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 the stunning views. These seven lesser-known but no less beautiful spots offer the chance to experience camping in 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.
The Ngawi camping area in the South Wairarapa District lies on the coastal side of Cape Palliser Road, opposite to the Ngawi settlement. As far as coastal camping goes, you couldn’t find a better spot than this unique and picturesque fishing village. It’s a great way to explore the region at large since campers are welcome to stay for a total of 21 nights.
You can also view the seal colony, journey to the nearby lighthouse, and go birdwatching, as plenty of seabirds make their home in the area. They’ll also try to steal your food so keep it well-hidden! The Ngawi camping area offers stunning views of coastal sunrises and sunsets and you don’t need to travel to far to view them. It’s a quiet, secluded spot, however, and you’ll have to make sure you bring your own food and water. Make sure to bring a hand DSLR and tripod if you are a photography enthusiast because the mountains on the opposite shore boast shots you’ll want to remember for life.
Besides this, the Ngawi camping area includes:
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 O Makora campsite and is a hop-skip-and-jump away from Lake Waikaremoana. Note that the campsite is accessible via a long, narrow, winding road so make sure that you’re driving carefully.
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:
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. However, this site does call for booking prior to arriving.
When free camping in NZ at North Island’s Kaiaua Beach, you can expect:
The Waikawa campsite, within Tararua Forest Park, is incredibly well-stocked, both with amenities and with activities. It’s a small but sufficient campsite that is easily accessible and provides a range of nature-based activities. It’s a fantastic freedom camping location for birdwatching — keep a special lookout for species like fantails, tui, bellbirds, whiteheads, riflemen and kakariki, all birds native to New Zealand.
There are also plenty of short and long hiking trails nearby that begin and end at the camping site. While no pets are allowed on the site, there is a free water supply and clean public toilets with paper towels and plenty of room for campervans on its 15 sites. You don’t need to book in advance and you can relax in any of the shaded areas, complete with fire pits for some evening roasting. For those who want to take a dip, there’s a nearby watering hole but watch out for the sand flies!
When free camping at Waikawa, you can expect:
No prior booking required
Also known as ‘Hipapatua’, Reid’s Farm offers a very special free camping experience in 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 the 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:
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 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 in New Zealand’s North Island. It has easy access to long drop toilets and a windy gravel road that takes you to the site.
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.
These seven spots are the must-see sites when camping in 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.