Best Freedom Camping Spots In The North Island

Freedom camping is one of the simple pleasures of travelling in a van rental in New Zealand. Freedom camping gives you the chance to park up in nature, all while saving a few dollars for your adventures. And what better place to do it than on the North Island?

The North Island of New Zealand is known for its lively cities, stunning coastlines and geothermal pools. Whether you are looking for budget-friendly campsites or stunning natural scenery, freedom camping on the North Island delivers. Let’s dive into the best freedom camping spots on the North Island.

The benefits of freedom camping 

If you are looking for reasons to take a New Zealand campervan trip with friends or family, freedom camping is it! Freedom camping areas are designated camping sites on public land that aren’t classified as a campground or holiday park. There are plenty of benefits of free camping - the most obvious benefit is, of course, saving money. Typically a holiday park campsite can be anywhere from $25 to $80. Freedom campsites are typically free, or at least very low cost or even donation. Freedom camping also provides a different kind of campervan hire experience. Some freedom camping spots like DOC sites are right in the middle of nature. So you’ll have a sense of freedom or excitement that comes with being off-grid, tucked away amongst the beauty of the North Island.

To access these benefits, you must be fully self-contained and follow the freedom camping guidelines. Being fully self-contained includes things like ensuring you have:

  • A toilet
  • Freshwater storage
  • Wastewater storage
  • Rubbish bin with a lid

Depending on the time of year and weather in New Zealand when you visit, you may need to access a powered site to help run things like a heater or air conditioning. There are some great low-cost DOC campsites which give a lot of the benefits of a freedom camping site, but with a few extras like power. Let’s dive into the best camping on the North Island of New Zealand!

1. Dawson Falls Carpark, Taranaki 

Dawson Falls is located in Egmont National Park on the western coast of New Zealand’s North Island. This DOC campsite is around five hours south of Auckland and home to several beautiful waterfalls and hikes. Perfect for a few days immersed in nature. Here you can park up and cook up a mouthwatering campervan meal with incredible views of the surrounding mountainscape.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 4 nights

What is nearby: Explore the incredible Dawson Falls area and stop at the Puke Ariki museum.

Amenities: There is a lodge that offers backpacker-style accommodation for individuals and groups, but if you choose to stay in your vehicle, you must be fully self-contained.

2. Reid’s Farm, Taupo 

Located just a three-hour drive south of Auckland, and just a short drive from Taupo, is Reid’s farm/Hipapatua Recreation Reserve. This Taupo District Council site offers beautiful views of the Waikato River and is only a short drive from popular New Zealand attraction, the Huka Falls. Visiting Huka Falls is easily one of the best free things to do in New Zealand. This freedom camping site is the perfect base to explore the surrounding Taupo region.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 7 nights

What is nearby: Check out Huka Falls

Amenities: Basic toilet facilities and water from the river (but be sure to boil before drinking).

3. Waikanae River Mouth, Kapiti 

Park up for the night at the Waikanae river mouth at the Kapiti District Council freedom camping site. Just an hour outside of Wellington, self-contained vehicles can enjoy scenic views of the river and surrounding nature walks. There are only five sites available here and it is first come, first served. So be sure to get here early!

How long you’re allowed to stay: 24 hours

What is nearby: Nga Manu Nature Reserve

Amenities: Dog-friendly

4. Jones’ Landing, Waikato 

Jones’ Landing is located on the beautiful Waikato River, just 27 km west of Putaruru and two hours south of Auckland. Provided by the South Waikato District Council, this reserve features a large flat grassy area on the river and is surrounded by rocky bluffs in the north end. This area is free to camp at, but you are required to apply for a camping permit online before arrival.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 2 nights

What is nearby: Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest and go bike riding in the Waikato River Trails

Amenities: Toilets, dog-friendly, boat ramp, jetty, playground, and hot showers

5. Kaiaua Beach, Gisborne 

Kaiaua Beach campground is a picture-perfect beachside camp for both tents and vehicles. Located just an hour and a half from Auckland, it’s an ideal base to explore local Auckland attractions or simply kick back and enjoy the incredible swimming and fishing at the beach. This is a great option for anyone looking for budget travel ideas while camping on the North Island of New Zealand. The only catch? This site provided by the Gisborne District Council is only available from 23rd October - 30 April and requires a permit.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 3 nights

What is nearby: Nere Rockslide

Amenities: NA

6. Waiomu Domain Beachfront Reserve, Coromandel 

Waiomu Domain Beachfront Reserve is just that - a stunning reserve backed up on an equally mesmerising beach. Located under two hours from Auckland, this Thames-Coromandel District Council site is another unbeatable beachfront campsite for self-contained vehicles. Choose to enjoy a day at the beach, or wake up and explore the incredible free natural attractions like Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 2 nights

What is nearby: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove

Amenities: NA

7. Hamilton’s Gap, Auckland 

Hamilton’s Gap is a large grassy freedom camp just an hour south of Auckland. This DOC campsite is a great first or last night stay on a longer New Zealand itinerary beginning and ending in Auckland. Once you head back into Auckland, why not use the dollars you save from your campsite and grab a cheap bite to eat. There are plenty of great cheap eats in New Zealand, and Auckland is a top contender when it comes to delicious budget travel-friendly food!

How long you’re allowed to stay: 1 night

What is nearby: Explore Awhitu Regional Park

Amenities: Picnic tables, bins, and dogs welcome on lead

8. Owhiro Bay, Wellington 

Owhiro Bay is a New Zealand North Island must-do. If you have been dreaming of a North Island road trip where you can pop your back doors open to breathtaking views of the ocean and mountains - Owhiro Bay is it. Here you can soak up the incredible views of the bay and beach. This campsite is perfect for self-contained motorhomes looking for a laid-back scenic campsite to base themselves in as they explore Wellington city.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 4 nights

What is nearby: Te Papa Museum

Amenities: Public toilet

9. Te Paerahi Beach (Porangahau) Freedom Camping 

Tucked away four hours north of Wellington in the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council is the wild and beautiful Te Paerahi Beach freedom camping area. This beachside camping spot is not only set amongst the beauty of the coastline but is also set amongst the fertile soils of New Zealand wine country. While you’re here, be sure to stop by a cellar door or two and enjoy the local varieties. Self-contained vehicles and tents are welcome here, but you will need to notify the council you’re staying by registering online.

How long you’re allowed to stay: 7 nights.

What is nearby: See the sign with the longest place name in New Zealand and explore the wineries in Hawke’s Bay

Amenities: Public toilet

10. Graham Park, Tauranga 

Image source: TNZ visual library -Camilla Rutherford

For another freedom camping site right on the waterfront, add Graham Park to your North Island itinerary. This centrally located site is right on the Waikareao Foreshore, and only a short 15-minute drive from the New Zealand North Island must do, Mount Maunganui. There are up to five sites available for self-contained motorhomes only provided by Tauranga City Council. These fill up fast, so be sure to get there early!

How long you’re allowed to stay: 2 nights.

What is nearby: Climb up Mount Maunganui

Amenities: NA

Ready to explore North Island on the cheap? 

From geothermal wonders to golden sandy beaches and all the forested beauty in between, freedom camping is the best way to experience all the beauty of the North Island. For more tips on budget travel, check out our guide to travelling New Zealand on a budget and guide to how much it costs to travel New Zealand in a camper.

Ready to explore the very best freedom camping spots on the North Island? Book your Mighty NZ campervan online and pick it up from Mighty Auckland to let the adventure begin. Also be sure to download the thl Roadtrip app. This is the ultimate van travel companion and can help you to find other great freedom camping spots along your travels and even plan your trip!