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6 Best Freedom Camping Spots on South Island: Take the Path Less Travelled

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…

1) Pelorus Bridge Campground, Marlborough

Pelorus Bridge Campground freedom camping

(Source: doc.govt.nz)

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.

  • No pets allowed
  • Easy 2WD vehicle access
  • No fires allowed
  • Rubbish facilities can be found in the car parks, outside the café and at the campground
  • Wasps are high in number, especially at the peak of the day so watch out; they retreat during the evening time
  • Always carry warm and waterproof clothing for the trails
  • Hiking, swimming, kayaking and fishing
  • Public toilets and a shop/café nearby

2) Mavora Lakes Campsite, Te Anau, Fiordland

Located about an hour and a half from Te Anau is the secluded but stunning Mavora Lakes Campsite.

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

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.

  • Easy access for 2WD vehicles and campervan rentals
  • Fire pits in designated areas, as well as BBQs, picnic tables, and public access toilets
  • Easy access to hiking trails and beautiful walks, including a trip to the suspension bridge connecting South and North Mavora Lake
  • Access by a long gravel road of 37 km
  • Fishing, hiking, swimming and more

3) Punakaiki Beach Camp, Punakaiki

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.

(Source: kleineschuhegrossewelt.wordpress.com)

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.

  • Easily accessible by 2WD
  • Access to Paparoa National Park
  • Hiking, bushwalking, tramping, fishing, swimming, bird watching
  • Nearby kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities available
  • Hot showers included
  • Dump stations available
  • Stand-up paddle boarding and swimming with dolphins

4) Twenty Five Mile Stream, Queenstown

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.

(Source: backpackerguide.nz)

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.

  • Easy access by 2WD vehicles
  • Fires prohibited
  • No Wi-Fi
  • No bookings required
  • Swimming, fishing and kayaking on the lake
  • A maximum duration of a four-night stay

5) Milford Sound Lodge, Milford Sound

Moody, stormy and utterly breathtaking: this is Milford Sound Lodge.

(Source: southerndiscoveries.co.nz)

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.

  • Easy access for 2WD vehicles
  • Book ahead to make sure you get a spot
  • Access to showers, public toilets, kitchen, laundry
  • Access to a host of activities including diving, boat cruises, kayaking, trout fishing, trails and more

6) Lake Tekapo Camping Site, Mackenzie District, Canterbury

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.

  • Easy access for 2WD vehicles
  • Hot showers
  • Picnic tables

    Lake Tekapo freedom camping

    (Source: newzealand.com)

  • BBQs on the grounds
  • Kitchen and laundry facilities
  • Toilets
  • Children’s playground
  • Hot pools and an ice skating rink located next to the park

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.

7) Rotokare Scenic Reserve, Taranaki (North Island)

Rotokare Scenic Reserve, Taranaki

(Source: traveller.com.au)

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:

  • Public toilets
  • Wi-Fi access throughout
  • 2wd access
  • Cold showers
  • a family friendly environment
  • Two walks of 3km to 10km, “easy” in level

6) Anzac Bay, Bowentown Domain (North Island)

Anzac Bay, Bowentown Domain

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

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.

  • Maximum stay of 3 nights
  • Up to 10 sites available
  • Large vehicle/2wd access
  • Pets and dogs welcome
  • Pristine and well-maintained public toilets
  • No camping allowed from the third week in December to February 10

5) Port Ohope Boat Ramp, Bay of Plenty (North Island)

Port Ohope Boat Ramp, Bay of Plenty

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

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.

  • Large vehicle/2wd access
  • Anywhere from 5 – 10 sites for campervans
  • Right beside the wharf and easy access to Ohiwa Harbour, with cafes
  • Suitable for tents
  • Beach views and views of the Bay

4) Reotahi Marine Reserve, Northland (North Island)

Kuga Campervan - Lifestyle 225

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.

  • Go fishing and boating
  • Head to Tutukaka for a day snorkelling at the Poor Knights Island
  • Large vehicle access
  • Go kayaking by launching at Taurikura and heading around the Little Munro Bay.
  • Climb to the top of Mt Manaia and Mt Aubrey using the convenient and safe walkways
  • Maximum 5-night stay

3) Ohingaroa Bay Reserve, Marlborough (South Island)

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.

  • 2 nights maximum stay
  • No Wi-Fi or public toilets
  • Large vehicle/2wd access
  • Up to four sites available on a first-come, first-served basis

2) The Pines, Mount Cook – MacKenzie (South Island)

The Pines, Mount Cook - MacKenzie

(Source: stuff.co.nz)

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.

  • Large vehicle/2wd access
  • Free, multi-day stays
  • Pets allowed
  • Swimming, paddle-boarding and fishing (with a license)

1) Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, Meiklejohns Bay (South Island)

Freedom camping, Meiklejohn Bay, Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

(Source: rachstewartphotography.com)

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.

  • Large vehicle/2wd access
  • Swimming access
  • Picnic area and tables
  • Maximum stay of up to 4 nights

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 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…

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!

 

Journey to New Zealand’s South Island to uncover an incredible mix of natural landscapes and captivating surroundings. The South Island showcases it’s picturesque mountains, immense lakes, impressive glaciers, and rugged coastlines, all of which are easily accessible by road. No matter how you are travelling or what your interests, discovering these must-see locations will make for an unforgettable trip of a lifetime.

New Zealand south island

Milford sound

Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is a spectacular manifestation of New Zealand’s natural beauty. It’s stunning combination of mountain peaks, ink black water and plummeting waterfalls make it the most famous fiord in New Zealand.

New Zealand South Island

Image via World for Travel

Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier

Discover the heart of New Zealand’s Glacier Country, with a visit to the renowned Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier. Located in the spectacular World Heritage Area on the west coast of the South Island, the glaciers are not to be missed during your trip. The huge valleys of ice extend well below the ice to almost sea level, and temperate climates make them some of the most accessible hiking glaciers in the world.

New Zealand South Island

Image via New Zealand Travel Organiser

Mt Cook

Mt Cook is the tallest mountain peak in New Zealand, at a height of 3,754 metres. Nestled at the foot of the impressive mountain is the village of Mount Cook, a comfortable and welcoming town situated in the midst of the rugged surroundings. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to hike Mt Cook – there are plenty of easy to moderate paths to take that still offer amazing views.

New zealand south island

Image via Reach Coach

Wine regions

Situated in picturesque valley surroundings, New Zealand’s South Island encompasses many amazing wine regions that are not to be missed by wine-lovers. The areas of Central Otago, Canterbury, Nelson and the Waipara Valley are blessed with the perfect conditions to produce top quality red and white styles.

new zealand south island

Image via Wine Tours NZ

Queenstown

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, and arguably the world! Located in the south-west of the island, Queenstown is a small town full of big thrills. Get your heart racing with activities such as jet boating, bungee jumping, canyon swinging, or skydiving!

new zealand south island

Image via queenstownnz.co.nz

Christchurch Botanic Garden

Located in the heart of the South Islands largest city Christchurch, the Botanic Gardens are a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike. The elegant 21-hectare park was founded in 1863 and today contains an impressive array of plant and flower collections.

New Zealand South Island

Image via Travel All Together

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tepako is situated about three hours drive south-west of Christchurch in the Mackenzie Basin. The turquoise blue lake obtains its stunning colour from the fine rock flour suspended from the surrounding glaciers. Visit the region by day to awe the spectacular lake, and stop for the night in the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, perfect for stargazing.

New Zealand south island

Image via Reach Coach

Wanaka

The South Island town of Wanaka appeals to lovers of adventure and is home to some of the best outdoor activities in New Zealand. During winter, skiers and snowboarders flock from around the world to the town to take on the slopes. The town is also full of great summer activities such as fishing, hiking, and canyoning, and is also a great place to just kick back and relax.

New Zealand south island

Find out more stunning South Island locations or get a quick quote on a campervan in New Zealand today!

For amazing road trips on the South Island please visit our South Island Road Trip section…

New Zealand is a top destination for backpackers and quite rightly so. You’ve got everything from the breathtaking scenery of places like Lake Tekapo to crazy adrenaline pumping activities like bungee jumping and white water rafting! Undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore this beautiful country is by hiring a campervan because the country is set up perfectly for campervan travel and nothing beats travelling at your own pace. As of 1st of September Travellers Autobarn will be offering its soon to launch Travellers Autobarndesigned and built, game-changing, Toyota Hiace, HiTOP budget rental campervan out of Christchurch & Auckland! There is so much awesome stuff to see and do here and we thought we’d start off with some top destinations in the South Island. Christchurch is a great starting point as most international airlines fly there and its location is the perfect place to set you off on your road trip

Hiring a campervan and hitting the road is hands down the best way to see New Zealand’s South Island. It offers you the ultimate freedom and flexibility to travel at your own pace and by your own rules. It also gives you the chance to camp for free, or ‘freedom camp’. This means sleeping under the stars and wake up with spectacular wilderness views! Here is our guide to freedom camping in the South Island, for the most epic and cost-effective adventure of your lifetime!

What is freedom camping?

Freedom camping is the practice of setting up a tent or parking your campervan in an area designated for camping for free. That’s right – there are plenty of places in New Zealand that let you sleep the night without costing a single cent! Rather than staying at a busy campground or caravan park, some prefer to venture into the wild and stay at more isolated locations. By freedom camping, you can stay in some of the most picturesque locations in the South Island and avoid the cost of park fees. However, it does come with its cons. The popularity of freedom camping in New Zealand, and especially the South Island, has had an increasingly negative effect on the country’s clean environment due to litter and waste. There are typically no toilet, shower, or waste facilities when you’re in the middle of nowhere (as you would expect). This has resulted in strict laws being put in place to prevent how and where people freedom camp.

Ben-Lomond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are the rules of freedom camping?

To legally and respectfully freedom camp, you will need to be aware of a few things before beginning your South Island adventure. Firstly, make sure your campervan is ‘self-contained’ by either having a built-in toilet or a portable toilet on board. This is a legal requirement in New Zealand and you will need to have a certified sticker on your window to avoid copping a fine of $200. Some other good measures of practice include:

  • Always take garbage away with you until you find a proper place to dispose of it.
  • Use proper toilet facilities or your onboard toilet at all times.
  • Try to camp away from residential areas and always keep noise to a minimum
  • Avoid lighting fires. If you do light a fire make sure you keep it small and douse it out with water before you leave.
  • Always respect the environment and the locals. Leave no trace of your stay.

Kuga Campervan - Lifestyle 151

Where can I freedom camp in the South Island?

There are plenty of places you can camp for free in the South Island. Whether you prefer to be lakeside, by a beach or within a forest, the opportunities are endless. There are many freedom camping apps available to help you locate sites in New Zealand, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them. Here are five of our favourite freedom campsites in the South Island:

1.  Greyneys – Located within the stunning Arthurs Pass National Park, this free campsite is perfect for travellers who want to enjoy the serenity of the outdoors. There are plenty of great hiking tracks around and it’s a great base to explore the century-old tracks in the national park.
2. Robin Hood Bay – Camp next to the beach in the Marlborough Sounds region of the South Island. Go fishing, visit the nearby Magnet Bay beach for a surf, and look out for Hectors Dolphins in the stunning blue waters.
3. Thicket Burn – Located on the outskirts of Fiordland National Park, and just 5km’s from New Zealand’s deepest lake. There are toilets, picnic tables, and water available in an incredibly peaceful surrounding.
4. Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, Lake Face Creek – A great spot to stop for the night near the iconic town of Queenstown. Here, you can wake up to stunning views of the lake and mountains and nearby beautiful waterfalls.

5. Lake Pukaki Campground – Located in the centre of the South Island, this is a must stop if you’re making the journey past. Located on the beautiful Lake Pukaki, you can wake up with a mountain backdrop of Mount Cook. There is a basic restroom here, but other than that, it’s all natural!

Kuga Campervan - Lifestyle 225

Across New Zealand, you will find signs that indicate whether or not freedom camping is prohibited. Always respect these signs, there are plenty of amazing places you can freedom camp legally. Most importantly, enjoy your campervan journey in one of the most naturally spectacular countries in the world.

If you are looking for more information about Freedom Camping please visit our Freedom Camping Section…

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.

The South Island

Christchurch to Dunedin

  • Route 1 via Lake Tekapo
  • Route 2 via Timaru and Oamaru
  • Route 3 via Middlemarch

Christchurch to Queenstown (Download Version Only)

  • Journey through the middle of the island
  • Take the South-east coast (via Dunedin and Catlins)
  • Travel the West coast (via Arthur’s Pass, Franz Josef Glacier, Wanaka)
The North Island
  • Auckland to Wellington (Coromandel, Taupo and Rotarua)
  • Auckland to Northland (Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga)
  • Auckland to Waiheke Island (Download Version Only) 
Do’s and Don’ts: What you need to know when you’re on a road trip in New Zealand

 

roadtrips in new zealand 1

The South Island.

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.

Christchurch to Dunedin: A to B three different Ways

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!

Christchurch to Dunedin via Lake Tekapo

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.

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Christchurch to Dunedin via Timaru and Oamaru

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.

mount cook road trip new zealand

Christchurch to Dunedin via Middlemarch

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.

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Christchurch to Queenstown: 

Download the full guide for three more unmissable routes from city to city. 

For more inspiration check out our YouTube channel! Search for Travellers Autobarn on YouTube. 

 

The North Island – What to see and where to go

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.

A North island adventure – Auckland to Wellington

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!

rotorua roadtrip new zealand

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.

auckland roadtrips

Auckland to Northland

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:

  • Hiking the Tane Mahuta Walk
  • Viewing the majestic kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest
  • Taking the Haruru Falls and Waitangi River Tour on a Traditional Maori Waka
  • Completing the 12 tree-top challenge in Adventure Forest in Whangarei‎

 

Auckland and Waiheke Island:

Download the full guide for more details on this route! 

 roadtrip ideas in new zealand

Do’s and Don’ts: What you need to know when you’re on a road trip in New Zealand

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.

  • Do – consider whether you need a campervan or just a car

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.  

  • Do – think about the length and locations of your road trip

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.

road trip ideas in new zealand

  • Don’t – abuse freedom camping regulations in New Zealand

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/

  • Don’t – forget to drive on the left or follow other road customs

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 South Island of New Zealand – and its main capital – Christchurch! Christchurch is after Auckland the most popular pick-up location for campervan rental or car hire in New Zealand (did you know that Christchurch is 9 out of 12 month always cheaper to pick-up!!!).

It’s a great starting to point to see the Milford Sound, Mount Cook & Fox Glacier and then to start your campervan road trip adventure to Auckland or Queenstown – one of the most popular road trips in New Zealand. Check out our road trip itineraries and have an epic adventure…

 

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