The South Island is a campervan travellers’ dream. With panoramic mountains, vibrant alpine towns, wildlife and wineries - there are plenty of things to do in the South Island. If you are looking for budget-friendly campsites in the South Island, don’t miss a chance to park up at the incredible freedom camping spots scattered around the island.
To help, we have put together a list of the best freedom camping spots for your upcoming South Island road trip. That way, you can save a little money, all while exploring the very best this area has to offer. Pick up your campervan from our Christchurch or Queenstown branches and hit the road to discover the best freedom camping spots in the South Island.
Every region in New Zealand has its own rules and regulations when it comes to freedom camping. Generally, you can freedom camp on public conservation land, except where there are visible restrictions, for example, where there is DOC signage advising against camping. Local councils also have freedom camping spots available for South Island road trip travellers.
In general, to park in these spots, your vehicle must have a self-containment certification. This means that your campervan hire must include:
If you are not fully self-contained, you could be up for a $10,000 fine if you’re illegally camping. Luckily our Mighty campervan hire vans are all self-contained, so you won’t have to worry. That being said, when in doubt, the best thing to do is pop into the local i-SITE when you arrive. They’ll be able to fill you in on where to go and what the regulations are in that area.
Overall, freedom camping is very welcome in New Zealand. As long as you respect the rules, you are bound to find plenty of incredible camping spots for your South Island road trip. Without further ado. Let’s dive into the New Zealand South Island must-see freedom campsites!
Camp on the scenic banks of the Pelorus River amongst the trees at Pelorus Bridge (Kahikatea Flat) Campground. This DOC campsite is located in the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve in the Marlborough region, about five hours north of Christchurch.
This is a paid low-cost campground (starting at $20 per night) with all the mod cons of a higher-cost holiday park. This spot is perfect for those days when you want to charge up your batteries, clean your clothes and enjoy a hot shower. This location is also perfect for walking, swimming, fishing, kayaking, and of course, relaxing.
How long you’re allowed to stay: Minimum three nights over christmas
What is nearby: Scenic reserve walking tracks
Amenities: Hot showers, communal kitchen, clothes washer and dryer
Just a short 25-minute drive north of Christchurch is the Mackenzie District Council site The Pines. This freedom campsite offers unbeatable views of the vivid blues of Lake Pukaki and the surrounding mountain ranges. It is the perfect place to cook up a mouthwatering campervan meal with iconic South Island views.
How long you’re allowed to stay: 1 night
What is nearby: Head up to Lake Pukaki View Point
Kick back and enjoy the fishing, swimming and picnic areas at the Whitecliffs Domain Selwyn District Council freedom campsite. Located next to Selwyn River, less than an hour from Christchurch, this place is the ultimate city escape. Take a breath of fresh air and settle into the campsite, or use it as a base to explore the many stunning free things to do in Selwyn.
How long you’re allowed to stay: NA (however closed to vehicles during winter between April 29th and 21st of October)
What is nearby: Take a garden tour
Amenities: Public toilets are available, and dogs are welcome
Get ready to enjoy a night (or two) of million-dollar unobstructed views at the Cobden Lagoon freedom camping site. Located a three-hour drive from Christchurch, this seaside freedom camp is located in a carpark in the gold mining town of Greymouth. This is the perfect park-up to explore the local attractions and enjoy a brew from the local brewery.
How long you’re allowed to stay: 3 nights
What is nearby: Visit Monteith’s Brewery.
Amenities: Public toilets
Kawatiri Beach Freedom Camping is located four hours north of Christchurch, and the ideal base to explore Westport on a South Island road trip. Created by the locals to help preserve this stunning coastline, make the most of this picturesque campsite by using the facilities provided. Oh, and definitely check out the local seal colony in Tauranga Bay - this is a must on any New Zealand itinerary!
How long you’re allowed to stay: 2 nights
What is nearby: See the seal colony in Tauranga Bay
Amenities: Rubbish bins and public toilet
Henry Creek Campsite is an essential addition to any South Island travel itinerary. Located two hours from Queenstown, this DOC campsite offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Te Anau. Best of all, located on the road to Milford Sound, you are just a short drive from exploring one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions. Due to the popular location and with only 40 sites available, bookings are required. There are also seasonal restrictions, so check these before booking your South Island road trip.
How long you’re allowed to stay: NA (but you need to book)
What is nearby: Take in the views of Lake Te Anau and enjoy the great walks in the area.
Amenities: Toilets and water from stream
Kick back and enjoy classic, beautiful Queenstown views at the Twenty-Five Mile Stream freedom campsite. Located just 25 minutes outside of Queenstown, this is the ideal free camping base to explore the adventure capital of the world. Get a restful night’s sleep next to the calm lapping waters of Lake Wakatipu, and then spend the day exploring the very best budget-friendly and free things to do in Queenstown.
How long you’re allowed to stay: 4 nights
What is nearby: Visit Skyline Queenstown and while in town, take advantage of the cheap eats like Fergburger and @Thai.
Another great freedom camping site in the Otago region is the Lindis Pass Historic Hotel Campsite. Located an hour and a half from Queenstown, and 50 minutes from Wanaka, this is a great low-cost way to explore these popular South Island road trip stops. While you’re here, be sure to check out the surrounding area and see the remains of the Lindis Pass Historic Hotel.
How long you’re allowed to stay: NA
What is nearby: Puzzling World
Amenities: Cooking shelter, water from stream and toilets
Park up on the banks of the Cobb River for a wilderness retreat at Cobb River Campsite. This campsite is tucked up in the very top corner of the South Island, around eight hours north of Christchurch. This campsite is perfect for swimming and fishing or exploring the surrounding Nelson/Tasman region.
How long you’re allowed to stay: NA (but it is only accessible for campervans during summer)
What is nearby: Explore Kahurangi National Park
Amenities: Fire pits, toilets, and water from the stream
If you are planning a New Zealand road trip to the very southern point of the South Island, don’t miss a stop at the Colac Bay freedom campsite. Located just two and a half hours south of Queenstown, this campsite is a great budget travel way to see the Southland region. If you can, try to plan your stop here on a new moon. This is the best chance to view the green and pink ribbons of Aurora Australis dancing across the sky. It is an absolute New Zealand South Island must-see!
How long you’re allowed to stay: 2 nights
What is nearby: Try to see Aurora Australis
From wildlife to wineries, and glacial mountainous landscapes, the South Island is overflowing with stunning natural wonders to explore. The best part? You can easily travel your way through these destinations on a budget by making the most of the incredible freedom camping dotted around the island. For more tips on budget travel and how much it costs to travel in a camper in New Zealand, check out our guide to travelling New Zealand on a budget.
Ready to explore the South Island with cost-effective freedom camping? Check out our latest travel deals and book your Mighty NZ campervan online today. Then, before you head off on your South Island road trip, be sure to download the thl Roadtrip app. This is the campervan hire and New Zealand road trip companion. It can help you to plan your trip as well as find other great freedom camping spots along your travels.