Free camping? Isn’t that why so many travellers flock to New Zealand each year? Of course not! New Zealand is one of the most majestic places in the world. It’s mountains tower high, waterfalls gush, glaciers sparkle and active volcano’s bubble below the earth’s surface. New Zealand is a paradise for anyone wanting to escape the pandemonium that comes with so many places. New Zealand is one of the few places I’ve felt truly quiet and that’s why so many visits this tiny nation. For its beauty and tranquillity, not the free camping but, I must admit it certainly helps! New Zealand is one of the few countries around today that still allows freedom camping and in this post, I’m sharing my favourite sites for freedom camping on the North Island of New Zealand.
Freedom Camping in New Zealand
Before I get straight into these 30 awesome spots for freedom camping on the North Island of New Zealand a little about what freedom camping actually is. Essentially, freedom camping is camping for free. This means being able to camp without having to stay on a recognised or paid campsite. But of course, like everything in life, it isn’t quite that black and white. There are still rules that apply and that need to be abided by in New Zealand.
So, where exactly can you freedom camp?
The New Zealand government clearly outlines on their website where you can and cannot freedom camp in New Zealand. Freedom camping is permitted on public council and department of conservation land. Freedom camping is not allowed on any private property and each council in each region has its own rules. Councils have their own policies on which areas they prohibit from freedom campers. So it really isn’t as simple as just pulling up in a lay by, at the side of the road or in any car park for the night. The other rule when it comes to freedom camping is that you MUST be in a self-contained vehicle. That means all of your water supply stays inside the vehicle and you have a portable or fixed toilet inside.
Freedom Camping on the North Island of New Zealand, it is easy?
With all the rules and regulations around freedom camping in New Zealand, I did wonder how easy it would be once we’d arrived. We hired a camper van from Travellers Autobarn on arrival to New Zealand which was self-contained and we knew that freedom camping was going to do wonders for our budget. But I did wonder if we would find sites easily enough it’s not something I’ve ever done before but our freedom camping experience on the North Island of New Zealand was amazing! Having the ‘freedom’ to freedom camp (yes, pun intended) made our road trip from Auckland to Wellington so much easier and albeit a hell of a lot cheaper!
I think a big factor to us finding it so easy was the time of year. We took our first road trip around the North Island in winter meaning it was a lot quieter with fewer tourists. I had done some research into freedom camping and had decided I wanted to stay at as many recognised freedom camping spots as possible. Basically, these are sites that councils have ‘okayed’ to freedom camp in and usually have running water and toilets. Luckily, because it was winter we had no trouble finding space in all of the freedom campsites. I imagine in summer people could have a harder time freedom camping in the north island of New Zealand but I think it’ll be about being prepared and planning ahead to arrive at the sites early in the day. I’m sure we’ll be doing some more road tripping in New Zealand come summer so I’ll let you know once I’ve experienced it!
Staying Safe whilst Freedom Camping in the North Island of New Zealand
Is freedom camping safe? Well, that’s like asking is anything safe? There are a lot of bad people in the world and a lot of bad things happen. We have no idea when things in life can go wrong and freedom camping is no different. There are a few things you can do to make yourself feel safer whilst freedom camping in New Zealand. I found that I felt a lot safer in numbers. By this, I mean camping at designated camping spots and where there are other campers around. I’ll be honest on the few occasions we did camp somewhere that was a little rural it gave me the creepers! Of course, making sure you’ve got everything you need will help keep you safe too. Always keep your vehicle filled up with plenty of water and food just in case. Overall, I felt super safe whilst freedom camping in New Zealand but you just never know.
Finding Freedom Camping Sites in New Zealand
I have one solution to finding great freedom camping sites on the North Island of New Zeland in fact, make that the whole of New Zealand. And we’ve got technology to thank for this one! Wikki-Camps is the best app you will ever download when it comes to freedom camping. I think it cost like $2.99 from the app store but it was the best money I’d ever spent. You basically type in your location and it shows up all the free camping areas near you and other amenities too.
Look for the $ sign with a cross through it to show that it’s a free site. The app is also helpful when looking for the nearest things to do, dumping stations and water stations. It also gives its users access to leave comments and amend details on the app. So for example, if you turn up to a site that’s no longer allowing freedom camping then you can tell the app. I found it really helpful to read other peoples comments on the app before heading to a site too.
Freedom Camping on the North Island of New Zealand – The Best Sites!
Freedom Camping in Auckland
So many travellers fly into Auckland when travelling to New Zealand picking up campers near the airport. Auckland isn’t the highlight of the North Island by any stretch of the imagination but it’s definitely worth exploring if you have time. You can actually see a lot of Auckland in just one day! The problem we found with Auckland is that it doesn’t have many freedom camping sites close to the city. After our first day exploring Auckland and being a freedom camping rookie we headed one hour north of the city to find our first freedom camping spot and it turned out to be one of the best!
Gulf Harbour Marina
Gulf Harbour Marina is a designated freedom camping spot 47 km north of the city. The camping area has around 20 spots for freedom campers with a self-contained certificate. There are toilets, a dumping spot and drinking water. The toilets were clean and open all night. If you do choose to camp here then make sure you rise for sunrise over the Marina. There’s also a ferry that you can catch back across to Auckland if you want to do that.
Freedom Camping on the Coromandel Peninsula
Exploring the Coromandel Coast is a must-do on the North Island of New Zealand! The stretch of coastline is beautiful and Cathedral Cove is one of my favourite places on the North Island. There’s also Hot Water Beach where you can basically dig yourself a hot tub, check out this post for more about that! I cannot recommend visiting the Coromandel more and there’s a couple of great freedom camping areas too.
Coroglen Reserve, 1909 Tairua Whitianga Road
This first freedom camping spot is perfect for those visiting Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. It’s kind of located between the two attractions but it is more of a lay-by rest area than car-park or camping area. It is close to the road but has toilets and plenty of space. There’s a sign to say that freedom camping with a self-contained vehicle is allowed. Make sure you get up for the sunrise over the river.
44 Woollams Avenue, Coromandel
Freedom camping carpark with toilets for self-contained vehicles only in the village. There are a limited number of spaces available in the village, 10. This camping area is popular so make sure you arrive early to get a space.
Freedom Camping in Matamata
Visiting Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand will bring you through the town of Matamata. We actually didn’t find any freedom campsites in Matamata or near to the Hobbiton movie set. That said, Brocks Place is a great alternative. Brocks Place camping ground is 5 minutes from Hobbiton and really convenient if you have an early tour. The campground is located on a working farm and costs just $8 PP and with an extra charge of $2 for a hot shower. Cold showers are free if you’re brave enough. The amenities are wonderful with clean toilets and a dishwashing area. Bear in mind that Bucks place doesn’t have any powered sites just unpowered.
Freedom Camp Sites in Rotorua
Government Gardens Car-Park, 1001 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua
This camping area is in such a good location for exploring the town of Rotorua one of the most unique places in the world. Rotorua is built on geothermal activity and the ground bubbles all around you! It’s bound to be on any North Island bucket list and is a great region to explore. I recommend spending at least 2 full days in Rotorua! This campsite has about 20 spaces for self-contained vehicles. The council do come and check the vehicles and move on non-self contained vehicles. Because of its amazing location, this campsite was busy even in July! If you want to freedom camp in Rotorua arrive early in the morning to hang around and wait for space. You will have no chance late in the day. Toilets are located just a short walk away next to the bowling green, close at 10 pm and open at 8 am.
Hot Showers in the visitors centre in Rotorua centre are available for just $5. Or there’s a swimming pool next door to this freedom camping area too.
Rotorua Car-Park, Mataiawhea Street, Rotorua
There are only 3 spaces for self-contained vehicles at this camping area but if you manage to get a spot it’s a good place for the night. Always worth checking if the other camping car park is full but the security council also watch these spaces. If you park in the non-designated areas you will be asked to move on.
Hukka Falls Freedom Campsite
Okay, this one is definitely not luxurious but it’s so handy for those driving through Lake Taupo/visiting Hukka Falls. Hukka Falls is my favourite waterfall on the North Island of New Zealand. The aqua blue water is so mesmerising. The water literally gushes through the narrowing in the land to the waterfall at the end of the river. 220,000 litres of water PER SECOND flow through Hukka Falls. If that’s not impressive then I have no idea what is!
The freedom camping area at Hukka Falls is on Hukka Falls Road. Pretty much a two-minute drive south of the car park to view the falls. There are two camping areas A & B but only campsite B was open for overnight camping as of July 2019 when we stayed overnight. Campsite B is fine but the road is very bumpy and uneven. So go. Very slowly – especially in those rented campers. That said the toilets at campsite A can be walked over to and are much nicer than the portable toilets at campsite B. An easy place to stay for the night but nothing much around other than the falls.
Freedom Camping in Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park famous for the Alpine crossing hike and mountainous views that stretch for miles. Tongariro will undoubtedly be on many travellers list including ours. There are a few freedom campsites to choose from in Tongariro National Park it’s just finding them. Of course, a lot of the national park is managed by the Department of Conservation so camping is permitted in a lot of places.
Ohakune may not be on the list for many travellers but I recommend it. This cute little town is nestled into the countryside as you leave Tongariro National Park. It’s a popular ski-town with New Zealanders flocking each year to get on the Mount Raupheu slopes! Mount Ruapehu towers above the town making it extra magical. At least that’s what I read. Unfortunately for us, we were greeted with low thick cloud during our time in Ohakune. The ski-slopes were shut and weather miserable for everybody involved. Luckily we hid away eating nachos and wedges in a gorgeous sky-chalet bar! We also camped out in the Big Carrot Car Park.
You won’t miss the car park just as you’re about to leave the town centre. There isn’t a sign prohibiting freedom camping and the toilets are sparkling clean! There were other freedom campers there for the night who’d also stayed previous nights with no trouble. Not sure how long this will be around for but for now, it’s a great little spot.
Freedom Camping Sites in Wellington
If you follow me along on Instagram then you’ll know that we ended up staying in Wellington for some time whilst we had our campervan – it’s a long story. So that left us scouring the area for the best freedom campsites around and Wellington has so many beautiful areas for freedom camping.
Evans Bay Marina Car Park
Evans Bay Marina is hands down the most popular freedom camping spot in Wellington. It’s in a great location just a 45-minute walk from the city centre. The freedom camping area is quite big with around 30 spaces for self-contained vans. There are clean toilets, a dump station and free drinking water where you can fill up the tank! Super handy but also super popular as I mentioned. Get here early in the day to secure a space. Note that you can only stay here for 4 nights per calendar month. It’s a perfect spot to camp in Wellington if you’re exploring the capital or waiting overnight for the ferry to the South Island.
Ohwiro Bay, Wellington 6023
Ohwiro Bay hands down gets my top spot for the BEST freedom camping spot in Wellington. Located right on the waterfront it makes for a beautiful, sunset and sunrise. Not only are the toilets great and location wonderful but during the wintertime, Ohwiro Bay is also home to a male fur seal colony! Take a day to follow the walking track from the car park around to Red Rocks which is where the seals start to make their appearance. Keep walking and you will see hundreds of fur seals between the months of May-August, it’s pretty damn special.
Ngati Toa Domain, Mana, Porirua 5026
This little gem is just outside of the city of Wellington. It takes approximately 40 minutes to get out to Porirua and the next couple of freedom campsites on this list! The Ngati Toa Domain is a great spot for exploring Wellington and the surrounding areas. This camping area has toilets open all night and is available for self-contained vehicles for 3 nights per calendar month.
Motukaraka Point Reserve, Pauatahanui, Porirua
Motukaraka Point is another option in the Porirua region. As long as your vehicle is no longer than 7.5m you can camp here overnight. When we were there we also saw multiple people camping with their tents. There isn’t a sign which prohibits tents either so it’s definitely somewhere to look into if you are in a tent. The toilets are okay too.
Bradys Bay, Porirua
The final freedom campsite which I want to share is Brady’s Bay. Located on the waterfront is definitely a picturesque spot. That said, this spot has no amenities. There are toilets a short drive away in Mana but other than you’re well and truly just camping in your van! The sunset from this spot is great though!
I hope you enjoyed this post about freedom camping in the North Island of New Zealand. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of freedom campsites on the North Island but they are some of the best ones we’ve stayed at. If you do plan on freedom camping then please make sure you do so sustainably and protect the environment we are lucky to camp in. Here are some things you can do whilst freedom camping:
- Take all rubbish
- Do not wash dishes in toilet sinks
- Do not urinate or worse outdoors
- Use the portable toilet you must carry to be self-contained
- Only empty wastewater in designated areas
- Think of the locals, no loud music!
Let’s be thankful that New Zealand still allows freedom camping by being respectful and paying attention to these simple tips that can make a big difference!