Like Iceland’s idiosyncratic, breathtaking, almost untouched beauty, so, too, are New Zealand’s natural terrains, developed in relatively secluded circumstances, tended by the indigenous Māori who know well the shape of its wild, looming mountains; decadent, steamy hot springs cropping out in surprising formations; and unbelievably diverse creatures.
It’s truly an other-worldly kind of beauty that can only really be explained by experience.
Today, one of the best ways to truly experience this incredible landscape and partake in its undeniable beauty, doing every moment justice, is to pack your bags, pack a campervan, pack the dogs, pack the kids — put your life on a brief pause! — and commit to a long journey through New Zealand’s North Island.
If you’re a believer of bucket lists and a hoarder of stunning landscapes that are quiet but larger than life, this is one trip you simply cannot miss.
And since you’re here reading this, we’ll assume that you get it — the North Island is its own adventure and experience. ‘Nuff said, right?
Except that this guide is designed to show you exactly what you need to make your campervan journey across the North Island truly unforgettable — but, like, in a good way.
In this guide, you’ll learn all about:
When renting a campervan out from Travellers Autobarn, you’ll be protected against any unforeseen issues thanks to 24/7 roadside assistance. Travellers Autobarn also offers one-way rentals which means you don’t need to spend time circling back on your journey — unless you actually want to do a second round.
If you’re renting a campervan and it’s a self-contained unit, check with us to see what is included, so you know any essentials you need to pack. Often, vehicles are outfitted with a standard kitchen with a fridge, microwave, cookers/burners, a sink, and cupboards. Travellers Autobarn do offer a kitchen kit, in our premium living equipment set.
Other items you’ll need to pack and you won’t be able to live without, include:
When you’re picking out the right campervan for you, you’ll have to consider a few things.
These factors will significantly affect the size and model of campervan you’ll be renting out.
If you’re camping, you’re in luck because most campsites have dump stations. There are also signposts for dump stations posted at other public places like car parks.
If you have a shower, this is also dumped in the same place through a hose that attaches to your van. You’ll need to fill your van back up with water. This is essentially water from your sink and shower and you don’t want to leave it for more than two days as it can get pretty smelly.
Depending on the kind of rental you get, you may be able to have most of your meals right out of your campervan. Make sure to pack a few non-perishables to pair with your perishables like eggs, bread, and bacon, along with condiments and oils for cooking.
Bring camp-safe cooking utensils as well, as these are usually easy to clean and store. Remember that you’ll also get to have a few meals out, especially if you’re travelling through major cities like Auckland.
December, January, and February make up the Aussie and Kiwi summer season. If you’re planning to travel from your country to the North Island during these months, make sure to pre-book well in advance because availability for all aspects of road tripping (from flights to campervan rentals) can become scarce.
Okay, so you’re in a self-contained unit and that pretty much means that the world is your oyster and the sky is the limit. In other words, you can pitch your proverbial tent (or, in this case, park your campervan) anywhere and you’re good to go.
If you’re a camping enthusiast, there are a couple of options for you:
Once you’ve got all the basics covered, it’s now time to set off on your New Zealand adventure. Next up are our recommended road trips, to make sure you don’t miss out on all the best spots!
Picking the best campsites in the North Island can be difficult, there are a lot to choose from and how do you know you’re picking the right one? Well we’ve selected our top 5 campground, starting in the North and heading to the South of the North Island, make sure to visit tem all, each with their own benefits.
Located at the very left hand tip of the North Island, 6 hours north of Auckland. Known to have the best beach breaks on a sandy beach. This is an isolated and remote camp spot, so if you’re looking for tranquility and to get away from the crowds, then come and explore. North Cape in general makes for a great fishing trip and there are some stunning drives that will take your breath away on every bend.
Mimiwhangata, is home to one of the most beautiful campgrounds in New Zealand, Waikahoa Bay Campsite. Situated beachfront means you’ll wake up listening to the sea and fall asleep listening to the wildlife. Expect to be off the grid here, there is no phone reception and you are far from “normal life” being 3 hours north of Auckland. With great watersports options, you’ll be spoilt for choice with activities on and off land. Make sure to include this campsite when you’re heading north, as it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind.
10 min drive from Rotorua, alongside the clear waters of The Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) and surrounded by native bush. Blue Lake Top 10 is lucky enough to not get the infamous sulphur smell that Rotorua is so famous for. Rotorua is home to over 15 beautiful lakes, so make sure to stay at this campground if you want to road trip to the lakes and explore the local area.
Located on the south coast of the North Island, between Owhiro Bay and Sinclair Head, very close to Wellington. Red Rocks would be a great final freedom camping spot to enjoy before you embarked to the South Island. Being an ancient volcanic location, you will find some unusual rock formations here. There are unsealed roads as well making it unsuitable for two-wheel drive (2WD) vehicles, so be smart if you decide to visit this magical spot. There are many coastal walks all around Red Rock, be sure to dust your hiking boots off for this destination.
Located in Wellington, this is a freedom camping spot for self-contained vehicles. With stunning views over Wellington harbor and only 20 minutes drive from the ferry terminals, this is another good spot to visit before heading to the South Island. This isn’t your tranquil camping area like the others, but rather a perfect spot so you can enjoy Wellington’s nightlife and get ready for your next adventure.
For natural beauty and a true New Zealand experience, make sure to visit our top 5 campgrounds while on your road trip in the North Island!
Besides the stress-free perks of the unlimited kilometres on our campervans, one of the biggest reasons why travellers choose Travellers Autobarn is our self-contained vehicles themselves.
Since the terrain is often rugged and is unique enough to justify a multi-day trip, your campervan will act as the perfect camping solution, a basecamp where you can return to at the end of each day.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of the best national parks in the North Island so that you can take full advantage of camping and caravanning through the wilds of New Zealand.
Keep in mind that, even though national parks in the North Island are easier to access than the South Island, you’ll still need to make sure you’re well-equipped for the terrain and the climate.
Make sure to the check the Department of Conservation website for up-to-date information on track conditions, safety, and preparing for each park’s unique aspects.
Guarded and tended by the Māori tribe Tuhoe (or “Children of the Mist”), Te Urewara is one of New Zealand’s largest native bush. While the name translates to “Burnt Penis,” from an old legend about a Māori chief who fell asleep too close to the fire and ended up burning his genitalia, the rest of the park is serious, sombre, and rather stunning.
At the heart of Te Urewara is the mysterious, star-shaped Lake Waikaremoana, surrounded by impossibly thick and lush rainforest. There is a sense of hushed history here at Te Urewara, an expanse that demands that you walk to explore its rugged, somewhat untouched landscape. Nature walks include a quick, 20-minute trip to the sparkling, secluded Aniwaniwa Falls to an intense 3-day journey around Lake Waikaremoana, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks.
Home to New Zealand’s longest navigable river, the Whanganui, to the south (with the Taumarunui to the north), Whanhanui National Park is a treasure trove of epic gorges, vast mountains, deep valleys, strange, mudstone cliffs and pristine, ancient forest.
Hidden amidst this native forest is a story of Māori history and encounters with the first European settlers, whose only remains is the mysterious and iconic Bridge to Nowhere. You can undertake several water activities here, including canoe safari, jet boat rides, as well as hunting pigs, goats, and fallow deer — with the right permits, of course.
Every national park worth its salt has mountains in the multiples. But none look quite like Mount Egmont, which is an almost amusing and deliberately-looking cone-shaped formation. Also known as Mount Taranaki, this mountain is actually an active stratovolcano, which explains its rather symmetrical funnel-like shape (rather like its doppleganger, Mount Fuji).
To add to its rather people-friendly reputation, Mount Egmont is also quite accessible for less-experienced climbers, which explains why it is New Zealand’s most climbed mountain. Another interesting thing to Egmont National Park is the stark division in climates — while the surrounding flat forest land is lush, mild, and nearly coastal in character, the climb towards the peak of Mount Egmont pushes you increasingly into a cold and bleak, snow-covered hinterland.
The interesting volcanic activity has made for a rather diverse landscape, however, and you’ll find plenty of waterfalls, wetlands, a small club ski area and walks like the Kamahi Walk, which is a journey through twisted and gnarled trees and overhanging ferns.
According to Māori legend, Tongariro has quite a mythical connection with Taranaki, as the two figures ‘battled’ for the attention and affections of the beautiful Pihana, another volcanic mountain peak in the region. Formidable as he was, Tongariro won that one. He is the oldest national park in New Zealand and the only one to have gained Dual World Heritage Status.
You’ll see for yourself when you arrive that this remote and rather majestic landscape is raw, extreme, real, and utterly breathtaking in its beauty. This is mostly thanks to three active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe, which create lava flows, craters, hot springs, snowfields, tussock lands, and forests absolutely ripe for a multiple-day excursion and exploration. If the cones look familiar to you, by the way, they are — Peter Jackson used these peaks as the iconic Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Besides trekking to the various filming locations, you can also ski and snowboard, canoe, whitewater raft, bike, fish, and swim.
These are the spots around New Zealand’s North Island that simply cannot be missed. Not all are directly accessible by either car or campervan, of course. You’ll have to park nearby and hike, cycle, or walk to these spots. However, the views and experience are more than worth the effort. Just make sure to pack your camera as well!
Imagine a lone lighthouse, standing tall against the sea. That is the Cape Regina Lighthouse. If you’re looking for a view where the Tasman Sea meets the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, head to this secluded spot, which is as far north on the mainland as you can go.
This is the perfect place to view majesty of Mount Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont. Count on taking a 2.5 hour hike to the tarns, however, to be able to capture the view. You can also stay at Pouakai Hut, and then visit the tarns at sunrise, just a 15-minute walk away.
If you’re planning to capture the Emerald Lakes, you’ll need to pack your gear with you because the best way to actually photograph their stunning colours is when you’re far enough away from the pools. This means that you’ll be stopping, every so often, on the 20-kilometre path of the Tongariro circuit and crossing to set up a shot, before moving onwards.
The Mount, as the locals know it, is a 45-minute hike along the eastern coast of Tauranga, close to the airport. It’s worth the climb, however, because once you reach the summit, you’ll be met by a sweeping, panoramic view, with small islands dotting the waters and crescent-shaped capes as far as the eye can see. And this is to say nothing of the sunning beachfront properties below and an elevation that puts you eye to eye with the setting sun.
Just a few hours form Auckland is the popular Cathedral Cove, located on the east coast of the Coromandel region, close to Hahei. Before you actually get to the iconic (and often crowded) cove, you’ll undertake a 30 to 45 minute walk to the beach along a fantastic wooden staircase and winding boardwalk. Once here, the outcropping and enveloping caves will help you understand why it’s called ‘Cathedral’ Cove.
If you’re hankering for a journey that will take you into the heart of the North Island, take the route known as the “Thermal Explorer Highway.” From Auckland, travel south to rolling green hills of Waikato to Hamilton, visiting its thriving botanic gardens or witness the history and culture of New Zealand at the Waikato Museum.
From here, head to Rotorua, full of bubbling mud pools, geysers and hot springs. You’ll be able to take a dip at the Polynesian Spa and experience a night of Māori culture, through storytelling.
Next on the itinerary is your chance to discover to the renowned Island of Wine. Travelling from Auckland along the west coast to Waiheke Island, which is known for its vineyards beaches and artists’ studios. Waiheke Island is truly all about that island life, lined by picturesque beaches.
The pace of life here is a little different: it’s all about the vineyards, the sailing, and the beaches. You can enjoy a breadth of activities here, including wine tours, art studio visits, or just basking in the sun on a beach. You can also undertake zip lining, archery, sea kayaking, horse riding and golf.
Starting from the beaches of New Plymouth, Surf Highway 45 is a spectacular route that runs along Taranaki’s coast. Besides 180 degrees of clean swells, you can also explore Egmont National Park. From here, head to Oakura, which boasts even more waves for surfers who are just learning to surf, as well as bird-watching for enthusiasts. You’ll also be able to wander the Oakura Arts Trail, lined with artists’ studios, jewellers, and craft artisans.
The Forgotten World Highway route is exactly what it sounds — a three-day trip that goes from Taumarunui to Stratford. The trip is built on colonial bridle paths, a road that hugs the very contours of the land. At Tamarunui, you can go trout fishing, kayaking, and jet boating.
From here, head to Whangamomona, where you’ll be able to visit the beautiful Mount Damper Falls, a fast-moving, rapid-tumbling 85 metres of shimmering water before arriving in Stratford, where you can hike the incredible terrain of the sweeping Mt. Taranaki.
The trip from Auckland to Waitomo Caves is a four-day journey that begins in Auckland, with a two-hour drive to Rotorua. Along the way, you can visit Matamata for a tour through the Hobbiton Movie Set.
Rotorua is the place you want to go when you’re looking to explore the geothermal areas, explosive geysers, and volcanic activity. You can also go mountain biking, zorbing, or shweeping. Finish your trip at the Waitomo Caves in Taupo for a truly magical boat ride that takes you through the vast system of caves that are alight with glow worms.
This is a five-day trip that takes you from Auckland to Bay of Islands and Hokianga. Though the total drive time is only around 10 hours and 15 minutes, you’ll be able to tour both coastlines of New Zealand’s warmest region and explore some of the regions’ many cycle trails — including the majestic Tane Mahuta, a famous Kauri Tree at the Waipoua Forest.
Continue on to the rugged and Ninety Mile Beach at Doubtless Bay. Once there, head through to Kerikeri, which is bordered by orchards, roadside stalls, galleries, cafes, and vineyards. You can also go on a dolphin swimming safari and the visit the historic Treaty House at Waitangi, which marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.
Well, if your going to the North Island you may as well go as far North as possible, right? Our North of the North Island road trip will take you right there, stopping at some of the most remote places in New Zealand. Tick this one off your bucket list!
Day 1: Auckland to Shelly Beach
Approximately 1 hour north of Auckland, this little seaside destination is remote and quiet. With kayak day tours, perfect hiking tracks and beaches all around. If you’re into a spot of golf, then you will find a dune golf course only 14km away. Whangapoua Beach is well worth a visit too, only 12km away. This little gem is the perfect spot to rewind and relax.
Day 2-3: Shelly Beach to Snells Beach
From one beach to another, Snells is well worth a stop over, only 1 hour 15 minutes west of Shelly Beach. A great place to go diving and horse riding. Here you’ll get more activities and diversity. Make sure to visit Parry Kauri Park, only 2km from Snells Beach, there are lots of forest walks and viewing platforms. It’s a very peaceful, tranquil place, especially when the birds are tweeting. Ransom winery is only 3km away as well, so stop in for a taster of New Zealand vino.
Day 4-5: Snells Beach to Mangawhai Heads
Mangawhai Heads is 1 hour north of Snells Beach, situated between farmland and the Pacific coast. If you are into fishing or diving this is another spot you won’t want to miss. With surfing and harbour views, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to good views and activities. With the option to even ride a donkey, you won’t get bored here.
Day 6-7: Mangawhai Heads to Paihia
Paihia is just 2 hours north of Mangawhai Heads. It is close to the historic Treaty House at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, this location marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation. With many hikes to concur, waterfalls to see, sea kayaks to ride and delicious dining options to enjoy, you’ll find this seaside spot irresistible.
Day 8-9: Paihia to Karikari Peninsula
1 hour and 30 minutes from Paihia, Karikari Peninsula has stunning white sands beaches and bays, the ones you only dream about or see in the movies. Situated on a Peninsula, if you hadn’t guessed already, this top destination will make you forget all your worries, if you haven’t already. Take time to chill here and watch the rolling waves before moving to your final spot: Cape Reinga!
Day 10-11: Karikari Peninsula to Cape Reinga (& North Cape’s Surville Cliffs)
Cape Reinga, known to many as the most north tip of the North Island. This spot has over 120,000 visitors a year, so although it’s remote, it might not be quiet. Separating the Tasman Sea (on the west) and the Pacific Ocean (on the east), it’s a magical place that will take your breath away. Although Cape Reinga is thought to be the most northern spot in NZ, it is in fact North Cape’s Surville Cliffs that takes the ‘most northern point’ award. The Cliffs are 30km east of Cape Reinga, the whole area is worth exploring, with many hikes and viewpoints. Make sure to rise for sunrise at least once, it will make you realise just how truly special New Zealand is.
Finally, if you’re looking for that ultimate road trip journey, the one that everyone is talking about and you must do while you’re in New Zealand’s North Island, look no further! Auckland to Wellington is an adventure to suit everyone.
Day 1: Auckland City
Based between 2 harbours, there is a lot to explore in this city. From the iconic Sky Tower with sensational views over the city, to the cities oldest park, Auckland Domain. Kayak to Rangitoto, a volcanic island, or visit the world’s largest penguin colony exhibition. There is something for everyone here.
Day 2-3: Auckland to Rotorua
Drive south for 3 hours to Rotorua, where it’s all about hot springs, bubbling mud & stunning geysers. Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is a must see, otherwise known as the Living Thermal Village. Make sure to visit the Pōhutu geyser, as this geyser was once known as the jewel in the crown of Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley.
Day 4-5: Rotorua to Lake Taupo
If you’re in to lakes, then you have to see this one, stunning Lake Taupo. It is in fact the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand. It is in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano, perfect for sailing, kayaking and enjoying some adventure activities on.
Day 6-7: Lake Taupo to Hawke’s Bay
Do you love wine and going to the beach? Silly question? Well you must visit Hawke’s Bay, only 2 hours from Lake Taupo. Where all pleasures come together in one exquisite location! Make sure you enjoy drinks and dinner at West Quay as well, it’s a superb spot to indulge in seafood. Be sure to also discover the Art Deco architecture and gannets of the Hawkes Bay.
Day 8-9: Hawkes Bay to Whanganui
Whanganui is on the west coast of the North Island, home to the oldest city in New Zealand, so well worth the stop. Located at the mouth of the Whanganui River, a perfect location for kayaking or sailing. Make sure to visit Whanganui National Park, which holds very a distinctive landscape of rivers and is covered in lowland forest. If you are looking for a thrill, jet boating here is a lot of fun. Those that want a more relaxing adventure, the National Park is full of hikes and trails.
Day 10: Whanganui to Wellington
The final leg, drive 2 hour 30 mins down to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The city has a stunning waterfront promenade, harbour views, sandy beaches and botanical gardens. Otherwise known as “Windy Wellington”, this is a perfect location to end your trip and relax reminiscing about your adventure.
Whatever road trip you decide on, you won’t be disappointed. New Zealand has the ability to take your breath away at every single moment. Here the journey really is the destination.
If you’ve been thinking about visiting New Zealand, make sure to visit the North Island, one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Speak with one of our team at Travellers Autobarn to see what deals are available.
For more articles on road trips and campervan adventures in New Zealand, come and check out our Guides.
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.
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 spot for their travel goals but spots that will suit their budget and their desired experience while making sure they’re keeping up with all site requirements.
Ready to undertake some gorgeous free camping in South Island, NZ? Let’s explore…
It’s hard to pick just one perfect spot for free camping in South Island but, if you forced us to choose, it would have to be the inimitable Pelorus Bridge Campground in the Marlborough region.
This campground is located in the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve — which is exactly as stunning it sounds, with its lush forest and river scenery. Here, beautiful and ancient vegetation — such as trees of beech, rimu and kahikatea — make up the fertile lowland forest area. Even more fascinating, it was an early Māori settlement.
While you cannot trek back around the sloping hills of the forest, the nearby Maungatapu Track makes for a very popular ride, allowing you to travel between Pelorus Valley and Nelson.
Besides this, the campsite is separated into two divisions, one with powered sites and the other non-powered. There are easy trails that surround the campsites and you can take a dip in the river that separates the two areas. You can also go kayaking and canoeing on days when the current is stable and calm. There is also a café and shop at the entrance to the site.
There are a couple of restrictions that will affect your planned dates. Note that from 26 December to 4 January, there is a minimum 3-night stay required. Fires, on the other hand, are not permitted at any time. Bookings open at 9 am on 30 August for stays between December to April. If you’re planning to stay anytime between 1 December to 28 February, or on public holiday weekends, make sure to have bookings ready for sure.
Located about an hour and a half from Te Anau is the secluded but stunning Mavora Lakes Campsite. This incredibly beautiful landscape has been divided into two sites — one along the south of Mavora Lake and one alongside the North Mavora Lake. Both sites afford campervan travellers the ability to really get back to the land, undertaking activities such as trout fishing, hiking, walking, tramping, mountain biking, swimming and more.
The campsite itself is equipped with picnic tables and BBQs and there are plenty of designated fire spots if you’d like to get cooking. While there is a ramp for boats, motor boats are only allowed on sites alongside North Mavora Lake. Besides this, you’ll be rewarded by incredibly stunning views that might look a little familiar — this was, after all, one of the locations of the Lord of the Rings films.
Even though Punakaiki is popular with travellers and there are a large number of sites with beachfront accommodations, there are still opportunities to go free camping in this South Island spot in NZ. It’s the perfect place to set up a base camp and explore the Paparoa National Park, while situated on a site close to the beach with direct access to the trails.
As you park at the site and hunker down for the night, you’ll hear the soothing sounds of the ocean waves crashing against the rocks. Then, wake up the next morning for an unforgettable sunrise and breakfast with a view of this incredible landscape.
Campers will also be able to enjoy access to the famous ‘Pancake Rocks’, Truman Track and the Pororari River track. In the morning, take the time to explore the beach, with its rock pools and blowholes around the area. You can also scale the sheer limestone gorges, undertake bush walks, and go tramping, fishing and swimming.
And, as a bonus, while there’s no Wi-Fi on-site, there is a pub just a few steps along the road where you can get some internet access if you need.
If you’re looking for sites that will afford you the flexibility of freedom camping in Queenstown, Twenty Five Mile Stream, a 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.
Moody, stormy and utterly breathtaking: this is Milford Sound Lodge. Offering powered sites for campervan rentals, these forest sites offer the ultimate in ‘camping’ creature comforts while still affording travellers all the experiences of staying in the wild.
However, despite the fact that the facilities are high-quality and chock-a-block full of ‘indulgences’ like laundry, breakfast, kitchens, public toilets, showers and more, there is so much to do in the area that you might not even get to enjoy these creature comforts. Count on such exciting activities as kayaking trips, trout fishing, bush and track walking, hiking, sound boat cruises and sound diving, where you can view the delicate and lush corals under Milford Sound.
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.
There’s simply no end to the number of 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 adventure of a lifetime!
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.
New Zealand is still strongly influenced by its rich Māori culture and heritage, which you can see in historical sites, performing art, and the original place names in te reo, many of which escaped being renamed by European settlers – particularly on the North Island.
As in many languages, te reo place names are often descriptive, as evidenced by the Māori name for the country itself – Aotearoa, or the land of the long white cloud. Many places are named after early Māori explorers, historical events, characters from Polynesian mythology, and more literal names such as “wide river mouth” or “many lakes”.
If you’re interested in the history of New Zealand, Māori culture, or you just want to impress your friends and family back home with all the wacky-sounding places you’ve been visiting, you’ll want to put a few of these towns on your itinerary for your New Zealand road trip.
From Akitio to Ohangai, Takaka to Tangowahine, Ohura to Kawakawa, Matakana to Raglan, we’ve got a list of the top craziest sounding towns that you need to explore for your next campervan hire in New Zealand.
Akitio is a beautiful coastal district located in Tararua, on the east coast of the North Island. It’s a popular spot for water sports including surfing and river rafting, or you can just camp on the beach and enjoy the local nature walks. According to Google Translate, “akitio” means “literacy” in English, so you might want to take a book or two to enjoy while you take in the scenery.
Ohangai translates to “opposite place” – opposite of what, we’re not sure. The town itself doesn’t have much in the way of tourist attractions, but there are plenty of cosy B&Bs and it makes a great base for exploring the rest of South Taranaki.
The small town of Takaka is located on the South Island’s Golden Bay and is a delightful place to hang out for a few days as it has a distinct hippie vibe. Takaka literally means “bracken” and is thought to be named after the legend of Tākaka – a slave on the Kurahaupō canoe who turned to stone.
Tangowahine – it’s fun to say – just try it! According to Google translate, the literal translation of this town is to “take a wife” so if you’re looking for love it might be worth a visit.
Wai means water and tapu means path or sacred, so Wai-O-Tapu translates as “sacred waters”. The name may be interesting but the place itself is even more so and definitely, a “must visit”. This colourful geothermal attraction in Rotorua includes an impressive geyser, mud pools, and a geothermal park.
This spectacular former National Park on the North Island has a rather unfortunate name that means “the burnt penis”. As the story goes, it’s named after a Māori chief who rolled onto a fire while he was sleeping. Name aside, the Jurassic Park-like jungle and amazing views are sure to make an impression.
Ohura meaning “uncovered place” is a small town to the west of Taumarunui. This place is definitely off the beaten track – in fact, it’s something of a ghost town with fewer than 150 inhabitants and an access road that’s no more than a dirt path. There’s not much here for tourists but you’re sure to meet a few colourful characters if you take the time to chat with the locals.
Kawakawa is a charming small town with an interesting claim to fame. The town’s public toilets were designed by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It’s probably safe to say that they’re not like any toilet you’ve ever seen before. Kawakawa is the name of a native shrub with aromatic leaves.
The Matakana region is known for its vineyards and it’s a popular spot for travelling foodies due to its abundance of farmers’ markets. Matakana means “watchful” and it’s certainly a good place to watch the world go by.
“Dog shit” river doesn’t sound quite so appealing in English, does it? This river that flows through Hawke’s Bay is actually fairly stunning in places, but it gets its name from the colour of the water after it rains – you might want to choose another swimming spot just to be on the safe side.
Raglan isn’t a Māori word – this fun New Zealand road trip destination is named after a British commander and was originally known as Whāingaroa meaning “long pursuit”. The town itself offers great café culture and plenty of waves for surfing.
The name is funny enough as it is, but when you consider that “wh” is pronounced “f” in Māori language, it gives it a whole new meaning. Fear not – the actual translation of this Mt Ruapehu ski field and village is “genealogy”.
Why poo? Why not? The inhabitants of this North Island town are surely sick of this joke but the town sign is a popular photo stop for road trippers passing through. The name means “reddish water” and there’s plenty to see in this friendly town. You’ll find Scottish heritage, a surf beach, caves, and plenty of accommodation and cafes.
Wait a mo’! Don’t forget to visit the Waitomo Caves, which are home to millions of glowworms that radiate with a natural luminescence. The glowworms light up the limestone formations inside in spectacular fashion. Definitely worth the trip for your Instagram feed if nothing else!
We saved the best for last! At 85 letters long, this hill in Hawke’s Bay earns the title of the longest place name in the world. The full translation is “the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land-eater, played his flute to his loved one.”
These are just a sample of some of the uniquely named towns that you’re sure to come across while you’re on your New Zealand road trip. If you’re looking for campervan hire in New Zealand give the team at Travellers Autobarn a call for a wide selection of vans for hire at competitive prices.
After more? Check out other Other Road Trips itinerary options!
You’ve probably already heard of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – the largest cities in New Zealand. You might even know a few of the more touristy towns like Queenstown and Rotorua. While there is no denying that these places are great to visit sometimes it pays to get off the beaten track and stop off at some lesser known destinations.
Here’s a rundown of some amazing sounding places in New Zealand that you might not have heard of but should definitely add to your New Zealand bucket list.
New Zealand is incredible and the South Island alone is famous for its mountains, lakes and glaciers. It’s home to some of the most amazing landscapes you’ll ever lay your eyes on. If you’re planning an upcoming trip and are looking for the absolute must-sees then read on – here are ten experiences that will take your breath away.
On the whole, New Zealand is soul-searingly stunning, yet it’s the South Island that remains the favoured destination among a prominent number of its visitors. The reason? You can do everything from spot penguins to drive through awe-inspiring landscapes for hours on end in this must-visit destination. So what are you waiting for? Organise your campervan hire on the South Island of New Zealand and head to our top five sights…
Discover the North Island, where one journey meets another. This road trip itinerary will take you across some of the North Island’s most desirable destinations, making for a memorable adventure. Start your travels in Auckland, infamous for its iconic Sky Tower which has views of the Viaduct Harbour, lined with Superyachts as far as the eye can see. End your travels in Wellington, known for its unique culture and as ‘Windy Wellington.’ There is plenty to see and do along the way. Don’t miss these iconic destinations when you campervan your way from Auckland to Wellington.
On this 14-day trip, you will travel through the heart of the country and visit some of the most iconic wonders New Zealand has to offer. The journey from Christchurch to Auckland is a popular road trip route for those travelling by campervan, and there are plenty of welcoming campgrounds and caravan parks along the way. Visiting the South Island would not be complete without a stop at Queenstown and the naturally spectacular area surrounding it, so we have included a visit there on this 14-day adventure.
Please keep in mind that this is a very long distance to cover in 14 days. We would recommend doing it slower, but if you’re just looking to see as much as possible, this trip could be great for you!