I’ve just come back from a three weeks camping family trip in New Zealand (with my two year old baby), and I have to admit it was a very nice experience. In this article, I explain everything you need to know about camping in New Zealand: the different camping possibilities, prices, booking, equipment, camping gear… If you are preparing your trip on this big volcanic rock, then check out our NZ’s trip budget!
If some of you are wondering why we chose camping in a tent and rental car rather than motorhome rental, it’s simply that we enjoythis travelling style. Also, it’s cheaper than renting a motorhome. However, many backpackers on a round-the-world trip (in WHV = Working Holiday Visa) decide to discover New Zealand’s nature by travelling in a motorhome or a camper van. Many even choose to buy a campervan for several months! For those looking for serious web sites, my tip: use this link to compare prices for rental cars and this one for vans and camper vans.
In any case, camping in New Zealand remains (by far) the most economical solution to reside, move around in the country, whether you choose a tent or a motorhome. I personally find it perfect for a roadtrip to discover national parks, fjords and local fauna and flora. In short, it grants you a complete freedom on this remote island at the end of the world, enjoying the breathtaking landscape and meeting other campers!
For those who are preparing for the trip, find the cheapest flights from where you live, using this flight comparator.
Camping in the country is clearly an institution. Generally speaking, everything is well conceived to welcome campers. Therefore, it is a great pleasure to camp in New Zealand. Here are some interesting information to know.
- There are several types of camping in the country, from basic camping with no shower and dry toilets, to “luxury” camping with swimming pool, wifi, bar, restaurant, etc…Camping prices in New Zealand vary from single to quadruple sometimes, simply depending on the facilities you will find.
- Be cautious! Every campsite across the country has its own policy and policy of campsites is different from one site to another. Some campgrounds are simply restricted to “self-contained” (fully equipped) vehicles, for example. Others do not offer the possibility to pitch a tent,
- Campsites can be crowded during high season! It may sometimes be necessary to book in advance if you don’t feel like spending hours looking for a nearby campsite. Off-season (I was there at the end of October), I never booked a campsite during my 3 weeks holiday.
- For those who wish to book their campsite, the easiest way is to buy a local SIM card directly at the airport. It will allow you to ease up the communication with campsites. Usually these cards also allow 3G/4G internet access, which is very handy when you want/need to get any information.
I will introduce you below different possibilities to camp in the country. I consider that there are four types of camping possible for a road trip in New Zealand: DOC, private, home stay and free camping. During our trip in New Zealand, we were able to camp on the following itinerary: Auckland, the Tongariro National Park, the Coromandel Peninsula, the Bay of Islands, the road to Cape Reinga, the west coast of the Northen Island, and many others… This was my first family camping trip!
DOC is simply the English abbreviation for “Department of Conservation”. This national agency is in charge of the management and protection of natural areas in the country. It manages over 200 campsites throughout New Zealand. A website allows you to Review/check out all the campsites of the New Zealand DOC. Here is the map of the DOC campsites. It is always resourceful while planning your trip.
It is clearly one of the cheapest ways to travel in New Zealand, as other campsites are often more expensive. There are five categories of DOC campsites, from the cheapest to the most expensive: Basic, Backcountry, Standard, Scenic, Serviced. Please, note that it is not possible to book DOC campsites.Their policy:”first to come, first served”. Apart from the tourist peak season (December to February), there will be no problem.
These are, as the name suggests, the most basic campsites offered by the DOC. In this category of campsites, only “self contained” vehicles are accepted (i.e. fully independent vehicles). Here you will generally only find simple (often dry) toilets and a water point. Therefore, those facilities don’t offer showers and electricity. This is perfect for people/camper looking for simplicity for an evening or two. Those who have to recharge their motorhome or need electricity will have to go to other campsites. During our trip, we stayed at one of those campsites for a few days, it was quite nice!
Careful! During summer, these campsites can be crowded, the free sites attracting people from all over the world. Actually, I’ve written a complete guide to know when is the best time to go to New Zealand.
You could think of it as the “above range” of DOC camping. These campgrounds are generally better equipped, for example, with picnic tables, benches, etc., and the campsite is usually more spacious. Toilets are also present (very often still dry) and there is a water point, usually drinking water from a nearby river or lake. There is still no electricity at these campsites, but cooking utensils are usually provided.
Personally, we slept in this type of campsite a few times, especially on Cape Reinga. The place was very basic, but beautiful. I will present in a separate article all the campsites in Zealand where we stayed (during our road trip). I notice that in this kind of camping, most of the time, nobody checks if you pay for the night. A sealed box with envelopes is provided for payment. Please play along!
We rise up a notch to find the first DOC campsites with showers, (cold ones of course)! You will find all the elements of the first two campsites (picnic table, toilet, water source) to which you usually add a barbecue, rubbish bins and above all SHOWERS and few electric sockets.
I tend to prefer these campsites, in the summer, when the temperature is milder. Taking cold showers in winter on this type of campsite can’t be much fun!
In conclusion, this is a category of camping that is almost identical to “Standard campsites”. The only difference is that the latter are located in beautiful settings, very often with splendid views over a bay or a river. The facilities are almost identical to Standard campsites. Please note that electricity is generally more present and you will have to pay extra to connect to it (I’m thinking of the camper van).
This will be discussed again in the article that will detail all the tips for economical travelling in New Zealand, but this is one reason why renting a camper van in New Zealand is still much more expensive than choosing the tent + car rental solution.
Little story: In all the campsites where we slept, we met people in motorhomes who systematically paid an extra fee for electricity. The cost of renting is much higher than the cost of a single car, so (you) do the math…
Here we reach the DOC’s top-of-the-range campsites. In this category, you have access to everything: hot shower, modern toilets, laundry, drinking water, kitchenette for cooking, waste bins at your disposal, and easy access to all types of vehicles. Like the previous category, camper vans will have to pay extra for electricity.
I have to admit that we have mostly slept in campsites of this type. At the end of October, the temperature was not very hot yet. Also, travelling with a 2 year old baby “forced us” (so to speak) to choose among all the campsites with hot showers. When it’s 5/6°C outside, we’re happy to have a hot shower. Usually, you find a great place to cook with more or less all-necessary equipment (just like at home). It was very handy for us to cook for ourselves and for the kid.
That’s it for the small overview of the different DOC campsites in New Zealand.
There is indeed a DOC discount card, which costs €25/adult. There are packages for 2 adults + 2 children (75€). The latter allows you to save up to 50% of the price of the night in all “basic/scenic” campsites. Check out for more details on the DOC page.
Another possibility to consider, other than DOC campsites, is to camp in private campsites. In the vast majority of private campsites we stayed in, everything was always on point. We tested several of them and we were never disappointed. Count about 17 to 20$ per person for a tent site. For vans and camper vans, add a few more $ (for electricity).
In my opinion, this is a very good a preference, to DOC campgrounds. The latter are often very well equipped and maintained. In another article, I will list all of these campgrounds.
This is a much less famous option in New Zealand, but camping through locals does exist. To my knowledge, there is a main local website that offers this service. It is the website Okay2stay. However, this offer is only suitable for “self contained” (fully equipped) camper vans. The principle is simple: it is about sleeping with your own motorhome at the local resident’s house. The initial goal is to promote local tourism, focused on local producers of beer, honey, wine and many other things.
A single $45 membership is required for the camper van. With this membership, you have access to more than 120 local sites. This solution, very economical, allows you to taste local gastronomy and meet New Zealanders. I remind you that you must be completely self-sufficient to use this service and follow the rules indicated by your hosts. This is a good example of local tourism that allows you to discover New Zealand, other than through tourist campsites.
The last possible alternative for camping in New Zealand is free camping, or “freedom camping”, as it is called locally. It is necessary to understand one thing: this type of camping is highly regulated throughout the country and you will not be able to park anywhere to sleep or to spend the night!
With the recent increasing number of tourists, free camping sites are becoming relatively rare. Some regions and cities have even banned it. If you camp just about anywhere, the fine can be as high as 200$, which will still taste bitter, wishing to save 30$…
For those who wish to use this solution, you can get information on the country’s I-sites (kind of tourist office by region). They will be happy to show you the authorized sites for free camping in New Zealand.
Personally, I would say that it is rather easy to find accommodation in cheap campsites throughout the country. Depending on the season, your desires and your budget, you will adapt to the type of campsite for the night. You can plan the campsites for the next day without worrying too much (except perhaps in midsummer).
February 2020 addendum – List and reviews of campsites in the South Island of New Zealand during my December/January 2020 camping holiday. We classified the campsites by order of departure from Christchurch. We are travelling with our 4 years old, so we have chosen campsites that are a little more suitable to families!
- Havelock Holiday Park : Our first campsite on the way up from Christchurch. Very well maintained campsite, away from the main road, children’s playground, very quiet, large kitchen very well equipped with all the essentials for cooking. Perfect for the whole family!
- Motueka Holiday Park : A warm welcome in a very nice setting. Only hiccup, the campsite is noisy (between two roads). The tent pitches are very good, correct kitchen with the necessary to cook. Presence of a playground with a trampoline for children! There is also a lounge to relax, watch TV/sofa, etc… We certainly could have found something better in the area.
- Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park (57$ for 2 adults – 1 child per night): Noisy camping between two roads too. There is a playground for children. Large tent sites. Kitchen is a bit small and lacks a lot of cooking utensils. Small place to dodge in the evening with the heat (it was great!), limited free wifi but works well.
- Mt Cook Glenntanner (57$ for two adults/1 child per night) : we spent 4 nights in this campsite. The spot is amazing, very good spot with a nice view. Hot showers are free and very clean, no free wifi. Big huge kitchen (outside and inside) but it was a little bit too crowded (we were there on new year’s day), crowded, but the tent pitches are nice and natural environnement (you can choose!),
- Moeraki Boulders Kiwi Park Holiday (42$ per night – 2 adults/1 child) : nice campsite, but a bit far from everything, small kitchen and lack of utensils, 6 minutes free shower, big field with lawn and trampoline for the kids, good hospitality but that’s it,
- Curioscape Camping (Catlins) : the weather was so so (while we stayed). The spot is nice, atmosphere of the end of the world with awesome view of the surroundings, lots of wind even if the tent sites are a little bit protected by vegetation! The kitchen was cold and almost no cooking utensils, paid shower…
- Camping Fjordland Camping (Te Anau) : we slept in a cabin and not in a tent. Very average welcome by the owners, clean kitchen but almost no utensils, need to ask to use the barbecue, very limited free wifi (which works a bit). I wouldn’t recommend the place,
- Camping Holiday Park Haast : the area is pleasant, a very large kitchen with all necessary equipment, large shared bathroom with free hot shower, large children’s playground, free wifi 500mo/appliance (works well),
- Hokitika Holiday Park : very good welcome, large space and beautiful playground for children, very large, clean and well equipped kitchen. Our last campsite of the trip and one of the best.
For small budgets, try to privilege the DOC “Basic, backcountry or standard” campsites. The budget for accommodation will still remain very low. You can switch from time to time with a DOC “Camping Service” or a private campsite, which will allow you to take a good hot shower. In any case, there are enough campsites in New Zealand to make it easy to manage and organize. So don’t worry, it is convenient to travel in an almost disconcerting way!
That’s the end of this article about camping in New Zealand. I hope you’ve learned some things and are ready for your trip. If you’ve already been there, what solutions have you adopted then? A preference for motorhomes? Vans with sleeping berths? Renting a van?
See you soon,