From golden sand beaches that stretch for miles to snow capped mountains, ancient forests and geothermal wonderlands - the North Island of New Zealand boasts a truly amazing array of scenic landscapes. And the best part is, it’s really quite easy to get up close and personal with each and every location, to truly immerse yourself in the experience and come away with memories that will last a lifetime.
So if you’ve got time on your side - and an appetite for exploring some of the most spectacular scenery the North Island has to offer - see our recommendations below, grab yourself a campervan rental and hit the road.
If you're short on time, you can click a link below to jump to the section relevant to you right now:
Scenic campsites in North Island’s most unique destinations
Making a list of the North Island’s most beautiful destinations is definitely a big ask as there are so many to choose from. So we’ve limited our list to a variety of towns that have something different to offer for campers.
Paihia, Bay of Islands, Northland
It’s difficult to pick a favourite spot in the Bay of Islands, but the Paihia TOP 10 Holiday Park is not only centrally-located, it also looks out to the beautiful harbour - and if you’re one of the lucky few, you can score yourself a waterfront site.
Using the campground as a base, you can set off to discover why the Bay of Islands is one of the most glorious places to have an adventure. Check out our guide to exploring northland. From the Waitangi Treaty grounds, to Kauri Forests, dolphin sightseeing and island hopping, you’ll be spoilt for choice here.
Head southeast of Auckland and you’ll end up on the Coromandel Peninsula, where the pace of life is a bit slower, for good reason. Think lazy days at the beach and bush walks aplenty. If you head up the east coast, you’ll come to the magnificent settlement of Hahei.
On the doorstep of one of New Zealand’s most photographed spots, Cathedral Cove, is the Hahei Beach Resort. If you want to wake up in your motorhome and step straight out onto a white sand beach, here’s where to set up camp.
You don’t have to always be beachside to have a spectacular view. Which is why the quaint town of Cambridge is on our list of must-visits. In fact, it was awarded the title of the Most Beautiful Large Town in New Zealand in 2019.
Known as ‘The Town of Trees’ due to its abundance of, well, trees, the town has a grand park-like feel, with heritage buildings and churches adding to the character of this South Waikato settlement. The Cambridge TOP 10 Holiday Park will have you feeling right at home in its peaceful, spacious setting.
Mt Maunganui, Tauranga
This is definitely one of the North Island’s instagrammable hotspots where people flock all year round to soak up the sun, sand and waves. At the Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park, you’re right in the heart of the action.
Cafés and boutique stores are just across the road from your campsite. You have the choice of two coasts within a few hundred metres of each other - the Pacific Ocean to the north and the inner Tauranga harbour to the south. The campground sits at the base of the captivating Mauao, an extinct volcano at the north end of the town. Hundreds of people make the trek to the top on a daily basis. While it is a bit of a climb to the 232m summit, it’s most definitely worth it.
Rotorua, Bay of Plenty
No North Island motorhome trip is complete without a visit to Rotorua, the thermal activity capital of New Zealand. From bubbling mud to gushing geysers, the ground here is alive with all sorts of amazing sights to see. Rotorua is also home to 15 beautiful lakes. If you stay at the Blue Lake TOP 10 Holiday Park, you can camp a stone's throw from the shores of the Blue Lake. Nestled amongst untouched mountains covered with native forests, this location is simply sublime.
Check out our Rotorua motorhome holiday guide.
Taupo, Central North Island
The township of Taupo sits on the foreshore of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in the Southern Hemisphere. This huge crater lake was formed after a volcanic eruption more than 1800 years ago. Enjoy the ever-changing scenery - from the emerald-coloured lake in the summer, to the snow-capped mountain backdrop in winter, and the colours of spring and autumn. Stop and enjoy the scenery at Full Moon View.
Perched on a hill above the lake is Taupo DeBretts Holiday Park, which also boasts its own thermal water park. It’s perfect for warming up in winter or cooling down in summer.
New Plymouth, Taranaki
In the west of the North Island is the Taranaki region. The largest city, New Plymouth, sits on the coast under the magnificent Mt Taranaki. With black sand beaches that stretch on forever and a volcanic mountain that silently stands watch, there’s something beautifully rugged about this corner of New Zealand.
What better way to enjoy your stop here than to park up your campervan and take in the glorious sea views at the Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park. The Coastal Walkway runs across the front of the campground and downtown New Plymouth is within easy walking distance.
Napier, Hawkes Bay
If you’re after white sandy beaches, then the east coast region of Hawkes Bay is the place to go. The region’s biggest city, Napier, has an interesting history. In 1931, a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the inner city. The city was then rebuilt during the peak of the Art Deco era. The result is an almost perfectly preserved ‘trip back in time to one of the most complete collections of Art Deco architecture in the world.
If you set up camp at the Napier Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park, you’ll be able to take your time exploring the fascinating city and bay area.
Check out our comprehensive Napier motorhome holiday guide.
Ohakune, Tongariro National Park
Love mountains? Head to Ohakune in the central North Island to get up close. The Tongariro National Park with its snow covered volcanoes is only a short drive from the Ohakune TOP 10 Holiday Park. The park is well set up for snow sports lovers and in the warmer months, it’s a perfect base for a ski holiday or to explore the mountain biking and hiking trails around Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe.
Travelling in winter? Check out our five epic winter road trips in the North Island of New Zealand.
If you’ve ever wanted to have your photo taken in front of a giant carrot - you can even do that at Ohakune.
Top freedom campsites at scenic spots in the North Island
If you’re looking for a night or two off-the-grid, responsible freedom camping might just be for you! Facilities are minimal or non-existent (i.e. they may just be a carpark) but as long as you have a certified self-contained motorhome, you’ll be able to enjoy everything these unique places have to offer.
Freedom camping gives you access to so many more camping options - often in out-of-the-way scenic locations. But before disconnecting from the mainstream, read our guide to freedom camping in New Zealand. It’s important to understand the rules and guidelines. Pay special attention to the Tiaki Promise, an initiative which asks all who travel New Zealand to commit to caring for it, for present and future generations.
Tolaga Bay, Gisborne
Be the first in the world to see the sunrise at this special spot on the east coast of the North Island. Tolaga Bay, 54km north of the city of Gisborne, has a glorious, white sand beach with excellent swimming and fishing.
You can responsibly freedom camp in your self-contained campervan between the end of October and the end of April. Purchase your freedom camping permit from the Gisborne District Council before heading north to Tolaga Bay.
Jones’ Landing, Waikato
Jones’ Landing is on the banks of the Waikato River on the west coast. The beautiful, park-like reserve close to the river’s edge has easy access for campervans and motorhomes. Purchase your camping permit before arrival as it is an extremely popular spot. Peaceful and tranquil, this is river-side camping at its best.
Brighton Reserve, Waihi Beach, Coromandel
Brighton Reserve on Waihi Beach offers the classic Kiwi camping experience outside the peak season. Your freedom camping site is only a hop, skip and jump to one of the best beaches in New Zealand. Freedom camping is permitted from mid February to mid December in this popular holiday resort town. But it is well worth a visit when the holiday crowds have gone.
If you are planning a road trip during the peak season when the freedom camping site is closed, Beachaven Holiday Park, a family-oriented park a short stroll from the beach.
Dawson Falls Carpark, Taranaki
Rest assured, this is no ordinary car park. Your freedom camping site is truly back-to-nature tucked under the magnificent Mt Taranaki. Explore the area on the walking trails. Be sure not to miss the beautiful Dawson Falls.
In winter, be prepared for snow and possible road closures. Freedom camping is restricted to fully self-contained campervans only. You can stay here no more than four nights in a single calendar month.
Waikanae Beach, Wellington Region
The Kapiti Coast has plenty of spots ideal for freedom camping but you can’t go past Waikanae Beach for an ideal place to watch the sunset. You can park up at the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve and take a short stroll to the beach. The maximum stay is 24 hours.
Top North Island commercial campgrounds
Sure, it’s hard to go past the options above. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t so many others which only just miss out on being mentioned as the very best the North Island has to offer. So while these ones below aren’t right where all the action is, they are close by and worth checking out.
Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, Coromandel
Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park is a five minute walk from the rugged east coast beach renowned for the hot water which bubbles in the sand at low tide. Since the holiday park is one of the few accommodation options, you won’t have to compete with the crowds if you’re up early.
We highly recommend building your own hot water pool at sunrise or sunset on a low tide with no crowds around. This holiday park is spacious, with powered sites and plenty of room for campers of all sizes.
Mahia Holiday Park, Hawkes Bay
The Mahia Peninsula on the east coast is a wonderful place to explore off the tourist beat. If you want to escape the crowds, the Mahia Holiday Park is the ideal place to stop for one night or a few. You can enjoy peace, privacy and paradise, in nature’s playground. This sleepy coastal village is the perfect base for all kinds of outdoor activities.
Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) Conservation Campsite, Northland
Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) is an exceptional escape for those who love the outdoors at the top of the North Island. Bookings are required for this Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite, and it’s easy to see why. The area may be remote but its sandy beaches and nearby lush green forests are a big drawcard for visitors. There are no powered sites here so you will be off-the-grid.
Motutere Bay TOP 10 Holiday Park, Lake Taupo
Half an hour’s drive south from the bustling town of Taupo is Motutere Bay where you can enjoy lakefront camping at its finest.Park your campervan right on the lake’s edge and fall asleep to the sound of water lapping on the shoreline - bliss. This is a popular spot but with a real laid back vibe. Grab an ice cream at the onsite shop on a hot summer afternoon.
Durham Lake Holiday Park, Taranaki
Picturesque and pristine - that’s how many describe the delightful Durham Lake Holiday Park in Taranaki. Located beside a small lake at the base of Mt Taranaki, the views are unrivalled. The park has an outdoor fireplace and bar, laundry, convenience store and spa. This campground is ideal for those seeking a quaint country getaway.
Ambury Park campground
Ambury Park is a hidden oasis on Auckland’s inner-west harbour, close to the airport and a range of tourist attractions, but without a city feel. In fact, you’re practically rural as the campground is set in the middle of a working farm. It’s easy to see why it made our recent top list of the best campsites in Auckland.
Like the sound of everything the North Island has to offer?
We’re sure you do! Check out our 10 Best Campervan Spots to Park Up on New Zealand's North Island. And if you’d like some help putting together a campervan travel plan which includes some of these spectacular towns and cities, check out our North Island motorhome itineraries.