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Guide to the South Island: Top Tips, Road Trips and Destinations

Travelling New Zealand’s incredible South Island is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, there is literally nothing else in the world like its wild, rugged and picturesque terrain.

The real beauty of the South Island lies in its untouched, almost inaccessible and remote landscape. This beauty is apparent in the heart-stopping views, the lush flora and wild fauna, the ridiculous roadways, and a natural charm that surpasses any mere words of description.

You’ll have to go there yourself to truly understand what we mean, and so we’ve put together the perfect guide for your South Island campervan road trip. Because there’s simply no other way to see the South Island than surrendering to the freedom that is campervanning.

In this guide, you’ll learn about:

  •             Top tips to follow before you start your South Island adventure
  •             All the staples you need to bring — plus our list of 5 must-have ‘extras’
  •             Our pick of the 5 best campgrounds to stay at during your South Island trip
  •             The best national parks you simply cannot miss
  •             Truly breathtaking views on South Island you should plan to catch
  •             The most scenic routes to add to your South Island adventure itinerary
  •             Road Trip Itinerary: Christchurch to Kaikoura
  •             Road Trip Itinerary: South Island, from Westland Tai Poutini National Park to Lake Tekapo

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Top Tips Before You Start Your South Island Adventure

Your South Island adventure depends on how well you understand the journey ahead of you.

Putting the generic stuff to one side (like ‘make sure to have enough money for fuel’ or ‘plan most of your itinerary/routes beforehand’), here are seven important tips unique to making your South Island trek a whopping success. And to making a safe return, to boot.

Choose the right campervan in NZ

What’s the ‘right’ campervan? Well, it’s not really a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of situation. The right campervan for you will depend on a variety of things, such as:

  •             the size of your party,
  •             the nature of your travels,
  •             whether you intend to go free camping or if you’ll be mostly keeping to holiday parks,
  •             your comfort levels when driving on the roads,
  •             whether you plan to cook a lot,
  •             how much space you’ll need
  •             whether you’ll have a roadside assistance program
  •             what you’re planning to pack
  •             if you’ll be doing your own biking or kayaking activities

…and more.

Whether you’re buying or renting your campervan, you want to take a look at what’s included. For example, is insurance covered? Are there cooking utensils and cutlery provided? Are bedding and towels included? Does the model have a GPS? Does the van include USB outlets for charging? 

Consider if you’ll need a self-contained vehicle

It’s very simple: ‘self-contained‘ vehicles have toilets while non-self-contained vans do not. If you have the former, you’re welcome to park anywhere and go ‘free camping’. Pick a spot, set up camp and do your business inside.

There are laws against freedom camping without a proper vehicle, however, and a hefty fine if you fail to adhere. Many places around New Zealand, such as Wanaka or Queenstown, are now protected under this major law.

Plan to have basic roadside assistance and maintenance skills

It’s a good idea to take a safety skills or survival course before you embark on your multi-week road trip. There’s nothing particularly treacherous on South Island, but you should consider these risks when going free camping anywhere in the world.

And, deciding on which vehicle or campervan you’ll be travelling with, familiarise yourself with basics like changing a tire and jump-starting the battery — or opt into a roadside assistance program. If you rent with Travellers Autobarn, for example, this program is built right into your rental.

 

What do I need to bring?

Your ‘list’ of things to bring should include staples and, of course, any creature comforts you can’t live without. An essentials list, for example, might look something like this:

  •             Sleeping bags
  •             Hiking shoes
  •             Gloves, socks, weather-appropriate clothing
  •             Any extra cooking implements
  •             Coolers
  •             Adapters and power bars
  •             Flashlights or hats/helmets with LEDs
  •             Sheets
  •             First Aid Kit
  •             Snack bars for hiking
  •             A camping water-purifier/cleaner

Depending on which models of campervans you rent, certain essentials will come with the vehicle. Traveller Autobarn’s HiTop model, for example, includes pillows, bedding, a gas stove, a sink, kitchenette, cutlery, utensils, cleaning equipment, dishes and more.

Along with these essentials, consider bringing the following:

  •             A quick-dry towel
  •             A Bluetooth speaker
  •             A swimsuit
  •             A sturdy but lightweight daypack

Now that you’re all packed up and ready to go, it’s time to hit the road. Where are you off to? We have your campgrounds, national parks, scenic drives and more.

5 Best Campgrounds to Stay at in the South Island

Whether you’re planning to go ‘glamping’ at a holiday park, or you’re planning to head entirely off the grid whenever the fancy strikes you, South Island is teeming with amazing campgrounds.

Moke Lake Campsite

Moke Lake Campsite

(Source: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/queenstown-area/things-to-do/moke-lake-campsite/

The Moke Lake campsite is a popular spot for scenic treks, fishing, and swimming. You can also head on a horse riding adventure or simply set up camp and enjoy the view of the lake.

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park

(Source: https://holidaypark.net.nz/

Like any great holiday park, the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park boasts a wonderful blend of creature comforts and outdoor adventures. It’s a mere 500-metre walk from the shores of Wakatipu and there are plenty of activities on offer, including hiking, swimming, fishing and kayaking.

Lake Mahinapua

Lake Mahinapua

(Source: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/west-coast/places/mahinapua-scenic-reserve/

Camping at Lake Mahinapua, you’ll find that you can enjoy a variety of water sports in beautiful forest surroundings. You can go paddle-boating, kayaking, swimming and more!

Picnic Bay

Picnic Bay

(Source: http://www.bestofmagnetic.com/accommodation/158

Stop for a day or two at Picnic Bay campgrounds and you’ll be greeted by a sweeping beach, a tranquil breeze and a picturesque jetty. Enjoy swimming, boating, hiking to Hawkings Point, or a romantic beachside dinner!

Momorangi Bay

Momorangi Bay

(Source: https://www.cruiseguide.co.nz/queen-charlotte-sound/momorangi-bay

The beautiful, sheltered Momorangi Bay is a stunning locale. A family-friendly campground surrounded by several bush-covered hills, Momorangi Bay is an ideal place for swimming, boating, fishing and hiking. In the evenings, take a trip to the magical glow-worm grotto.

Located at the very left hand tip of the North Island, 6 hours north of Auckland. Known to have the best beach breaks on a sandy beach. This is an isolated and remote camp spot, so if you’re looking for tranquility and to get away from the crowds, then come and explore. North Cape in general makes for a great fishing trip and there are some stunning drives that will take your breath away on every bend.

Best National Parks to visit on your South Island Road Trip

The luxury of a campervan is the ability to go wherever your fancy strikes you, with the option to keep to a planned itinerary if you wish. If you’re hoping to hit up national parks in South Island, these five create a great circuit!

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

There’s nothing quite like Abel Tasman National Park, with its golden beaches, hewn granite cliffs and world-famous coastal track. Plan for activities like hiking, kayaking, swimming and fishing.

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park

The Great Coast Road
Does this sound familiar…sort of like Australia’s ‘Great Ocean Road’? Well, it is. This historic route does the West Coast shoreline full justice, giving you unforgettable views of the choppy Tasman Sea on one side and the dense, mysterious and alluring rainforest on the other side. Plan to hit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks as well, you won’t be disappointed!

Mount Aspiring National Park is a wilderness unlike anything you’ve witnessed so far. With its high, spiralling mountains, gorgeous, deep-cut river valleys and varied wildlife, this national park is every hiker’s paradise.

Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi National Park

(Source: http://www.earthseagallery.com/paintings/boulder-lake-kahurangi-national-park-e37ec2ee-3f97-495f-8b2e-b2252df6ed25

As the second largest national park in New Zealand, Kahurangi can get pretty remote. The name means ‘treasured possession’ in the Indigenous language, and. when you head in to experience its incredible shoreline, beautiful forests and fantastic activities (mountain biking, anyone?), you’ll see why.

Paparoa National Park

Paparoa National Park

(Source: https://www.backpackerguide.nz/paparoa-national-park-guide-backpackers/

Vast coastal forests, jagged limestone cliffs and naturally cut canyons are not just a feast for the eyes but a rigorous workout for the body too. Plan to head to Paparoa National Park if you’re looking for an adventurous challenge, and lots of caving opportunities.

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

(Source:https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/fiordland/places/fiordland-national-park/

Author Rudyard Kipling once described Fiordland National Park as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. And with the famous Milford Sound hiking trail, Doubtful Sound dolphins, waterfalls, seals and penguins, you’ll quickly believe the same.

Most Breathtaking Views on your South Island Road Trip

Okay, shutterbug, it’s time to get out your telescopic lens for the perfect shot. Whether you’re an Instagram-enthusiast or you’re planning on winning some serious photography prizes this year, here are our picks for the most breathtaking views on South Island.

The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve

The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve

(Source: https://mackenzienz.com/scenic-highlights/dark-sky-reserve/

Sounds promising, doesn’t? The reserve is remote and rests far away from any interfering light pollution. Nestled within the reserve is the research centre dedicated to astronomy, Mount John Observatory. It is the spot in New Zealand to go stargazing, catch incredible shots of the galaxies and even the Aurora Australis, or ‘Southern Lights’.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura

(Source: https://www.christchurchnz.com/destinations/kaikoura/

Kaikoura is like something out of Star Wars. It features towering, looming mountains, with incredible scenic points as well as a sprawling and epic coastline. Besides views of its geography, you’ll be able to go whale-watching and dolphin-spotting as well!

Mt. Roy, Wanaka

Mt. Roy, Wanaka

(Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/destinations/nz/79317293/five-hikes-in-wanaka-that-arent-mt-roy

You’ve probably seen this spot on the screen before, but nothing beats actually witnessing it in person. Known as Roy’s Peak, this lookout point overlooks Wanaka, the Matukituki Valley and even provides an epic panorama of Mt Aspiring.

Punakaiki

Punakaiki

(Source: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/west-coast/places/paparoa-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/pancake-rocks-and-blowholes-walk/

Watch unstoppable waves crash against the craggy cliffs on the west coast of New Zealand when you visit Punakaiki. Wild and ancient, this is a view of a lifetime and you’re likely to get sprayed more than once, thanks to all the hidden blowholes.

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

(Source: https://www.backpackingmatt.com/climbing-mitre-peak-new-zealand/

If this isn’t already on your ‘bucket list’, well, it shouldbe! With its incredible, misty waterfalls, the mysterious Mitre Peak, its silent, untouched lakes and amazing wildlife, it’s easy to see why.

Most Scenic Routes to Take in the South Island

Looking for tips on which drives will prove the most fruitful? While we’re big believers in letting the road take you where it will, these five get our vote for the most scenic routes on the South Island.

The Lindis Pass

The Lindis Pass

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindis_Pass

Nestled between Mt Cook Village and Wanaka or Queenstown is the Lindis Pass crossing. This is a dramatic alpine pass, almost barren and certainly wild in a scrubby sort of way. In winter, thick snowfall makes you think of a breathtaking scene from Lord of the Rings. Plan to stop at the viewpoint located on the summit for a view of these vast, sloping hillsides.

Crown Range Road

Crown Range Road

(Source: https://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/the-crown-range/

Crown Range Road will reward you for your slow and steady efforts: The summit stands at sky-scraping 1121 metres and gives you some of New Zealand’s most iconic views of the valley below.

Haast Pass

Haast Pass

(Source: http://ultimatewanaka.com/news/franz-josef-wanaka-haast-pass/

Blanketed with dense, luscious green forests and beautiful scenery, the Haast Pass provides drivers with memorable views and diverse wildlife. But, if you choose to stop or go slowly, you’ll be twice rewarded: the whole region is packed with stunning hiking trails, waterfalls at every bend, guided walks like the Blue pools walk, and amazing water sports.

Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

(Source: https://www.roamingdownunder.com/glenorchy-road

While the sweet hamlet of Glenorchy itself demands a visit, the nearby road is a whole other story. It’s 45 minutes of pure lookouts, providing panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range.

Does this sound familiar…sort of like Australia’s ‘Great Ocean Road’? Well, it is. This historic route does the West Coast shoreline full justice, giving you unforgettable views of the choppy Tasman Sea on one side and the dense, mysterious and alluring rainforest on the other side. Plan to hit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks as well, you won’t be disappointed!

The Great Coast Road

Great Coast Road New Zealand

Does this sound familiar…sort of like Australia’s ‘Great Ocean Road’? Well, it is. This historic route does the West Coast shoreline full justice, giving you unforgettable views of the choppy Tasman Sea on one side and the dense, mysterious and alluring rainforest on the other side. Plan to hit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks as well, you won’t be disappointed!

Road Trip Itinerary 1

Two weeks on South Island, from Christchurch to Kaikoura

  •             Day 1 — Christchurch: Visit the Botanic Gardens, Cathedral Square and Re: Start Mall
  •             Day 2 & 3  — Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook: Drive three hours from Christchurch and arrive at the perfectly positioned and picturesque Lake Tekapo, and check out Aoraki Mt Cook village
  •             Day 4 & 5 — Fiordland: Once here, make sure to check out Milford Sound via a cruise booking, which will take you past towering peaks and cascading waterfalls, and don’t forget to visit the Te Anau glow worm caves
  •             Day 6 & 7 — Queenstown: Here, you can try a range of adventure sports, including bungy jumping, the canyon swing, jet boating, and white water rafting, or head for a relaxing wine tasting session at The Winery
  •             Day 8 — Wanaka: Enjoy Lake Wanaka via a kayak, or a guided boat tour, or visit the walks at Mt. Aspiring National Park. Don’t forget to make time to explore Mt Roy!
  •             Day 9 & 10 — Franz Josef: Explore the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, then take a dip in the warm waters of Glacier Hot Pools
  •             Day 11 & 12 — Nelson/Abel Tasman: Plan a day trip to Abel National Park but you’ll only be able to access the park via walking, kayak or cruise
  •             Day 13 & 14 — Kaikoura: Check out the Peninsula Lookout for stunning views of the bay and mountains, then head to Point Kean for a close-up on a colony of friendly seals!

Road Trip Itinerary 2

One week on South Island, from Westland Tai Poutini National Park to Lake Tekapo

  •             Day 1 — Fox Glacier: Start at Fox Glacier and experience both this and the Franz Josef through a ‘Heli Service’ ride, which takes you on a tour of the glaciers from a helicopter. Next, head to the Fox Glacier Lookout
  •             Day 2 — Wanaka: If it’s summertime, go jet-boating, kayaking and swimming, but if it’s winter, plan to hit the slopes! You can also visit wineries or check out Via Ferrata, the world’s highest waterfall climb
  •             Day 3 — Queenstown: Take a gondola up in Queenstown for a stunning view, get out on the water for some light kayaking, hit up Ferburger for a hearty lunch, then relax at Onsen Hot Pools
  •             Day 4 — On the road to Te Anau: The road to Te Anau is unbelievably beautiful so plan to incorporate plenty of stops for photos into your drive time
  •             Day 5 — Milford Sound: Don’t miss the traditional way to take in this region’s beauty, the Milford Sound Cruise
  •             Day 6 — Mount Cook: Also known as Aoraki, this is the highest mountain range in the country so plan to do a lot of hiking. But make sure to dress in plenty of layers as the weather changes from one moment to the next!
  •             Day 7 — Lake Tekapo: Hike around Lake Tekapo and capture its beauty via any of the trails and walks around the area.

Whatever road trip you decide on, you won’t be disappointed. New Zealand has the ability to take your breath away at every single moment. Here the journey really is the destination.

If you’ve been thinking about visiting New Zealand, make sure to visit the South Island, one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Speak with one of our team at Travellers Autobarn to see what deals are available.

For more articles on road trips and campervan adventures in New Zealand, come and check out our Guides.

For even more adventures and happy customer stories, come and explore our YouTube Channel!

 

Like Iceland’s idiosyncratic, breathtaking, almost untouched beauty, so, too, are New Zealand’s natural terrains, developed in relatively secluded circumstances, tended by the indigenous Māori who know well the shape of its wild, looming mountains; decadent, steamy hot springs cropping out in surprising formations; and unbelievably diverse creatures.

It’s truly an other-worldly kind of beauty that can only really be explained by experience.

Today, one of the best ways to truly experience this incredible landscape and partake in its undeniable beauty, doing every moment justice, is to pack your bags, pack a campervan, pack the dogs, pack the kids — put your life on a brief pause! — and commit to a long journey through New Zealand’s North Island.

If you’re a believer of bucket lists and a hoarder of stunning landscapes that are quiet but larger than life, this is one trip you simply cannot miss.

And since you’re here reading this, we’ll assume that you get it — the North Island is its own adventure and experience. ‘Nuff said, right?

Except that this guide is designed to show you exactly what you need to make your campervan journey across the North Island truly unforgettable — but, like, in a good way.

In this guide, you’ll learn all about:

  • Top Tips before You Start Your North Island Adventure
  • 5 Best Campgrounds to Stay at in the North Island
  • Best National Parks to visit on your North Island Road Trip
  • Most Breathtaking Views on your North Island Road Trip
  • Most Scenic Routes to Take in the North Island
  • Road Trip Itinerary: Auckland to Cape Reinga
  • Road Trip Itinerary: Auckland to Wellington

Roadtrip to North Island

Top Tips before You Start Your North Island Road Trip

When renting a campervan out from Travellers Autobarn, you’ll be protected against any unforeseen issues thanks to 24/7 roadside assistance. Travellers Autobarn also offers one-way rentals which means you don’t need to spend time circling back on your journey — unless you actually want to do a second round.

If you’re renting a campervan and it’s a self-contained unit, check with us to see what is included, so you know any essentials you need to pack. Often, vehicles are outfitted with a standard kitchen with a fridge, microwave, cookers/burners, a sink, and cupboards. Travellers Autobarn do offer a kitchen kit, in our premium living equipment set.

Other items you’ll need to pack and you won’t be able to live without, include:

  • Hiking shoes
  • Daypack
  • Water bottle
  • Flask
  • Quick dry pants
  • Gloves and warm gear
  • Merino wool socks and underwear – New Zealand is the land for merino, so you may just pick this up on arrival!
  • Your international driver’s license
  • A soft bag or backpack – not a big hard suitcase that will be difficult to store
  • Adapter plugs
  • A torch/flashlight
  • CDs for the road
  • A beach towel
  • Pharmaceuticals (sunscreen, mosquito repellent etc).

Size Matters (and So Do Specs)

When you’re picking out the right campervan for you, you’ll have to consider a few things.

  • Think about the size of van and how many people are travelling.
  • Consider whether you’re looking for manual or automatic transmission.
  • Think about whether or not you plan to cook some meals.
  • Consider whether you’ll be planning on bringing extra equipment like bikes.
  • How will you be charging your additional equipment? Will you need a campervan that has solar panels or will you pack your own?

These factors will significantly affect the size and model of campervan you’ll be renting out.

North Island Travel Guide

Emptying Waste Water

If you’re camping, you’re in luck because most campsites have dump stations. There are also signposts for dump stations posted at other public places like car parks.

If you have a shower, this is also dumped in the same place through a hose that attaches to your van. You’ll need to fill your van back up with water. This is essentially water from your sink and shower and you don’t want to leave it for more than two days as it can get pretty smelly.

Planning for Food and Meals

Depending on the kind of rental you get, you may be able to have most of your meals right out of your campervan. Make sure to pack a few non-perishables to pair with your perishables like eggs, bread, and bacon, along with condiments and oils for cooking.

Bring camp-safe cooking utensils as well, as these are usually easy to clean and store. Remember that you’ll also get to have a few meals out, especially if you’re travelling through major cities like Auckland.

Hire Early If You Plan to Travel During Peak Season

December, January, and February make up the Aussie and Kiwi summer season. If you’re planning to travel from your country to the North Island during these months, make sure to pre-book well in advance because availability for all aspects of road tripping (from flights to campervan rentals) can become scarce.

Traditional verses Freedom Camping

Okay, so you’re in a self-contained unit and that pretty much means that the world is your oyster and the sky is the limit. In other words, you can pitch your proverbial tent (or, in this case, park your campervan) anywhere and you’re good to go.

If you’re a camping enthusiast, there are a couple of options for you:

  • Traditional camping: As it sounds, traditional camping is when you pay per night for a site, according to your vehicle size and number of travellers. You’ll have access to a terminal and you can recharge your campervan, dump out your waste water, and fill your tank with fresh water.
  • DOC Campgrounds: These are sites managed by the Department of Conservation, which are quite basic but special, as they’re usually located near lakes, rivers, oceans or in beautiful forests. They’re quite popular so try and book ahead.
  • Freedom Camping: If you’re in self-contained vehicle, with a toilet and shower, you can camp pretty much anywhere in the countryside. However, you must comply with any rules of the area and leave no trace that you were there.
  • Okay2Stay: This is a membership network like Native Parks that allows you to access a private network of farms, vineyards and orchards all over New Zealand, get to know the locals, stay in a safe place, and park on these properties for free. You can get off the tourist trail and gain access to the local experience. If this is something you’re interested in, consider an Okay2Stay membership.

Once you’ve got all the basics covered, it’s now time to set off on your New Zealand adventure. Next up are our recommended road trips, to make sure you don’t miss out on all the best spots!

 

Top 5 Best Campgrounds to Stay at on your North Island Road Trip

Picking the best campsites in the North Island can be difficult, there are a lot to choose from and how do you know you’re picking the right one? Well we’ve selected our top 5 campground, starting in the North and heading to the South of the North Island, make sure to visit tem all, each with their own benefits.

1. Tom Bowling Bay Campgrounds at North Cape

Located at the very left hand tip of the North Island, 6 hours north of Auckland. Known to have the best beach breaks on a sandy beach.

(Source: en.wikipedia.org )

Located at the very left hand tip of the North Island, 6 hours north of Auckland. Known to have the best beach breaks on a sandy beach. This is an isolated and remote camp spot, so if you’re looking for tranquility and to get away from the crowds, then come and explore. North Cape in general makes for a great fishing trip and there are some stunning drives that will take your breath away on every bend.

2. Waikahoa Bay Campsite at Mimiwhangata

(Source: doc.govt.nz)

(Source: doc.govt.nz)

Mimiwhangata, is home to one of the most beautiful campgrounds in New Zealand, Waikahoa Bay Campsite. Situated beachfront means you’ll wake up listening to the sea and fall asleep listening to the wildlife. Expect to be off the grid here, there is no phone reception and you are far from “normal life” being 3 hours north of Auckland. With great watersports options, you’ll be spoilt for choice with activities on and off land. Make sure to include this campsite when you’re heading north, as it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind.

3. Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park at Rotorua

10 min drive from Rotorua, alongside the clear waters of The Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) and surrounded by native bush.

(Source: bluelaketop10.co.nz)

10 min drive from Rotorua, alongside the clear waters of The Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) and surrounded by native bush. Blue Lake Top 10 is lucky enough to not get the infamous sulphur smell that Rotorua is so famous for. Rotorua is home to over 15 beautiful lakes, so make sure to stay at this campground if you want to road trip to the lakes and explore the local area.

4. Red Rocks near Wellington

Located on the south coast of the North Island, between Owhiro Bay and Sinclair Head, very close to Wellington. Red Rocks would be a great final freedom camping spot to enjoy before you embarked to the South Island. Being an ancient volcanic location, you will find some unusual rock formations here.

(Source: viator.com)

Located on the south coast of the North Island, between Owhiro Bay and Sinclair Head, very close to Wellington. Red Rocks would be a great final freedom camping spot to enjoy before you embarked to the South Island. Being an ancient volcanic location, you will find some unusual rock formations here. There are unsealed roads as well making it unsuitable for two-wheel drive (2WD) vehicles, so be smart if you decide to visit this magical spot. There are many coastal walks all around Red Rock, be sure to dust your hiking boots off for this destination.

5. Evans Bay Marina Self-Contained Camping in Wellington

Located in Wellington, this is a freedom camping spot for self-contained vehicles.

(Source: trover.com)

Located in Wellington, this is a freedom camping spot for self-contained vehicles. With stunning views over Wellington harbor and only 20 minutes drive from the ferry terminals, this is another good spot to visit before heading to the South Island. This isn’t your tranquil camping area like the others, but rather a perfect spot so you can enjoy Wellington’s nightlife and get ready for your next adventure.

For natural beauty and a true New Zealand experience, make sure to visit our top 5 campgrounds while on your road trip in the North Island!

The Best National Parks to Visit on your North Island Road Trip

Besides the stress-free perks of the unlimited kilometres on our campervans, one of the biggest reasons why travellers choose Travellers Autobarn is our self-contained vehicles themselves.

Since the terrain is often rugged and is unique enough to justify a multi-day trip, your campervan will act as the perfect camping solution, a basecamp where you can return to at the end of each day.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of the best national parks in the North Island so that you can take full advantage of camping and caravanning through the wilds of New Zealand.

Keep in mind that, even though national parks in the North Island are easier to access than the South Island, you’ll still need to make sure you’re well-equipped for the terrain and the climate.

Make sure to the check the Department of Conservation website for up-to-date information on track conditions, safety, and preparing for each park’s unique aspects.

Te Urewera National Park

Guarded and tended by the Māori tribe Tuhoe (or "Children of the Mist"), Te Urewara is one of New Zealand's largest native bush.

(Source: doc.govt.nz)

Guarded and tended by the Māori tribe Tuhoe (or “Children of the Mist”), Te Urewara is one of New Zealand’s largest native bush. While the name translates to “Burnt Penis,” from an old legend about a Māori chief who fell asleep too close to the fire and ended up burning his genitalia, the rest of the park is serious, sombre, and rather stunning.

At the heart of Te Urewara is the mysterious, star-shaped Lake Waikaremoana, surrounded by impossibly thick and lush rainforest. There is a sense of hushed history here at Te Urewara, an expanse that demands that you walk to explore its rugged, somewhat untouched landscape. Nature walks include a quick, 20-minute trip to the sparkling, secluded Aniwaniwa Falls to an intense 3-day journey around Lake Waikaremoana, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks.

Whanganui National Park

Home to New Zealand's longest navigable river, the Whanganui, to the south (with the Taumarunui to the north), Whanhanui National Park is a treasure trove of epic gorges, vast mountains, deep valleys, strange, mudstone cliffs and pristine, ancient forest.

(Source: trover.com)

Home to New Zealand’s longest navigable river, the Whanganui, to the south (with the Taumarunui to the north), Whanhanui National Park is a treasure trove of epic gorges, vast mountains, deep valleys, strange, mudstone cliffs and pristine, ancient forest.

Hidden amidst this native forest is a story of Māori history and encounters with the first European settlers, whose only remains is the mysterious and iconic Bridge to Nowhere. You can undertake several water activities here, including canoe safari, jet boat rides, as well as hunting pigs, goats, and fallow deer — with the right permits, of course.

Egmont National Park

Every national park worth its salt has mountains in the multiples. But none look quite like Mount Egmont, which is an almost amusing and deliberately-looking cone-shaped formation. Also known as Mount Taranaki, this mountain is actually an active stratovolcano, which explains its rather symmetrical funnel-like shape (rather like its doppleganger, Mount Fuji).

To add to its rather people-friendly reputation, Mount Egmont is also quite accessible for less-experienced climbers, which explains why it is New Zealand’s most climbed mountain. Another interesting thing to Egmont National Park is the stark division in climates — while the surrounding flat forest land is lush, mild, and nearly coastal in character, the climb towards the peak of Mount Egmont pushes you increasingly into a cold and bleak, snow-covered hinterland.

The interesting volcanic activity has made for a rather diverse landscape, however, and you’ll find plenty of waterfalls, wetlands, a small club ski area and walks like the Kamahi Walk, which is a journey through twisted and gnarled trees and overhanging ferns.

Tongariro National Park

According to Māori legend, Tongariro has quite a mythical connection with Taranaki, as the two figures 'battled' for the attention and affections of the beautiful Pihana, another volcanic mountain peak in the region. Formidable as he was, Tongariro won that one.

(Source: newzealand.com)

According to Māori legend, Tongariro has quite a mythical connection with Taranaki, as the two figures ‘battled’ for the attention and affections of the beautiful Pihana, another volcanic mountain peak in the region. Formidable as he was, Tongariro won that one. He is the oldest national park in New Zealand and the only one to have gained Dual World Heritage Status.

You’ll see for yourself when you arrive that this remote and rather majestic landscape is raw, extreme, real, and utterly breathtaking in its beauty. This is mostly thanks to three active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe, which create lava flows, craters, hot springs, snowfields, tussock lands, and forests absolutely ripe for a multiple-day excursion and exploration. If the cones look familiar to you, by the way, they are — Peter Jackson used these peaks as the iconic Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Besides trekking to the various filming locations, you can also ski and snowboard, canoe, whitewater raft, bike, fish, and swim.

Most Breathtaking Views in the North Island

These are the spots around New Zealand’s North Island that simply cannot be missed. Not all are directly accessible by either car or campervan, of course. You’ll have to park nearby and hike, cycle, or walk to these spots. However, the views and experience are more than worth the effort. Just make sure to pack your camera as well!

Cape Regina Lighthouse

Imagine a lone lighthouse, standing tall against the sea. That is the Cape Regina Lighthouse. If you're looking for a view where the Tasman Sea meets the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, head to this secluded spot, which is as far north on the mainland as you can go.

(Source: newzealand.com)

Imagine a lone lighthouse, standing tall against the sea. That is the Cape Regina Lighthouse. If you’re looking for a view where the Tasman Sea meets the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, head to this secluded spot, which is as far north on the mainland as you can go.

Pouakai Tarns

Every national park worth its salt has mountains in the multiples. But none look quite like Mount Egmont, which is an almost amusing and deliberately-looking cone-shaped formation.

(Source: backpackerguide.nz)

This is the perfect place to view majesty of Mount Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont. Count on taking a 2.5 hour hike to the tarns, however, to be able to capture the view. You can also stay at Pouakai Hut, and then visit the tarns at sunrise, just a 15-minute walk away.

Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Crossing

If you’re planning to capture the Emerald Lakes, you’ll need to pack your gear with you because the best way to actually photograph their stunning colours is when you’re far enough away from the pools. This means that you’ll be stopping, every so often, on the 20-kilometre path of the Tongariro circuit and crossing to set up a shot, before moving onwards.

Mount Maunganui Summit

 

The Mount, as the locals know it, is a 45-minute hike along the eastern coast of Tauranga, close to the airport. It’s worth the climb, however, because once you reach the summit, you’ll be met by a sweeping, panoramic view, with small islands dotting the waters and crescent-shaped capes as far as the eye can see. And this is to say nothing of the sunning beachfront properties below and an elevation that puts you eye to eye with the setting sun.

Cathedral Cove

Just a few hours form Auckland is the popular Cathedral Cove, located on the east coast of the Coromandel region, close to Hahei.

(Source: hahei.co.nz )

Just a few hours form Auckland is the popular Cathedral Cove, located on the east coast of the Coromandel region, close to Hahei. Before you actually get to the iconic (and often crowded) cove, you’ll undertake a 30 to 45 minute walk to the beach along a fantastic wooden staircase and winding boardwalk. Once here, the outcropping and enveloping caves will help you understand why it’s called ‘Cathedral’ Cove.

campervanning in winter new zealand

Most Scenic Routes to Take in the North Island

Thermal Explorer Highway

If you’re hankering for a journey that will take you into the heart of the North Island, take the route known as the “Thermal Explorer Highway.” From Auckland, travel south to rolling green hills of Waikato to Hamilton, visiting its thriving botanic gardens or witness the history and culture of New Zealand at the Waikato Museum.

From here, head to Rotorua, full of bubbling mud pools, geysers and hot springs. You’ll be able to take a dip at the Polynesian Spa and experience a night of Māori culture, through storytelling.

Auckland Central to Piha

Next on the itinerary is your chance to discover to the renowned Island of Wine. Travelling from Auckland along the west coast to Waiheke Island, which is known for its vineyards beaches and artists’ studios. Waiheke Island is truly all about that island life, lined by picturesque beaches.

The pace of life here is a little different: it’s all about the vineyards, the sailing, and the beaches. You can enjoy a breadth of activities here, including wine tours, art studio visits, or just basking in the sun on a beach. You can also undertake zip lining, archery, sea kayaking, horse riding and golf.

Surf Highway 45

Starting from the beaches of New Plymouth, Surf Highway 45 is a spectacular route that runs along Taranaki’s coast. Besides 180 degrees of clean swells, you can also explore Egmont National Park. From here, head to Oakura, which boasts even more waves for surfers who are just learning to surf, as well as bird-watching for enthusiasts. You’ll also be able to wander the Oakura Arts Trail, lined with artists’ studios, jewellers, and craft artisans.

Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway route is exactly what it sounds — a three-day trip that goes from Taumarunui to Stratford. The trip is built on colonial bridle paths, a road that hugs the very contours of the land. At Tamarunui, you can go trout fishing, kayaking, and jet boating.

From here, head to Whangamomona, where you’ll be able to visit the beautiful Mount Damper Falls, a fast-moving, rapid-tumbling 85 metres of shimmering water before arriving in Stratford, where you can hike the incredible terrain of the sweeping Mt. Taranaki.

Auckland to Waitomo Caves

The trip from Auckland to Waitomo Caves is a four-day journey that begins in Auckland, with a two-hour drive to Rotorua. Along the way, you can visit Matamata for a tour through the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Rotorua is the place you want to go when you’re looking to explore the geothermal areas, explosive geysers, and volcanic activity. You can also go mountain biking, zorbing, or shweeping. Finish your trip at the Waitomo Caves in Taupo for a truly magical boat ride that takes you through the vast system of caves that are alight with glow worms.

Twin Coast Discovery Highway

This is a five-day trip that takes you from Auckland to Bay of Islands and Hokianga. Though the total drive time is only around 10 hours and 15 minutes, you’ll be able to tour both coastlines of New Zealand’s warmest region and explore some of the regions’ many cycle trails — including the majestic Tane Mahuta, a famous Kauri Tree at the Waipoua Forest.

Continue on to the rugged and Ninety Mile Beach at Doubtless Bay. Once there, head through to Kerikeri, which is bordered by orchards, roadside stalls, galleries, cafes, and vineyards. You can also go on a dolphin swimming safari and the visit the historic Treaty House at Waitangi, which marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.

Travel to New Zealand

Road Trip Itinerary: North of the North Island

11 Day Road Trip: Auckland to Cape Reinga

Well, if your going to the North Island you may as well go as far North as possible, right? Our North of the North Island road trip will take you right there, stopping at some of the most remote places in New Zealand. Tick this one off your bucket list!

Day 1: Auckland to Shelly Beach

Approximately 1 hour north of Auckland, this little seaside destination is remote and quiet. With kayak day tours, perfect hiking tracks and beaches all around. If you’re into a spot of golf, then you will find a dune golf course only 14km away. Whangapoua Beach is well worth a visit too, only 12km away. This little gem is the perfect spot to rewind and relax.

Day 2-3: Shelly Beach to Snells Beach

From one beach to another, Snells is well worth a stop over, only 1 hour 15 minutes west of Shelly Beach. A great place to go diving and horse riding. Here you’ll get more activities and diversity. Make sure to visit Parry Kauri Park, only 2km from Snells Beach, there are lots of forest walks and viewing platforms. It’s a very peaceful, tranquil place, especially when the birds are tweeting. Ransom winery is only 3km away as well, so stop in for a taster of New Zealand vino.

Day 4-5: Snells Beach to Mangawhai Heads

Mangawhai Heads is 1 hour north of Snells Beach, situated between farmland and the Pacific coast. If you are into fishing or diving this is another spot you won’t want to miss. With surfing and harbour views, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to good views and activities. With the option to even ride a donkey, you won’t get bored here.

Day 6-7: Mangawhai Heads to Paihia

Paihia is just 2 hours north of Mangawhai Heads. It is close to the historic Treaty House at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, this location marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation. With many hikes to concur, waterfalls to see, sea kayaks to ride and delicious dining options to enjoy, you’ll find this seaside spot irresistible.

Day 8-9: Paihia to Karikari Peninsula

1 hour and 30 minutes from Paihia, Karikari Peninsula has stunning white sands beaches and bays, the ones you only dream about or see in the movies. Situated on a Peninsula, if you hadn’t guessed already, this top destination will make you forget all your worries, if you haven’t already. Take time to chill here and watch the rolling waves before moving to your final spot: Cape Reinga!

Day 10-11: Karikari Peninsula to Cape Reinga (& North Cape’s Surville Cliffs)

Cape Reinga, known to many as the most north tip of the North Island. This spot has over 120,000 visitors a year, so although it’s remote, it might not be quiet. Separating the Tasman Sea (on the west) and the Pacific Ocean (on the east), it’s a magical place that will take your breath away. Although Cape Reinga is thought to be the most northern spot in NZ, it is in fact North Cape’s Surville Cliffs that takes the ‘most northern point’ award. The Cliffs are 30km east of Cape Reinga, the whole area is worth exploring, with many hikes and viewpoints. Make sure to rise for sunrise at least once, it will make you realise just how truly special New Zealand is.

Roadtrip Guide to New Zealand

Road Trip Itinerary: Auckland to Wellington

10 Day Road Trip: Auckland to Wellington

Finally, if you’re looking for that ultimate road trip journey, the one that everyone is talking about and you must do while you’re in New Zealand’s North Island, look no further! Auckland to Wellington is an adventure to suit everyone.

Day 1: Auckland City

Based between 2 harbours, there is a lot to explore in this city. From the iconic Sky Tower with sensational views over the city, to the cities oldest park, Auckland Domain. Kayak to Rangitoto, a volcanic island, or visit the world’s largest penguin colony exhibition. There is something for everyone here.

Day 2-3: Auckland to Rotorua

Drive south for 3 hours to Rotorua, where it’s all about hot springs, bubbling mud & stunning geysers. Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is a must see, otherwise known as the Living Thermal Village. Make sure to visit the Pōhutu geyser, as this geyser was once known as the jewel in the crown of Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley.

Day 4-5: Rotorua to Lake Taupo

If you’re in to lakes, then you have to see this one, stunning Lake Taupo. It is in fact the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand. It is in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano, perfect for sailing, kayaking and enjoying some adventure activities on.

Day 6-7: Lake Taupo to Hawke’s Bay

Do you love wine and going to the beach? Silly question? Well you must visit Hawke’s Bay, only 2 hours from Lake Taupo. Where all pleasures come together in one exquisite location! Make sure you enjoy drinks and dinner at West Quay as well, it’s a superb spot to indulge in seafood. Be sure to also discover the Art Deco architecture and gannets of the Hawkes Bay.

Day 8-9: Hawkes Bay to Whanganui

Whanganui is on the west coast of the North Island, home to the oldest city in New Zealand, so well worth the stop. Located at the mouth of the Whanganui River, a perfect location for kayaking or sailing. Make sure to visit Whanganui National Park, which holds very a distinctive landscape of rivers and is covered in lowland forest. If you are looking for a thrill, jet boating here is a lot of fun. Those that want a more relaxing adventure, the National Park is full of hikes and trails.

Day 10: Whanganui to Wellington

The final leg, drive 2 hour 30 mins down to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The city has a stunning waterfront promenade, harbour views, sandy beaches and botanical gardens. Otherwise known as “Windy Wellington”, this is a perfect location to end your trip and relax reminiscing about your adventure.

Whatever road trip you decide on, you won’t be disappointed. New Zealand has the ability to take your breath away at every single moment. Here the journey really is the destination.

If you’ve been thinking about visiting New Zealand, make sure to visit the North Island, one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Speak with one of our team at Travellers Autobarn to see what deals are available.

For more articles on road trips and campervan adventures in New Zealand, come and check out our Guides.

New Zealand is a more popular travelling destination than ever as the world discovers what the Kiwis already know to be true. Here you’ll find dazzling beaches, pristine turquoise lakes, spectacular mountain views, volcanic geothermal springs and over 250 well maintained camping areas.

If your first road trip is through New Zealand, you’ll be setting the bar very high for any trip to match! Whether you’re a local youngster heading out on the road for a gap year or a tourist flying halfway across the world to experience New Zealand, read on. You’ll learn how to plan a one-of-a-kind trip by seeing the country the way it should be seen: with the freedom of your own wheels.

Here’s What You’ll Find In This Guide To Travelling Around New Zealand

  • How to Choose the Right Campervan Gear
  • Best Times of Year to Travel New Zealand
  • Driving Tips: Rules of the Road in New Zealand
  • Cooking in your Camper
  • Top 8 Recipes when Cooking in your Camper
  • Essential Packing for your New Zealand Road Trip
  • Responsible Freedom Camping
  • Campground Options
  • 5 Breathtaking Beach Camping Spots
  • Top Road Trip: Auckland to Christchurch

Stationwagon

How to Choose the Right Campervan and Camping Gear

Some of the things you want to consider when planning your trip are whether you will be sleeping in a campervan or tucking up in a tent. A fully equipped campervan comes with many amenities such as a bed, storage area, kitchenette with sink and gas cooker, a fridge and power plug-ins. So generally speaking, you will have almost everything at your fingertips, making your trip close to hassle-free. Whether you’re on a family trip, or out with your best buddy, we’ve got a detailed campervan packing list here.

Some people want to sleep in a tent for a more rustic outdoors experience. If you’re not sleeping in a car or campervan, you’ll need to pack:

  • Warm sleeping bags and a sleeping mat—these will give you the best quality of sleep and help you bed down anywhere
  • A high-quality tent and tarps—you want a tent that can stand up to wind; tarps are good to cover the ground around, but very handy to pitch above the tent at a slant. In case of rain, a tarp pitched in this way can prevent tent collapse
  • Billy or kettle—for heating up water
  • Batteries or plug ins to charge flashlights and mobiles at campsites
  • Esky or cooler
  • Lighters or matches, gas and firewood – for spectacular outdoor grilling (or just making that cup of coffee when you’re half-awake after a late night at the campfire)

There are many places around the country to buy and rent gear but the more prepared you are ahead of time, the less worries you’ll have on the road. If you plan on sleeping in a tent, you’ll also want to consider where you camp. New Zealand has a lot of fully serviced campgrounds with bathrooms; however, a lot of the country is rural. If that makes you nervous, you can use a campervan with a toilet for convenience. Whichever way you choose to travel, there are other essentials you should pack:

  • Swimwear – there are many fabulous beaches and hot springs, so you’ll want to take a dip at many points during your trip.
  • Sunscreen – New Zealand has a mild, temperate climate that doesn’t get too hot or cold in most areas. That being said, you may burn faster than you expect if you’re new to the islands. Be extra generous with your sunscreen.
  • Sandfly repellent – New Zealand has almost no natural predators. But if you plan on hiking in the forest, you’ll want a bit of sandfly repellent. They’re harmless little pests but the bites can be a nuisance if you run into them and you’re not prepared.

These are the basics to get you thinking about what to pack before you hit the road. Consider what special activities you might be doing and plan accordingly. New Zealand has great ski areas, for example. There are also great caves for diving and beaches to explore. Come prepared and you’ll be ready for anything.

Hitop Campervan

Best Times of Year to Travel New Zealand

The best time of year to travel New Zealand is in winter, hands down, June – August. The roads are quieter, the vans are cheaper and there should be more selection with pick up and drop off locations. Plus to top it off, if you love to ski or snowboard, as well as travel, what better way to tie your 2 loves together? Travellers Autobarn does offer heaters and water bottles for specific months of the years, so you won’t get cold.

Autumn would be our second recommendation to travel New Zealand, March to May. With temperatures up to 29 degrees and you will still experience those long ‘summer-type’ days. This is also a cheaper time of year to travel as well, so if you’re trying to save on budget then make sure to look at these months!

Spring, but specifically October is worth a checking out too! Prices are still sharp and the weather is starting to get warmer. Everything is more vibrant! Spring is generally known as the ‘waterfall season’ in New Zealand, so make sure you check them all out! Whale watching is starting as well, so if you love mother-nature and the great outdoors, Spring is your month.

Finally, November to February are all great months to explore New Zealand. Summer is kicking in and the weather is improving. Although rates won’t be at their lowest, there will still be a deal to be had. Warm, long and sunny days make for a relaxing adventure, however you do risk hitting the crowds and busy roads! Kids will also be on school holiday for the majority of December – January.

Kuga Campervan

Driving Tips: Rules of the Road in New Zealand

  • Drive on the Left Side of the Road – this one is laughable for locals, but for many visitors it is quite a surprise that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road.
  • Know the Speed Limits – the national speed limits are 100km/h (about 60 mph) on the open road, and it varies in urban areas. Speed limit signs usually have a red ring around the number. Consider the weather and drive accordingly.
  • Don’t Talk on the Phone – It’s illegal while driving here.
  • Learn How NZ Roundabouts Work – roundabouts move in a clockwise fashion. If you miss your turn off, go around again. It’s a bit of a learning curve (literally!)
  • Don’t Drink and Drive – If you’re under 20 years old, you are not allowed any alcohol in your system. Over 20 and the cutoff is 250 micrograms per liter of breath. It’s hard to judge what that cutoff will mean for every individual, so play it safe by waiting until you’re parked for the night before drinking.
  • Look Out for Animals on the Road – In rural areas, there can be springbok, sheep and other herds. Keep an eye out in rural areas.
  • Take Your Time – the roads in New Zealand are winding and sometimes mountainous. This means it might take more time to get somewhere than you planned by looking at a map.
  • One Lane Bridges – most bridges in New Zealand are one lane. As you approach the bridge, you’ll see a yellow sign that represents the bridge. There will be a blue sign underneath with two arrows. The bigger arrow gets priority.

Hitop Campervan

Cooking In Your Campervan

Who doesn’t love cooking in the great outdoors? Whether you’re cooking on an open campfire, or over your campervan stove, each meal really does feel special and like you deserved it.

It can be a challenge to get cheap food while travelling around New Zealand, but as long as you plan and research it is possible to eat well while you’re out on the road. Cooking in your campervan means that budget and quality can come together, as long as you’re organised. Stock up on basic essentials such as rice, pasta, potatoes, veggies and fruits. Sauces and spices can also go a long way to jazzing up your meals.

Here are Our Top 8 Recipes to Fill You Up and Keep You From Getting Hungry:

  1. Fried eggs with Spinach, Mushroom & Cherry Tomato Fry-Up. Saute some onion and garlic in a pan before adding chopped mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Add in the spinach and let it wilt before cracking in a couple of eggs. When the eggs are done take it off the heat and serve with crusty bread.
  2. Caprese salad. If you’ve been driving all day and feel like something lighter that requires no cooking then why not serve up a caprese salad. This simple salad is just fresh, ripe tomatoes and mozzarella. Drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Yum! Eat with olives and fresh bread.
  3. Classic Aussie sausage sizzle. Pick up some sausages, bread, onions and sauce. You can either cook these on a gas stove or a public bbq.
  4. Mac and Cheese. Super simple, super tasty and super cheap. You can either buy a box of the ready made stuff or cook some pasta stir in a simple homemade cheese sauce made from butter, flour, milk and cheese.
  5. Simple chilli. You can make chilli from as little as five ingredients – Garlic, tinned tomato, beef, kidney beans and chilli powder. Serve with rice, bread or tortilla chips.
  6. Veggie burritos. Simply pick up some tortilla wraps, canned corn, canned beans, red pepper, a jar of salsa, avo and cheese and you’re good to go!
  7. Pancakes. Easy to make and very easy to eat. All you need is eggs, flour, milk and a pinch of salt. Make these savoury or sweet – your choice!

Campfire nachos. Who doesn’t love nachos, especially after a long day of swimming or surfing at the beach? Grab some corn chips, refried beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream and jalapenos and get cooking.

Packing List For Your New Zealand Road Trip

If you’re renting a campervan and it’s a self-contained unit, check with us to see what is included, so you know if you need to bring any other essentials. Vehicles are often outfitted with a standard kitchen with a fridge, microwave, cookers/burners, a sink, and cupboards. Travellers Autobarn do offer a kitchen kit as well, in our premium living equipment set.

Other items you should pack, include:

  • Your international driver’s license
  • A torch/flashlight
  • Gloves and warm gear
  • Hiking shoes
  • Merino wool socks and underwear – New Zealand is the land for merino, so you may just pick this up on arrival!
  • A soft bag or backpack – not a big hard suitcase that will be difficult to store
  • Water bottle
  • Flask
  • Quick dry pants
  • Adapter plugs
  • CDs for the road
  • Pharmaceuticals (sunscreen, mosquito repellent etc).

Kuga Campervan

Responsible Freedom Camping

The Freedom Camping Act of 2011 gives campers the right to stay the night in any public area. However, “free of charge” does not mean that the campers have no responsibilities. Campers must remember:

  • Camping on private property is illegal.
  • Leaving behind litter or human waste at any campsite is illegal.
  • The emptying of onboard toilets is only permissible at legal dump stations. These are often found at holiday parks.
  • Guests must have their own waste systems, toilets and fresh water unless those amenities are provided by the campsite.
  • Don’t be a nuisance (respect the rights of others and don’t be too loud).

In addition to the many public lands of New Zealand, the Department of Conservation provides over 200 public campstes which can be searched here. This search engine allows you to filter campsites by region, landscape, facilities provided and access. Also, read up on your rights and responsibilities with this article about the Freedom Camping Act 2011 from Trip Savvy.

Campground Option

If you’re a camping enthusiast, there are a couple of options for you:

  • Traditional camping: Here is when you pay per night for a site, based on your vehicle size and number of travellers. You’ll have access to a terminal and you can recharge your campervan, dump out your waste, water, and fill your tank with fresh water.
  • DOC Campgrounds: These are sites managed by the Department of Conservation, mentioned above. They are quite quite basic but special, as they’re usually located near lakes, rivers, oceans or in beautiful forests. They’re quite popular so try and book ahead.
  • Freedom Camping: If you’re in self-contained vehicle, with a toilet and shower, you can camp pretty much anywhere in the countryside. However, you must comply with any rules of the area and leave no trace that you were there. For even more articles and blogs on freedom camping, click here.
  • Okay2Stay: This is a membership network like Native Parks that allows you to access a private network of farms, vineyards and orchards all over New Zealand, get to know the locals, stay in a safe place, and park on these properties for free. You can get off the tourist trail and gain access to the local experience. If this is something you’re interested in, consider an Okay2Stay membership.

 

5 Breathtaking Beach Camping Spots

That’s it, once you’ve got all the basics covered, it’s now time to plan your route! We give you our top 5 beaches you need to visit when in New Zealand, whether you’re camping or in a campervan, these spots should be on your list.

  1. Coromandel Peninsula – This peninsula in the northeast is famous for beaches that frame picturesque coastal scenery and forests you could spend days exploring. Visit Thames, a small city with a rich history of gold mining. Then go to Hot Water Beach and dig your own hot pool that fills from springs beneath the sands. Camp at Fletcher Campsite in Northern Coromandel, a beachfront campsite with a farm setting.
  2. Rotorua – It would be amiss to write a New Zealand travel guide and not mention the geothermal experience of Rotorua. On the fringe of New Zealand’s volcanic Central Plateau lies Rotorua, a place that has attracted tourists since the 1800’s. Located here is the world’s largest geothermal hot spring and also the remains of the 8th wonder of the world. Rotorua is a 3 hour drive from Auckland. It’s the main point of Maori tourism in New Zealand, so open your arms to total cultural immersion.
  3. Aroha Island – This is a small island about 12 km by road from Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, Northland, NZ. It is linked to the mainland by a causeway and boasts an impressive population of Brown Kiwi.
  4. Awaroa, Tasman – This beautiful spot is known as the “People’s Beach” because a group of New Zealanders worked together through crowdsource funding to buy it for the country. Turquoise waters, golden beach sand and lush, natural green bush makes this national treasure a little piece of paradise. The nearest DOC campground is an hour and a half hike away at Totaranui. The beauty is worth it, though it may not be a trek for the faint of heart.
  5. The Catlins, Otago – Porpoise Bay is a step back in time. Located at the most southern point of South Island in a remote area between Dunedin and Invercargill, it feels like you’ve gone back in time. Mobile coverage is sketchy and there are limited ATMs, but the reward is a cavalcade of beautiful beaches. Porpoise Bay is known for sighting rare Hector’s dolphins, New Zealand sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins. There’s a campsite between Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay.

One of the great things about New Zealand beaches is that even touristy spots seem vacant to international beachgoers. If you want access to truly off-the-path, unspoiled beaches, then ask some friendly locals or the Travellers Autobarn team.

Kuga Campervan

Recommended Roadtrip: Auckland to Christchurch!

Finally, we give you one of the best road trips you can do in New Zealand: Auckland to Christchurch. A drive from the capital city at the topmost part of the north island, to Christchurch, the biggest city on the south island, it is a great way to hit the highlights of New Zealand. You’ll want to take at least 9 days to enjoy the trip!

  • Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, pick up your vehicle rental and relax.
  • Day 2: Explore Auckland and the surrounding area.
  • Day 3: Drive south through the rich farmland of Waikato.
  • Day 4: Spend the day at Rotorua! Enjoy nature or check out the adventure park.
  • Day 5: Drive toward Wellington. This is a very scenic stretch of the trip!
  • Day 6: On Day 6 you will cross the Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry.
  • Day 7: Drive to the picturesque seaside town of Kaikoura!
  • Day 8: Continue south through the countryside to Christchurch.
  • Day 9: Explore the dynamic city of Christchurch!

Check out some of our New Zealand road trips for even more inspiration on your next adventure – happy watching:

We hope this has been an inspiring guide for ideas of what to do on a road trip around New Zealand. For more in-depth guides, or for even more road trip itineraries come and explore today.

driving campervan in winter

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 NZ

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

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

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…

Why should you consider camping in Winter? 

Even Popular Tourist Spots Are Quiet

If you prefer solitude and peace and quiet to crowds of tourists, winter is definitely the time to explore New Zealand.

While there are plenty of places you can go to escape the crowds even in peak season, in winter, you can drive for miles without seeing a single other car or campervan on the road. You can enjoy stunning empty beaches and landscapes without a soul in sight.

You also won’t need to book ahead at popular campsites so you have more flexibility – you can just turn up as and when it suits you.

Popular skiing locations will obviously be at their busiest times in the winter, but you’ll feel as if you have the rest of the country to yourself. It really is the ultimate wilderness experience!

winter campervanning new zealand 2

Amazing Snow-capped Vistas

Talking of stunning landscapes, you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier time in New Zealand than the winter months. Snow on the mountains makes for amazingly beautiful views and photographs that are sure to make your friends and family back home jealous.

All that snow isn’t just pretty to look at either. If you’re looking for a great opportunity to teach the kids to ski, or you want to hit the slopes and try out snowboarding for yourself, New Zealand has no shortage of mountains and plenty of powder snow in the winter months

It’s Cheaper

Travelling in the off-season means you can take advantage of cheaper rates. Renting a campervan is cheaper for a start, with prices as low as $29 a day between May to September.

This means your money goes a lot further and so you can stretch out your road trip for longer – hurray! You can also treat yourself to a night or two in a hotel along the way if you’re craving a little luxury. Hotel rates drop in the winter along with everything else.

camping in winter in new zealand

2. Best Places to Visit in New Zealand During Winter

Now that you realise winter is most definitely the best time for a campervan holiday in New Zealand, you can start planning your trip.

Of course, many of the must-visit places on the North Island and South Island are worth travelling to at any time of the year. Still, there are some extra special experiences you can enjoy in the wintertime:

  • Wanaka on the South Island has some great winter activities on offer including dog sledding and snow and ice driving experiences.
  • Queenstown holds a four-day winter festival that’s well worth a visit if you’ll be around at the end of June. With live music, street parties, and mountain races, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy.
  • Tekapo Springs in Christchurch is a must-visit for adrenaline junkies of all ages to try out the snow tubing on a 150-metre downhill slope. For a more sedate activity, you can relax in the natural hot pools with stunning views of the Southern Alps.
  • Kaikoura is a haven for animal lovers. It’s one of the best locations in the country for whale watching. Their migration period falls in June and July so you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of a humpback or blue whale. There’s also a seal colony at Kaikoura Peninsula, just south of the town.
  • The Franz Josef Glacier is at its best in the winter months. There are plenty of hiking opportunities on the glacier itself or up to the vantage point of Alex Knob.
  • Skiing is, of course, a must-do activity during the New Zealand winter. There are plenty of places to hit the slopes, with most of the ski areas found on the South Island. Cardrona Alpine Resort in Wanaka is one of the best resorts for family skiing and offers child-friendly slopes, ski school, and childcare options.

winter camping new zealand

3. New Zealand’s Best Campsites

Powered campsites are a must during the winter months so you can run a heater and stay toasty warm inside your campervan.

The best campsites offer a combination of a beautiful setting, convenient location, and great facilities. Of course, you want to plan your trip around the places you want to visit, rather than choosing the best camp sites, but it’s helpful to know what the best options are for bedding down for the night in the area you’re travelling to.

There are many great campsites that are worth staying at for a night or two in the winter months. Here are just a few of our favourites:

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park

Within easy walking distance of the town centre, this campsite offers powered sites with great shower and kitchen facilities, Wi-Fi, and even a playground for the kids.

https://holidaypark.net.nz

Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park

Only a couple of minutes from the lake and a 10-minute walk into town, the location of this campsite can’t be beat. The spacious grassy powered sites are serviced with full amenities including toilets, showers, kitchen, a children’s playground and small petting zoo.

http://wanakalakeview.co.nz

Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park

After a busy day of sightseeing, you’re sure to appreciate the thermal pools and swimming pool that are free for campsite guests. What more could you ask from a camping spot? Other facilities include a BBQ area, children’s mountain bike track, playground, TV lounge, laundry, kitchen, and shower block.

http://rotoruathermal.co.nz

 Download the full guide for more top campsites.

campervanning in winter new zealand

4. Free Camping Spots in New Zealand

Dotted all around New Zealand are “freedom” camping spots that allow you to park up and stay the night for free. These camping spots don’t usually have any facilities such as toilets, and you’ll need a blue “self contained” sticker on your campervan to be eligible to use one. Travellers Autobarn offers self-contained vehicles that meet this requirement.

It’s important to use one of the designated areas and not just stop your campervan wherever you want. Even if you’re in a remote location and think you’re not bothering anyone, you can be fined for camping in a restricted area. These fines were put in place in 2011 to protect the environment.

To find out where you can camp for free, you can use the official NZ camping map app, which includes over 500 free camping spots on both the North and South Island. You can install this handy app on your phone and the maps even work offline so you’ll be able to find somewhere to camp for the night, wherever you are.

winter camping new zealand

5. What to Take on a New Zealand Campervan Trip in the Winter

Packing for your first campervan holiday can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ll be travelling in winter, but there’s no need to get stressed about it. If you forget anything, it’s usually easy to buy while you’re on the road.

Of course, you should pack your usual clothes, documents, toiletries, and other bits and pieces that you’d take when travelling. For a campervan holiday in the winter you should also consider bringing along the following:

  • Plenty of bedding – take an extra duvet or sleeping bag for those chilly nights.
  • Lots of warm clothes – dressing in layers is best as the temperature can be quite changeable throughout the day. This gives you the flexibility to just strip off or add an extra layer.
  • Hot water bottles – to keep you extra toasty in bed.
  • Portable heater – will heat your campervan to a cosy temperature when you’re staying at a powered campsite.
  • Snow chains – you might not need these, depending on your itinerary, but they’re a requirement for certain roads and mountain passes on the South Island in extreme weather. You can hire snow chains at the same time you pick up your campervan and remember to check the forecast before you go!
  • Plenty of coins – most campsites have coin-operated laundry and shower facilities so you’ll need plenty of spare change to use them. Start stocking up on coins before you leave.
  • Torch – a good torch or headlamp is essential for those late night trips to the toilet block, or if you want to conserve your campervan battery by not turning on the lights. Make sure you have spare batteries too.
  • ·Extension cable and electrical adaptors
  • First aid kit  – including bandages, Elastoplast, antiseptic cream, painkillers, bite cream, diarrhoea medication, etc.
  • Insect repellent – mosquitoes and sand flies aren’t so much of a problem in winter but it’s best to be prepared.
  • Music – most rental campervans come with a stereo. Make the most of it and create a road-trip playlist that will help you to remember your adventure every time you hear it in the future.
  • Books – you’re unlikely to have internet access everywhere you go and the internet at campsites can be painstakingly slow. Instead of getting frustrated, enjoy the opportunity to curl up with a good book instead. See the end of this guide for some helpful book suggestions.
  • Food – stock up on packet pasta and noodles for when you need a quick and easy meal in the middle of nowhere.
  • Hiking boots – the best of the country is off the beaten track so be prepared to do some walking to see it.

camping in winter new zealand

6. Best Road Trips on the North Island

The climate is mild on the North Island in winter. Temperatures in Auckland are usually between 9 and 15°C. The scenery on the North Island isn’t any less impressive in winter and while it will be too cold to swim in the ocean, there are plenty of natural hot springs to enjoy.

1. Auckland to Wellington

The “Thermal Highway” runs from north to south along some of New Zealand’s most interesting volcanic sites, including the Rotorua geysers and the Lake Taupo crater. These places are not only great fun to explore and to get some amazing holiday snaps, but they’re also a great educational opportunity if you’re travelling with kids and trying to squeeze in some “road schooling”. There’s also the Hobbiton movie set at the start of the route, which is a must-stop for Lord of the Rings fans.

For the grown-ups, this route also includes some of the island’s best wineries, so you can relax and explore with a drink or two. Plan around two weeks for the whole trip, with plenty of stop-off.

winter road trip in new zealand

2. Taumarunui to Stratford

The 150 km “Forgotten World Highway” is a driving experience to remember (although perhaps not for the faint of heart!), with roads passing over mountains and alongside river gorges.

Taumarunui is a friendly town with plenty of shops, accommodation, and eateries. There’s so much to see along the way including Damper Falls, the Whangamomona Saddle, and the enigmatically named “Bridge to Somewhere”.

Plan three days for this trip and use Stratford as a base for exploring Mount Taranaki and Egmont National Park.

Download the full guide for details on the Pacific Highway roadtrip!

hire a campervan in winter new zealand

7. Best Road Trips on the South Island

The South Island is arguably at its best in winter when its impressive mountain ranges are capped with snow. Expect the weather to be chilly (but the scenery more than makes up for this) but there are still places on the South Island with a mild winter, such as Nelson, which boasts the highest annual amount of sunshine in the country.

1. Queenstown to Milford Sound

The stunning drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is considered by many to be one of the best road trips in the world. You’ll pass through snowy landscapes, majestic mountain ranges, and ancient rain forests.

The full drive is around eight hours and is best split over a few days with stops for attractions like the mirror lakes and the Fiordland National Park.

2. Queenstown to Christchurch

This road trip takes you through some of the best that the South Island has to offer in winter with plenty of opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, and relaxing under the stars.

Along the way you can visit must-see tourist spots including Wanaka, Lake Tekapo, and the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, all which offer some of the country’s most stunning scenery and are particularly spectacular in winter.

Plan around 10 days for this trip, which is enough for a few days to explore all Queenstown has to offer, with a day or two spent at other spots along the way.

 Download the full guide for more roadtrips.

8. Top Cities to Visit in New Zealand

New Zealand is famous for its sweeping landscapes and beautiful wilderness locations, but it also offers exciting metropolitan cities.

Balance out your campervan trip by spending a few nights in the city in between exploring the countryside. You’ll also find, cities have some of the best-equipped campsites and, of course, a great opportunity to stock up on supplies.

hire a campervan in auckland

Auckland

Auckland on the North Island is the largest city in New Zealand. It is also an international flight hub so there’s a good chance your holiday will start off here.

There’s lots to see and do here, including museums and art galleries, parks, and of course many world-class bars and restaurants.

Wellington

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.

Wellington’s attractions include Oriental Bay – the city beach, and plenty of opportunities for walks and outdoor activities. Food is also king in the city with many restaurants, food trucks, and night markets.

Christchurch

Christchurch suffered massive damage from the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 but its spirit has not been broken. Most of the original attractions are still standing or have been re-built.

The Botanic Gardens is definitely worth a visit and a ride on the Christchurch Gondola will take you to the top of Mt Cavendish for a bird’s eye view of the city.

camping in queenstown
Queenstown

Queenstown on the South Island is a popular hub for adventure sports all through the year, including sky diving, bungee jumping, and white water rafting. In the winter months, skiing is the main attraction and the town celebrates the start of the season with their four-day winter festival.

Nelson

Nelson is a small city but it’s worth a mention as it’s so popular with visitors for its laidback vibe and sunny climate. The region boasts a long history of creative culture and it’s a great hub for exploring the surrounding areas such as Kahurangi National Park, the Abel Tasman National Park, and Golden Bay.

driving campervan in winter

9. Driving a Campervan in Winter in New Zealand

To drive a campervan in New Zealand, you’ll need an international driving licence, which you must keep with you while driving. The legal driving age in New Zealand is 18 and you can rent a campervan from this age too.

Drivers in New Zealand drive on the left side of the road, which can take a little getting used to if you’re from a country that drives on the right. As some of New Zealand’s quieter roads are almost empty of traffic in the winter months, it’s not unknown for visitors to drive for several kilometres on the wrong side of the road before they realise their mistake!

Driving in winter can be more hazardous, especially on the South Island where snow and ice can make the roads slippery. You might need snow chains for some of the more remote mountain roads in winter. Road safety in New Zealand is generally very good and roads are usually closed when snow starts to pose a safety hazard.

It’s best to research the route you plan to take by consulting guidebooks and searching online before you set off. Some roads are unsealed, which require careful and slow driving. Steep and winding roads can also be difficult to navigate for inexperienced drivers. Your insurance may not cover driving on unsealed roads so make sure to check this before you plan your route. 

winter campervanning in new zealand

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…

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 our guides page! All our guides provide plenty of information and have been written by our own staff and experienced campervan travelers throughout New Zealand.

Start reading through each one of them and get prepared for your campervan roadtrip journey – our guides include information about best roadtrip adventures, how to get prepared for your first campervan journey, how to travel New Zealand during winter and much much more…

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