Camping in New Zealand: 10 tips for a camping holiday in New Zealand

Camping in New Zealand, perhaps the most important reason why I absolutely love this country! The freedom to go anywhere with your campervan or camper wherever you want. I love to cook on a gas burner at the campsite and experience the real camping life. However, there are a lot of things we have learned about camping in New Zealand. I share all our camping tips with you in this blog!

Camping in New Zealand: ten tips for your holiday to New Zealand!

New Zealand has stolen my heart. It is a versatile country, with beautiful nature. We drove in 25 days through the whole country by campervan. During this trip, we discovered them really useful tips for when you go camping in New Zealand. Below you will find these 10 tips.

1. Do you want to camp for free or go wild camping? Then travel by ‘self-contained’ campervan

Did you know that you can camp for free or in the wild in many places in New Zealand? Provided you drive in a ‘self-contained’ campervan. This means that your camper van can store water for up to three days. To be precise, the campervan needs the following facilities:

  • Freshwater tank, 12 litres per person for three days.
  • A sink that is connected to a wastewater tank.
  • Wastewater tank (this is also called grey or black ‘wastewater tank’), 12 L per person for three days.
  • An evacuation hose.
  • A trash can with a lid.
  • A toilet (portable or fixed) which fits at least 3 litres per person for three days.

How to do freedom camping in New Zealand?

With your self-contained campervan, you can, therefore, camp wild in many places. This freedom camping can be done on almost all the land which the DOC (Department Of Conservation) owns or on public land. For a handy overview of rules and restrictions on wild camping per region, take a look at this website. You can also camp for free on a number of campsites, provided you have a self-contained campervan. If you drive a non-self-contained campervan then you will often have to pay or you are not welcome. There are a few campsites where you can stay both self and non-self-contained for free. This way, hiring/buying a self-contained campervan can certainly pay off if you plan to go freedom camp! However, do keep in mind that hiring a self-contained campervan is often more expensive.

A campervan that is ‘self-contained’ can be recognized by the certificate sticker that is stuck to the left window. This looks like this:

self-contained vehicle NZ

Mega budget tip for Early Birds: Currently campervan rental company Spaceships has a great deal where you get a 10% discount, valid for travel in 2024, 2025 and 2026! Click here for more information and to book your campervan.

2. How to find the best campsites in New Zealand? Use a camping app!

There are some useful apps which you can use to find campsites in New Zealand. For example, we used the Spaceships Travel App, which not only displays campsites but also activities and facilities. The Campermate App has the same options. In these apps, you will see a map of New Zealand, showing all the campsites. Colours indicate whether it is a luxury, cheap or free camping. Per campsite, you will find information about the facilities (toilet, hot water, showers, WiFi etc), the price and contact details of the campsite. You can also find reviews from previous visitors. Note: in this type of apps you can’t book your campsite. You book through the website of the campsite, or by phone.

Tip: in high season it usually isn’t necessary to pre-book a spot on the campsite on the South Island. We always had a spot. This is different on the North Island where spots are often quickly filled. 

Is camping not your thing? Click here to find our New Zealand hotel guide.

3. Please note that WiFi is not available everywhere!

In large parts of the Netherlands and Europe, it’s perfectly normal that you have free WiFi everywhere. We had the illusion that this would also be the case in New Zealand. Unfortunately, it wasn’t… there is sometimes WiFi in shopping centres and at Mac Donalds, but that’s it. At the campsites where we slept, we sometimes received a WiFi voucher, but often that was so limited we couldn’t do much with it. There was even one campsite where we got just 100mb per day, which is equal to just a few WhatsApp messages. On many campsites, however, there was no or only paid internet. This paid internet was often excessively expensive, sometimes more than ten euros for 500 MB.

Do you want to have phone/internet connection on the road in New Zealand? Buy a local sim card!

On arrival in New Zealand, we bought a SIM card from the brand Spark. For €27.50 or NZ$45 we got a SIM card with 5 GB of data on it (nowadays a SIM card costs N $49, click here for more information). By dealing with our data relatively economically, we didn’t need to top this 5GB up. Apart from the fact that we occasionally wanted to post a blog, it was also nice to be able to google something or have some contact with the family. For our navigation we didn’t use this SIM card, look at tip 4 how we did this!

4. Before you hit the road: download some online maps of New Zealand!

Are you, just like us, driving through New Zealand by campervan? Then download the maps of New Zealand in advance. Internet in New Zealand is quite expensive and only available on a limited basis. With Google Maps or Maps Me, you can simply use your maps offline and use navigation. These maps also display restaurants, activities or campsites.

Please note: the maps on Google maps are only available offline for 30 days, after which they expire!

Are you planning a trip through New Zealand? I made three possible itineraries for the North Island. And in this blog you will find a possible itinerary for the South Island.

5. Book the ferry between the South and North island in time

Are you planning to take the ferry between the South Island and the North Island? In high season it is smart to book this in advance. Especially when you cross with a campervan, there are only limited spots for campervans and the ferry fills up quickly. We booked a half a year in advance, which is pretty extreme, but a few days or weeks before the crossing itself wouldn’t hurt. There are two ferry companies that sail from Picton to Wellington: Interislander and Bluebridge. We travelled with the latter because it was just a bit cheaper.

Black Friday budget tip: Are you already in New Zealand and are you going to start a road trip? Currently, campervan rental company Spaceships has a great deal where you get a 30% discount if you book before November 28th and travel before December 22. Click here for more information and to book your campervan.

6. Is camping in New Zealand expensive? Get cheap groceries at PAK’n SAVE!

PAK’n SAVE was definitely our favourite store in New Zealand! It’s a huge supermarket, which is a lot cheaper than, for example, Countdown, New World or FreshChoice. Especially their deals on fruit and vegetables are good. In addition, quality is high. Unfortunately there is only a limited amount of PAK’n SAVE in New Zealand, but we wouldn’t mind driving a little further to visit at once. Here you will find an overview of all PAK’n SAVE stores in New Zealand.

7. Do you travel on a budget in New Zealand? Save money on fuel!

Many supermarkets in New Zealand have a deal with their local gas station. This means that you get a discount on your fuel with a receipt of your purchases or a special promotional card. PAK’n SAVE, for example, has its own petrol stations and works with the PAK ‘s SAVE Sticky Club. With this, you get a 0.01NZ$ discount per litre when you spend NZ$20 or more (more information here). This can add up to 0.35NZ$ per litre, a considerable amount.

These kind of discounts are also available at Countdown supermarkets (more information here), New World (more information here) and FreshChoice (more information here). With the big distances in New Zealand, this can definitely make a difference!

Are you wondering if New Zealand is an expensive country? Then read this New Zealand budget blog: How much money did we spend traveling in New Zealand.

8. Save money by booking discounted activities through BookMe

BookMe is a website packed with discounted activities. And those aren’t activities that nobody is interested in, but really the kind of things you for sure want to do in New Zealand like bungee jumping, kayaking, surfing, whale watching, a cruising the Milford Sounds. We booked several times through BookMe and sometimes paid only 50% of the original price. For example, we made a whale flight in Kaikoura and we rented kayaks with a discount at the Abel Tasman park. Often there is availability for activities up to a few days in advance, so regularly check the website.

9. Calculate less time per hike than indicated!

Are you planning to make some nice hikes in New Zealand? Do not be put off by the indicated time per hike. The DOC (Department of Conservation) places signs at the beginning of most routes, with an estimation of how long it will take to hike a certain route. These times can also be found on the maps on their website. However, these times have generally been estimated fairly broadly. To illustrate, we usually needed only half of the indicated time. Do you have a normal physical condition and no injuries? Then you will certainly also be faster than the indicated time.

If you plan to do a multi-day hike, this will also apply. You usually spend the night in huts in a nature park which are pricey. It sometimes seems as if the DOC indicates that you need more days (and therefore more nights) than is realistic. For example, we spoke to many tourists who told us that they had finished a hike in only two or three days while four days were indicated. So think carefully before you book all the expensive cabins.NZ hiking

10. While camping, watch out for Sandflies. These little bugs look very similar to fruit flies!

You have probably already heard about them and with a bit of bad luck, you will also have to deal with them during your trip through New Zealand: Sandflies! These little creatures are very annoying: they bite you, after which you get bumps that itch much worse than mosquito bites.

We, too, were warned but didn’t suffer from them the first days in New Zealand. Until we arrived in the Milford Sounds area. When we got out of the car, all these fruit flies flew around us. We didn’t understand it, where did they come from and why were they constantly in our faces? They turned out to not be fruit flies, but sandflies. These two resemble each other, but where the former is very innocent, the latter is really very annoying. So be warned! During the last four days on the North Island, they really got me. Most probably there have been a few inside our campervan. I woke up in the middle of the night, crazy with itching. On each leg, I had at least 40 bites that were horribly itching for over a week.

Tip: unfortunately there is not much to do against Sandflies. Even Deet does not scare them off. And because they are tiny, they easily fly into your car or campervan. The only thing that helps is to cover up as much as possible when you go outside!

New Zealand

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1 Comment

  1. by Caroline Smith on 28 February 2023  03:56 Reply

    One of my dream places New Zealand. I badly want to go there and experience camping in a beautiful place like new zealand soon

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