5 Best Free Campsites in New Zealand South Island

As budget travellers we love free stuff. That is why I am going to reveal 5 best free campsites we came across during our 2-week road trip in New Zealand South Island.

For those considering camping in New Zealand I would strongly recommend a couple of tools:

  1. CamperMate App – excellent for finding drinking water refill points, showers, etc.. Okay for finding (paid) campsites.
  2. WikiCamps NZ – slightly less known amongst travellers in New Zealand, but by far the most useful tool I have come across for finding free and paid campgrounds. Don’t forget to check comments and photographs section to make sure you know what to expect.

By using these two tools you can always be sure you will find a great place to spend the night. So here are the 5 best free campsites we found in New Zealand South Island.

5 Best Free Campsites in New Zealand South Island
5 Best Free Campsites in New Zealand South Island – January 2019

1. Lake Poaka Natural Reserve Area

This campsite is excellent for those willing to do hiking in Mt Cook National Park. Facilities are limited to a single toilet, but the grounds are very clean and Lake Poaka is so beautiful too.

Location on Google Maps: Lake Poaka Natural Reserve

Tip: The nearest town is called Twizel where you will find a petrol station, Four Square supermarket and a water refill point.

KATrippin Lake Tekapo Campsite New Zealand Road Trip
Kristina enjoying the serene lake Poaka – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

2. Lake Hawea Freedom Campsite

Perfect for those interested in doing Ishtmus Peak hike as it is literally a few minutes away from the beginning of the track. Lake Hawea campsite is also close to Wanaka which is a scenic touristy town full of shops, cafes and restaurants.

Location on Google Maps: Lake Hawea Campsite

Tip: This campsite gets busy really quickly so it might be a good idea to set up camp in the morning or early in the afternoon.

KATrippin Hiking Ishtmus Peak Campsite
Campsite very close to the starting point of Ishtmus Peak Track just by Lake Hawea – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

3. Rum Currie’s Hut

As mentioned in my post about our New Zealand South Island Road Trip, this must be the most beautiful campsite I have been to. It is located right on the bank of river Kawarau and is super close to Queenstown. This campsite is for people sleeping in tents ONLY.

Location on Google Maps : Rum Currie’s Hut

Tip: Just next door you can have a free wine tasting (5 different wines) at Pergerine Winery.

KATRippin Best Free Campsites in New Zealand
Beautiful Rum Currie’s Hut Campsite – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

4. Campsite by the Tasman Sea

Would you like to visit Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers and save on accommodation? This campsite with no official name (nearest town is called Kakapotahi) might be an option. Most of the self-contained vehicles will be parked on the gravel car park area, but in dry weather you can get into the sand dunes.

Location on Google Maps: Campsite by the sea

Tip: If the big puddle (you’ll know which one!) is blocking your way to the dunes, park in the car park and carry your stuff over on foot. All you really need to enjoy the views of the sea are your beddings and a tent!

KATRippin Best Free Campsites in New Zealand
In dry weather you can set up you tent right on the coast of Tasman Sea – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

5. Andrews Shelter Campsite

Conveniently close to Castle Hill and Arthurs Pass this is a great campsite with a shelter available to use for visitors. Similarly to all the other free campsites a toilet without running water is available but when it comes to facilities that is about it.

Location on Google Maps: Andrews Shelter Campsite

Tip: Make sure you take some bug repellent – the amount of sand flies we encountered in this site was unbelievable.

KATRippin Best Free Campsites in New Zealand
No this is not a campsite, this is amazing Castle Hill nearby – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

To sum up, New Zealand is super easy when it comes to camping. Apart from our arrival and departure days we were able to travel around the South Island without paying once for accommodation. Of course, an initial investment to purchase a tent, sleeping bags, a mattress and possibly a couple of chairs is required but these things pay for themselves very quickly!

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