One of the best things about travelling in New Zealand is camping in beautiful landscapes. Along a lake, by a river, in a forest. Camping in New Zealand is an adventure. And many of the campsites are free of charge or very affordable.
If you want facilities like showers, a kitchen and wifi, there are holiday parks you can stay in. But if you don’t care too much about those creature comforts, you have a whole lot more choice and a whole lot more opportunity of staying in exciting, wonderful places.
First of all there are the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites. On our previous trip to New Zealand we had made good use of these campsites that provide drop toilets and often have running water. Most DOC campsites are in great locations and you only pay a small fee per person, around $6, which you put in an envelope in a box at the self-registration stand. You can get a map that has all the DOC campsites marked from the Tourism Office.
Then there are also a lot of freedom camping opportunities. Freedom camping in New Zealand is quite regulated, often you will see signs that prohibit camping and you can certainly get a fine for camping where it is not allowed. So you might need some help to find good free camping spots. And the best help you can get comes from smart phone apps. We love using the app Campermate. But there are more apps like Wikicamps and Rankers NZ. These apps show you all the different spots on a map and contain useful information. You can find out if you have to be a self-contained vehicle (so have your own toilet on board), if there is a small fee to pay, if there are any facilities, etcetera.
Our experience with camping in New Zealand
During our recent trip in New Zealand we were on a quest to stay at the cheapest, nicest campsites possible. And we were quite successful at it! After the wedding we had come to New Zealand for, we travelled down south along the Southern Scenic Route. We spent two nights freedom camping in that area, once very close to a road but there was plenty of space and we could make a campfire there. The second spot was lovely, right next to a beautiful bay and very calm. The third night of this road trip we spent in Central Otago between beautiful mountains, along a river. After that we met up with family and camped on a cheap, basic campsite near Wanaka where the highlight was a rope swing into the river and the ducks were so tame they decided to join in on our breakfast and stole our bacon. The next night we spent on a DOC campsite along lake Hawea. An absolutely gorgeous place where we were unfortunately tortured by sandflies, but that’s what you get in New Zealand. One of my favourite places of the entire trip was a freedom campsite near Lake Tekapo where we camped on our way back towards Christchurch. There was nobody else there and we were right by a river and a man-made canal. It was peaceful and when we hiked up onto a sort of dyke next to the canal, it felt like we were on a different planet where we were the only human beings. And we washed in the river and sat under the green foliage of the trees drinking wine and laughing and life was good. Our last campsite before being back in the city was near Akaroa, a small town on a peninsula south east of Christchurch. We set up camp right next to the water, went for a swim and had a relaxing picnic with an amazing view.
From all our camping experiences, some of the best ones were definitely in New Zealand. So when you are planning a trip, do your research and get out there. And please make sure not to leave any rubbish!