New Zealand is renowned for its spectacular scenery and great outdoor lifestyle. From North to South, there is an endless array of gorgeous campsites to choose from: you can sleep beside mountains, lakes, oceans, forests and rivers, or if you’re lucky, a combination of them all!
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) runs over 250 public camping areas on conservation land all through NZ, with prices ranging from free to $20 per person.
We have waded through and selected the cream of the crop from these incredible camp sites, in the most beautiful and off-the-beaten-path locations in NZ, to bring you the very best of the best.
Tapotupotu Camping Ground - Aupori Peninsula, Cape Reinga (5 minutes’ drive from the Cape)
This is the most northern campsite in all of NZ, and the ideal place to take a night (or more) of rest after the long drive up to Cape Reinga to see the meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Located on a spectacular stretch of beach, there is a stream running down one side and a nearby lagoon: great, safe swimming for the kids.
From here you can wander the Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway (about one hour to the Cape on foot), and beat the crowds in the morning to witness that spectacular sunrise from the very northern tip of NZ. If you are lucky enough to visit in the off season you may just have this precious place to yourself.
Photo by Jo Abram Merchant
Lake Tarawera Outlet (Te Tapahoro) Campsite
In this little slice of kiwi heaven, you can park alongside the lake in a gorgeously scenic and spacious campsite. Spend your days trout fishing or partaking in water sports, or enjoy some spectacular walks to take in the Tarawera river and falls; with a variety of walking tracks to choose from.
Fancy a soak in a natural hot spring? Kayak or take a boat ride to the hot water beach nearby and live like royalty in the great outdoors.
NB: You will need a forestry permit to access the campsite. These can be purchased for $5 from the Kawerau Information Centre on your way through.
Photo by Graeme Churchard
Pelorus Bridge Conservation Campsite - 50 km from Nelson, 60 km from Blenheim
With crystal clear river pools to swim in and brisk walks to tumbling waterfalls, you can see why this river was chosen to film some of the scenes from The Hobbit! Park up on the river banks of the Pelorus River and immerse yourself in the peace and quiet of NZ’s pristine natural environment. Keep an eye out for some of the rare long-tailed bats that are part of a protection program in this area.
Tip: Non-powered campsites have incredible views and larger sites - choose these where possible!
Photo by Jeff Hitchcock
Craigieburn Shelter Campsite - Arthur’s Pass - 41 kms from the Visitor Centre on Highway 73
Set in a magical beech forest, amidst rugged mountains lined with tussock, this campsite will make you feel like you’re truly in the middle of nowhere. Pick a site near the river, under a grove of trees, or on a patch of green grass with mountain views. This site is a great base to head off on mountain biking adventures, or do some outdoor rock climbing at Castle Hill. Nearby Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is set amongst awesome limestone cliffs, with views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges. Make sure to check out the 362-metre-long cave to be found here!
Can get busy in peak season so check availability!
Photo by Jocelyn Kinghorn
Lake Pearson is a large, tranquil and scenic high country lake.
Fancy a spot of bird watching in a peaceful and gorgeous location? Look no further! Park up beside this lake in the Waimakariri Basin and settle in under the willow trees to enjoy some spectacular star-lit night skies.
Photo by Francis Vallance
Moke Lake Campsite - Queenstown/Wakatipu (20 minutes from Queenstown)
With incredible valley views surrounding this remote campsite, you’ll want to make the most of your time here. Take a leisurely 2 hour walk around the alpine lake, or soak in the serenity with some fishing, kayaking or boating on the lake. A truly spectacular site you’ll never want to leave, and a welcome respite from the often busy tourist town of Queenstown.
These campsites will give you some of the best spots in NZ to check out, and photos and memories that will last a lifetime! Don’t forget to check out DOC website for information on bookings and other important information. And be aware that most of these involve a bit of a drive on some gravel roads - but they are well worth the extra twists and turns!
By Carly Day