Freedom camping is exactly what it sounds like — having the freedom to stop anywhere, anytime and simply take in the beauty of your natural surroundings. After days in a campervan hire or driving on the open road, these stops become a haven as much as a chance to rest, get out and explore the area.
But the best freedom camping sites, we think, should also be special, with their own unique range of activities in addition to stunning views. These nine lesser-known but no less beautiful spots offer the chance to experience camping on New Zealand’s North Island in a way that is a little more serene, secluded and relaxing.
Take it from us at Travellers Autobarn NZ, the best way to make use of your campervan rental is to get off the beaten path and head down the road less travelled. The best part? Your fully-loaded campervan hire will give you all the shelter and creature comforts of home you need to undertake your journey with a little bit of spontaneity and a little bit of pre-planning.
Ever dreamt of conquering the highest sand dunes in Auckland? Pack your boogie board and head to Hamilton’s Gap. This off-the-beaten-path gem, just 91 kilometres away from Auckland, offers an adrenaline rush like no other. Race up the steep dunes, cheer on the kiddos, and then feel the wind in your hair as you surf down. Trust us, the view from the top is worth every huff and puff.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Wade through a shallow stream to reach a stunning black sand beach. Enjoy a peaceful picnic, play fetch with your furry friend, or simply soak in the breathtaking seascape views. And when night falls, park your self-contained motorhome for an overnight stay under the stars.
However, to stay overnight at this prime location, you’ll need a self-contained campervan. If you don’t own one, worry not! Travellers Autobarn is here to make your trip easy and comfortable. Specialising in campervan rentals, we offer a range of options for all budgets, ensuring you have the perfect vehicle for your journey.
Self-contained Campervan Only
Hawke’s Bay, North Island
Remote but unbelievably beautiful, the Orangihikoia campsite (a mouthful to say!) is the perfect spot to undertake rugged nature activities like hunting, hiking, fishing and mountain biking. It’s located north of the Te Taita A Makora campsite and is a hop-skip-and-jump away from Lake Waikaremoana. Note that the campsite is only accessible via a long, narrow, winding road, so make sure that you’re driving carefully, especially if you’re driving a campervan for the first time.
Once you’ve arrived and set up, you’ll feel as though you’re tucked away in the middle of the mountains with absolutely nobody aware of your presence. It has a drop toilet in the back with a sink, as well as soap and a stream where you can set up for fishing if that’s what you’re into.
The Orangihikoia camping site is definitely one of those hidden gems. It includes:
Easy access for 2WD vehicles
Close to the road but with minimal traffic
No bookings are required, and overnight stays on a total of 10 sites provided
Easy access to public toilets and water supply present on site
No pets allowed
Waikato, North Island
From Easter weekend to the start of daylight savings, Kaiaua Beach plays host to travellers who have a hankering for the relaxing sound of the waves. The Kaiaua Beach camping site is part of the Hawkes Bay area and offers plenty of opportunities for fishing, swimming and strolls along the sandy coastline. The beach itself is located just six kilometres off the state highway and features long, winding views of the sparkling water.
Keep in mind that rubbish collection for blue bags only occurs in the summer, and you’ll have to take bags to the designated ‘Collection Point’ from Monday to Friday in the mornings. You can also enjoy access to public toilets, which are kept very clean. You’re welcome to stay for a total of three nights at this campsite; however, this site does call for booking prior to arriving. It’s important that you know the customs around freedom camping in New Zealand and don’t overstay your welcome in any one campground.
When free camping in NZ at North Island’s Kaiaua Beach, you can expect:
Easy access by 2WD vehicles
Prior booking required a total of 3 nights over 30 days
Access to public toilets
Fishing, swimming and walking along the beach
Little Waipa Reserve
Arapuni, North Island
Imagine waking up to the gentle lapping of the Waikato River at Little Waipa Reserve. This elevated grassy paradise is more than just a campsite; it’s your personal playground for fishing, boating, and even dry fly fishing in the clear spring-fed river.
The first two nights are on us if you’re in a self-contained caravan or campervan. Fancy staying longer? Just grab a permit from the local council office. Tent campers, we’ve got you covered, too, but you’ll need a permit from the get-go.
Forget about updating your social media – there’s no cell reception here. Instead, bask in the sounds of chirping birds, laughing waterfowl, and fellow happy campers. And remember, this is not just a camping spot; it’s an experience, a soul recharge station nestled in nature’s lap. So pack your bags and let Little Waipa Reserve be your next great escape.
Reid’s Farm, Rangatira Park
Taupō, North Island
Also known as ‘Hipapatua Recreational Reserve’, Reid’s Farm offers a very special free camping experience on New Zealand’s North Island. Around the year, except from 1 May to 1 October (when it’s closed for site maintenance), Reid’s Farm gives those travelling in a self-contained vehicle like a campervan rental a chance to stay for four days and three nights at this incredible spot. Park right up at the river’s edge, and you’ll experience a real treat come evening time, when the sounds of water creatures and birds will drift through your vehicle.
Located right on Huka Falls Road, on the banks of the Waikato River, this popular campsite boasts such activities as fishing, swimming, hiking and walking.
The facilities themselves are basic but built for the convenience of campers and include:
Easy access to 2WD vehicles
Clean public drop toilets
Rubbish bins and picnic tables
Swimming, fishing and water kayaking allowed
No prior bookings required
More than 20 sites are available
Easy walks to Huka Falls in the early morning
Dishwashing facility available
Piropiro Campsite, Pureora Forest Park
Manawatu-Wanganui, North Island
Cutting right through the heart of the famous Timber Trail, the Piropiro campsite is more than just fun to say — it affords campers plenty of activities and a memorable time when using a campervan rental.
There is plenty to do, such as exploring forest roads and nearby trails, either on foot or on a mountain bike. It also offers easy access to the Maramataha suspension bridge and offers 16 non-powered sites. Bookings are not required, and there are some allowances for fires. Dogs are allowed as long as they have a DOC permit. You can go hunting, tramping, and even biking on the much-frequented NZ Cycle Trail nearby. There is also a little stream for water access for cooking.
All in all, the Piropiro camping site gives campers the opportunity to return to real freedom camping on New Zealand’s North Island. It has easy access to long drop toilets and a windy gravel road that takes you to the site.
Access to the site by 2WD vehicles (go slowly)
Dogs allowed with DOC permit
Overnight stay of up to 3 days
Hunting, tramping, cycling, fishing, and swimming
Bartletts Ford, Manawatu District
Pohangina, North Island
All snuggled up in your fully-stocked campervan rental, your time at Bartletts Ford in the Manawatu District will seem more like a ‘glamping’ experience than any time actually on a freedom site. That’s what Bartletts Ford allows campers to really dip their toes into — especially because it’s located right on the river’s edge.
Campers can remain for a total of two nights and three days, and they have access to the river, allowing them to kayak, fish, and swim, as well as take a leisurely walk along the river bank. The site also allows easy access to clean public drop toilets.
Easy access for self-contained campervans and 2WD vehicles
Fishing, swimming and camping
No bookings required
Pets allowed on site
Public toilets available on-site
Raetea North Side Campsite
Mangamuka, North Island
Nestled in the heart of the Northland region, Raetea North Side Campsite is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. This freedom camping site, beautifully tucked away at the northern foot of Raetea Forest and within Mangamuka Gorge Scenic Reserve, is an idyllic retreat for those seeking solace in nature’s lap.
The freedom camp site’s location on State Highway 1, a mere 18km southeast of Kaitaia, makes it a convenient stopover for road trippers, while its serene surroundings offer a soothing respite from life’s hustle and bustle. Its serene surroundings offer a soothing respite from life’s hustle and bustle. The campsite is home to one of the last remaining lowland coastal forests, offering an intimate and peaceful camping experience under the starry sky enveloped by lush foliage.
What sets Raetea North Side Campsite apart is its rich biodiversity. With just 20 free campsites, it’s a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers, or simply lovers of quietude. Look out for the melodious Kereru (wood pigeon), elusive short-tailed bats, vibrant parakeets, and, if you’re lucky, the rare Kauri snails.
So, if you’re passionate about responsible freedom camping and want to immerse yourself in nature, Raetea North Side Campsite is your perfect getaway.
Water from stream
Self-contained campervan accessible
Bird and wildlife watching
Tracks and walks
Dawson Falls Carpark
Taranaki, North Island
Just a hop, skip, and a 30-minute drive from Stratford will land you in the lap of Egmont National Park, where Dawson Falls Carpark awaits. Perched like a proud bird at 902m altitude, this campsite plays host to the spectacular Dawson Falls – an 18m high marvel that’s sure to leave your jaw hanging. And if that’s not enough, this place also moonlights as a history class, boasting one of New Zealand’s oldest operational power generators. The on-site visitor centre is a treasure trove of intriguing displays and nuggets of knowledge, including the reincarnation of the old Syme Hut.
Dawson Falls Carpark is not just about the falls and history, it’s a gateway to some of New Zealand’s most enchanting landscapes. With its breathtaking mountainscape views, it’s the perfect location to park your campervan and enjoy a meal amidst nature. The campsite allows a maximum stay of four nights in a month, with ample time to explore the surrounding areas, including the Puke Ariki museum.
And if you’re up for a challenge, there are several hiking tracks leading to Dawson Falls and the nearby Wilkies pools. The track might be rough in places and require sturdy boots, but the reward of beholding the spectacular falls and feeling the mist on your face is well worth the effort.
Whether you opt for the backpacker-style accommodation at Konini Lodge or choose to stay self-contained in your vehicle, Dawson Falls Car park offers an unforgettable experience of responsible freedom camping.
Toilets available at the Visitor’s Centre
Easy access, a short walk
Well-maintained picnic area
Self-contained motorhomes access
These 9 best freedom camping spots are the must-see sites when camping on New Zealand’s North Island. But you also want to be careful to make sure that you’re driving your campervan rental carefully. While some of these sites are frequented quite often by other road-trippers, others are remote, and you should be prepared to service your campervan if need be.
Whether you’re freedom camping around Christchurch on the South Island or at any of these stunning North Island free campsites, the roads may get tricky. You’ll want to make sure that either you’re ready for all situations or that you have access to 24/7 roadside assistance, which is one of the perks of hiring through Traveller’s Autobarn NZ. We offer plenty of campervan hire options based on the kinds of sites and routes you’ll be frequenting so reach out and connect with our team to find the perfect campervan for you.
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.