The Pick of the Bunch - Fabulously Cheap Freedom Camping Spots in The North Island

Whananaki Sunsets New Zealand - a great overnight stop for a campervan

Travelling in your camper does not need to be expensive. New Zealand has many fabulous freedom camping spots that are either free or ridiculously cheap. Here are a few of our favorites that are our go to places whenever we travel in the North and as long as you are self contained and respect the rules - they will welcome you with open arms.

1. Horahora Domain - Horahora 

Horahora Domain - Horahora. A great to park the campervan overnight

Just south of Cambridge, is a complete treasure of a camping site. Horahora Domain sits on the edge of Lake Karipiro bordering a water ski club that provides endless free entertainment. Water skiing is the thing to do here however there is nothing better than sitting ringside in my deckchair with a glass of wine in hand. Horahora Domain is green and grassy and best of all completely free. Save some time to ramble around Cambridge itself, the polenta chips at The Paddock Cafe hit my spot and if it's a Saturday morning The Cambridge Farmer's Market is the place for fresh produce and artisan products. Check out the Arapuni Dam whether on foot or by bicycle along the Waikato River Trail. Horahora Domain is managed by the Waikato District Council, no need to book as there is plenty of space for your campervan and you may stay two consecutive nights. 

2. AJ's Motorhome Park - Horahora

AJ's Motorhome Park - Horahora New Zealand, a great place for the campervan overnight

This privately owned motorhome park is located at the end of The Horahora Domain. You will need to ring before rocking up but the number is on the gate. Don't be put off that it's just for NZMCA members as this is not the case. At $5 pp per night it's more expensive than the Domain next door but it does have many advantages. It's a beautiful, flat mowed grassy area right next to Lake Karipiro that offers lakeside camping. All facilities are supplied, so water, showers and a new container block will provide a toilet and kitchen facilities. There is an outdoor BBQ area complete with fireplace and for the golf enthusiast, golf clubs and a couple of holes complete the picture. It's just such a beautiful place that's behind private gates so it feels completely secluded from the outside world. With no time limit to your stay it's a great place to take a bit of time out from travelling to rest and relax, read a book, finish that crossword and research your next destination before you hit the road. 

3. Vinegar Hill - Rangetikei

Vinegar Hill - Rangetikei New Zealand. A great camping spot

We chanced upon this freedom camping site on our way to catch the Cook Strait Ferry. Having driven from Auckland we had driven until dusk and tiredness overtook. I searched my Campmate App, (valuable app to have downloaded), and discovered a freedom camping spot just down the road from where we were. A few corners off State Highway 1 had us in a field beside the Rangetikei River complete with wild plum trees and riverstone fireplaces. Hopefully I'm painting the picture in your mind's eye correctly because I do want to do it justice. It's another council run camping facility with new ablution blocks and it's a bargain at $13.00 per night for two. Perfect place to park your campervan before or after your ferry trip across the strait in a lovely quiet part of the country. 

4. Pete and Marg Simpson's Place - Simpson's Beach

Simpson's Beach New Zealand a fantastic place to park the camper

I'm told The Simpson family have opened up this beachfront camping beauty to the public for years and I'm just so delighted that they have. Situated at the far end of Simpson's Beach which, for those of you not in the know, is just over the hill from Whitianga. Stop in at the farmhouse and pay your ten dollars a night on your way in and then all that's left is to find a parking spot, pull out the deck chairs and marvel at the view. Perhaps even cast your rod in the bay. The view is stunning to put it mildly from any of the campsites, a fence separates you from the beachfront but the sound of the crashing waves at night in your camper make you appreciate just how close it really is. There are no restrictions of nights here just that you are self contained. The toilets are 500 metres along the beach and there is water on site along with a toilet dump station. With Whitianga on one side and the gorgeous hippy community of Kuotuna on the other it's just a perfect perfect location. Kuotuna is home to Lukes Kitchen which would have to be one of my favorite cafes ever. Woodfire pizza, great coffee, fab smoothies and an organic leaning it's certainly worth the trip over the hill. 

5. Hinemoa St Carpark - Rotorua

Hinemoa St Carpark - Rotorua - a hidden little spot for the campervan

Now this is strictly a Carpark for self contained campervans and motorhomes, no fancy scenery here even though it's located next to The Government Gardens and a short stroll from the wonderful thermal lakefront. Catering for approximately 20 vehicles, this freedom camping site is popular but we have stayed on many occasion and always managed to get a park. Now there are many wonderful pristine lakes that offer DOC camping facilities in Rotorua and I highly recommend all of them but when I come to Rotorua there is nothing finer than an evening spent soaking my travel weary body in The Polynesian Thermal Pools and then falling into bed relaxed and rejuvenated without having to drive any further. Perhaps an evening meal in town before or a cultural performance. I'm all for camping in nature but once in a while the city comforts beckon and this city carpark is just so damn convenient and cheap. Did I mention it's free? 

6. Whananaki School - Whananaki North

Whananaki School - Whananaki North. Who would have ever thought of parking the campervan here

What a forward thinking Principal that opens up his schools front yard for camping. This estuary front site is just $10 per night and it's a hop skip and a jump away from the local fish and chip shop and dairy that is one of those shops that carries everything you could ever need. The estuary leads out to the Whananaki Coast and behind the school is the largest footbridge in New Zealand which will take you over to the gorgeous beach of Whananaki South. A little gem of a place in a remote part of Northland's coast. 

7. Motutara Farm Park - Whananaki

Motutara Farm Park - Whananaki makes for a perfect overnight parking spot

Just up the road from The Whananaki School is in my opinion the best privately owned freedom camping site in New Zealand. Still a working farm that just so happens to grace a large portion of the Whananaki coastline and is open to the public as a campsite for campervans and motorhomes from September to May. Located behind security gates, you will feel a world away. Ingeniously divided into different camping areas, there is a unique space to cater to everyone's needs. Every site has its own water and toilet facilities. It's wonderfully maintained with rope swings for the kids, boating, diving, surfing, and walkways. I watched families whose children passed the weekend building huts and sandcastles and playing cricket. I watched husband's watch the baby while their wives surfed and I felt that I had found paradise. You can camp either on the oceanside, or overlooking the estuary where the sunsets are some of the best I've ever witnessed. Truly truly this is just such a magical spot and at $15 pp it's an absolute bargain. My 10/10.

By Sara Kennedy