My favourite campsites in New Zealand

September 1, 2019

I recently explored New Zealand with a self-contained campervan and found that these were some of my favourite campsites throughout the North and South Island.

Moanaroa Reserve

If you’re travelling south from Auckland and need a simple place to camp for the night, try Moanaroa. There’s an elevated grass section below a row of trees where you will park your campervan which overlooks Lake Karapiro with lush greenery on the opposite side of the water. In the morning you’ll wake to a beautiful view with black swans wandering around and the occasional kayaker on the water. Best of all, the campsite is free.

Black swans heading across the water

Five Mile Bay Recreation Reserve

This is one of my favourite campsites in New Zealand but it’s not for the basic campsites but rather for the beautiful views over Lake Taupo.  In the distance, you’ll be able to see the enormous volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. For the best parking spots on the edge of the water, arrive early as it gets busy in any season.

Volcano view at sunset

Wairoa Reserve – Cave/long beach

This camping site only has space for 3 campervans per site but it’s ideal to stop here if you are making your way south. Once there, take a walk down to the black sand beach or enjoy the view across the ocean from the comfort of your own van. Keep in mind, it is located next to a paying campsite which has power and water supply, so don’t get confused if you are looking for this one.

A row of cliffs along the waters edge
A black sand beach with driftwood on it

Elaine Bay

Located in one of the most picturesque areas in New Zealand, the Marlborough Sounds, is a DOC campsite right at the water’s edge. There’s a short boardwalk over the water which makes it easy to spot the small fish, yellow starfish and the best part; stingrays. You can also take a short walk around the neighbourhood, a stroll to the next bay or enjoy the scenic drive through the French Pass.

Campervan parked by the water of Elaine Bay
A pink sunset over the water as a boat leaves to go fishing

Lake Mahinapua

This campsite wasn’t on our list of places we had planned to stay at, but it has magnificent views of the southern alps reflecting in the lake. There’s also a boardwalk where you can enjoy the first light over the mountains in the morning.  The drawback is that there is not much to do here as the short walks that are available do not lead anywhere.

Beautiful light on a cloudy day by Lake Mahinapua
The boardwalk over the water of Lake Mahinapua

Kidds Bush Reserve

Enjoy the spacious campsites of Kidds Bush Reserve alongside Lake Hawea with the mountainous backdrop of Isthmus Peak. As you’ll be travelling along a narrow farm road to get here, be careful of the sheep and the small bunnies roaming around.

An overcast evening by Lake Hawea
Driving out Lake Hawea towards Wanaka

There are plenty of great places to camp in New Zealand, with most being free or available for a small fee. However, keep in mind that most require you to have a self-contained campervan which is the best way to explore New Zealand anyways.