Wake up to the sound of crashing waves, stumble over dunes to watch the sunrise, sleep beneath the lush canopy of ferny forests, dig your own natural hot tub, and enjoy free-spirited drives into the sunset; if the great outdoors is your jam then New Zealand will seem like one hell of a paradise to you. And one of the best ways to see the country has to be by taking a road trip. Stop off where you want and when you want, get down and dirty with the great outdoors, chase beaches and gaze at stars on your most epic camping adventure yet. And I’m here to help you achieve that with a few insider tips with this awesome guide to road tripping and camping in New Zealand!
In this post, I’ll cover everything you need to know to plan for road tripping and camping in New Zealand including driving tips for first timers road tripping in New Zealand, tips to kick-start planning your camping trip, PLUS a list of 7 magical campsites not to miss. CHECK IT OUT!
Road Tripping in New Zealand
If you’re from the UK you won’t struggle too much to get used to the way of driving in New Zealand, as you drive on the left hand side of the road. There are however a few differences to be aware of before setting off on your trip to make sure your drive is safe and comfortable. Here are some things to note for first timers driving in New Zealand…
One way bridges
One way bridges really are a thing in New Zealand, be aware that the road may pinch into a one-way bridge especially on winding mountain roads. You’ll see the sign which is exactly the same sign as we have in the UK for who’s right of way it is. Some bridges are precariously placed, so always approach with caution just in case the car come the other way hasn’t seen you.
Don’t freak out. A bull almost walked square into our car at one point after casually walking under the fence of its paddock. If you see loose cattle, call this number: 0800 492 452. The local farmers will be appreciative of your efforts… especially if there’s a big ol’ bull on the loose!
Off the beaten track
Some gravel roads go through farmland. If you have a herd of animals coming towards you, most likely there is a quad bike or two in tow. Just stop your car, sit patiently and let the farmers & herd pass and they will be no bother. Don’t freak out.
If you’re chasing beaches it’s good to be aware that some are off the beaten track. And if it isn’t a DOC area then most likely it is a farmers land. Be sure to ask permission, it’s not ok to trespass and people are very protective of their land in NZ.
All speeds are in km/h and correspond with the speed dial on your car (assuming you’ve rented the car locally in NZ).
The passing lane…
…And pulling over. Most state highways are single lane roads but do offer passing lanes often. Be sure to pull over into the left and let traffic behind overtake, or use the additional lane to overtake big trucks or slower traffic where safe. Similarly, if you’re going super slow and there aren’t any passing lanes but you know there is traffic behind you, find a safe place to pull over and let it pass before continuing on your way.
Windy AF Roads
That’s windy as in loads of corners, not windy as in tornados… and it’s good to be aware that you will experience very windy roads as you explore NZ by road. Most of the time there are signposts which advise the speed limit for that corner, but always play it safe if you are new to driving on these kinds of roads. The amount of cars overturned in ditches I’ve seen is chilling, so please don’t feel pressured to go faster and take all corners carefully – especially when you’re getting off the beaten track where you won’t find any signs indicating speeds per corner.
Tips for Planning your Camping Trip
It is illegal to freedom camp unless your vehicle has a toilet inside it, meaning that you’ll need to find a campsite if you are exploring with a car rental and tent or with a campervan. The awesome news is that NZ is well and truly set up with campsites galore. Here are some top tips to prep you and help find unique campsites across the country…
DOC camping grounds
DOC (Department of Conservation) is my absolute favourite service in New Zealand. Offering campsites across the country in the really off the beaten track areas, the facilities are always basic – think composting toilets, cold water showers and no kitchen facilities but usually a sink for washing up – this is camping in it’s rawest form. Which is why it’s so great! BYO camping & cooking gear and get ready to get well and truly back to nature.
AA for DOC camping leaflets
But where are all these awesome campgrounds? Well, here’s a little insider tip – head to an AA wherever you start your trip and pick up all of the DOC leaflets you can find. They are totally free and offer a wealth of information of DOC campsite locations across the North and South Island.
Another awesome option for camping is holiday parks which are more well equipt than DOC sites, usually with hot water showers (extra charge), electricity and kitchen facilities including pots and pans and some kind of basic indoor area in case the weather changes.
During summer months holiday parks and DOC sites do book up. So, be sure to plan your trip if you’re heading out in summer. If you are heading on this epic trip in winter, it’s still totally doable (we camped here in winter!) but if heavy rain is expected and you only have a tent, I’d recommend taking a cabin in a holiday park.
7 MUST-Visit CAMPSITES
There are some beautiful campsites in New Zealand, some less-known than others, but this is the TTT top pick of 7 magical camp sites not to miss out on. Whether you’re kitted out with a camper van or putting up your tent, if you love getting back to nature, you’ll love these spots. Be sure to check out the map below which shows the locations as well.
#1 DOC Camping, Spirits Bay
#2 Utea Camping, Ninety Mile Beach
#3 Motutara Farm, Whananaki
#4 DOC Camping at Fantail Bay & Port Jackson, Coromandel
#5 Hot Water Beach at Lake Tarawera, Rotorua (this involves a hike)
#6 French Pass, South Island
#7 Karamea, South Island (great stop off if you plan to do the Heaphy Track)
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