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What you need to know when camping in New Zealand


Decided on a camping road trip in New Zealand? Here are 10 useful tips.

With its rugged landscapes, pristine lakes, and snow-capped peaks, New Zealand appeals to adventurers from all over the world. And what better way to explore this natural wonderland than by camping under the Southern Hemisphere stars in your own campervan?

In this blog, we’ll tell you our tips for a camping road trip in New Zealand, from road rules to respecting the environment and the best stargazing spots. Whether you’re an experienced camper or a first-timer, let’s dive into the essentials that will make your Kiwi camping experience unforgettable.

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Whether you're still deciding if New Zealand is the right destination for you, or you've already booked your flights and are on the hunt for the perfect itinerary to fill your time here - we can help you out. We've got a massive collection of activities and experiences on offer, and extremely sharp prices on car and campervan rentals.
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1. Leave No Trace - The Golden Rule

“Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.” It is a little bit of a cliche, but it does cover the basic responsibilities when it comes to camping abroad, or anywhere really. As you explore New Zealand’s diverse landscapes, remember to:

  • Pack out what you pack in: get rid of all trash responsibly, including food scraps.
  • Avoid mixing chemicals into water streams: Use eco-friendly soaps and detergents when washing dishes outside.
  • Respect native flora and fauna: Don’t break branches or damage plants - thread lightly.
  • Extinguish fires properly: Leave no trace of your campfire, and make sure to always have something on hand to put out your fires.


2. Campsites: From Freedom Camping to Holiday Parks

  • Holiday Parks: These commercial campgrounds are probably the most comfortable option for camping in New Zealand. They offer safe and well-equipped experiences. Choose from tent sites, powered van/motorhome spots, or cosy cabins.


  • Department of Conservation (DOC) Campsites: Managed on a trust basis, these sites are often in stunning regions. Tents, vans, and motorhomes are welcome. Facilities vary per campsite, but fees are reasonable so they are a great choice for adventurers on a budget, like you!


  • Freedom Camping: In certain areas, you can camp for free out in the wild, as long as you follow the rules: you need a self-contained campervan, leave no trace behind, and respect the environment. You might be wondering what a ''self-contained campervan'' actually means, but it's quite simple. A self-contained campervan has got a toilet (flush or composting), water supply for cooking and personal hygiene, and wastewater holding tanks. If you're unsure, ask one of our travel experts - we've got self-contained campervans in many forms and shapes, and for every budget.

3. No Camping Means No Camping

  • Obey the Signs: When you encounter signs that prohibit camping, take them seriously. These signs are there for a reason—to protect the environment and ensure everyone’s safety. Ignoring them could lead to unnecessary trouble.

  • Know Restricted Areas: Familiarise yourself with restricted zones. Some areas are off-limits due to conservation efforts, cultural significance, or safety concerns. Respect these boundaries and avoid camping where it’s not allowed.


4. Stargazing Hotspots

New Zealand has some of the clearest night skies on the planet, and is often regarded as the best place for stargazing. To make the most of your experience of camping in the wild, you should definitely try this. Some tips:

  • Find the Right Spot: Seek out a dark, quiet location away from artificial lights. The best stargazing happens when you’re far from city lights.

  • Protect Your Night Vision: Cover your white lantern or flashlight with red cellophane or paper. This preserves your night vision and allows you to see more stars. Also turn off your phone screen or set it to red mode to avoid disrupting your eyes’ adaptation to darkness.

  • Give Your Eyes Time to Adjust: After arriving at your stargazing spot, turn off all lights (flashlights, lanterns, phone screens, and car headlights). Wait about 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adapt to the darkness.


Now, let’s share some of the best stargazing spots in New Zealand:

  • Aoraki Mt Cook: Located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, this area offers pristine skies and stunning views of the Southern Hemisphere constellations.
  • Lake Tekapo: Another gem within the Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo boasts clear skies and minimal light pollution. Twizel, close to Lake Tekapo, is equally fantastic for stargazing.
  • Stewart Island: Known for its rugged beauty, Stewart Island provides excellent stargazing opportunities.
  • Great Barrier Island: Off the coast of Auckland, this island is part of the Dark Sky Sanctuary and offers remarkable celestial views.
No Entry Sign In Auckland New Zealand

5. Book Your Campervan in Advance

New Zealand is a popular destination for campervan road trips, so availability can fill up quickly. To avoid disappointment, book your campervan rental well ahead of time. Whether you’re exploring the calming coastlines, lush forests, or the rugged mountains, having your wheels ready ensures a seamless journey, as you can just focus on planning the perfect road trip. 

Take a look at our selection of campervans in New Zealand and reach out to our team for a quote.


6. Essential apps

When it's time for your camping road trip through New Zealand, there are some pretty handy apps to install. Here's a few:

  • CamperMate: This popular free travel app is a must-have for campervan enthusiasts. It provides a wealth of information, including:
      • Campsite locations: Find free, low-cost, and paid campsites.
      • Facilities: Locate public toilets, supermarkets, laundromats, and petrol stations.
      • Road alerts: Stay informed about road conditions and weather warnings.
      • Tips from fellow travellers: Get insider advice and find hidden gems.
      • Last-minute discounts: Score deals on accommodation and activities based on your location.


  • Gaspy: Find the best fuel prices along your route. Saving a few cents per litre adds up during a road trip! 
  • GrabOne Discount NZ: Score deals on dining, activities, and experiences. Treat yourself without breaking the bank! 
Campervan Under A Starry Sky In New Zealand

7. Rent the right car or campervan if you're heading into the mountains

New Zealand’s mountain passes are known for their challenging conditions. Depending on the season you can encounter snow, ice, or face the risk of landslides. Seriously, these routes demand caution. If you plan to drive during fall, winter, or early spring, choosing the right car or campervan matters.

Here’s the practical advice: attempting these passes in a compact economy car is not a good idea, and during winter some mountain roads even require the use of snow chains. So, before renting a car or campervan, check your routes and whether your vehicle is the best fit for where you want to go. Our travel experts can help you with this!

Remember, New Zealand’s rugged terrain can even surprise drivers with a lot of experience, so be prepared and drive cautiously. For more detailed information on driving in New Zealand and actual conditions, check out the NZ Transport Agency’s website for guidance.


8. Let people pass if you're driving slowly (it's the law!)

In New Zealand, it is not only courteous but also legally required to allow faster-moving vehicles to pass if you are driving slowly. This practice promotes safer road conditions and ensures a smoother traffic flow. When you notice a vehicle behind you travelling at a faster pace, find a suitable opportunity to move over and allow them to pass, avoiding road rage for you and others. Many roads in New Zealand have dedicated pull-off points, so there's no reason not to use them! If you're in the faster car, you'll also be thankful when others let you pass by. 

New Zealand South Island Hanmer Springs Mountain Range

9. Kitchen Essentials and Food Prep

How you'll be cooking and what you need depends a little on which campsites you will choose. If you're sticking to the commercial ones, like holiday parks, it's easy. These campsites come equipped with communal kitchens and barbecues, and often provide cooking utensils.

If you're staying at DOC campsites or plan to camp in the wild, you need to bring your own kitchen gear. Essentials include a gas stove, pots, pans and utensils, which will either be included, or an optional add-on when renting a campervan. See all the inclusions on the specific campervan pages, or ask one of our travel experts.


10. Fire Safety and Silence

  • Campfires: If allowed, extinguish them properly and return the ground to its original state.
  • Silence: Respect quiet hours. Let the sounds of nature prevail.

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