New Zealand’s stunning South Island is well set up for campers with thousands of campsites catering to everyone’s budget. Here are my 10 best campsites in New Zealand’s South Island.
1 – LAKE PUKAKI
Lake Pukaki Campground is a popular free site, set on a small outcrop overlooking the incredibly beautiful Lake Pukaki, with its shimmering emerald blue water and Mount Cook looking on majestically in the distance.
It only has basic facilities (a handful of drop toilets, no running water), but the site more than makes up for it with its surroundings. Spend the day swimming in the lake, watch in wander as the sun goes down, and then get lie under the stars – it’s one of the world’s best spots for stargazers.
Lake Pukaki Campsite Location: https://goo.gl/maps/a4xALJMuwSN2
2 – PELORUS BRIDGE
Not only is this a beautiful, cheap DOC campsite just 50km outside of Nelson, it’s also the spot where The Hobbit’s “floating down the river in barrels” scene was shot. This is my favourite place in NZ to swim in fresh water (and believe me that’s a competitive title) and a really lovely, chilled campsite with running water and a shower. This is a very popular site so during peak season I strongly recommend booking ahead!
Pelorus Bridge Campsite Booking: https://www.doc.govt.nz/pelorus-bridge-campsite%EF%BB%BF
3 – GLENDHU BAY
After hiking Roy’s Peak we were going to drive to Queenstown but then I noticed a motorcamp just a few kilometres up the road. It turned out to be our favourite private site in New Zealand! A huge site on a lake, surrounded by mountains, and populated more by local families than tourists, making for a much more friendly and real Kiwi vibe than most sites (especially those around Wanaka and Queenstown). It’s a short drive from Wanaka, it has full facilities, and I can’t recommend this place enough.
Glendhu Bay Motorcamp Booking: https://glendhubaymotorcamp.co.nz/
4 – OKAINS BAY
One of our first stops after leaving Christchurch was on the Banks Peninsula, and it turned out to be one of our favourite spots. It’s an amazing drive from Christchurch up and down mountain roads (but totally fine for campervans and motorhomes), culminating in an epic downhill stretch into Okains Bay, a tiny village with little more than a village store and a school (where do the students come from?!). It’s a well maintained site right next to the beach with full facilities and even WiFi (paid and only around the camp office). But the piece de resistance (if you’re lucky) are the sunrises/sunsets. They are breathtaking.
After witnessing one of the coolest sunsets I’ve ever seen, the sunrise the following morning was even better.
Okains Bay Campground Booking: https://okainsbaycamp.co.nz/
5 – KERR BAY
A little off the traditional tourist trail, Kerr Bay is one of a few sites in the Nelson Lakes region and one of my favourites in the South Island. It’s a DOC site so fairly cheap, is situated right on a lake, surrounded by mountains, with good facilities, and it’s a great place to based yourself if you want to do some hikes in the region.
6 – KINGSTON
Queenstown campsites are few and far between, and to be honest a total rip off. a 40minute drive on the road towards Milford Sound is a lovely site next to the lake that is quiet, peaceful, and far removed from the noisy, overly busy sites in Queenstown itself. It has a couple of drop toilets but no shower. Best of all though, it’s free!
Kingston Lake Campground Location: https://goo.gl/maps/hdiNTgEXgH92
7 – BIRDLINGS FLAT (DRIVEWAY)
We stayed in a handful of “driveways” in New Zealand, which are exactly what they sound like – privately owned driveways which the owner lets people park their van in for a (usually) small fee. They vary from fields on farms to driveways outside peoples homes. Of all the ones we stayed at this was one of my favourites. Hosted by the loveliest family I met in New Zealand, the bargain price ($30NZD/$20 USD, in between a DOC campsite and a holiday park) includes use of the shower and toilet facilities in the house, and it’s situated right next to a lake and the beach (albeit one you should not swim in for safety reasons). Best of all, if like me you love motorbiking, the owners run a motorbike tour company.
Me and my Mum borrowed a couple of off-road bikes (yeah I have a pretty cool Mum) and went bombing around the “spit” – a huge grassy area nearby – for several hours. It was bloody brilliant. And for a great price too. Such a lovely family and I can’t recommend staying here enough. Oh – and the stargazing here is incredible too!
Birdlings Flat Private Driveway Booking: https://business.geozone.co.nz/api-v1/poi/link/redirect?ua=CamperMate&poi_id=186827&type=booking&user_id=1653191
Motorcycle Tour Website: https://www.bpexperience.co.nz/
8 – OKARITO
What was intended to be a short stop-off in between Wanaka and Franz Josef Glacier turned into a two day stay and possibly our favourite sunset in New Zealand. 25m back from a huge and practically deserted beach, Okarito is a short drive from the main road and well worth the trek.
Okarito Campground Booking: http://okaritocampground.co.nz/
9 – ONUKU FARM
Our final stay before we flew from Christchurch was at a lovely site just outside of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. It has a lovely chilled, hippy vibe with great facilities and a stunning view of the ocean. We were quite unlucky as we were there during a massive downpour but we still had a great time and loved the site.
Onuku Farm Hostel Booking: http://onuku.co.nz/home/
10 – LYNWOOD RETREAT (DRIVEWAY)
On the road towards Milford just outside of Te Anau is another fantastic private driveway. This one is on a farm and we were literally the only people staying there! It’s a basic site with no toilet but does have running water, but the sunset over the farmland with the mountains of Fiordland in the distance is an amazing sight. Totally worth a stop-off en route from Queenstown to Milford.
Lynwood Retreat Booking: https://business.geozone.co.nz/api-v1/driveway-camping/189587/index?user_id=1653191
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