It’s hard to imagine a country more well-suited to freedom camping than New Zealand, and the South Island is filled with free camping sites every wanderlust-struck heart should visit. Zipping around the South Island at one’s own leisure is one of the most memorable and rewarding journeys to undertake. Nature and travel are part of the way of life here in New Zealand, and there’s a real reverence for the land.
If you’re new to the area or new to travelling in a campervan rental in general, you should make sure to take note of the areas that you can and can’t camp and the DOC — Department of Conservation — rules and regulations first as you plan your itinerary.
At Travellers Autobarn New Zealand, we help our aspiring road-trippers pick not just the best freedom camping spots for their travel goals but freedom camp spots that will suit their budget and their desired experience while making sure they’re keeping up with all site requirements.
Just a short drive from Twizel, the Ahuriri Bridge Campsite is tucked away by the Ahuriri River, offering sheltered spots under towering willows. It’s the perfect base for us to indulge in some fishing, mountain biking or walking. There are a couple of killer bike rides nearby, and the trout fishing? Absolutely epic.
The best part? We can stay for up to four nights, and it’s free! The area is spacious with ample parking and two long drop toilets. It’s right by the river, complete with a cute little swimming hole. While it’s close to SH 8, traffic noise isn’t a problem. Plus, it offers some great walks around the river, and it’s part of the Alps to Ocean cycle trail.
Now, let us tell you about this little slice of paradise called Cobden Aromahana Lagoon. It’s right on the beach, just outside Greymouth. The views? Absolutely breathtaking. Picture the 12 Apostles Range and the Southern Alps right in your backyard.
And if you’re into bird watching, you’re in for a treat. You might even get a glimpse of the rare white heron! There’s a neat little track around the lagoon – perfect for a quick, scenic stroll. You can park your self-contained vehicle for up to three nights. Just be sure to get there early to snag the best spot.
The locals are super friendly, often seen walking their dogs. And the lagoon? Teeming with ducks and swans. It’s a great opportunity for you to learn more about conservation while enjoying some peace and quiet. With clean facilities, ample room for campervans, and a stunning sea view, it’s the perfect getaway. But remember, the early bird catches the worm – or, in this case, the best camping spot!
If you’re up for an epic camping trip, we’ve got the perfect spot in mind. It’s this place called Kawatiri Beach Freedom Camping, just a bit north of Christchurch on the South Island. The locals have put their heart and soul into preserving this slice of paradise, and it shows!
You can check out Westport, hang out with cute seals at Tauranga Bay, and get your fill of those killer views. It’s all part of the Kawatiri Beach Reserve experience, a project that’s had the locals working round the clock to make it amazing.
Now, it’s a popular spot, so you should aim to roll up before 6pm during the summer months. There’s a well-kept long drop on site (with all the essentials), and the best bit? You’ll be snoozing right next to the beach. Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than that. You’ve got to see this place!
Twenty-Five Mile Stream
Mount Creighton, South Island
If you’re looking for sites that will afford you the flexibility of freedom, camping in Queenstown, Twenty-Five Mile Stream, ways up from Meiklejohns Bay, is a great place to rest your head and make your ground zero, so to speak. From here, you can not only venture into Arrowtown, but you’ll also have direct access to Queenstown. There are beautiful wine trails in the area, as well as AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungee and the Kawarau Bridge Car Park.
Once here, you can remain at the camping site for a total of four nights in your campervan hire. The site itself is situated right beside the serene and placid Lake Wakatipu and is likely to be quite empty when you arrive. The site is a 30-minute drive from Queenstown but gives travellers access to the most stunning views of the lake and its surrounding theatre of mountains. You’ll need a self-contained campervan, however, because there are no public toilets or facilities.
Have you heard about Coes Ford Recreation Reserve? It’s this awesome spot right next to the Selwyn River. We’re talking open spaces aplenty, perfect for swimming, fishing, and picnics. Plus, it’s open all year round, with a maximum stay of 28 days.
The best part? Dogs are welcome too, as long as they’re well-behaved. And no need to worry, there are public toilets available. Just remember to bring your own water though, as the water there isn’t drinkable. But hey, Leeston’s not far off for a refill.
The reserve is spread over three areas, each with clean toilets and rubbish skips. There’s also a safe swimming stream running along the boundaries. It’s an amazing place for camping, meditation, walking the dogs, or even nature photography. And on clear nights, the starry sky is simply breathtaking.
Dog Friendly (leash at all times)
Lake Tekapo Camping Site, Mackenzie District
Tekapo, South Island
Another really great spot for freedom camping in South Island, NZ, is Lake Tekapo. It sits on a hill overlooking the Mackenzie basin of Lake Tekapo, and besides the stunning views of the shimmering lake, the site offers plenty of activities and amenities. There is a range of powered and non-powered sites that can support travellers in a campervan rental.
The park itself gives travellers access to toilets, hot showers, kitchens with microwaves and ovens, and laundry facilities. You can also hire bikes, enjoy free BBQing on the grounds, take advantage of the children’s park (if you’re travelling with kids!) and sit down to a scrumptious meal on the picnic tables with great views of the lake.
Besides this, campers can partake in a whole range of activities, including star-gazing, dipping into the therapeutic hot pools & fun waterslides, ice skating, skiing, snowboarding and snow-tubing, golfing, walking & cycling, fishing, boating and water skiing.
Easy access for 2WD vehicles
BBQs on the grounds
Kitchen and laundry facilities
Hot pools and an ice skating rink are located next to the park
Robin Hood Bay Campsite
Blenheim, South Island
Discover the hidden gem of the Marlborough region, Robin Hood Bay Campsite. This quaint and peaceful free campsite nestled next to the beach offers a unique camping experience that’s not just free of charge but also rich in natural beauty. With its isolation comes tranquillity, making it an ideal spot for those seeking serenity away from the crowd. Whether you’re an angler looking for a new fishing spot, a surfer chasing the perfect wave, or a nature lover hoping to catch a glimpse of Hector’s dolphins, Robin Hood Bay has something for everyone.
The campsite, though small, is well-maintained and offers two different camping areas – one right next to the signpost with a toilet and a larger grassy area further up the road. Both spots are perfect for pitching your tent (just remember to bring a hammer). The designated campsite fills up fast, even during off-peak season, so early arrival is advisable.
If you’re a latecomer, fear not – there are additional self-contained spots along the bay. For those who enjoy leisurely strolls, there’s a beautiful beach to explore and a charming cottage at the other end worth checking out. So pack your camping gear and head off to this secluded haven – it’s time to immerse yourself in the unparalleled beauty of Robin Hood Bay.
Water from stream
Dog-friendly (dogs with a DOC permit only)
There’s simply no end to the number of freedom camping sites that pepper the picturesque South Island. It’s a land that is designed specifically for campervan enthusiasts — or so it will feel! If you’re ready to begin your own multi-day journey, reach out to the knowledgeable and friendly team at Travellers Autobarn New Zealand. We can help you plan a road trip you won’t soon forget, and make sure you’re safe while you undertake your South Island adventure of a lifetime!
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.