There are so many camping 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.
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.
HOW TO FIND CAMPSITES ON THE SOUTH ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND
Use Camping Apps
There are many apps which can help you find South Island campgrounds.
- Rankers NZ and Campable are specific to New Zealand, personally we have not used them but they are highly recommended.
- Wiki Camps & Campermate are our two go-to apps which we also used when camping in Australia.
Campermate is free but WikiCamps is around $7.00 but you can sign up for a free trial which might be all you need for your South Island road trip.
Both apps use GPS so will show you campsites nearby as well as the cost and reviews for each site. It’s ideal for finding campsites within your budget as well as locating public toilets and where to top up water or empty grey water.
Apps are ideal for finding South Island campsites based on your budget as you can filter by cost. Camping apps are also the best way finding up to date reviews and closure information in comparison to books or websites as the reviews are updated daily.
This is another great way of finding camping grounds on South Island as locals know their area best and in New Zealand they are so friendly. We found locals were more than happy to not only suggest campsites but suggest shortcuts, water points and the best sunset or sunrise spots.
Even when we were hiking or grabbing coffee we would start chatting with locals and always learn a tip or two about the best campsites – usually off the beaten track from the usual touristy routes.
If searching for free campsites on the South Island, we recommend joining these Facebook groups as locals and tourists alike share their favourite spots:
Although camping apps are great for finding reviews on the move, we love Facebook groups as you can ask for specific recommendations in a particular area and usually receive a response in minutes, not to mention you can find pals to go camping or hitchhike with.
WHAT TYPE OF CAMPING GROUNDS ARE THERE?
When searching for the best campgrounds on New Zealand South Island it is worth noting there are 3 types.
- Freedom Campsites: These are completely free of charge, but if you are travelling New Zealand in a campervan be warned they are usually strictly for self-contained only. If your van is not self-contained you will be fined for sleeping here. Some are also tents only as vans will destroy the land.
- DOC Campgrounds: DOC stands for Department of Conservation and they run over 200 campgrounds in New Zealand that have a small fee for upkeep but are still super cheap (usually $10 or less)
- Holiday Parks: These are paid campsites for the pampered campers, you can expect powered and non-powered sites plus toilets, showers, kitchen and even laundry facilities. We were so impressed with the Holiday Parks in New Zealand as some even had swimming pools, onsite shops or you could hire bikes, kayaks etc.
FINDING CAMPERVAN HIRE IN NEW ZEALAND
If you are tent camping skip to the section below, if you’re planning on touring New Zealand in a campervan then there are so many companies who do campervan hire. 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 in Christchurch 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 hired with them again when camping in Australia.
WHAT TO TAKE CAMPING
Before we spill the best South Island campgrounds we will share a few tips on what to take camping and our top camping recipes.
We have an detailed guide of camping essentials that even includes a free camping checklist which you can save to your phone – perfect for those on the move.
If your South Island Road trip is on a budget, save money on eating out by cooking at your campsite. We have a full guide of vegetarian camping recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as one pot camping recipes (ideal for family trips) and even a full guide on the best food to take camping.
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THE BEST SOUTH ISLAND CAMPGROUNDS
For our road trip we picked up our campervan in Christchurch, so the following South Island campgrounds are in route order. To be honest, we found camping on New Zealand’s South Island a little more scenic than the North Island campgrounds due to some stand out highlights such as Lake Hawea, Gentle Annies and of course the epic road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
North South Holiday Park – Christchurch
We went camping in Christchurch the night before picking up our camper so we we were close to the airport. We paid NZ$72.00 (for both of us) but this was for a small cabin that had a comfortable double bed, air con/heating, a television and a fridge. If you want a basic, non-powered campsite it is only $17. Bonus points for the fact this campsite 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 as well as laundry, BBQ, Wi-Fi & airport shuttle.
South Brighton Holiday Park – ChristchurchIf 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. It is only 350 metres to the stunning South Brighton beach and approximately 3km from New Brighton. 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
If you are camping on South Island you NEED to visit here. Of all the South Island campgrounds this was one of our absolute favourites, 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 to learn from our mistake.
When we arrived around 4pm all spaces along the front were taken, so we parked higher on the hill which was very windy and around a 15 minute 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
There are two reasons this was one of our favourite South Island campgrounds – the staff & the scenery. The receptionist was so 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, a definite highlight of our South Island itinerary. 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 or tent life.
Cost: NZ$32.00 for powered campervan 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 South Island campgrounds 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 choice of 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 New Zealand’s 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 – Fortrose
Free camping in New Zealand is so worth it when you stumble across hidden gems like this. Fortrose is a small town on the Catlins coast and although an unassuming field adjacent to the beach, when the sun set it was the most incredible view making it one of our favourite free South Island campgrounds.
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 camping grounds on South Island read the signs carefully. You can be fined here for not camping on the allocated free zones. You are also restricted to a maximum of two free nights within a 30 day period – please be a responsible traveller and do not abuse the free campsite.
Cost: Free (Arrive Early)
Facilities: Drop toilets
Milford Sound Lodge – Milford Sound
If you have the cash to splash, we cannot recommend this epic campsite enough. As we knew our Milford Sound trip would be a once in a life time visit, we were happy to pay for one of the most renowned campgrounds on South Island of New Zealand.
For the price tag you can expect spacious, private sites with power and shade, mere minutes from the banks of beautiful Milford Sound. The road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound was equally spectacular and in that guide we explain the numerous reasons why this site was so unforgettable and why we cannot recommend it enough.
If you are looking for cheaper campsites near Milford Sound – our Milford Sound guide will also give you a few suggestions.
Cost: As we booked our stay as part of a package with our Milford Sound cruise. They only offer campervan sites (approx. $50 per night) and not tent pitches. They also offer stunning cabins for $199+ More details of booking here.
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, brunching in one of the many beautiful cafes or getting the adrenaline pumping from the numerous epic experiences in Queenstown.
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 whilst camping on the South Island!? These were incredibly funky, with added bonus of hairdryers, full length mirrors and private cubicles.
Lake Hawea Hotel, Hostel & Campground – Lake Hawea
If you are camping on New Zealand’s South Island Wanaka is an absolute must BUT the campsites there are super expensive, not to mention busy. 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! We regret only having one night here as we would have happily woken up to that view again and again and again.
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
Although the actual pitch was nothing special, 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. Camping here meant we were able to get up early and enjoy the lake at sunrise before the tour buses. As the name suggests it is also nearby the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, another highlight of our South Island itinerary.
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 emphasized 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 campgrounds 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 – so much so it was hard to drag ourselves away into our van.
Bethany Park Holiday Park – Kaiteriteri
From our time camping on 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 and feeling like we had acres of space.
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 travel fails 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 for those ready to start their North Island road trip.
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!
DON'T GO CAMPING ON NEW ZEALAND'S SOUTH ISLAND WITHOUT THIS...
As the Wi-Fi is few and far between on New Zealand, we have created a handy download with all the details of the best South Island campgrounds in route order. You can download the cheat sheet and use it offline to help plan your South Island road trip.
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Have we missed your favourite South Island camping fround 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 campingrounds 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.
If you’d like more New Zealand camping content, you can also check out our North Island campgrounds post too which even includes campsites with onsite thermal spa!