Road tripping around New Zealand in a campervan is a terrific way to see the country. But when night falls, it can be tricky to find a decent place to park your home on wheels. Here are the best campsites on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand to spend the night.
Road Tripping New Zealand
With the Trans-Tasman travel bubble finally open – nomads rejoice – van loads of people will be crossing the ditch to discover the best New Zealand has to offer on four wheels.
Although New Zealand’s known for its abundance of free camping locations, the last thing you want is to be driving around in circles after a long day of adventuring looking for your spot under the stars. Save that extra fuel and add these camp spots to your list.
Trailing New Zealand in a decked-out rig is an experience high on many travellers’ bucket lists that I have to say is an absolute corker.
I like a laid-back approach to travel. Knowing exactly where I’ll end up at the end of the day isn’t a high priority. Just in case somewhere gets me so stoked I’d rather not leave for another 24 hours.
But…. when your accommodation is on four wheels it’s comforting to know you’ll find somewhere to pull up for the night.
Get your New Zealand plans ready and have these go-to campsites on stand-by.
Best Campervan Campgrounds on The North Island
1. Foreshore Reserve Freedom Camping
Closest Town: Napier
Distance Away: 2km
Foreshore Reserve Freedom Camping is far enough from Napier’s town centre that all you hear is the waves, but close enough that you can walk along the beach pathway into town. A stone’s throw from the water you’ll find eight designated camp spots for non-self-contained vehicles.
This is the only campsite that doesn’t require self-containment in the area so if you are self-contained there’s an almost identical campsite up the road that’s for you.
Basic facilities include public toilets and drinking water, but the ocean is right there for a freshen up. Wake-up early enough to make a cup of joe and watch the sunrise at the beach.
Hot Tip! A maximum stay of two consecutive nights is permitted here. Share it around!
2. Reids Farm – Hipapatua Recreational Reserve
Closest Town: Taupo
Distance Away: 3.5km
Right on the edge of the Waikato River you’ll find the bustling Reids Farm campsite on the Hipapatua Recreational Reserve. There are oodles of spots here, it’s probably the biggest free camping site we came across.
The bonus is of course the crystal-clear river that runs past – literally runs – so be careful of the strong current when swimming!
Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes
A bushwalk starts from the campsite to the famous Huka Falls, about a 10km loop. Take your bathers as there’s a hot spring located along the way.
A handful of portaloos, public toilets, and dishwashing stations are located on-site. Campers can stay three nights over a two week period.
Hot Tip! River water can be taken for drinking but make sure to boil it beforehand.
3. Lake Okareka Campsite
Closest Town: Rotorua
Distance Away: 11km
Can’t get enough of the trails at Rotovegas? Don’t want to stay right in the hustle and bustle of it all? With the views you get from your van, you can’t complain about the campground Lake Okareka. Frolic in the lake and lap up the peace and quiet.
The 12 sites fill up by 6-7pm so you might have to cut your ride short, but don’t worry the Redwoods are just around the corner!
Head west from Whakarewarewa along Tarawera Road and take the Okareka Loop Road exit. Pass the first campsite, Boyes Beach, and drive a little further to the quieter Lake Okareka site. The mist on the lake in the morning is worth it.
Hot Tip! Drive safely in New Zealand. Know the road rules and be careful driving over passes.
Best Campervan Campgrounds in The South Island
4. Cascade Creek Campground
Closest Town: Te Anau Downs
Distance Away: 41.5km
Cost: $15 Adult, $7.50 Child
Milford Sound is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site and, although it’d be extraordinary, freedom camping in the national park is off-limits.
Head back towards Te Anau along the Milford Road for around 50 minutes where you’ll find Cascade Creek Campground. There are 120 sites for tents and campers including several toilet facilities.
It’s situated on the tail end of Lake Gunn next to its offshoot the Eglinton River, which is freakin’ freezing by the way! The Lake Gunn nature walk is also near the entrance of the campground if you’re eager to stretch the legs.
Hot Tip! Don’t be tempted to wash your dishes in the stream! Remember this is near a World Heritage site. Collect the water and take it back to your campsite for use.
Read more: Road Trip From Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound
5. Albert Town Campground
Closest Town: Wanaka
Distance Away: 6.5km
You’ll find the Albert Town Campground just outside of Wanaka right on the banks of the picture-perfect Clutha River. Follow the main road out of Albert Town and over the bridge where there are plenty of sites on either side of the main road.
If you’re after some adventure the Dean Banks mountain bike track, an 11.5km loop, starts right beside the campground. There’s also a map at the check-in point with heaps of swimming spots and walking trails listed.
This spot has loads of amenities for low maintenance campervans including washing up sinks, toilets, and bins. It’s a first-in first-served campsite that’s super popular over the New Zealand holiday period, so make sure you get there early to secure a good spot.
Tip: The little ducks around the campsite wait for you to feed them, I know they’re cute but try to resist! Feeding wildlife has long term consequences.
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
6. Lake MacGregor Campsite
Closest Town: Lake Tekapo
Distance Away: 12km
Only a short drive from Tekapo, Lake McGregor is a hidden gem. A much smaller lake than Lake Tekapo but there’s no light pollution here, so this place is for the stargazers!
The campsite overlooks the lake which despite the chill once the sun goes down will be luring you in for a dip under the stars. In summer, the famous lupin flowers are scattered all around the paddocks near the campsite.
Take the Godley Peaks road turn-off near the Tekapo Aerodrome and follow to Lake Alexandrina. There’s a bumpy gravel road near the end of the drive but only lasts about five minutes.
There are only basic toilet facilities here but a decent number of spots. Make sure to bring cash for the honesty box at the entrance.
Hot Tip! The water at this facility isn’t potable so BYO.
7. Aussie Bay Campground
Closest Town: Picton
Distance Away: 16.3km
The Marlborough Sounds drive from Nelson to Picton is one you’ve got to take if you want to take the ferry over to Wellington. Be sure to leave time for a stay at this little ripper of a spot – Aussie Bay Campground.
A short cliff walk meanders up from the campsite and the beach is perfect for a peaceful swim as the sun’s rising.
With only six sites available, this is a first come first served campground. You know the drill. Get there early and you shall receive a prime spot! The entrance is easy to miss when you’re gawking at the Sounds so pay attention when you pass the Grove.
Hot Tip! Make sure you leave enough space for others. Don’t be a campsite hog.