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.
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.
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.
“How would you spend 10 days of travel in another country? Would you see as much as possible or dissolve in the one place?”
Ashleigh and I contemplated this as the plane docked. We waited for the eager passengers to vacate, rustled about for our carry on luggage, then meandered out of Auckland airport like two lost children.
Travellers Autobarn depot is about a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport. Walking through the door we were welcomed like family. Mike, the Auckland manager was helpful and super informative, running a tight ship in a gracious and natural manner. The office space was clean and filled with maps and brochures of many trips to appeal to everyone. Time passed and within the hour he had us buckled up and on our merry way. North New Zealand is just over 100,00 sq Kms. Ashleigh and I decided to head North of Auckland for a few days and explore.
There is only a couple of things vanlifers need, fresh produce, a bakery and some coffee. Luckily for us, we were in a country that prides itself on all of these necessities. Pulling over we filled our fridge and imaginings of the nights cooking adventures to come. We agreed upon staying south of Marsden Point near the beach, we ogled at the Manaia Mountains, sun dipping and waves sweeping up the shore, tomatoes glistened and popping in the pan. The van set up was perfect for cooking especially when you have the sweet tunes of Chet Faker to swoon the senses. We sat at the table, the magic of evening flavours, savoured with the starry night creeping in.
On waking, a fresh brew of coffee, fruit and muesli we put some kilometres behind us and pushed ever northward, stopping for free range eggs on the roadside before our bellies began grumbling. Just before lunch, we cruised into the Bay of Islands. The Bay is spectacular and looked like a giant had tossed furry hats into the ocean. We took a swim in the water, wandered the markets and decided on watching the sun set on the west coast.
Wiamamaku Beach, a gorgeous free camp spot on the Wiamamaku River just south of Opapere. For the next couple of days we swam and hiked, exploring the region. One afternoon we rounded the mouth of the river to face out into the Tasman sea with the tide was running out.
A local had told us of a place where we could find mussels on a rock we could eat. We played in the sand until the sun began its daily dive. collected some wood and started a little fire. Ashleigh disappeared as the tide yawned and returned with a little bucket full of green lipped mussels, fresh off a rock.
Luckily we had packed some white wine, parsley, chilli and some sourdough. Flames licked the pan as the mussels were shuffled around in the steaming broth. We left feeling old salty sea dogs.
I honestly say, that at that moment I felt incredibly fortunate and overwhelmingly lucky to be alive. Being able to experience the tastes, smells, views and people on these journeys, so easily taken for granted. Tattooing memories. Why do we sit in hotels worrying about wifi? It took roughly three days for me to unwind and stop. Stop being compulsive about trying to get online and watch what’s happening in front me.
The following morning we ventured back to the rock at low tide and Ocean Girl did her thing again. Packing the van, we filled up, then picked up some hitchhikers and headed south to Coromandel.
Tairua is a sleepy town roughly 100kms East of Auckland. We dropped our new found friends off and tuckered in for the night at Mary Beach Reserve.
As the sun peered over the Pacific I awoke and drove a little further north to Sailors Grave Beach. Wound out the top windows and crawled back into the warm bed, the breeze danced across the waters and over our wanting skin. We lay there with the door open for what seemed a lifetime, waves spilling into ears and dream-like state. Venturing around the headland we scoured the coast looking for more of natures delicious wonders but it wasn’t to be.
The following days we combed the Coromandel Peninsula. Tasting the food and taking in the remarkable landscapes. We watched some local music at a fundraiser, took the 309 back over to Whitianga. Ashleigh cradled a piglet before we scaled Castle Rock. Winding back toward the coast, we found a spot to call home for the night named Egan Park Reserve. A stunning creek upstream from the Mahakirau River. After a swim and another tasty dinner we watched the sky turn inside out and large specs of light pierce the thick blue velvet night sky.
Heading back to Auckland. Ahh… It’s hard to consider how much time can be spent in a place like New Zealand and still feel like you haven’t gone close to scratching the surface. What a vast and incredibly beautiful country. Words are inadequate. Experience is the only way to discover the unique land, people and history of the Nation’s first people, the Maori.
Arriving home I couldn’t help but wonder how soon we will return. Until then New Zealand. Don’t change.
“Big thanks to Travellers Autobarn for making this trip possible.”
Written by Jared Melrose Campbell
To get a campervan quote click here
In this guide we run through some of the best trips in the North and South Island as well as top do’s and don’ts for road trippin’ in New Zealand. Download the full guide to get all the road trips.
Christchurch to Dunedin
Christchurch to Queenstown (Download Version Only)
The South Island of New Zealand is famous for its staggeringly beautiful mountains, lakes and glaciers. The South Island is the largest of the two islands and is bordered by the Cook Strait in the north, the Tasman Sea in the West and the Pacific Ocean in the South and East.
Here are three great routes you might want to consider: if you’re doing a round trip then this is a great opportunity to see more of the South Island!
Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 days
A campervan road trip is the best way to make the journey from Christchurch to Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. This trip can take you as little as five days or you can take things at a more leisurely pace to stretch it out over several weeks.
Once you’ve picked up your campervan in Christchurch head southwest through the green Canterbury Plains. If you opt for State highway 72 then you’ll find yourself on the Inland scenic route. There are lots of great places to stop and explore on the way such as the Pleasant Point Railway or the Waimate Walkway.
After you cross the Raikaia River, known for its salmon fishing, pull up the campervan and stop at Methven, a local Ski town. This is a great place to grab a coffee, take a hike or hire a bike.
Next stop is Lake Tekapo, this stunning turquoise lake is amazing to see in person, during the day and the night. When the sun goes down this is the perfect spot for stargazing. If you want to stop for the night then there are a number of great campsites nearby, try to book one that’s on the harbour or nearby the beach.
Dunedin is another 3.5 hours from here, so when you’re done soaking up the once in a lifetime views and scenery hop back in the campervan and hit the road.
Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 days
The second route we’re going to recommend keeps you close to the coast and takes you via Timaru and Oamaru. Once you’ve left Christchurch the first main stop is Timaru, located in the region of Canterbury. Once you’ve set up camp why not go for a dip in nearby Caroline Bay or try cooling off in the beautiful botanical gardens. If you are looking for some culture then take a trip to the local museums, they are home to some amazing Maori or Polynesian artefacts.
The next stop is Omaru via Aoraki Mount Cook, this is New Zealand’s highest peak and is truly a sight to behold. Spend a few hours hiking and taking in the breathtaking views. When you arrive in Omaru, get ready to make some furry friends! Omaru is home to a natural colony of Blue Penguins, the smallest penguin in the world.
If you can bring yourself to say goodbye to your new furry friends then the coastal city of Dunedin is only a short 1.5 hour drive away.
Total Driving time: 6 Hours | Recommended: 4 days
If rural New Zealand is your vibe then you can skip out the stops in the north of the South Island and head straight to Middlemarch. The slow pace of life, stunning landscapes and wide-open never ending sky will make you fall in love with this area instantly. This is the perfect place to park up the campervan, catch your breath and just enjoy your amazing surroundings.
If you’re a fan of The Hobbit then make sure you check out Rock & Pillar Mountain, featured in the movie. Top things to do in the Middlemarch area include bike rides, hikes and Sutton Salt Lake.
The drive to Dunedin will only take you an hour from here, and when you arrive there is plenty to do. This is the country’s first city, which means there is history on every corner. Things to do include taking a tour of New Zealand’s only castle, Larnach Castle, strolling the boardwalk on Aramoana Beach or visiting the nearby Octago Peninsular for scenic views and local wildlife.
For more inspiration check out our YouTube channel! Search for Travellers Autobarn on YouTube.
What the North Island lacks in size it makes up for in natural wonders. It’s famous for its volcanic activity, magnificent national parks, and with a larger population it’s also home to Wellington and Auckland, two vibrant and cosmopolitan cities.
Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 days
This memorable road trip takes you to some of the North Island’s most desirable destinations. Start the trip by hiring a campervan in Auckland. This northern city is infamous for its iconic Sky Tower that offers views of the Viaduct Harbour and the cityscape for as far as the eye can see. When you’ve finished exploring the city the first leg of this trip takes you on a two hour drive south to Coromandel.
The Coromandel region is renowned for its natural beauty, green pastures, misty rainforests and pristine golden beaches, The Coromandel is blessed with hundreds of natural hideaways, making it an ideal place to escape. A must visit is Hot Water Beach… a beach with naturally heated hot water springs.
When you’ve finished having fun in Coromandel then you’re going to head south in the direction of Rotorua. Don’t miss the absolutely stunning Redwoods forest that’s 20 minutes from the city centre. If you’re into mountain biking then you’ll love this place! Rotorua is a geothermal hotspot, which means this is a great destination to visit natural hot springs, bubbling hot mud pools and geysers!
This road trip then takes you west along the SH 5 for 2 hours, to Waitomo. Here lies the small village, known for its extensive underground cave systems. The name Waitomo comes from the Maori word wai (water) tomo (hole). The caves are filled with tiny little glow-worms, unique to New Zealand. Their unmistakable luminescent light is a must see, you’ll feel like you’re in another world.
Taupo is the next stop on your list. This destination is well known for being home to the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. The nearby Huka falls is another must see, it’s where the 200m wide Waikato River forces itself through a small 20m gap creating a stunning blue foam! It’s an amazing sight to see!
If you’re a wine lover then we recommend that you hit up Napier before you pull into Wellington. Napier is home to some great wineries and picture perfect Art Deco style architecture. Last stop on this great North Island road trip is Wellington. The breezy drive south to your final destination takes you through the stunning Wairarapa scenery. If you can take the time to pull into the Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre to see the world’s only white kiwi!
At the bottom of the North Island, you will come to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Discover New Zealand’s Maori roots in Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, or check out the cool shops along Lambton Quay.
Total Driving time: 8 – 9 Hours | Recommended: 5 – 7 days
Once you’ve picked up your hired wheels, hit the State Highway 1 that takes you north. The long, sandy beaches of Waipo and Ruakaka make for a first great stop, or if you want to pick up supplies, food and coffee then pull into Whangarei and enjoy a few hours having a picnic or walking along the picturesque river basin.
As you get a few hours north of Auckland you’ll notice a definite shift in pace as the laid-back vibes of the Northland take over. The must-see destination in this area is the famous Bay of Islands. The Bay of Islands is a subtropical micro-region known for its stunning beauty & history. For those that love hanging by the beach and water activities, it’s absolute paradise.
Spend a couple of days exploring this area before packing up the campervan and hitting the road again. Another highlight of the North Island is Doubtless Bay. This large coastal area encompasses the distance from Mangonui, through to Coopers Beach, Cable Bay, Taipa and then out along Karikari Peninsula.
You can’t end a road trip to the top of New Zealand without a visit to Cape Reinga. This is not only the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and the currents collide, but it’s also an important place in Maori spiritual traditions. Don’t leave without stopping by 90 mile beach, (in reality it’s more like 90 km in length), but it’s still mighty impressive to see.
If you want to extend your trip then other things to do in this area include:
New Zealand might seem like two small islands with a relatively small population, but do not be fooled. These small islands are mighty fierce! Embarking on a road trip is undoubtedly the most cost-effective, easiest and fun ways to travel around, but here are some top tips you should follow to help ensure you have an amazing and safe journey.
When you’re working out which vehicle is right for you consider your budget, the route and itinerary you want to take and your personal preference when it comes to accommodation. if your idea of camping is carrying your suitcase into a hotel room for the night then a campervan might not be right for you.
However, if you plan on staying in hotels and hostels then consider that they are in short supply and will sell out in the summer seasons. If you plan on hiring a campervan then one of the plus sides is that you can often ‘freedom camp’, which means you get to cut out paying for accommodation all together! However, you can only legally free camp in certain places – so plan your stops carefully. Check out http://www.freedomcamping.org/ for more details.
Start planning your New Zealand road trip by listing out all the places you want to visit and how long it takes you drive between each. If you’re on a tight timeframe then you may need to cut a few stops out – trying to fit too much in will end up with you spending more time behind the wheel and less time actually exploring.
New Zealand is small but the roads are often narrow and windy, plus in winter they may be covered with snow and ice. This means you’ll have to take it slow! We recommend you always allow for extra time between destinations.
There are lots of places that you can legally free camp in New Zealand, (e.g. pull up the campervan and sleep by the roadside). However, there are also lots of places where it isn’t legal and if in doubt don’t assume it’s ok. It’s a law that’s taken seriously.
Freedom camping laws are there to help prevent litter, waste and unwanted guests – so plan ahead before you park up for the night. http://www.freedomcamping.org/
Remember that in New Zealand you drive on the left. If you’re from the UK then this is the norm anyway, however if you’ve travelled from the US or mainland Europe this may come as a shock. When you’re starting out take it slow and concentrate, (that might mean turning down the tunes or telling the passengers to pipe down!).
Driving a large campervan is certainly different to zipping round in the cars you’re probably used to so you’ll be forgiven for driving a little slow. However, if you notice faster traffic starting to line up behind you, pull over and let them pass safely.
If you are after more Campervan Travel Guides please check out our New Zealand Campervan Travel Guide section…
Welcome to the North Island of New Zealand – and its main capital – Auckland! Auckland is the most popular pick-up location for campervan rental or car hire in New Zealand (did you know that Christchurch is generally always cheaper to pick-up!!!) and about three-quarters of New Zealand’s population live in Auckland.
It’s a great starting to point to see the Waitomo Caves, Lake Taupo & Tongariro National Park and then to start your campervan road trip adventure to Christchurch or Queenstown – one of the most popular road trips in New Zealand. Check out our road trip itineraries and have an epic adventure…
New Zealand is an amazing country with wonderful destinations to discover. Oceans, forests, mountains, you have plenty of options to enjoy the North Island. Here is a selection of our favourite places