An essential guide to camping in New Zealand

camper bikes lake mountains
Gareth Meade
7 Apr, 2021
6 min read

Tips and tricks for planning a NZ camping trip

New Zealand is all about natural attractions. From the “100% Pure” tourism campaigns to the Lord of the Rings vistas, the country has a reputation for untouched landscapes, welcoming wilderness, and spectacular scenery. And the best way to experience all of that picture-postcard perfection is undoubtedly by camping: it’s cheap, fun, and puts as little civilisation between you and beautiful New Zealand as possible.

A campervan hire is the simplest way to get out and explore, especially for visitors to the country. Fly in to Auckland International Airport, proceed elsewhere on another domestic flight if desired, pick up your home on wheels and you are sorted for both transport and accommodation. Campervans are very popular in New Zealand, and fit in well with the laid-back lay of the land and its people. 

Holiday parks

The privately-owned holiday parks dotted around the country are on the expensive end of the scale, depending on location, facilities, and whether you choose a site that is powered or unpowered. Although a touch pricey, they do add a little luxury to your trip - most have shared kitchens, bathrooms with hot showers, flush toilets, and laundry facilities. Some even offer pools, playgrounds, games rooms, and entertainment. A good camping strategy is to book a holiday park stay once every few nights, so you can catch up on laundry, get in a hot shower and enjoy a little space before roughing it again.

Two picnic tables on a green field.
A tent pitched beside a lake.

The Top 10 Holiday Parks chain is a good resource for finding a place to stay, with 49 high-quality parks across New Zealand to choose from. Alternatively, do an online search and see what comes up. You might find a unique spot such as Jackson’s Retreat near Arthur’s Pass, where campervans park undercover in custom-built barns, or eco-friendly Solscape in Raglan where you can rent a teepee and help out in the rambling vege garden.

Department of Conservation (DoC) campsites

For some “real” camping, the DoC maintains low-cost campsites in National Parks and on government-owned land. There are more than 200, some in spectacularly scenic locations. Fees vary based on campsite category:

  • Serviced campsites have flush toilets, basic camp kitchens, hot showers, rubbish bins, picnic tables, and occasionally, laundry facilities. Fees are around $15 per night for adults and $7.50 for children.

  • Scenic campsites are in sought-after locations and have a more limited range of services. Toilets, tap water, and vehicle or boat access are guaranteed, and they may also have wood BBQs, cold showers, cooking shelters and rubbish bins. They cost $10 per night for an adult and $5 per night for a child.

  • Standard campsites offer toilets (usually of the “longdrop” variety), a water supply which may be a stream or lake, and vehicle or boat access at the minimum. Some have extra facilities such as cold showers, rubbish bins or a cooking shelter, but these are not guaranteed. Adults pay $6 per night and children $3.

  • Basic campsites require self-sufficiency. They generally have simple toilets and water which may not be from a tap. Some are not accessible by road - but they are free to use.

You can find and book DoC campsites on their website.

Freedom camping is permitted on public conservation land, except in areas where it is expressly prohibited, indicated by signage.

Free camping

The rules about freedom camping in New Zealand can be confusing, so it is best to be as informed as possible. Do some research pre-trip and ask at iSites around the country for local regulations and information about any free camping sites. You could also download an app such as Camper Mate to help you track down sites, rubbish bins, Wi-Fi access, and much more.

Freedom camping is permitted on public conservation land, except in areas where it is expressly prohibited, indicated by signage. Some places restrict freedom camping to self-contained campervans only - this is something to take into account when deciding on a vehicle to rent. There are also privately-owned free camping spots around the country - such as Oparau Roadhouse near Kawhia, which allows campervans to stay for the night, or the Purangi Estate in the Coromandel where campervans can park up with the purchase of a pizza and a drink at the funky winery. Local knowledge is key to uncovering these gems - so chat with locals or fellow campers you meet along the way!

Some sheep in a field with mountains in the background.
A right facing white campervan.

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A sign with a Kiwi on it by the road.

Fauna

New Zealand has one huge advantage over many other countries when it comes to camping - there aren’t many critters to watch out for! With no dangerous land-based wild animals, no snakes, or deadly spiders, it is certainly a great place to get out there and explore (Australia is a little bit different!) Mosquitoes will be your biggest concern in NZ, and possums eating any food you may leave out. 

Fires

Fire safety is an issue, especially in the drier summer months. Permits can be required for seasons and/or certain areas, and you will see signs dotted around New Zealand which indicate fire danger status. Again, it is best to ask at iSites or consult with locals to know whether you may light a fire. Practice common sense at all times, and put your fire out before going to sleep. If you see a wildfire, call 111 and ask for the fire service. 

A campfire by the beach.
te anau kepler track trekking

The great outdoors

Your own two feet are the best way to see some of New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes, and it is important to stay safe while doing so. Going hiking? Take necessary gear including warm clothing, food, and a cellphone. It is also recommended that you inform someone of your intentions, by email or in person, then check in with them when you return. Outdoors Intentions forms can be found on the Adventure Smart website and emailed to a trusted contact. 

Equipment

A camping trip in New Zealand requires much the same gear as anywhere else. Here are some things to remember:

  • Bug spray - especially in the summertime! This can be bought at any supermarket or department store.

  • Sunscreen - this is extremely important in New Zealand, which is directly below a damaged part of the ozone layer. Burn times are very short, so cover up and wear high-SPF sunscreen at all times.

  • Folding table and chairs - You won’t want to be stuck inside your campervan. Check with your rental company whether you can add some outdoor furniture to your hire and enjoy alfresco dining!

  • A first aid kit - you can pick up some basic items at a supermarket before you set out.

  • Clothing for all weathers - New Zealand’s climate is very unpredictable thanks to its location between two oceans. Bring shorts and sandals, but also a raincoat and sweatshirt!

  • GPS - these are often offered as an optional extra by rental suppliers, but we would argue they are a necessity, especially on New Zealand’s rural roads! 

  • A flashlight - Kiwis call them torches and they are an essential item for any camping trip. Midnight trips from the camper to the toilet are an issue without one!