Book now & Pay later
Get a Quick Quote and Book Now

Freedom Camping in
New Zealand

Thousands of tourists visit New Zealand every year to cross a NZ road trip off their bucket list. If you’re dreaming of your own New Zealand campervan trip, you should know that there are places all around where you can camp for free! It’s part of what’s called ‘Freedom Camping’ and is a dream-come-true if you’re a tourist travelling on a budget.

There are some pretty strict regulations on Freedom Camping — you can’t just stop and camp anywhere and your vehicle needs to meet a few standards — so to make your life a little easier, we’ve pulled together these guides with everything you need to know about Freedom Camping in New Zealand. They’ve got all the essential camping regulations, best Freedom Camping road trips, and info on all the best free campsites North Island and South Island have to offer. Enjoy!

Are you thinking of visiting New Zealand? Renting a campervan or car hire? Wondering where you’ll go on that trip of a lifetime, what sights you’ll see and places you’ll stay? Well we want to make that trip a little easier and cheaper for you, by teaching you the tricks of the trade to Freedom Camping in NZ.

Everyone is talking about it, but what does it mean? Where are the free camping spots, how do I find them, what are the rules? This guide gives you an introduction to freedom camping in New Zealand. We’ve got all the basics covered as well as the following:

  • What is freedom camping in New Zealand?
  • What are the rules of freedom camping in New Zealand?
  • What is a self-contained vehicle?
  • How do you find the best camping spots?
  • What are the best apps for freedom camping?
  • What are the 5 best freedom campgrounds on North Island?
  • What are the 5 best freedom campgrounds on South Island?

Freedom Camping New Zealand

What Is Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

Freedom camping often entails camping outside of recognised campgrounds on public land or using campsites specially designed for freedom campers. Families and adventure lovers alike appreciate freedom camping because of the quiet and unobstructed views it affords. There are frequently no other campers right on top of you to keep you up at night or wake you up in the morning. You can laugh, sing, and talk as you like without disturbing others too.

As these spots are usually quieter than your normal paid campgrounds, you can enjoy 180-degree views or better of some of the most stunning terrain in New Zealand. This is ideal for stargazing and if you’re into your photography. It can be like having your own campground all to yourself!

 Some freedom camping locations are truly free, in that they don’t cost anything. Others charge a fee, albeit usually a small one, but you are not restricted in the way you would be in a family holiday camp or RV park. Instead, you can park in out-of-the-way locations because you don’t need to be hooked up to an electrical or water connection (but more on that below). You see more of nature and can come and go with ease, covering lots of ground without having to spend hours “decamping”.

camping in winter in new zealand

What Are the Rules of Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

Whilst freedom camping NZ sounds very…  well, free, there are a few rules to follow, so that everyone has an enjoyable experience and you don’t wind up paying fines for camping how and where you shouldn’t. It’s worth noting that fines for violating camping rules can be quite steep. You don’t want to run afoul of the law or ruin freedom camping for others by flouting the rules.

The first rule is that most of the time, you will be required to be in a self-contained vehicle, sometimes called a self-contained camper or a campervan, which fortunately, is easy to rent in New Zealand. You can learn more about self-contained vehicles below, but know that using one of these campervans lets you camp on Department of Conservation (DOC) land and district council land, provided you are not breaking any rules for the area (length of stay, distance from town, etc.). Although tents and non self-contained vehicles are allowed in some locations, many spots are restricted to all but self-contained vehicles.

You can ask any local information centre (a.k.a. i-SITE) or DOC visitor centre about their specific rules for the area in which you wish to camp. Sometimes you can find this information online as well. Never camp on private land or on district council land that specifically forbids camping.

To preserve the pristine and beautiful nature of the country’s wilderness, you want to make sure to observe the rules of environmental cleanliness while you’re freedom camping in New Zealand. That means:

  • Use only the toilet in your campervan or a public toilet. Do not use nature as your personal toilet.
  • Be cautious when lighting fires. Never leave a fire unattended, and be sure to douse it completely when you’re through. Be aware that in some high-risk areas, fires are completely forbidden.
  • Use designated rubbish bins, or take any trash with you. Always pack out what you bring in.
  • Use recycling facilities when possible, rather than putting recyclable items in a bin.
  • Empty your campervan’s toilet and waste water only in designated areas. Never dump your waste products in the wilderness.
  • Be mindful of noise if near other campers or residential areas.
  • Leave as little evidence of your camping behind as possible.

winter camping new zealand  franz josef glacier

What Is a Self-contained Vehicle?

A self-contained vehicle meets specific standards that make it environmentally friendly and allow you to camp without having typical campground public facilities nearby. It must have fresh and waste water storage for at least three days, a toilet and a lidded rubbish bin for all your refuse (wrappers, food waste, etc.). Self-contained vehicles in New Zealand are marked with a “NZS 5464” sticker that means it meets Caravan Self-Contained Certificate standards.

More fun, however, are the perks that come with a self-contained vehicle. These spacious vehicles typically sleep multiple people and contain equipment for cooking and food preparation, like a sink, gas cooker, small fridge, and even a microwave. There are places to plug in small electronics, so you can have light and charge your phone or camera.

Everything is very efficient, with a remarkable amount of storage and comfort for your trip. There are drawers and cabinets for your belongings and convertible tables and benches for eating, lounging and sleeping. You’ll be amazed at what you can stow in your self-contained vehicle.

You drive, cook, dress, and sleep in the same vehicle, which saves a lot of hauling gear, tent pitching, and other camping prep that can take the fun out of the experience. Also, your campervan provides better shelter from inclement weather than a tent, and should a rainstorm come up, all you have to do is pop inside for a hot cup of tea and a game of cards. On chilly mornings, you’ll appreciate being able to sleep until sunrise without the cold ground under your back.

campervanning in winter new zealand

If you rent a campervan from Travellers Autobarn in New Zealand, you’ll get additional extras:

  • Ability to make one-way rentals
  • 24/7 roadside assistance
  • Unlimited kilometres
  • Free road atlas
  • Free heater, hot water bottle, extra sleeping bags in winter

Travellers Autobarn makes self-contained vehicle rental super easy. You can even be as young as 18 years old to rent a campervan, and the bond system is quite reasonable. You can select from several levels of liability, and the funds are simply frozen, not deducted from your account. Campervan rental fees are cheaper out of Christchurch, too, so keep that in mind when you’re making plans.

winter camping new zealand

How Do You Find the Best Camping Spots?

If you’re looking for the most gorgeous spots for freedom camping, there are tonnes of terrific resources.

First, decide where in New Zealand you want to camp. If you’re not a native kiwi, you may not have realised just how large the country really is, spread across two main islands. You’ll want to calculate the distance between destinations, taking into account rough terrain, weather, road incidents, and closures.

Let’s say your bucket list includes “camping New Zealand North Island.” You can use one of several excellent maps, like this one from New Zealand.com, to zoom in on areas that look appealing to you, based on activities you enjoy, beaches, mountains, volcanoes, and the like.

Check with the New Zealand Department of Conservation to make sure that any conservation land where you might want to camp is not prohibited (restricted to self-contained vehicles is okay if you have a certified campervan as discussed above). The DOC manages the National Parks for the country of New Zealand, so if you want to camp in one of those parks, that’s an ideal starting point for research.

Travellers Autobarn offers free, handy downloadable guides with input from us, which can help you plan a road trip, even in the wintertime. We also include popular itineraries, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And Travellers Autobarn is available by phone, too, should you have any questions.

best apps new zealand freedom camping

What Are the Best Apps for Freedom Camping?

Of course, in today’s high-tech world, there are also apps to help you find ideal camping spots, whether you’re free camping South Island NZ or free camping NZ North Island.

It’s worth noting, though, that not all camping apps are encouraging or inclusive of freedom camping. Some are more focused on holiday parks and family campgrounds, which aren’t really for the freedom camper. Fortunately, there are free camping apps that are ideal to find more remote sites.

CamperMate is a popular app that provides data on a wealth of camping elements, collected from users around New Zealand, so it’s full of insider tips and tricks. There’s an Android and an Apple version, and new locations and information are added daily.

Campgrounds for self-contained vehicles have their own section, and you can look up things to do and hidden secrets, as well as get area road warnings. There’s an online map for advanced trip planning, too.

Rankers Camping NZ app is perhaps even more widely used. With iPhone, iPad, and Android versions, one of its biggest selling points is its offline freedom camping New Zealand map system, which frees you from New Zealand’s poor Internet and lets you use the app virtually anywhere.

Travellers Autobarn also have a free app, which hosts an abundance of information from campgrounds, things to do, where to locate ATMs, find the closest petrol station, and much more. It is available to download from Google Play and iTunes.

From holiday parks to isolated sites conducive to freedom camping, these apps will help you find it all, along with rules, restrictions, photos and reviews. The photos really help you find the campsites with the best views, so you know what to expect in advance.

camping in winter new zealand

What Are the 5 Best Freedom Campgrounds on North Island?

Whilst beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are hundreds of lovely campgrounds on North Island, here are five highly ranked spots you might want to check out.

#1 Rotokare Scenic Reserve
Are you an avid birder? The Rotokare Scenic Reserve may be the perfect freedom camping spot for you.

(Source: tripadvisor.com)

Are you an avid birder? The Rotokare Scenic Reserve may be the perfect freedom camping spot for you. This scenic reserve has spent millions of dollars eradicating pests like weasels, stoats, and rats from its confines and has enclosed the reserve with a predator-proof fence, which has allowed bird species to repopulate.

A small donation is requested of each camper per night to offset costs of running the reserve, but users find it worthwhile paying. Self-contained vehicles can park in front of the estuary. No dogs are permitted in this wildlife sanctuary.

#2 Anzac Bay
(Source: lawa.org.nz)

(Source: lawa.org.nz)

Campers love the view at this location. At the beach itself, there are swimming and fishing areas, although you do need to take care with the currents. Whilst there are parking areas limited to freedom campers in self-contained vehicles only, you’ll find family campers using the facilities nearby. There’s something for everyone here with dolphins jumping within view, small caves to explore, and a sandy stretch of beach to walk.

#3 Tuapiro Reserve
(Source: tripadvisor.com)

(Source: tripadvisor.com)

You’ll catch fantastic sunsets in a tranquil location at the Tuapiro Reserve, and it’s absolutely free to camp there. Enjoy the water views and bird life, including black swans. Users love the options for picnicking, kayaking, and fishing. This is a popular camping site for dog owners, too.

#4 Lake Aniwhenua
(Source: straytravel.com)

(Source: straytravel.com)

If you enjoy trout fishing, this is a great place to stop and camp. You can park quite close to the water much of the year. There are bathrooms and a cold shower nearby, although the bulk of the overnight traffic consists of self-contained vehicles.

Campers at Lake Aniwhenua report no fee assessed for any type of camping. Families with children like the gentle terrain around the lakeside and the serenity of the waterside.

#5 Mohi Bush
(Source: doc.govt.nz)

(Source: doc.govt.nz)

Another bird-watching paradise, Mohi Bush is a small campervan turnout area in the Hawkes Bay area near Maraetotara Falls. It’s a great spot to stop for a quiet night’s rest and to hike the area for nature appreciation before heading to the falls. Try to reach it before sunset, though, as it can be a bit hard to find in the dark.

What Are the 5 Best Freedom Campgrounds on South Island?

Like the North Island, South Island is full of amazing freedom camping spots. In fact, South Island is where freedom camping really takes off, with dozens of beautiful and exciting spots to pick from. Here are five picks for favourites to consider.

#1 The Pines, Lake Pukaki
(Source: rankers.co.nz)

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

Visitors rave about the gorgeous views at Lake Pukaki, and this area at the side of the lake is limited to self-contained vehicles only, as there are no facilities. You’ll love the turquoise waters and snow-capped mountain vistas, and it’s no wonder this stop gets consistently top ratings on the Rankers app.

Other attractions here include wonderful stargazing without city light, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and fishing close by. It’s mostly very still, but when it gets windy, it can be extremely chilly, so pack extra layers of clothing and warm bedding just in case.

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city and is located near the southernmost point of the North Island. It’s a quirky and creative city with a strong art scene and a good dose of coffee and craft beer culture.

#2 Long Beach Domain
About 30 minutes from Dunedin along a spectacular drive, Long Beach is known for rock climbing and cave exploration, among other attractions.

(Source: http://absfreepic.com)

About 30 minutes from Dunedin along a spectacular drive, Long Beach is known for rock climbing and cave exploration, among other attractions. The sandy beach offers views of penguins and seals and is gentle enough for swimming.

You’ll only find other freedom campers at Long Beach Domain, as it is restricted to self-contained vehicles only. With a large grassy area for ball playing and nearby picnic tables, campers find it idyllic. Campers report the entrance sign can be tough to see, so keep your eyes peeled.

#3 Alex McKenzie Arboretum, Otautau
Tree lovers will adore this well-shaded camping site with picnic tables, plenty of space for parking, and tranquil walks through the plantings and flowers.

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

Tree lovers will adore this well-shaded camping site with picnic tables, plenty of space for parking, and tranquil walks through the plantings and flowers. This freedom camping spot is in the far southern end of South Island, so it’s a place to stop if you’re doing an island loop. Fires are prohibited, but pets are allowed, and there is no fee to camp there.

#4 Ohingaroa, Kenepuru Sound
For free camping overlooking Ohingaroa Bay, this camp spot can’t be beat. Stays are limited to two nights maximum, and the camping is restricted to-self-contained vehicles only.

(Source: realestate.co.nz)

For free camping overlooking Ohingaroa Bay, this camp spot can’t be beat. Stays are limited to two nights maximum, and the camping is restricted to-self-contained vehicles only.

There is boat access as well, which makes the site popular with water sports enthusiasts, so get there early to get one of the four available spots. Users rave about the clear skies at night and the quiet there, even though it’s close to the road. You can go for a swim and then savour the sunset if you’re lucky enough to snag a spot.

#5 Monowai
(Source: southernalpsphotography.com)

(Source: southernalpsphotography.com)

This is a special place that has been lovingly transformed alongside the shore of Lake Monowai. Known as one of the most isolated campsites in the South Island, Monowai is a spot you must visit. Located in Fiordland National Park, enjoy the lake, many walks, fishing and boating options available. This really is a freedom camping spot that should be on your bucket list.

Cooking Pots

Freedom camping can be one of the best ways to experience the wonders of both North Island and South Island in New Zealand. If you plan well in advance, observe the rules, and make sure you are in the proper vehicle, such as using self-contained vehicles where they are required, you’ll see sights that will amaze and delight you.

Whether you’re looking for freedom camping Christchurch rentals or freedom camping Auckland assistance, Travellers Autobarn is here to help you. Contact Travellers Autobarn today to make your reservation and book the campervan that’s right for your trip of a lifetime.

Download the full guide for top tips on campervan life and our teams recommendations on the best books worth reading before you go

To put it simply, any time of year is a great time to travel New Zealand in a campervan. Speak to the team at Travellers Autobarn for more information and to book your campervan today

We look forward to welcoming you on the trip of a lifetime!

If you are after more Campervan Travel  Guides please check out our New Zealand Campervan Travel Guide section…

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.

Let’s go!

1) Ngawi Camping Area, South Wairarapa District

The Ngawi camping area in the South Wairarapa District lies on the coastal side of Cape Palliser Road, opposite to the Ngawi settlement.

(Source: backpackerguide.nz)

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:

  • Access for 2WD vehicles
  • 21 Days maximum stay
  • Hiking, fishing, swimming and rock-pooling for kids
  • Walks into the local Ngawi settlement and town
  • Five-minute drive to the seal colony and a local fish and chips restaurant
  • Easy access to clean public toilets (drop toilets only)
  • 2wd access


2) Orangihikoia Campsite, Te Urewera

Orangihikoia campsite free camping with Travellers Autobarn

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

Remote but unbelievably beautiful, the Orangihikoia campsite (a mouthful to say!) is the perfect spot to undertake rugged nature activities like hunting, hiking, fishing and mountain biking. It’s located north of the Te Taita O Makora campsite and is a hop-skip-and-jump away from Lake Waikaremoana. Note that the campsite is only accessible via a long, narrow, winding road so make sure that you’re driving carefully, especially if you’re driving a campervan for the first time.

Once you’ve arrived and set up, you’ll feel as though you’re tucked away in the middle of the mountains with absolutely nobody aware of your presence. It has a drop toilet in the back with a sink, as well as soap and a stream where you can set up for fishing, if that’s what you’re into.

The Orangihikoia camping site is definitely one of those hidden gems. It includes:

  • Easy access for 2WD vehicles
  • Close to the road but minimal traffic
  • Fires allowed
  • No bookings required and overnight stay on a total of 10 sites provided
  • Easy access to public toilets and water supply present on site
  • No pets allowed


3) Kaiaua Beach, Gisborne District, Hawkes Bay

Kaiaua Beach free camping with Travellers Autobarn

(Source: tikitouringnz.blogspot.com)

From Easter weekend to the start of daylight savings, Kaiaua Beach plays host to travellers who have a hankering for the relaxing sound of the waves. The Kaiaua Beach camping site is part of the Hawkes Bay area and offers plenty of opportunities for fishing, swimming and strolls along the sandy coastline. The beach itself is located just six kilometres off the state highway and features long, winding views of the sparkling water.

Keep in mind that rubbish collection for blue bags only occurs in the summer and you’ll have to take bags to the designated ‘Collection Point’ from Monday to Friday in the mornings. You can also enjoy access to public toilets, which are kept very clean. You’re welcome to stay for a total of three nights at this campsite, however, this site does call for booking prior to arriving. It’s important that you know the customs around freedom camping in New Zealand and dont overstay your welcome in any one campground.

When free camping in NZ at North Island’s Kaiaua Beach, you can expect:

  • Easy access by 2WD vehicles
  • Prior booking required, a total of 3 nights over 30 days
  • Access to public toilets
  • Fishing, swimming and walking along the beach


4) Waikawa Campsite, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington

Waikawa campsite free camping with Travellers Autobarn

(Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

The Waikawa campsite, within Tararua Forest Park, is incredibly well-stocked, both with amenities and with activities. It’s a small but sufficient campsite that is easily accessible and provides a range of nature-based activities. It’s a fantastic freedom camping location for birdwatching — keep a special lookout for species like fantails, tui, bellbirds, whiteheads, riflemen and kakariki, all birds native to New Zealand.

There are also plenty of short and long hiking trails nearby that begin and end at the camping site. While no pets are allowed on the site, there is a free water supply and clean public toilets with paper towels and plenty of room for campervans on its 15 sites. You don’t need to book in advance and you can relax in any of the shaded areas, complete with fire pits for some evening roasting. For those who want to take a dip, make sure you watch out! At the nearby watering hole, it’s not just the human locals that are friendly — prepare yourself against sand flies and other bugs who will be excited to see you.

When free camping at Waikawa, you can expect:

  • Easy access for 2WD vehicles
  • Clean public toilets
  • Water supply
  • Fire pits
  • Swimming, short and long hiking trails

No prior booking required.


5) Reid’s Farm, Rangatira Park, Taupo

Also known as 'Hipapatua', Reid's Farm offers a very special free camping experience in New Zealand's North Island.

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

Also known as ‘Hipapatua’, Reid’s Farm offers a very special free camping experience in New Zealand’s North Island. Around the year, except from 1 May to 1 October (when it’s closed for site maintenance), Reid’s Farm gives those travelling in a self-contained vehicle like a campervan rental the chance to stay for four days and three nights at this incredible spot. Park right up at the river’s edge and you’ll experience a real treat come evening time, when the sounds of water creatures and birds will drift through your vehicle.

Located right on Huka Falls Road, on the banks of the Waikato River, this popular campsite boasts such activities as fishing, swimming, hiking and walking. The facilities themselves are basic but built for the convenience of campers and include:

  • Easy access to 2WD vehicles
  • Clean public drop toilets
  • Rubbish bins and picnic tables
  • Swimming, fishing and water kayaking allowed
  • No prior bookings required
  • More than 20 sites available
  • Easy walks to Huka Falls in the early morning
  • Dish washing facility available


6) Piropiro Campsite, Pureora Forest Park, Waikato Region

Piropiro campsite free camping with Travellers Autobarn

(Source: rankers.co.nz)

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.

  • Access to site by 2WD vehicles (go slowly)
  • Public toilets
  • Dogs allowed with DOC permit
  • Overnight stay of up to 3 days
  • Water supply
  • Hunting, tramping, cycling, fishing, and swimming


7) Bartletts Ford, Manawatu District

Bartletts Ford freedom camping

(Source: manawatunz.co.nz)

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.

  • Easy access for self-contained campervans and 2WD vehicles
  • Fishing, swimming and camping
  • No bookings required
  • Pets allowed on site
  • Public toilets available on-site


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.

Want to know more about Freedom Camping? Check our our Freedom Camping article library here…

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, but thankfully they retreat during the evening time — bugs are just one thing to prepare for travelling New Zealand
  • 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 travellers in campervans 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) Freedom Camping at 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. Punakaiki Beach Camp is 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 to check your phone or update your freedom travel apps.

  • 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. You’ll soon see that it’s no wonder why Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most photogenic destinations.

  • 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!

Want to know more about Freedom Camping? Check our our Freedom Camping article library here…

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)

Reotahi Marine Reserve, Northland freedom camping with Travellers Autobarn

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.

Want to know more about Freedom Camping? Check our our Freedom Camping article library here…

New Zealand is one of the most naturally spectacular countries on earth. So, it’s no doubt more travellers are booking a campervan and exploring the great outdoors since there’ so much on offer here. If you plan on hiring a campervan for your trip around New Zealand, you might be wondering how to find campgrounds and which ones allow you to ‘freedom camp’ and camp for free.

There are strict laws in New Zealand which determine where you can and cannot freedom camp, which normally depends on the location and whether your vehicle is self-contained. Luckily, we live in the age of technology, so access to information is right at our fingertips. We have put together a list of our top 4 apps to help you freedom camp your way across the country!

Freedom camping New Zealand apps

Travellers Autobarn

We know how important budget-friendly travel is to our customers, so we have created an awesome app to help you find freedom campgrounds in New Zealand. Inside the app, you’ll find a map with hundreds of pinpointed campgrounds around the country, and information about what facilities you will find at each. From free sites to fully-equipped motorhome parks and everything else in between, there will be a site to suit your budget, wherever you are in the country. The app tells you which campgrounds are suitable and unsuitable for self-contained vehicles, which have BBQs, toilets, showers, dump-stations, as well as other handy information such as reviews and petrol station locations. If you’re using the app while in one of our campervans, you’ll also find the vehicle explanation videos and our contact information very useful.

Travellers Autobarn Freedom camping New Zealand apps


Rankers Camping NZ

Camping NZ is an official New Zealand app for camping, so you can be sure the information is trustworthy and reliable. This app has a lot of information on individual campsites, making finding what you need to know very easily. You can also book campsites ahead via the app if required. Like most other apps, Camping NZ also relies on user-generated information on campsites such as photos and reviews of the sites.

Rankers Camping NZ App



WikiCamps is a great app for finding campsites in New Zealand. A great benefit of WikiCamps, you’re able to download the maps for offline and it allows you to navigate and get directions to sites, directly from the app. The difference between WikiCamps and some others is that is has a lot of other useful features. It has a compass, a camping checklist, world time zone clock, and other great camping features. Unfortunately, this is not a free app, it costs $2.99.

WikiCamps New Zealand App


NZ DOC Campsite Finder

The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages more than 200 campsites throughout New Zealand. From sites by the lakeside and sandy beaches to forest settings, and everything from basic free campsites to serviced campsites. NZ DOC Campsite Finder app is a helpful tool for locating these sites. The app is quite basic and directs you to pages on the DOC website. However, it’s very user-friendly compared to having to navigate the website yourself, and a fabulous way of finding DOC campsites – which are perfect for freedom camping.

New Zealand DOC App


We would recommend everyone downloads at least one of these apps before setting off on your campervan journey. Even if you do not plan on freedom camping, these apps are great for finding paid caravan parks and advise you on which have amenities such as toilets, dump stations and communal kitchens. They are a must-have on any holiday!

Freedom camping is the best way to travel New Zealand on a budget! We have plenty of freedom camping tips, check them out or check out our Freedom Camping article library here…

Hiring a campervan for your trip around New Zealand is one of the most budget-friendly ways of travelling around the North Island. You have your transport and accommodation all in one, meaning plenty of savings can be made in order to do other activities. And New Zealand is the land of fun activities – so you’re gonna want to put some dollars towards that!

That being said, during peak travel times of the year, campgrounds and caravan parks in New Zealand can become quite pricey. So if you’re travelling in a campervan, you can always take the other option of freedom camping. Freedom camping literally means camping for free!  New Zealand has plenty of freedom camping opportunities around the North Island, and just because they don’t cost a cent doesn’t mean they aren’t AMAZING! Read on to learn all about the hows, whats and wheres of freedom camping in the North Island.

Explore New Zealand with Travellers Autobarn

Explore New Zealand with Travellers Autobarn


Freedom camping is camping outside of recognised campgrounds on public land or using campsites specially designed for freedom campers. Families and adventure lovers alike appreciate freedom camping because of the quiet and unobstructed views it affords. There are frequently no other campers right on top of you to keep you up at night or wake you up in the morning.

As these spots are usually quieter than your normal paid campgrounds, you can enjoy 180-degree views or better of some of the most stunning terrain in New Zealand. This is ideal for stargazing and if you’re into your photography. It can be like having your own campground all to yourself!

Some freedom camping locations are truly free, in that they don’t cost anything. Others charge a fee, albeit usually a small one, but you are not restricted in the way you would be in a family holiday camp or RV park. Instead, you can park in out-of-the-way locations because you don’t need to be hooked up to an electrical or water connection (but more on that below). You see more of nature and can come and go with ease, covering lots of ground without having to spend hours “decamping”.

What are the rules of freedom camping?

If you wish to freedom camp in the North Island, you should be aware of a few things before you head off on your road trip journey. As there’s such a high volume of campers and campervan travellers in New Zealand, the country has some pretty hefty laws in place – understandably. Some of the rules and regulations of freedom camping in New Zealand include:

  • Always clean up after yourself and leave no litter or trace of your stay
  • Dispose of waste carefully. Only empty your greywater tanks into designated dump stations. And please (please!) use toilets to do your business
  • Keep noise to an absolute minimum at night and always be respectful towards the locals. Especially if you’re freedom campsite which is close to a residential area.
  • Avoid lighting fires. If you do make a campfire always keep it small and douse it out one you are finished with it. You should also be aware of whether or not you’re allowed to light one in that area in the first place – sometimes there are total fire bans.
  • Lastly, and definitely most importantly – know where you can and can’t sleep. If you have a ‘self-contained’ sticker on your vehicle (meaning you have a toilet and greywater onboard) you are allowed to stay in a lot more places. If you don’t have this, you will always need to stay in designated ‘non-self contained’ campgrounds.
Freedom Camping New Zealand Travellers Autobarn Campervan

New Zealand

Freedom campgrounds in the North Island 

Whether you want to stay lakeside, beachfront or in the forest, you’ll find plenty of amazing freedom campgrounds in the North Island. You might want to consider some of these free campgrounds when you travel around the North Island:

  • Rankers Koha Camping
  • Long Beach Domain
  • Anzac Bay, Bowentown, Domain
  • Lake Hayes
  • Ohingaroa, Kenepuru Sounds
  • Alex McKenzie Arboretum, Otautau
  • Tuapiro Reserve

Also, try Googling Department of Conservation (DOC) campgrounds in New Zealand. These are government run sites, many of which are free for campervan travellers.

Finding campgrounds 

To take advantage of freedom camping in New Zealand, you should have a general idea of some places you can stay before you head off. We live in the era of technology, which means luckily for us, there are plenty of apps that allow you to find places to sleep, right at your finger tips. We would recommend not leaving on your campervan journey without having downloaded at least one campground-finding app. Trust us – they are lifesavers and will make your trip so much more enjoyable!

You can download the free Travellers Autobarn app which has helpful information about free campgrounds, so you should never be stuck without a place to sleep.

travellers autobarn camping app Travellers Autobarn Camping App

The app also contains many more handy travel tips and a self-help guide for when you are on the road in your Travellers Autobarn campervan. Check out our range of campervans and get a quote today!

If you are looking for more information about Freedom Camping please visit our Freedom Camping Section…or check out our Freedom Camping article library here…

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 Hike in New Zealand's South Island












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.

Freedom Camping  Travellers Autobarn

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!

Freedom Camping  Travellers Autobarn

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…or check out our Freedom Camping article library here…

New Zealand is one of the world’s most remote and naturally spectacular nations. From its giant mountain peaks and rugged fjords, to its pristine national parks and turquoise coloured lakes – it’s a country that any lover of the outdoors will instantly fall in love with. Travelling New Zealand in a campervan is a fantastic way of immersing yourself in the country’s outdoor beauty.

Best of all, New Zealand is a freedom camping nation, which means you can find plenty of campgrounds that have great facilities and don’t cost a single cent! So if you don’t want the hustle and bustle of a busy caravan park and would prefer to sleep among nature, try giving FREEDOM CAMPING a try when you’re travelling around New Zealand.


So what is freedom camping?

New Zealand is a nation which is extremely popular for camping and campervan travel, also making it a great place for freedom camping. Freedom Camping is the practice of setting up camp or pulling up in your campervan in areas which are designated for camping without a cost. Generally, these freedom camping areas will have very basic or no amenities, such as toilets and barbeques. Free camping especially appeals to those campers who are wanting a cheap way to camp, or a more rustic and natural experience. Here are some great freedom camping spots in the South Island, just to give you a taster.

Freedom camping is marked by various signage, or you can find out where these places are by visiting the Freedom Camping New Zealand. You can also stop in at the local information centres to ask where you are able to camp.

Freedom Camping  Travellers Autobarn Campervan

New Zealand

What do I need to know to freedom camp?

Due to the sheer amount of campervan travellers in New Zealand, the government has made strict regulations on where you can and cannot stay the night. To legally free camp in New Zealand, you must have a self-containment certification. This basically means you need to be carrying portable toilet facility in order to camp in places that may not have them, as well as your campervan needing to have a grey-water tank to prevent waste from polluting the ground.

With this ‘self-contained’ certification, there will be a government-issued blue sticker placed on the window of your authorised vehicle. Freedom camping and failing to display this sticker can result in heavy fines. It is therefore best to opt for a self-contained campervan when exploring New Zealand.

Tip: If you are after hiring a self-contained campervan in New Zealand please visit our Campervan Hire page. By adding a ‘porta-potti’ as an extra on your booking, you will receive this self-contained sticker. 

Freedom Camping  Travellers Autobarn CampervanAccording to the New Zealand Tourism Industry for freedom camping you must always:

  • Use public toilets; do not use the bush or waterways as a toilet
  • Leave no trace of your visit
  • Dispose of all rubbish responsibly, or take it with you
  • Respect private property; don’t camp on someone’s land
  • Respect ‘No Camping’ signs; they are there for a reason
  • Keep detergents, soap, toothpaste etc. out of waterways
  • Only use approved dump stations to dispose of motorhome waste


Best Apps to use to find Freedom Camping Sites

  1. Travellers Autobarn App – not only is it for free and will help you to be able to find the best freedom camping sites, but you can also get all your vehicle information, safety tips and activity advice (available for Android and IOS).
  2. Rankers Camping NZ App – another free app, which will show you over 1500 locations to camp, showing both full-facility holiday parks or an isolated hideaway (available for Android and IOS).
  3. CamperMate App – this will help you to find freedom camping spots, as well as receive traveller submitted tips and emergency alerts, giving you piece of mind when you travel. (available for Android and IOS).

Freedom Camping  Travellers Autobarn App

If you also want top tips on the 4 Best Apps for Freedom Camping in New Zealand then come and explore.

Looking for more information about Freedom Camping please visit our Freedom Camping North Island or Freedom Camping South Island or our Freedom Camping article library here…

We are using Cookies to allow for the best possible service & marketing activities. By using our website you agree to the usage of cookies. For more information and how to opt out please refer to our Privacy Policy. OK