Camping is hands down the coolest way to travel New Zealand… and, fellow budget backpackers, it can also be the cheapest! 

Of course, it completely depends on how you do it. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to camping in New Zealand. You can rough it wild-style or you can splash out on a campsite with a few extra comforts…

Don’t worry, no judgement here. I’m the first one to put my hand up for a hot shower. 

There are a few different types of campsites in New Zealand; these include DOC campsites, freedom campsites, private campsites and holiday parks. Each offers something a little different from the last…

That’s where I come in! As The Broke Backpackers resident Kiwi, I’m here to spill the beans on all the best spots to pitch ya tent across the country. I’ve explored it all, north to south, and I’ve got some pretty incredible spots to share with you. I’ll also give you the download on what each type of campsite is all about – there are a few rules you need to know before you hit the road. 

So, without further ado – let me take you through everything I know about camping in New Zealand.

dani sitting outside a tent while camping in new zealand
Let me take you through everything I know about camping in NZ :))
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

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When’s The Best Time to Go Camping in New Zealand?

The best thing about visiting New Zealand is it doesn’t get as unbearably hot as it does over the ditch in Australia. You can actually function without sitting inside with the aircon on full blast (well, most of the time). This is ideal for camping! No one likes to wake up in a hot, clammy tent now, do they?

New Zealand is at its peak from December through to April for camping. Minimal rainfall (usually) and nice warm days with cooler nights. Dreamy.

van parked up on a beach in New Zealand
You can’t beat a Kiwi summer.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

I’d avoid the end of December/ start of January time as this is when most Kiwis are off work and school, and mate, these guys LOVE to pitch a tent. As a result, many of the campgrounds are booked out and absolutely chocka during this time.

What to Expect from Camping in New Zealand

Camping in New Zealand is MASSIVE with travellers and locals alike. Not only does it take you off the beaten track but it’s also the best way to travel on a budget in New Zealand.

From the top of the north island to the bottom of the south, New Zealand is BLESSED with some incredible camping spots that will get you right up close to nature. Camping isn’t always comfy and can push us outside of our comfort zone but camping in New Zealand will no doubt reward you with 10/10 experiences and views.

There are four main types of camping in New Zealand – DOC camping, freedom camping, private campsites and holiday parks. I’m going to run you through what each is all about and where you can find the best spots.

Let’s dive into it.

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1. Department of Conservation (DOC) Camping

This is where you pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere at designated DOC campsites. Most of the time these are not bookable but instead work on a first-come first-served basis. This type of camping often gets you off the beaten track and is one of the best things to do in New Zealand if you want to embrace the country’s incredible nature.

There are a couple of types of DOC campsites across New Zealand:

  • Basic Campsites – as the name suggests, they are VERY basic but also free campsites in New Zealand. There are often no facilities here, so if you’re dreaming of a hot shower and a barista-made coffee when you wake up – think again. These basic campsites only allow for self-contained vehicles (those with the famous blue stickers to prove they are fully self-sufficient). So no tenting here, peeps.
  • Backcountry Campsites – these are slightly more up-market than the basic campsites and are tenter friendly – yipee! You can often find a couple of picnic tables, a long drop (a dry toilet) and drinking water if you’re lucky. These will set you back around $6-18 NZD (cheaper than NZ’s best hostels) but vary depending on the site. Some of the more scenic spots are more popular and are at a higher price end. Visitors usually pay via an honesty box on-site – so make sure you’re honest, friends. We love DOC and they deserve our few bucks.
Freedom camping at a DOC site in New Zealand
Thanks, DOC.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

Here are my favourite DOC Campsites across New Zealand:

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island
view of snow capped mountains in the south island of new zealand
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island

White Horse Hill Campground

Sleeping under the stars and nestled between mountains, this spot is seriously MAGICAL. It offers flush toilets, a cooking shelter and drinking water (in summer only). This backcountry site will set you back between $15-$18 NZD.

Fiordland National Park, South Island
A car crossing a river on a dirt track with mountains in the distance near Queenstown, New Zealand
Fiordland National Park, South Island

Cascade Creek Campsite

Covered in lush grass and surrounded by majestic mountains, this is another incredible DOC campsite to add to your South Island road trip itinerary. This campsite offers toilets, a cooking shelter and water from the stream at $15 NZD per night.

Coromandel, North Island
two friends sitting outside a campervan in new zealand
Coromandel, North Island

Port Jackson Campsite

This one is for you beach bums. The campsite offers fewer facilities – a cooking shelter, a cold shower, a dry toilet (long drop) and untreated water. However, at $10 NZD a night this place provides sea views at an absolute steal.

Sweet, sweet FREEDOM…

Here at The Broke Backpacker, we love freedom! And there’s no freedom as sweet (and CHEAP) as camping around the world.

We’ve been camping on our adventures for over 10 years, so take it from us: the MSR HUBBA HUBBA is the best damn tent for adventuring…

View on REI Read Our Review

2. Freedom Camping

Back in the day, campers could roam free pitching their tents and sending up camp wherever they pleased. The freedom of wild camping in New Zealand is pretty damn cool. After a day of exploring, finding the perfect spot to set up camp wherever you please is a freeing feeling.

However, these days there are a lot more regulations around freedom or wild camping in New Zealand. It is still doable, but you’ll need to check out the DOC rules unless you want a hefty ol’ fine.

Technically, you are allowed to camp on public conservation land (except at DOC reserves) if the land is not listed as a prohibited (no camping) site. However, there are a lot of prohibited sites… you’ll see that many places that you visit in New Zealand will have no camping signs.

campervan parking in new zealand at sunset surrounding by green hills and grass
Blue sticker spots pop off over the new year period. Get in early.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

If you’re travelling New Zealand in a campervan, then freedom camping is ideal for you. There are many designated self-contained freedom camping areas.

These are restricted to self-contained vehicles (those with the famous blue stickers to prove they are fully self-sufficient). Usually, these spots are well sign-posted – you can check online or head to the local i-Site office in the town you’re visiting for more information.

The main reason DOC has had to enforce the rules is because people were taking the piss in terms of how they left the place. Pick up your rubbish, be respectful and leave no trace <3

The best freedom camping spots in New Zealand are:

Taranaki, North Island
A campervan covered in cool graffiti in a palm treelined campsite
Taranaki, North Island

Dawson Falls Carpark

Located in Egmont National Park, Dawson Falls Carpak is ideal for the adventurous among us. Perched up at 902m altitude, this camping spot has some pretty INSANE views and is close to waterfalls and hiking trails. Again this one is for self-contained vehicles but also provides toilets at the visitor centre and a picnic area.

Kaikoura, South Island
Kaikoura, South Island

Jimmy Armers Beach

At this FREE camping spot in Kaikoura, you’ll be a mere five-minute walk from Seal Colony, wake up to views of the beach and find yourself close to the iconic Kaikoura Seafood BBQ. However, we are not the only ones who know about this spot – there are only six spots so get in early if you want to snag one for yourself!

3. Private Campsites

These guys are often a nice mix of the DOC campsites and the Holiday Parks I’ll talk about next. They offer nice, maintained facilities but not all the extras of a Holiday Park. They are often family-owned and sometimes the family also lives on-site. I love it when they do as they often spill all the tea on the best local spots in town!

Private campgrounds will often offer a space to set up your own tent or park your van. However, others will already have a tent set up for you. Private campsites have also expanded into the New Zealand glamping scene, which is “luxury camping”.

dani's friends sitting outside a tent at a campsite on the beach in new zealand
Waking up to the sound of the sea at Ruapuke Campground
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

These are pretty extravagant places to stay but are built in the form of a “tent” and located in nature – they are pretty incredible but they’re not cheap; sometimes NZ can be expensive!

Okuti Valley, South Island
Farm Stay Tree Tents in Okuti Valley, NZ
Okuti Valley, South Island

Farm Stay Tree Tents in Okuti Valley

This campsite is pretty epic, the owners have set up a tent that hangs in the trees!! How cool is that? The campsite has a kitchen and lounge area for you, compositing toilets and hot outdoor showers. Wake up under the trees while being just a short walk to beaches and cafes.

Matakana, North Island
Glamping Tepee near Matakana
Matakana, North Island

Glamping Tepee

Surrounded by native trees, you can’t help but unwind, relax and reconnect with nature here. The tepee tents are pre-set up for you and have a small deck with chairs for you to relax on and soak in the views. There is a shared bathroom and lounge just a short distance away. This is glamping, baby!

4. Holiday Parks

This is where you pay to stay in a designated area that is set up with toilets, hot showers, and a kitchen. It’s camping but with the added comfort of warm showers and entertainment. In many holiday parks, you’ll find extras like a pool, restaurant, or playground for the kids.

Yep… they can come pretty deluxe these days.

Us Kiwis grew up on this type of camping – everyone’s family had their usual that they frequented during the summer.

Holiday Parks usually offer powered and unpowered sites – if you have a camper, this will be music to your ears as you will need to charge that puppy up if you want to use electricity during your stay. Some holiday parks also offer cabins or other forms of accommodation on-site, if that is more up your alley!

Papamoa Beach, North Island
Tasman Holiday Parks, NZ
Papamoa Beach, North Island

Tasman Holiday Parks

This Holiday Park is like the Ritz of camping. Located right on Papamoa Beach, you’ll find a beautifully big pool to lounge around and a playground to keep the kids busy. Spend your days exploring the nearby shops or enjoying a day at the beach. Whether you want to pitch a tent, park up your van or crash in one of their cabins – it’s up to you!

Jacksons, South Island
Jackson’s Retreat Alpine Holiday Park, NZ
Jacksons, South Island

Jackson’s Retreat Alpine Holiday Park

Nestled into nature, this Holiday Park offers campsites AND loads of other types of accommodation options – including dome camping! The campsite is near to some incredible bush walks where you can find glow worms & waterfalls.

What to Pack for Camping in New Zealand

Osprey Aether AG 70

Osprey Aether 70L Backpack

Ya can’t go backpacking anywhere without a blasted backpack! Words cannot describe what a friend the Osprey Aether has been to The Broke Backpacker on the road. It’s had a long and illustrious career; Ospreys don’t go down easily.

feathered friend backpacking sleeping bag

Feathered Friends Swift 20 YF

My philosophy is that with an EPIC sleeping bag, you can sleep anywhere. A tent is a nice bonus, but a real sleek sleeping bag means you can roll out anywhere in a and stay warm in a pinch. And the Feathered Friends Swift bag is about as premium as it gets.

Keeps Your Brews Hot and Bevvies Cold
Grayls Geopress Water Bottle
Keeps Your Brews Hot and Bevvies Cold

Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle

Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.

So You Can See
So You Can See

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

Every traveller should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. When you’re camping, hiking, or even if the power just went out, a top-quality headlamp is a MUST. The Petzl Actik Core is an awesome piece of kit because it’s USB chargeable—batteries begone!

Never Leave Home Without It!
packable travel medical kit
Never Leave Home Without It!

First Aid Kit

Never go off the beaten track (or even on it) without your first aid kit! Cuts, bruises, scrapes, third-degree sunburn: a first aid kit will be able to handle most of these minor situations.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

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Final Thoughts on Camping in New Zealand

Camping is the best way to experience New Zealand. The freedom of camping means that you can stay in some pretty incredible places that you may otherwise never get to see, let alone stay in! Whether you’re up for wild camping or the luxury livin’ of a holiday park, New Zealand’s camping landscape caters for every camper – no matter your style or budget.

Overall, DOC and Freedom Camping are definitely the cheapest way to go as they are either free or very low cost. Whereas, Holiday Parks and Private Campsites can vary price-wise depending on the bells and whistles that they come with.

Growing up with New Zealand as my backyard, I’ve been blessed with some pretty awesome camping experiences. It’s such a cool (and budget-friendly!) way to explore the country. Wherever you end up pitching up, I’d love to hear which spots were your favourite – let me know in the comments <3

Looking for more info on visiting New Zealand?
new zealand flag next to a red tent set up in the forest
Your New Zealand camping adventure awaits!
Photo: @danielle_wyatt