Motorhome Camping in New Zealand: A Complete Guide

Travelling’s easy when you know the rules. In this guide, we go through everything you need to know about how to camp responsibly in New Zealand.

 

When it comes to seeing the very best of New Zealand – from the more famous spots to those awesome discoveries you’ll find off the beaten track – travelling by campervan is one of the best ways to do it. It’s like having a hotel room on wheels that lets you wake up to a new view every day, holiday on your own schedule, and explore wherever the mood takes you.

We want you to get the most out of your holiday with Wilderness, so here’s some handy information about what to expect when you’re camping around New Zealand in your Wilderness motorhome.

 

1

Responsible Camping

At Wilderness, we encourage responsible, sustainable camping, which means looking after New Zealand’s environment and leaving the landscape as you found it.

As part of that, we’re committed to The Tiaki Promise – an undertaking to help preserve New Zealand’s environment for future generations. ‘Tiaki’ (pronounced ‘tee-AH-kee’) is a Maori word that means to care for people and place.

The Tiaki Promise recognises that New Zealand is precious and everyone who lives and travels here has a responsibility to look after it, for now and for future generations. By following The Tiaki Promise, you’re making a commitment to New Zealand, to act as a guardian, protecting and preserving our home.

We’d love you to help us keep this promise as you travel around New Zealand and discover what makes our country so special.

2

Where to Stay in Your Motorhome

There are several options when choosing places to stay in your motorhome overnight: freedom camping, commercial campgrounds and holiday parks, Department of Conservation (DOC) and Regional Park campsites, and private Campable sites. These choices vary in location, the type of amenities they offer and how many other campers you can expect to find there.

Our Wilderness motorhomes can use any of these sites as they are certified self-contained (CSC), meaning they can meet the ablutionary and sanitary needs of the occupants for at least three days, are equipped with water storage tanks for drinking and cooking, and have wastewater holding tanks.

Most Wilderness adventurers opt for a mix of camping styles, spending a couple of nights in a rural or remote site, then heading to a commercial campground or holiday park to top up the batteries, water supplies and provisions.

It’s your holiday, so you can mix it up as much or as little as you like. Wherever you choose to camp, you can be sure of two things: your chosen spot will be beautiful and your Wilderness motorhome will have no trouble getting you there.

Camping Dos and Don’ts:

  • Only stay in designated camping areas, holiday parks or Department of Conservation campsites
  • Leave no trace of your visit. Please put all your rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you to dispose of later if no bins are available.
  • Keep New Zealand clean. Always use the toilet in the motorhome or a public toilet.
  • Use recycling facilities whenever they are available. This is one way you can help protect our environment.
  • Look for this sign to indicate where you can empty your campervan’s toilet and wastewater.
3

Freedom Camping

Freedom camping is when you stay on public land that isn’t a recognised campground. There are plenty of freedom camping spots around New Zealand – you’ll find them next to beaches, by lakes, on the edge of native bush, with spectacular mountain views, or in towns and cities.

Our Wilderness motorhomes are designed to make freedom camping easy and we’d love you to try it while you’re travelling around New Zealand.

How do you freedom camp?

To freedom camp legally you must have a certified self-contained vehicle (like a Wilderness motorhome) that is designed to be self-contained for up to three days. That means you have enough reserves of water and power to stay in an area with no services because you have the required facilities in your campervan to be self-sufficient (a toilet, freshwater storage, wastewater storage and a rubbish bin with a lid). Campervans that are certified self-contained (CSC) have a compliance sticker to show this.

Where can you freedom camp?

The easiest way to find freedom camping spots is to ask at a local Visitor Information Centre (called i-SITEs) or use a camping app to find the best freedom camping sites near you.

Always check before you park up and look for “no overnight camping” signs, as you can’t just freedom camp anywhere.

An increase in freedom campers in New Zealand means local authorities now designate sites where freedom camping is permitted. Some may also require the purchase of a freedom camping permit for a small fee (less than NZ$6 per night).

Local authorities can prohibit freedom camping in specific areas and enforce the bans. People who freedom camp in an area where camping is not permitted, damage the area, dispose of waste inappropriately, or refuse to move on if asked to by an enforcement officer can be issued with a NZ$200 instant fine. The penalties for freedom camping are much larger if the offence is considered severe.

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Sites on public conservation land (usually near beaches or bush) are administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC). You can search the DOC website to find a spot with campervan access. The most basic DOC campgrounds are free, with fees increasing according to the services available (for example, the water supply may just be a stream).

Be aware that some of the places that are free to camp might be next to busy roads or in council car parks. Do some research beforehand to find the best spots, or once you’re on the road use a camping app to see all the freedom camping spots and amenities near you.

How to freedom camp responsibly

Take care to leave no sign of your visit. Recycle your waste where you can in a recycling bin or at a recycling centre, dispose of your rubbish in the bins provided, use the toilet in your campervan or a public toilet (not the bush or roadside), dump your wastewater at a designated dump station, and camp only where camping is permitted.

Find out why Wilderness is the best choice for freedom camping around New Zealand.

4

Department of Conservation (DOC) Campsites

New Zealand has 14 national parks and over five million hectares of land protected in parks and reserves. Within these, the government’s Department of Conservation (DOC) manages over 250 vehicle-accessible camping areas on conservation land.

DOC campsites are the perfect way to discover New Zealand’s great outdoors as they’re usually in rural, bush or beach settings and can be found throughout the country. All Wilderness motorhomes are suitable for camping at DOC campsites, which generally have limited facilities.

Volunteers across New Zealand help to maintain the campsites year round so they're beautiful and clean for spending the night in your Wilderness campervan.

If you’re travelling in the busier months (October-April), then you’ll need to book ahead for some DOC campsites.

Types of DOC campsites

DOC campsites can be cheaper than commercial campgrounds or holiday parks (ranging from free to around $23 per person per night) due to their more limited facilities. Here’s what you can expect at the different types of campsites:

  • Serviced campgrounds ($10-23) have flush toilets, tap water and showers, kitchen and rubbish collection, as well as some powered sites. They may also have barbecues or fireplaces, laundry facilities, a shop and waste disposal sites. There is plenty of space to park your rental motorhome and often gravel paths for site-hunting.
  • Scenic and standard campsites ($4-18) include toilets, water supply and vehicle access. Wood barbecues, picnic tables, cold showers and rubbish collection may also be available. ‘Scenic’ campsites have a higher fee due to their scenic locations and popularity.
  • Basic campsites (free) offer limited facilities so are only suitable for self-contained motorhomes like those from Wilderness. They have basic toilets and water from a tank, stream or lake.
  • Backcountry campsites (prices vary between campsites) have toilets and a water supply which may be from a stream. They may have picnic tables, cooking shelters or fireplaces.

You can save up to 50% on DOC campsite fees with a weekly DOC Campsite Pass.

5

Regional Park Campsites

Auckland and Wellington have regional parks that allow camping and Wilderness campervans are suitable for these. It pays to book ahead for all campsite stays during the busy summer months (December-March).

The Auckland Council manages 26 regional parks across Auckland in bush, farmland and by beaches. You can overnight in remote bush locations, on working farms with animals, or in picturesque spots on one of Auckland's offshore islands. The campsites generally have basic facilities and fees are inexpensive.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has a network of similar campsites in regional parks throughout Wellington. These offer riverside camping, bush walks and even mountain biking. They have basic facilities and are inexpensive. You will need to book ahead at most of these sites.

6

Holiday Parks

Holiday parks are commercial campgrounds that feature powered and unpowered campsites. Their amenities can range from the very basic to everything you might need (including internet and TV lounges), all in a secure site. Staying at a holiday park gives you the opportunity to meet other travellers, as well as top up your motorhome batteries and fresh water, and empty the toilet.

Facilities at holiday parks

Holiday parks usually provide good quality amenities, including a 240V mains power hook up (to recharge your motorhome batteries), internet, communal kitchen and laundry facilities, barbecue areas, TV lounge, freshwater filling and wastewater dump station all on a secure site. Some may also have a pool, shop, café and even bike or boat hire.

Travelling with the family? Holiday parks usually have a playground packed with swings, slides and a trampoline or even the exciting ‘jumping pillow’ (a favourite with most kids). Some may even have a tennis court, library, go-kart hire, or games arcade. You might even find a rope swing over a river for the ultimate in Kiwi summer fun.

A typical New Zealand holiday park is set in attractive park-like surrounds with lots of grass and trees. Many are located near a beach, lake or river. Your camping spot usually includes your own power plug-in and picnic table. You can cook in your campervan or use the communal kitchen – a great way to meet other campers, both locals and tourists.

Book in advance or just turn up?

You’ll need to book holiday parks well in advance during busy periods like summer holidays. Timing is everything when planning a New Zealand holiday park trip. The whole country goes on summer break from around December 26 through January, so campsites fill up fast and you’ll need to plan ahead. If you want to avoid the crowds, then March through May is autumn in New Zealand and a great time for campervan touring. Temperatures range in the 20s and dry days still outnumber wet ones.

The easiest way to find the best holiday parks is to read online customer reviews and check their Qualmark rating - this is a star rating system (1-5) that indicates the quality of their facilities and services.

Our holiday park recommendations

Here’s a selection of holiday parks that have been recommended by one of the Wilderness community (either one of our team or a guest). All of these parks have a mains power hook-up so you can recharge your batteries and operate some appliances that require mains power. They also have fresh water refilling, plus shared cooking and bathroom facilities. Many also have a dump station for emptying campervan wastewater and toilets.

The level and standard of amenities will vary from site to site but, in general, you can be confident that any of the parks you choose will give you a warm welcome and a comfortable stay.

 

NORTH ISLAND

Auckland

Takapuna Beach Holiday Park - Takapuna, North Shore

Shakespear Regional Park Campground - Army Bay, North Shore

Ambury Regional Park Camp Ground - Mangere

Long Bay Regional Park - Long Bay, North Shore

Coromandel

Miranda Holiday Park - Miranda

Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park - Hot Water Beach

Taupo & Rotorua

Great Lake Taupo Holiday Park - Taupo

Lake Taupo Holiday Resort - Taupo

Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park - Rotorua

Napier

Kennedy Park - Napier 

Wellington

Cuba Street Motorhome Park - Wellington

 

SOUTH ISLAND

Nelson

Pohara Beach Top 10 Holiday Park - Golden Bay

Christchurch / Canterbury

Alpine Pacific Holiday Park - Kaikoura

Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park - Christchurch

7

Campable

Campable is an app that gives motorhome travellers a unique experience of New Zealand. You

can stay at private properties around the country and get up close to Kiwi life. Campable sites include working farms, vineyards, beaches and country resorts, plus much more. The sites are usually more secure than freedom camping sites because they’re on private property and at many of them you will be the only motorhome travellers staying. Many Campable hosts welcome interaction with their guests, which gives you a truly local experience.

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Before you leave home, we recommend you download the Campable app on your mobile device. The app is free on Apple’s App Store and on Google Play.

The Campable app also features commercial campsites (holiday parks), LPG stations, dump sites and i-SITE locations. For those with specific requirements, such as pet-friendly sites, showers, or motorhome plug power, you can filter all sites to find those that meet your needs. To help you get the journey you want, Campable has collections of their best properties across different regions of New Zealand too. Read about Wilderness director Mary's Campable stay.

Like the AirBnB of the camping world, Campable listings are managed by their hosts, so you'll find a range of sites listed. These could vary from hidden gems in spectacular locations to simple spots that are perfect if you just need somewhere to park up for the night. 

Check the reviews to see what other travellers thought of the sites and then you can add a few to your list too!

8

WilderNessts

Part of being a Wilderness traveller includes access to our insider’s guide to around

100 of the best camping locations around New Zealand. We call them ‘WilderNessts’.

We have carefully selected these camping sites with the help of NZ Frenzy guide book author and New Zealand explorer extraordinaire Scott Cook. The WilderNesst sites are divided into three categories to give you an idea of what to expect when you stay there.

Wilder: These sites have a jaw-dropping view or are located near a popular location in the NZ Frenzy guide books. (You can download free PDF copies of the NZ Frenzy North and South Island editions when you book with Wilderness, or hire hard copies.) They’re more “off-the-grid” than other sites, so you’re more likely to have the place to yourself, but it means you have to be more careful about access. There may be some soft sand and there may be changeable conditions. Don’t expect paved areas or grassy parking spots. We’ve checked every site and you’ll find notes in the Access section of the WilderNesst listings to anything you need to be aware of. Nevertheless, you should arrive before dark and check the conditions carefully before choosing your “Nesst” for the night.

Tamer: These sites are at more popular freedom camping spots, conservation or commercial campsites that we think are very special. Some have must-see views (which are worth it even if you have to share), must-do short walks, access to rare wildlife, or even famous filming locations.

Indulger: These sites are for guests who don’t mind paying a bit more for a very special commercial location. All Indulger sites have designated camping areas plus a ‘wow’ feature - like natural thermal pools beside a river in the middle of a mountain range!

If you’re new to Nessting, we recommend you start with the Tamer or Indulger sites until you get a feel for it.

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Accessing the WilderNessts

WilderNesst sites are viewable through the Campable app, but only for Wilderness guests. You’ll receive a special promo code to unlock the sites on Campable when you make your reservation with Wilderness.

 

What about Campermate?

Campermate is another useful app to have, as it has the largest directory of freedom camping and commercial campsites in New Zealand, as well as amenities. Be aware though, that the quality of the sites listed can vary dramatically and many of the freedom camping sites have become very popular and often get crowded, especially over summer. 

By using WilderNesst and Campable sites, you can choose from locations that other travellers may not even be aware of. And, because we’ve handpicked the best sites for our WilderNessts, you know that you’ll be experiencing something special. 

If you’ve got feedback about any our WilderNessts or suggestions of camping sites you loved that you think we should add, we’d love to hear about it. Please email nessts@wilderness.co.nz. 

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