Camping on New Zealand’s North Island was an incredible experience, made possible by these top campsites. Not only have we put together this post on the best North Island camping grounds, but you can also read our entire 2 week itinerary which includes a map of our route, every photo stop and daily break down from our North Island road trip.
From mind blowing star gazing spots to free thermal spas these were the campsites that were above and beyond yet within our modest backpacking budget. These north island camping grounds will offer not just a place to sleep, but memories that will last long after your trip!
HOW TO FIND NORTH ISLAND CAMPING GROUNDS
Before the serious campsite wanderlust begins (yes, that’s a thing) we have shared the best ways to find north island camping grounds. Although our guide will give you our favourites, there are so many epic campsites we didn’t have time to visit, so use these suggestions below to find your next sleep stop.
The Best Camping Apps
Apps are one of the easiest ways to find north island campgrounds, the most popular camping apps are:
- Rankers NZ and Campable these are both specific to New Zealand so are ideal for finding hidden gems as they’re more likely used by locals.
- Wiki Camps & Campermate are available worldwide, we even used them camping in Australia but they are the most popular and highly recommended for the reasons below.
Campermate is a free app, where as WikiCamps is around $7.00. As a tip, you can sign up for a free trial which might last the duration of your North Island road trip. Darren signed up for a free trial, then when his ran out, I signed up which lasted our full trip.
Both of these apps work via GPS, so the campgrounds are displayed on a map showing which campsites are closest to you. They also display cost and reviews for each campsite.
As a tip, you can filter by your budget, so if you want only free north island campgrounds or if you are specifically looking for showers, dumpsites, public toilets etc the apps also share this helpful info.
As the weather changed drastically in New Zealand and many free campsites open and close due to irresponsible campers, we found apps were the easiest way for the most up to date information on closures, road issues as well as reviews. Camping Books and websites take far longer for updates to be published where as the public can post to the apps at any point.
It’s no secret the New Zealand locals are super friendly and we found them very willing to offer advice, tips and hidden gems when camping on the North Island.
Even if you’re hiking, grabbing a coffee or bump into dog walkers starting a conversation with a local is a great way to learn something about the area and usually find a campsite away from the touristy crowds.
We joined these Facebook groups when camping in New Zealand north island as locals and tourists both regularly post their favourite spots:
Although we prefer apps for finding campsite reviews on the move, Facebook groups are ideal if you require a specific recommendation in a particular area. Just pop your question into the group and usually you receive recommendations in minutes.
Facebook groups are also a great way to connect with other campers, arrange lifts and even buy/sell camping equipment.
WHAT TYPE OF CAMPING GROUNDS ARE THERE?
Before your hunt for the best camping grounds on North Island begin, you should note there are 3 types of campsites:
- Freedom Campsites: As the name describes, they don’t cost a penny. Note if you are travelling New Zealand in a campervan these campsites are usually strictly for self-contained only. If your campervan is not self-contained (or you’re in a tent) you will be fined for sleeping there as you won’t have a way to store waste. On the other hand, some free campsites are also tents only as vans will destroy the natural landscape and they are only accessible on foot.
- DOC Campgrounds: DOC stands for Department of Conservation who maintain over 200 campsites in New Zealand. There is a small fee to camp on these sites, to contribute for upkeep, but they are still super affordable (usually $10 or less)
- Holiday Parks: These are the paid campsites with all the facilities you need. There are usually powered and non-powered sites as well as 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 and as mentioned later in this guide, 2 we visited even had thermal spas you could use!
BEST CAMPERVAN HIRE IN NEW ZEALAND
If you are camping on the North Island in a tent, skip to the next section. If you are planning on campervanning round New Zealand then choosing campervan hire can feel overwhelming. However, we did weeks of research (And haggling) and found our winner – Travellers Autobarn. We hired a Kuga campervan which 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 were delighted with our campervan and cannot fault their customer service. We picked up in Christchurch and dropped it off in Auckland – spending around 5 weeks over both islands. There is a 24 hour helpline should you have any issues and we literally cried when we’d to hand back the keys as we adored our experience so much.
We loved our experience so much infact that we hired the exact same campervan from the same company when camping in Australia which proved equally as epic.
WHAT TO TAKE CAMPING IN NEW ZEALAND NORTH ISLAND
In order to have the best experience camping in New Zealand north island, we’re going to share a few tips on what to pack and our top camping recipes to keep you fuelled on the road.
This detailed camping packing list can even be downloaded to your phone so you can use it offline (perfect when the Wi-Fi is scarce in NZ.) It includes our tried & tested camping essentials for a guaranteed safe and stress free sleep in the great outdoors.
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If your north island road trip is on a budget, avoid eating out and try our easy camping recipes instead! 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 so even beginners will feel prepared for their adventure.
Why not bring a copy of our camping cookbook?
- Recipes with ideas for breakfast, lunch & dinner
- Digital E-book so you can download instantly
- Use offline on your phone, tablet, laptop or print off
- Recipe ideas without the need for bulky cookbooks or Wi-Fi
THE TOP NORTH ISLAND CAMPING GROUNDS
After spending 3 weeks on the South Island, we took the ferry from Picton and began our 2 week north island road trip in Wellington. These are our favourite north island camping grounds in route order to help plan your itinerary.
Camp Wellington, Wellington
Our first night was probably one of our favourite North Island camping grounds for numerous reasons. Firstly, the owner – his enthusiasm for van life was infectious. He explained it was his dream to open a camp site and how he’d renovated numerous campervans in the past.
He also gave us a voucher for a free coffee at Chocolate Fish Cafe which was just minutes from the site. Little touches like this make all the difference when camping in New Zealand’s North Island.
As the name describes, if looking for camping grounds in Wellington, this is one of the closest at less than a 15 minute drive to the centre. It was also only a 7 minute drive to the Weta Cave – home to the film props from Lord of the Rings and one of the best free things to do in Wellington.
We enjoyed a walk right along Shelly Bay on a search for penguins who are said to frequent the area, luckily the stunning view at sunset made up for our lack of penguin pals. Although hoping we didn’t peak too soon, not many North Island camping grounds offered a view as good as this one.
Cost: NZ$39.00 – Powered
Wi-Fi: Yes – unlimited & FAST!
Facilities: Amazing showers, spacious lounge area & kitchen.
Tongariro Junction Accommodation, Turangi
If there is one thing you MUST do when camping on New Zealand’s North Island, it is hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Never heard of it? Our video below will convince you in seconds.
The location makes it one of the best North Island camping grounds as it’s not only situated at the gateway to the Tongariro National Park, but exactly halfway between Auckland and Wellington and minutes from the shores of Lake Taupo.
Our campsite at Tongariro Junction was spacious and nearby toilets and a large, well equipped communal kitchen. We also noted there was motel and dorm style accommodation available if you fancied a night off from van life.
Also, the showers here were definitely something to write home about, we could not believe how powerful they were!
Cost: NZ$45.00 – Powered
Facilities: Very powerful showers, camp kitchen and WiFi.
TIP: The campsite run a shuttle bus to Tongariro for $50 return per person. We used this company instead however as they were cheaper although they left from a different car park (instead of picking up at the campsite).
Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve, Te Kuiti
Although this was the only free North Island camping ground that we visited, it was one of the best campsites in New Zealand for one reason – stargazing! The view was unbelievable here, not just for the insane stars but during the day too as there was a beautiful bush walk nearby that lead to stunning waterfalls.
The campsite was quite busy but in no way crowded, there was so much space and all spots are by the river which adds to the tranquil atmosphere. Unlike most free North Island camping grounds, they even had flush toilets except there was no light so make sure to add a head torch to your camping essentials list for any late night toilet treks!
Facilities: Toilets had running water although no lights, picnic areas and beautiful bush walk!
Waikite Valley Hot Pools & Campground, Waikite Valley
If searching for Rotorua camping grounds, look no further than Waikite Valley. This was one of our favourite north island camping grounds as included in the site fee was unlimited use of the thermal spa facilities.
It was such a surreal experience after a tough day of exploring to change into our swimwear (or togs in New Zealand) and head to a thermal pool heated completely via the Te Manaroa Natural boiling spring nearby (it is cooled slightly to make it safe). This means the pools contain zero chemicals and are instead 100% natural thermal water, working wonders for your skin and thus a very relaxing night’s sleep.
The other reason we felt it was one of the best Rotorua camping grounds was due to it also featuring a fascinating eco-walk from the campsite – you simply followed the steam along a walkway. It lead to the Te Manaroa boiling spring which not only provides the thermal waters for the spa but is the largest single source of boiling water in New Zealand and is truly mesmerising to watch – a definite must do in any north island itinerary!
Cost: NZ$54.00 for a Powered site & Includes spa entry for 2 people.
Facilities: Toilets & showers were busy as also used by spa visitors. There are also kitchen and laundry facilities available as well as a thermally heated drying room for your swimwear/washing.
TIP: The campsite offers a 10% discount voucher off the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It was the reason we were camping in Rotorua and a definite highlight from our time North Island road trip!
Fernland Spa & Campground, Tauranga
If you thought rotorua camping grounds sounded epic with their thermal springs, then you will LOVE the little slice of paradise known as Fernland Spa.
It is so worth the detour as although we only had two weeks to explore the North Island camping grounds, we’d say this deserves the title of friendliest staff on the North Island. They were so unbelievably helpful, carrying a hose up to our van to top up the water and recommending things to do in the area.
Once you set up camp here you won’t want to leave, as the reason we feel it’s one of the best camping grounds Tauranga has to offer is due to its thermal spa facilities. The natural thermal waters and tranquil environment at Fernland Spa was unbelievable for the NZ$40.00 fee.
There is one large thermal pool containing 100% pure soda mineral water (and zero chlorine) meaning a revitalising yet relaxing experience. You can also indulge in a private thermal pool for some added relaxation before heading back to your van for the night.
Our spot was spacious with a beautiful view of the surrounding native bush. The campsite itself is only a 5 minute drive from downtown Tauranga however it is such a peaceful retreat you will feel world’s away!
Cost: NZ$40.00 – Powered campsite & includes spa entry for 2 people
Wi-Fi: Free & Fast
Facilities: Although the huge thermal spa pool was a highlight, the showers, toilets etc were immaculate and staff so friendly and helpful.
Ahipara Holiday Park, Ahipara
This was an unexpected find on our way to Cape Reinga, the most Northerly point of the North Island. There is only one road in and out of Cape Reinga however part of it was swept away during our trip, so we were unable to venture further. The other option is to drive on the 90 mile beach, however in a rented campervan this is prohibited.
It was in fact a blessing in disguise as it meant a night at Ahipara Holiday Park – the only camping ground in Ahipara Bay and mere minutes from the famous 90 mile beach.
It was such a colourful, welcoming campsite with friendly staff and spacious sites. There was a huge lounge area with large comfy sofas and welcoming fire place. They also have free gas BBQs to use, which would’ve been a welcomed addition had it not been torrential rain. One of the best North Island camping grounds for a memorable stay – rain or shine.
It was also where I woke up on my birthday (with Dazzie’s birthday 2 days after) making it one to remember!
Cost: NZ$37.80 (10% disc with Kiwi Campgrounds)
Wi-Fi: Yes – unlimited although given as 1 x 500MB voucher per customer. If you use more than 500MB you can return to reception for another voucher code.
Facilities: Colourful and creative campsite, even the toilets had music in them. Free gas BBQs and communal kitchen. Ideal campsite for families as it’s pet friendly and there is a playground for children.
Whangateau Holiday Park, Whangateau Bay
Following Ahipara, we then celebrated our birthdays in Takou River Lodge (one of the most unique stays we’ve ever had). Then last but not least in our North Island Camping grounds round up was the perfect way to end our road trip.
Located right on the shoreline of the Matakana and Kowhai Coast with views across Whangateau Harbour to Omaha Beach and Point Wells, was Whangateau Holiday Park. It was the perfect place to relax after a crazy busy few weeks during our New Zealand road trip.
On low tide you could walk right out into the bay and in high tide it was a safe spot to swim or partake in the numerous activities offered in the area. We had plenty of space and found the facilities clean with friendly, informative staff.
Cost: NZ$35.20 – Waterfront sites and regular site prices differ. It may have been more expensive as we booked/paid the same day, looking for the same pitch online the price is only NZ$22.00 for a powered site.
Wi-Fi: Yes – NZ$5.00 for 1GB
Facilities: Showers were NZ$0.50, great playpark/trampoline for children, a large tv room for relaxing, great communal kitchen and covered BBQ facilities.
A MUST HAVE FOR CAMPING IN NEW ZEALAND NORTH ISLAND
As Wi-Fi can be hard to find in New Zealand particularly in the North, we have created a useful download with all the North island camping grounds in route order. You can download this cheat sheet and use it offline for an unforgettable North Island road trip.
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Although we only had 2 weeks in the North, we hope this round up of our favourite North island camping grounds will help you with planning your trip.
It’s not every day you can camp next to a thermal spa, or fall asleep under the best star gazing spots in the world, so we hope your time camping in New Zealand’s north island is as memorable as ours.
If you’d like more New Zealand camping content, you can also check out our South Island campgrounds post which includes our favourite sites during our 3 week road trip.