekapo, Pukaki and Coleridge in the region too.

Marlborough – The Marlborough Sounds provide some great locations in smaller hidden bays. If you were to travel from the north island to the south, you can catch the ferry from Wellington into Picton, which is one of the main centres of the Marlborough regions. Within Marlborough are the Queen Charlotte Sound which provide a great walking track too.

Canterbury – Christchurch is the main city in this region and offers some great history to explore. If you are wanting somewhere a little more quaint, try areas such Ashburton or Gerladine, with their great craft shops and gardens these are great relaxing places to stop.

Southern Lakes – Queenstown and Fiordland – all very popular in both the summer and winter months. Whether it’s water activities or snow activities you want to participate in, this is your region.

If your camp is not beach side it could be by a beautiful lake, or featuring thermal pools. We cannot think of a camping ground that does not have something to delight the family.


Facilities in New Zealand Camping Grounds

  • DOC (Department of Conservation) Camps are found in many beautiful, invariably beachside locations. These are very cheap. Therefore you will have very basic facilities. You get what you pay for, but they are often right on stunning beaches so some of the best locations in the country.
  • Council Camping Grounds. usually have good facilities, with campers kitchens, hot showers, and bathroom and laundry facilities.
  • Privately owned Camping Grounds. These range from basic to excellent. Most are very good. You should have a kitchen, hot showers and toilets.
  • Campervan Only Camping Grounds There are a few campervan and motor home only camping grounds often located on private property. They are usually just a nice place to stay with no extra facilities.Your motorhome must be totally self contained to be suitable.
  • Holiday Parks 4 star Holiday Parks have wonderful facilities with cabins, on site caravan hire, swimming pools, spa pools, childrens play areas and a shop.

Most camping grounds will have a number of power points for caravans and camper vans, as well as tent sites. There will be rules that it is essential campers comply with so other campers are happy. Many camps will expect noise to be limited after 10.00pm.Some may even close their gates. They will either have a facility for you to get a key, or you should be able to make some arrangement if you will be arriving back later than their closing time.

The majority of camps either have a basic shop on site, or are very near to shops.

In conclusion, be aware that New Zealand campsites are typically filled 3-6 months in advance during peak seasons and even during the off season at some of the most popular destinations in New Zealand. That means that you should plan well ahead so that you can get your ideal location and ensure that you won’t get into a campsite that is overbooked and miss out. You should check out other travellers’ reviews, information about campsites and nearby towns and activities, and the costs of staying at various campsites throughout the country. Taking the time to educate yourself will result in a much better holiday than if you wait until the last minute or book accommodations without checking out your options.

The world’s main cities do offer plenty of sights to see and things to do, but outdoor adventures are far more enjoyable and popular in New Zealand. Make sure that you take the time to plan your holiday accordingly so that you can get the ideal New Zealand campsites and accommodation that you want. If you are looking for the best holiday adventures, you will be hard pressed to find a destination that is better than New Zealand for affordable and adventurous holidays.

Browse our Camping List and Tips category for more camping related ideas and information of your interest to guarantee yourself a smooth camping experience!