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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.
1) Ngawi Camping Area, South Wairarapa District
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 too 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:
- Access for 2WD vehicles
- 21 Days maximum stay
- Hiking, fishing, swimming and rock-pooling for kids
- Walks into the local Ngawi settlement and town
- Five-minute drive to the seal colony and a local fish and chips restaurant
- Easy access to clean public toilets (drop toilets only)
- 2wd access
2) Orangihikoia Campsite, Te Urewera
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 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 minimal traffic
- Fires allowed
- No bookings required and overnight stay on a total of 10 sites provided
- Easy access to public toilets and water supply present on site
- No pets allowed
3) Kaiaua Beach, Gisborne District, Hawkes Bay
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
4) Waikawa Campsite, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington
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, make sure you watch out! At the nearby watering hole, it’s not just the human locals that are friendly — prepare yourself against sand flies and other bugs who will be excited to see you.
When free camping at Waikawa, you can expect:
- Easy access for 2WD vehicles
- Clean public toilets
- Water supply
- Fire pits
- Swimming, short and long hiking trails
No prior booking required.
5) Reid’s Farm, Rangatira Park, Taupo
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:
- 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 available
- Easy walks to Huka Falls in the early morning
- Dish washing facility available
6) Piropiro Campsite, Pureora Forest Park, Waikato Region
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