Have you ever committed yourself to a road trip so intense and immersive, it feels like one long journey around the world?
Have you ever experienced landscapes so diverse, special and magical that it feels like you’ve left your home planet?
This is what it feels like to hire a campervan in New Zealand. Pack the bare essentials, drop a pin on a map and go wherever the wind takes you.
And, if you want to travel on a budget, staying lean but living large, drinking in the sunrise for breakfast and frolicking in lakes protected by a theatre of mountains, there’s nothing better than freedom camping in New Zealand.
If you’re the spontaneous type, who longs for a fantastic adventure, simply close your eyes and get going. But if you like to have a plan — even just the outline of a plan — we’ve put together a list of the best camping spots in New Zealand’s North Island and South Island.
From marine reserves to natural sanctuaries, each one of these seven spots has plenty of room for your campervan and a host of special activities for you to enjoy.
Ready to put the rubber to the road? From the North Island down to the South, we’ve got your hot spots right here.
We start off our journey through New Zealand’s best freedom camping spots with the stunning and incredibly popular Rotokare Scenic Reserve. This wildlife nature reserve is a veritable sanctuary for a flourishing rare bird population, including approximately 100 kiwis. The picturesque Rotokare Scenic Reserve is a lesser known site nestled in the heart of South Taranaki. The lush landscape has diverse habitats, ranging from the shimmering lake to the wetlands, swamp forest, and bush.
Peaceful and serene, the reserve is run by volunteers and, if you’d like, you can join up on a Sunday for a chance to give back to the sanctuary through tasks related to maintenance and bio-security. Volunteers are thanked with a free lunch.
This is how the reserve keeps its amenities, such as walking sites, public toilets and shower areas so clean and spotless. Visitors will enjoy the beautiful lake and diverse wildlife throughout the reserve.
This site is built specifically for self-contained motorhomes and campervans but these vehicles are only allowed to park in front of the estuary, for a maximum of three nights. Besides this, the spot includes:
Anzac Bay is the spot that you stumble upon and then never want to leave. As one of the best camping spots for freedom camping in NZ, this little hidden gem has hilly trails that end in overlooks upon a pristine white sand beach. The bay is not only the perfect spot to get a swim in, but fishing enthusiasts can also set up a pole and relax.
The spot is part of Bowentown Domain, a lush and picturesque area at the southern end of Waihi Beach, right on the border of the Tauranga Harbour. Quiet and somewhat secluded, Bowentown Domain features 128 hectares of track, separated by the eastern and western hills.
At Anzac Bay, however, you can expect flat grassy areas, intended for family and camper picnics, surrounding the white beach and there are plenty of spots to BBQ from.
Nestled in the crook of the Bay of Plenty, this five-site strong freedom camping spot is ideal for travellers who love to go boating, fishing and swimming in the pristine waters of the Bay. The Port Ohope Boat Ramp area abuts the Port Ohope Wharf, a popular spot for paddle boarding, sailing and catching incredible sunset views of the Bay of Plenty, from the Ohiwa Harbour.
The campgrounds themselves are flat and grassy, clean and easy to navigate. There are two public bathrooms within a 10-minute walking distance of the campervan site and visitors can stay for up to two nights.
When you get to the end of McCleods Bay, you’ll meet a road that goes left from The Deck Cafe.
It snakes around the foot of Mt. Aubrey through to the stunning Reotahi Marine Reserve, a secluded but stunning spot. Intended for self-contained campervan rentals, you can simply park and take advantage of the multi-day stay to really explore this hidden gem.
From the coast, you can access the walkway that will lead you along the water’s edge or you can walk to the main beach. Make sure to pack plenty of gear because there are a whole bunch of activities you can undertake in this Whangarei Heads.
So that’s the North Island done. Let’s hop over to the South Island for one of its best camping spots: Ohingaroa Bay Reserve. Located in picturesque Marlborough, Ohingaroa Bay Reserve is a free overnight camping spot that allows self-contained campervans, making it the perfect spot for freedom camping in NZ.
The site is located right next to the road and has large vehicle access so you’ll be able to simply drive up and take up any of the four spots. Make sure to park your vehicle so that it’s shielding you from the road. However, get ready to simply relax, rejoice and enjoy the view.
Ohingaroa features a large gravel area, where you can watch the sunset glint over the still, silent waters, with tall, sloping, green-covered mountains on the opposite side as a backdrop. Slowly, twilight slips into evening and you’ll be able to stargaze instead.
The Ohingaroa has a very relaxed vibe, almost as though it’s off the beaten path. Go swimming or simply relax with a good book — or, better yet, take out your DSLR for some amateur shots of the mountains just beyond.
Freedom camping in NZ can’t get any better than the MacKenzie region on the South Island. Easily one of the best camping spots in New Zealand, the MacKenzie region is frequented by multiple travellers every season for its stunning views of Mount Cook.
While the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is easily accessible from this site and boasts multiple trails, perfect for walking, running and even mountain biking, The Pines site is situated right by a sparkling body of water, feeding into Lake Tekapo.
Visitors can also visit the vast Tasman Glacier, take help tours of the vast, quiet landscape and use the cycling pathway around Lake Pukaki, through to Lake Ohau.
The Pines is quiet and incredibly picturesque, the perfect place to simply relax, unwind, go for a dip and build your ‘basecamp’ for a few nights. It features stunning views of the snow-capped Mount Cook and the lake.
Pull up to a spot under the trees, right at the edge of the crystal blue Lake Wakatipu and you’ll never want to leave. Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, located in Meiklejohns Bay, is not a very big area but it’s certainly beautiful. When you head to the site, you’ll have your fill of stunning views of the lake, and a chance to swim and go paddle-boarding, as long as you have the equipment.
Meiklejohns Bay is located just 30 minutes out of Queenstown and is easy to access through the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, accessible to self-contained campervan rentals. Once you’re here, you can also head to the Kawarau Bridge Car Park and take a leap off the Kawarau Bungy Bridge, located just off of State Highway 6.
The Queenstown-Glenorchy Road can be traversed at will, which means that you can continue to move on along Lake Wakatipu, progressing further along the road and setting up at a new spot each night.
There are plenty of other freedom camping spots you can visit in the surrounding areas as well and you can check those out using the Campermate app.
These seven have just the right mix of rest, relaxation, views, trails and swim activities. Or, if you want to read more about freedom camping in New Zealand, come and explore our recommended freedom camping blogs.
If you are thinking about hiring a campervan rental with Travellers Autobarn, contact our friendly staff for further information on each of these spots — or bring us your recommendations and we can help you build a solid itinerary.