BEST CAMPING GROUNDS – SOUTH ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND
BEST CAMPING GROUNDS – SOUTH ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND
CAMPING GROUNDS – SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND
Not only have we put together this post on the best camping grounds on the South Island of New Zealand, but you can also read our entire 3 week itinerary which includes a map of our route, every photo stop and daily break down from our South Island road trip. There are so many campervan sites in New Zealand that it can become stressful finding one within your budget and for your camping needs. When camping on the South Island of New Zealand these were the sites that not only ticked every box but blew our socks off. From the Queenstown camping ground that had the coolest toilets we’ve ever seen, to camping in Christchurch with a swimming pool onsite, we have rounded up the details to ensure camping on the South Island is as fun and straight forward as possible!
FINDING THE BEST CAMPERVAN HIRE IN NEW ZEALAND
There are so many companies who do campervan hire in New Zealand however we did weeks of research and found our winner – Travellers Autobarn. Our campervan, the Kuga, was tall enough for Daz to stand in (he’s 6ft 4), had a stove, fridge, microwave and sink and could’ve slept 3 people!
We hired wee Cathy the Campervan through Travellers Autobarn and can’t fault them at all. Our pick up was just as easy as our drop off and we literally cried saying goodbye to Cathy. We had a wee problem with our stove on day one and their helpline was so handy – guiding us through the issue over the phone so it was resolved in minutes! We loved our experience so much with wee Cathy, that we are hiring a van again with them in Australia.
Ever wondered how much it costs to travel New Zealand in a campervan? Our post not only provides hacks on finding the cheapest campervan rental but a full budget breakdown, routes and more!
NORTH SOUTH HOLIDAY PARK – CHRISTCHURCH
Camping in Christchurch is never going to be cheap, so although we paid NZ$72.00 (for both of us) this was for a small cabin, prior to picking up our campervan. It had a comfortable double bed, air con/heating, a television and a fridge. Bonus points for the fact it offered an airport shuttle service which not many camping grounds in Christchurch offer.
Cost: NZ$72.00 for a cabin
Wi-Fi: Free but Slow.
Facilities: Showers & Toilets were perfect, there was even a pool on site.
SOUTH BRIGHTON HOLIDAY PARK – CHRISTCHURCH
If looking for affordable camping in Christchurch, this is a great site as it’s only a 20 minute drive to the city centre. Our allocated space was huge, staff were very friendly and the facilities were excellent.
Cost: NZ$36.00 for a powered site
Wi-Fi: Yes, 1GB free
Facilities: No complaints with toilets & showers. Also had a well equipped kitchen & laundry facilities.
CAROLINE BAY – TIMARU
Although essentially a carpark next to a rollerblade rink, it was free and there are facilities nearby. If camping on the South Island of New Zealand, make sure to add this to your itinerary for one simple reason – PENGUINS. Opposite the carpark is beautiful Caroline Bay beach, where each evening penguins travel ashore to nest. It was our first time seeing penguins in the wild and the volunteers were so friendly and informative, this really was a hidden gem!
Note, you must vacate the area between 10am and 4pm due to the carpark being used by the community and the site is limited to 10 campervans. Do not exceed this as fines can occur and it contributes to free camping grounds being closed down.
Facilities: Flush toilets & cold showers are less than a 5 minute walk.
LAKE PUKAKI RESERVE – LAKE PUKAKI
This was our favourite free camping ground in the South Island of New Zealand due to the incredible view of Lake Pukaki. We cannot stress how important it is to arrive early if you want a good spot and also within a shorter walk to the toilet. When we arrived all spaces along the front were taken, so we parked higher on the hill which was very windy and around a 15 minute round trip to the toilet. It also meant a huge motorhome parked in front of us, spoiling our view, so if you can arrive early it is so worth it!
Cost: Free – Arrive Early!
Facilities: Drop toilets.
MOERAKI BOULDERS HOLIDAY PARK – HAMPDEN
The staff were incredibly friendly, offering great advice for exploring the area. The Moeraki Boulders are within walking distance of the campsite and are a fascinating phenomenon to photograph as they appear like giant dinosaur eggs dotted along the beach. It is also a great base for exploring nearby Katiki Point Lighthouse which is home to a penguin and seal colony! Our neighbour was staying in a funky retro caravan which are also available to hire as well as sea view cabins if you fancy a wee break from van life.
Cost: NZ$32.00 for powered site (10% off if you have a Kiwi campsite key ring – we received one with our campervan hire)
Wi-Fi: No. We paid NZ$10.00 for 2GB
Facilities: Very clean toilets and showers. Showers were timed at 6 minutes however this was more than enough time.
KAITANGATA RIVERSIDE MOTOR CAMP – KAITANGATA
There were two reasons Kaitangata Riverside Motor Camp deserves it’s place on our best camping grounds on the South Island list – Wi-Fi & Pizza. When living in a van, these words are music to your ears. For NZ$15.00 the campsite owners will bake you a large pizza with your selected toppings to be enjoyed in your van. Although we love cooking in a campervan this was such a welcomed treat. The staff were also some of the nicest we came across during our time camping on the South Island. They purposely told us where to park for the best Wi-Fi signal which turned out to be the best Wi-Fi we’d had during our entire trip – perfect for planning the next few campervan sites in New Zealand.
Cost: NZ$30.00 for powered site
Wi-Fi: Yes – Fast & unlimited for free.
Facilities: Showers were hot, free and unlimited. There is a kitchen with microwave, basic utensils for use.
FORTROSE TOWNSHIP A – FORTROSE
Free camping in New Zealand is so worth it when you stumble across hidden gems like this. Although an unassuming field adjacent to the beach, when the sun set it was the most incredible view. Again, we recommend arriving early as we were last to squeeze in at the very end which also made us furthest away from the toilets. Any later and our view would’ve been obstructed completely by other vans, so to secure your spot at the front arrive prior to 4pm.
Note, as it is an exposed field there is no shelter and it can get incredibly windy so park carefully. Also like all campervan sites in New Zealand, read the signs carefully. You can be fined here for not camping on the allocated free zones.
Cost: Free (Arrive Early)
Facilities: Drop toilets
MILFORD SOUND LODGE – MILFORD SOUND
If only all campervan sites in New Zealand were as good as this. Spacious, private sites with power and shade, mere minutes from the banks of beautiful Milford Sound. Read our Te Anau to Milford Sound post for the numerous reasons why this site was so unforgettable and why we cannot recommend it enough.
Cost: Read this post as it was part of a package with our Milford Sound cruise.
Wi-Fi: No + no phone signal either = bliss
Facilities: AMAZING. Although it was our most expensive camping ground on South Island, it was worth every penny for the showers alone.
QUEENSTOWN HOLIDAY PARK & MOTELS CREEKSYDE – QUEENSTOWN
If looking for a Queenstown camping ground be prepared to splash the cash however, this was worth every penny for many reasons. Firstly, it is one of the most eco-friendly campervan sites in New Zealand as it’s one of only 15 in the world to achieve EarthCheck’s highest accolade of Master Certification for commitment to green initiatives.
Secondly, this Queenstown camping ground is literally a 5 minute walk from town so within minutes you can be sunbathing by the lake, getting the adrenaline pumping from numerous adventurous activities or brunching in the beautiful Queenstown cafes.
Finally, the facilities. Not only do they have an adults only lounge to enjoy TV, there is great cooking facilities and toilets so funky I couldn’t help but photograph them.
Cost: Low season from NZ$55.00 per site. Peak season from NZ$65.00 per site. We paid NZ$65.00 and were camping in Queenstown in March.
Wi-Fi: NZ$25.00 for unlimited Wi-Fi during your stay OR book an activity at reception to receive Wi-Fi Free.
Facilities: As mentioned early they are Insta-worthy. Bet you’d never imagine finding insta-worthy toilets in a campervan site in New Zealand? These were incredibly funky, with added bonus of hairdryers etc.
LAKE HAWEA HOTEL, HOSTEL AND CAMPGROUND – LAKE HAWEA
Avoid the crowded Wanaka camping grounds for this absolute hidden gem – a mere 15 minute drive from Wanaka and one of the most beautiful views from our time camping on the South Island. The hotel itself does great backpacker friendly deals on bar meals & drinks if you’re a little fed up of cooking in a campervan although we enjoyed NZ$4.00 pasta instead as we spent all our money on wine from the vineyard tour in Queenstown ha!
Cost: NZ$12.00 per person
Wi-Fi: Yes – only in certain areas
Facilities: Perfect. Weirdly, the Wi-Fi worked best in the toilets/showers!?
FOX GLACIER LODGE – FOX GLACIER
This made it to our best camping ground on South Island, New Zealand round up for one very unique reason. At 9pm each night the owner of this campsite takes everyone staying on a glow worm tour in the nearby forest. It was surreal wondering in the pitch black surrounded by these twinkling dots, like blue stars. We couldn’t believe the walk was free and that the owner did it everyday out of kindness. It is also a great base for proximity to Lake Matheson, famous for it’s stunning reflections which is only 6km away, and the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
Cost: NZ$40.00 powered site
Facilities: Basic but perfect. Flush toilets and clean showers.
MOUNT LYFORD LODGE – LYFORD
We might be a little biased because we were told when checking in that the lodge was built by a Scottish man but this was one of our favourite New Zealand campsites and definitely one of the best camping grounds on the South Island. Not only were the showers and toilets super spacious, clean and cosy but the staff were ridiculously friendly. They emphasised there was no need to buy a drink to relax in the bar and that we were welcome to sit on the huge comfy sofas without buying anything (music to any backpackers ears!) We so wished we could have stayed here longer, so if you are camping on South Island (whether in a van or tent) make sure stop by here!
Cost: NZ$15.00 per person for a powered site
Wi-Fi: Yes – in lodge or in communal kitchen
GENTLE ANNIE’S – MOKIHINUI
We had been recommended Gentle Annie’s by a friend of ours who explained it as “heaven on earth” and she was not mistaken. Although it sounds expensive for an unpowered site, our space was incredibly spacious, private and had amazing views. No other South Island camping grounds can compare to Gentle Annie’s as it is so unbelievably quirky and unique. As a little tip, if you mention you found them via Campermate (don’t say we recommended you) they reward you with homemade cookies on arrival. A favourite South Island camping ground for us, as they have a huge stone pizza oven and sell homemade dough for you to build and bake fresh pizza and snuggle by their fire. Barista coffee, home baked cakes and friendly conversation were just the cherry on top of the most wonderful stay.
Cost: NZ$24.00 unpowered site (+ credit card fee)
Wi-Fi: Yes – only indoors at the “cowshed”
Facilities: Showers were NZ$2.00, toilets were clean but the communal areas were the stars of the show.
BETHANY PARK HOLIDAY PARK – KAITERITERI
From our time camping on the South Island, New Zealand this was the biggest camp site we stayed at. It was HUGE yet we were by no means crammed in, our pitch was spacious and surprisingly we had fast Wi-Fi compared to our other South Island camping grounds. It is the perfect base to explore Abel Tasman National Park as it is a short walk to the beautiful beach (and a few fab bars, restaurants and fish & chip shops). We stayed here for 2 nights as we went kayaking to Split Apple Rock which was a hilarious, yet amazing experience. More about that on our funny anecdotes post.
Cost: NZ$36.00 powered site
Wi-Fi: NZ$5.00 for 5GB
Facilities: Showers were NZ$0.50 for 3 minutes BUT the showers/toilets had speakers on the roof so you did get to pee and shower to some fab tunes. Communal kitchen was big and well equipped. We also used the outdoor kitchen area to wash our dishes which was very handy.
WAIKAWA BAY HOLIDAY PARK – PICTON
Waikawa Bay Holiday Park is a hidden gem and a definite must if camping on South Island. It’s no secret we love quirky accommodation, but this campsite was one of the quirkiest we’ve came across! The entire site was dotted with funky art work and sculptures, and the camping spaces were surrounded by hedges for full privacy. We loved the added bonus of the outdoor pool which was solar powered, although after completing our South Island itinerary we were too exhausted for a dip and headed straight to sleep! The campsite is only a short walk from the beach and around a 10 minute drive to the ferry terminal to head to the North Island.
Cost: NZ$34.00 (10% kiwi disc)
Wi-Fi: 100MB for free or NZ$5.00 for 10GB
Facilities: Clean shower/toilets – Solar power heated pool!
CAMPERMATE – DOWNLOAD THIS APP
We recommend downloading the Campermate app. Using GPS the app locates campsites nearby and colour codes them based on price. It will also locate nearby toilets, water fill stations and waste water facilities. The app also shows promotions of activities to do in the area, ideal if you plan on free camping in New Zealand AND it works offline. For more apps we can’t live without on the road, please check our best apps for backpackers post.
HAVE WE MISSED YOUR FAVOURITE SOUTH ISLAND CAMPING GROUND FROM THE LIST?
With so many campervan sites in New Zealand, we hope this round up and review of our favourites makes finding a place to sleep a little easier. Waking up on these South Island camping grounds are some of favourite memories from not only New Zealand but our travels so far! Let us know if your favourite is missing in the comments, or if you know of a few special camping grounds on South Island – we’d love to hear from you!
For more photos of our adventure, please take a peek at our New Zealand gallery.
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