Hiring a campervan and hitting the road is hands down the best way to see New Zealand’s South Island. It offers you the ultimate freedom and flexibility to travel at your own pace and by your own rules. It also gives you the chance to camp for free, or ‘freedom camp’. This means sleeping under the stars and wake up with spectacular wilderness views! Here is our guide to freedom camping in the South Island, for the most epic and cost-effective adventure of your lifetime!
What is freedom camping?
Freedom camping is the practice of setting up a tent or parking your campervan in an area designated for camping for free. That’s right – there are plenty of places in New Zealand that let you sleep the night without costing a single cent! Rather than staying at a busy campground or caravan park, some prefer to venture into the wild and stay at more isolated locations. By freedom camping, you can stay in some of the most picturesque locations in the South Island and avoid the cost of park fees. However, it does come with its cons. The popularity of freedom camping in New Zealand, and especially the South Island, has had an increasingly negative effect on the country’s clean environment due to litter and waste. There are typically no toilet, shower, or waste facilities when you’re in the middle of nowhere (as you would expect). This has resulted in strict laws being put in place to prevent how and where people freedom camp.
What are the rules of freedom camping?
To legally and respectfully freedom camp, you will need to be aware of a few things before beginning your South Island adventure. Firstly, make sure your campervan is ‘self-contained’ by either having a built-in toilet or a portable toilet on board. This is a legal requirement in New Zealand and you will need to have a certified sticker on your window to avoid copping a fine of $200. Some other good measures of practice include:
Always take garbage away with you until you find a proper place to dispose of it.
Use proper toilet facilities or your onboard toilet at all times.
Try to camp away from residential areas and always keep noise to a minimum
Avoid lighting fires. If you do light a fire make sure you keep it small and douse it out with water before you leave.
Always respect the environment and the locals. Leave no trace of your stay.
Where can I freedom camp in the South Island?
There are plenty of places you can camp for free in the South Island. Whether you prefer to be lakeside, by a beach or within a forest, the opportunities are endless. There are many freedom camping apps available to help you locate sites in New Zealand, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them. Here are five of our favourite freedom campsites in the South Island:
1. Greyneys – Located within the stunning Arthurs Pass National Park, this free campsite is perfect for travellers who want to enjoy the serenity of the outdoors. There are plenty of great hiking tracks around and it’s a great base to explore the century-old tracks in the national park. 2.Robin Hood Bay – Camp next to the beach in the Marlborough Sounds region of the South Island. Go fishing, visit the nearby Magnet Bay beach for a surf, and look out for Hectors Dolphins in the stunning blue waters. 3. Thicket Burn – Located on the outskirts of Fiordland National Park, and just 5 km’s from New Zealand’s deepest lake. There are toilets, picnic tables, and water available in an incredibly peaceful surrounding. 4. Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, Lake Face Creek – A great spot to stop for the night near the iconic town of Queenstown. Here, you can wake up to stunning views of the lake and mountains and nearby beautiful waterfalls.
5. Lake Pukaki Campground – Located in the centre of the South Island, this is a must stop if you’re making the journey past. Located on the beautiful Lake Pukaki, you can wake up with a mountain backdrop of Mount Cook. There is a basic restroom here, but other than that, it’s all natural!
Across New Zealand, you will find signs that indicate whether freedom camping is prohibited. Always respect these signs, there are plenty of amazing places you can freedom camp legally. Most importantly, enjoy your campervan journey in one of the most naturally spectacular countries in the world.
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.