This post contains affiliate links.
The vacation of a lifetime. That’s what you get when you have an RV journey in New Zealand, staying at the thousands of RV parks and campsites readily available.
There are RV parks to suit all budgets and styles of travel. From luxury RV parks, with a full range of facilities, to budget-friendly options with fewer facilities. At the other extreme there are free camping locations with no facilities – but incredible scenery.
Here’s how to find the best RV parks and campsites to suit your pocket and lifestyle choice.
Types of RV Parks and Campsites
Full-service Holiday Parks and Campgrounds
Holiday Parks and campgrounds provide you with everything you need.
Power: Plug your RV into the 240-volt power supply with the power cord supplied with the vehicle.
Bathroom – with toilets and hot showers. (The best provide full heating in winter, so you don’t get chilled as you step out of the shower.)
Communal kitchen – Equipped with stovetops, sinks, and fridges. Often also, toasters, pots, pans, etc. Also, a great place to meet other travelers and share notes and recommendations.
Laundry facilities – Coin-operated washers and dryers (Many are commercial-sized so take large loads.)
TV lounges and games rooms – A place to watch TV or pull out your yoga mat.
Swimming pool, hot tubs and spa pools – Usually heated, especially in winter.
Play areas – safe areas to keep the children occupied.
Dump station and freshwater taps– Ditch your cassette toilet contents and greywater tanks here. Then fill the fresh water tanks on your RV.
Shop – where you can buy ice cream, basic food, toilet paper and coffee.
Travel information – New Zealanders are proud of their country and love to provide advice on tourist attractions and the many activities available.
Many holiday parks also provide motel units and cabins for hire.
Two top chains are the TOP 10 Holiday Parks and Kiwi Holiday Parks & Accommodation network. (Both chains offer discount cards for accommodation and other travel services that can also be used in Australia.)
There is an extensive network of commercial campgrounds across the country. These are owned and run by local councils, private businesses, and other organizations responsible for racecourses and showgrounds that can be used as campgrounds for much of the year when not needed for their principal function.
These campgrounds provide differing facilities of varying quality.
The least you can expect is:
Bathroom amenities that include hot showers and toilets
Many will provide:
- Kitchens with cookers and sinks for dishes
- Laundry facilities
- A lounge area
- Play equipment
- Dump station and freshwater
- Wifi internet
Most are spotless, while others are old and need a little maintenance. (It pays to read the reviews of the camping apps if you want to know what to expect.)
You generally get what you pay for. That will depend on the campgrounds location which could be adjacent to the beach or with good access to tourist activities.
Fun Fact Picture this. As I write this article I'm sitting in our truck camper at the Gore Agriculture and Pastoral Showgrounds. The campsite is a large open area with mature trees overlooking the grassed arena. Communal facilities are basic but very well cared for by the on-site caretaker. We have access to toilets and showers, and I did my morning pilates session on the bleachers of the grandstand. All this is within a 8-minute walking distance to the town center for only $10 per night.
Department of Conservation Campsites
Many “DOC” campsites are in wilderness areas located within national parks, both on the North Island, South Island and Stewart Island.
According to the DOC website – DOC manages more than 200 campsites throughout New Zealand.
DOC campsites are places to relax, enjoy and explore the outdoors. You can choose campsites within or a short walk from forest settings, lakeshores and sandy beaches.
Some of these campsites need to be rebooked due to location and demand, but most are freely available for you to simply turn up on the day.
You can also purchase a DOC pass that provides discounted rates on most campsites for consecutive nights from 7-day, 30-day or 365-day.
Fun Fact A favorite national park that draws thousands of visitors per year is the Abel Tasman National Park in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island. It is very accessible with family-friendly camping areas that provide easy access to fantastic day walks and multi-day hikes, linked by water taxis and walking trails through lush forests and beautiful beaches.
DOC campsite facilities
DOC campgrounds come with varying facilities and are categorized appropriately.
- Basic & backcountry campsites
Serviced campsites are similar to commercial campgrounds with many facilities and services. Flush toilets, tap water, kitchen/cooking bench, hot showers, rubbish collection and road access for all types of vehicles.
Serviced campsites may have caravan & RV sites, tent sites, laundry facilities, barbecues, fireplaces, cookers and picnic tables.
Scenic and Standard campsites
Scenic and Standard campsites have fewer facilities but include toilets and water supplies that could be treated or untreated tap water. Wood BBQs and fireplaces, cold showers, picnic tables, a cooking shelter and rubbish bins may be provided; this will vary from site to site. You pay more for scenic locations.
Basic campsites are often in remote areas. They have minimal facilities (not even a public toilet), so your RV will need to be entirely self-sufficient.
These are free campsites – due to the lack of basic amenities. The bonus is that they are often close to native bush and off the beaten track.
Fun Fact Many DOC campsites have what is traditionally called a 'long drop' toilet. This non-flushing toilet with a long shaft dug into the ground underneath to collect waste is the original composting toilet!
If you are squeamish about your toilet habits and bathing, then choose your campsite to suit.
But if you want to get out in the wilderness and experience the best of what New Zealand has to offer, then don’t be fussy, and you will be rewarded.
New Zealand has what is formally called – Freedom Camping.
Freedom camping is the regulated provision of free camping in designated areas.
You can camp on public land only if you are camping responsibly.
Or your can freedom camp on land under the management of the Department of Conservation (except at DOC reserves) – as long as the site is not documented as a prohibited (no camping) site.
Many local authorities create their own by-laws that tell you where you can and cannot freedom camp.
Prohibited sites for freedom camping will have signs. Follow them!
If in doubt, check the local authority’s website for the freedom campsites in that region. And follow the rules.
New Responsible Camping Act on Freedom Camping
An updated Responsible Camping Act will come into full effect by Summer 2024/2025.
“These changes seek to improve the sustainability of freedom camping in New Zealand, protect the natural environment and local communities’ enjoyment of it, and support efforts to ensure that all freedom camping is done responsibly.”
This has come about because of the vast numbers of tourists that road-tripped New Zealand in small campervans and slept in their cars before the Covid19 pandemic.
These lucky tourists often did not take sufficient care of the environment and created noise or messes to the annoyance and distress of local residents.
It is a long-standing Kiwi tradition to have the right to freedom camp, but it does need to be managed.
There are fines for breaking freedom camping rules, with some councils employing enforcement officers who will check that you and your vehicle are compliant.
The best local authorities that are “Motorhome Friendly” encourage freedom campers because they appreciate the positive impact on their economy, especially for small retailers and tourist venues.
However, some councils deter tourists from accessing freedom camping locations.
When this happens, avoid the ire of the enforcement officer and visit elsewhere. Or enjoy the benefits of a commercial campground.
Best Time to Visit New Zealand RV Parks and Campgrounds
The best time to visit New Zealand RV parks and campgrounds is in the summer months. However, be aware that many New Zealanders use the summer holidays to take the family camping during the school holidays that run from before Christmas until the end of January.
Alternatively, the warmer months from late summer and through autumn, when there is settled weather, and the scenery is stunning, is the perfect time to come to New Zealand for an RV road trip.
Camping grounds will be filled with many retired New Zealanders enjoying their own country in campervans, motorhomes and caravans. The welcome will be warm and friendly.
There is never a wrong time to visit New Zealand for an RV holiday but beware of the winter weather. (Here are more details on New Zealand winters).
New Zealand winters will provide you with a breathtaking snowy drive through the South Island.
Best RV and Camping Apps for New Zealand
The app provides information on every legal New Zealand camping location and allows for easy filters for other tourist features, including top-ranked walks, natural attractions, and practical amenities.
The Rankers app also features offline maps, which are valuable as internet coverage can be poor in some areas.
If you own an RV, campervan, motorhome, or caravan, joining the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association is a great option.
You get access to a great app, but the organization also provides members with safe overnight sites and benefits such as a discount on the ferries that run between the North Island and South Island.
Another great app used for traveling around both New Zealand and Australia.
The app is free and uses GPS to find nearby points of interest, such as public toilets, dump stations, campervan sites, rubbish bins, local travel tips, etc.
What is a public dump station?
Most New Zealand RVs, motorhomes, campervans, and caravans do not contain black-water tanks as part of their bathroom facilities.
Instead, RVs depend on cassette toilets which require the portable tank to be emptied every three to four days.
A cassette toilet is an RV toilet that is permanently installed with a detachable portable holding tank with wheels like a suitcase.
There is an extensive network of free access to Public Dump Stations throughout the country.
Also, dump stations are also located in many RV parks and campgrounds.
This is where you dispose of the wastewater from the RV’s greywater tank, which stores the dirty water from showers, sinks, etc.
Visit New Zealand by renting or buying an RV. You won’t regret it!