In 35 days of exploring New Zealand from North to South by campervan, we stayed at more than 25 campsites. Some we found in guidebooks and others we stumbled upon by chance. Campsites in NZ are well marked and abundant, and it was rare that we had to ever go out of our way to find one. Finding the really special ones, however, required a bit more work.
Many campsites, while well equipped with toilets/laundry/kitchen, felt more like camping in a motel’s car park, than the romantic vision of camping we held. We also found that the more commercial campsites (or ‘holiday parks’ as they are often called) lacked the charm and character of the smaller, independently run sites. We preferred the latter. And of course it’s a bonus if the campsite happens to be on the beach! Here’s a list of our ten favourites.
1. Punakaiki Beach Camp in Punakaiki
Within walking distance of the famous Punakaiki ‘pancake’ Rocks, this campsite is located at the base of dramatic limestone cliffs and right up against a pretty, sandy beach. There’s also a wood-burning stove in a ‘drying room’, which came in handy when everything was so wet from the rain. (Just remember to bring Sand Fly repellent.)
2. Waipatiki Beach in Hawke’s Bay
This might have been one of our very favourite sites. It’s located along a pretty, winding river, just off the beach. There’s a fun rope swing for the kids, some pretty walks accessible from the campsite, and you can park your van with views of the ocean and watch the sun rise in the morning. The vibe was super friendly here and we met some lovely fellow campers.
3. Pounawea Motor Camp in the Catlins
We liked this campsite because it had lovely, big trees that made it feel like a proper camping experience. There’s also a pretty 30-minute walk from the campsite that winds through the lush rainforest and leads you out to the adjacent estuary. (The walk to Jack’s Blowhole is only a 10-minute drive from here as well.)
4. Curio Bay Campsite in Curio Bay/Porpoise Bay in the Catlins
The facilities at this campsite are not great, but if you’re able to skip a shower and turn a blind eye in the toilets, the rest of the setting is wonderful. The tall green New Zealand flax surrounding each individual site provides privacy and a lush backdrop. From here, you can surf and swim with the rare Hector Dolphins in the adjacent Porpoise Bay, you can walk around the point to see yellow-eyed penguins come up the beach to nest at dusk each evening, and you can also explore the petrified forest. We have such happy memories from our time here!
5. Hahei Holiday Resort on Hahei Beach
While this is quite a big and popular holiday park, the setting couldn’t be more perfect. Located just on the other side of the large sand dunes from Hahei Beach, you can hear the waves while you sleep, and the kids enjoyed the rope swings just opposite our camper van. There’s also a wood-fired pizza stall on the campsite that was surprisingly good!
6. Seabreeze Holiday Park near Hot Water Beach
We liked this quiet campsite nestled in-land, about 10 minutes from Hot Water Beach. They have a craft brewery and restaurant on site, so we treated ourselves to dinner while the kids played on their playground.
7. Akaroa Top 10 campsite in Akaroa (near Christchurch)
We tried to avoid Top 10 campsites because they tended to be the bigger, more commercial sites (though they’re good if you need to do laundry or want a good shower!). The Akaroa Top 10 was small, the playground was super fun, and the views over this charming town and the Banks Peninsula are worth it. It’s also a short walk into town from the site.
8. Solscape in Raglan
This is our idea of a perfect campsite, shame we didn’t get to stay overnight. Solscape is set high above Raglan’s famous surf beaches with breath-taking views. The vibe is young, fun and bohemian, with a mix of campers and backpackers. We found Solscape on our last day in Raglan and only ate lunch there (good pizza!), however, we checked out the facilities and can say 100%, this is where we’ll stay next time we camp in Raglan.
9. Smiths Farm Holiday Park in Marlborough
This was another big favourite of ours — we wished we could have stayed more than one night here. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly owner with a basket of freshly baked muffins. The campsite, located on a working farm, has goats, pigs, cows and bunnies, and the owner also gave each of the kids a bag of animal food to feed the animals (which they loved). At night, you can grab your flashlights and walk up the hill from the farm to a bush walk with hundreds of glow-worms lining the river bank.
10. Piha Domain Campsite in Piha, West Auckland
This site is most remarkable for its location. It’s set on a green domain smack-dab in the middle of Piha. Just five minutes from the beautiful beach, there’s a large playground that our kids loved, and an adjacent café, The Piha café, that we loved.