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 and its people.
A place to park
Camping is all about finding the right spot. In New Zealand, campsites vary from resort-style holiday parks to literal carparks with no facilities, that cost next to nothing!
The privately-owned holiday parks dotted around the country are on the expensive end of the scale, ranging from around $30 to $50 per night, 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.
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 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 is 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.
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 from Motorhome Republic. 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!
New Zealand’s natural delights are its biggest asset, and Kiwis are fiercely protective which is reflected in the nation’s laws. The most important thing to remember while camping is to leave everything as you found it and no rubbish. If there are no bins provided, keep your waste onboard. The bush is not to be used as a toilet and you should not alter or damage the natural environment in any way. “Leave no trace” is a great guiding philosophy for freedom campers and one of the key templates for anyone taking advantage of the great New Zealand outdoors.
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 and 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.
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.
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 fund on www.adventuresmart.org.nz and emailed to a trusted contact.
Crime is relatively low in New Zealand, especially in rural areas. However, it is always recommended to follow basic personal safety guidelines while travelling. Keep your vehicle locked and valuables out of sight. Don’t leave drinks unattended, don’t walk alone at night and always carry a cellphone. The emergency number is 111.
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!
Renting the right campervan
The most popular campers in New Zealand are small and simple converted vans, which are little more than a bed on wheels. However, there is a full range of motorhomes available from the major pick-up points around the country - these being Auckland in the North Island and Christchurch or Queenstown in the South Island. If you want to do a lot of freedom camping, a self-contained motorhome is your best bet. When travelling with kids you are likely to require something bigger - but there’s a vehicle out there for everyone!
Motorhome Republic can help you find the camper/RV you need. Brightly coloured sleepervan? No problem. Six-berth family motorhome with all the mod-cons? Also not an issue. Just enter your travel plans, compare the range of options from different suppliers and make an informed decision. Everything you need to know is right there on the results page and filters make it easy to narrow the field and rent the perfect vehicle for your New Zealand road trip.
Finding the right location to start and finish your motorhome adventure also isn't a problem with Motorhome Republic. We have a range of NZ campervan rental packages to choose from whether you be looking to start your roadtrip from Christchurch, Wellington, Queenstown or further afield.