Travelling around the south island of New Zealand, I stayed at 25 campsites and I learnt what made a campsite a little bit special. Here is a list of what I think makes a great campground.
There are the must haves:
Then there are the more enjoyable extras that make it special:
I've ended up staying in campgrounds that failed spectacularly in these 7 preferences. And to be honest - campgrounds that I've enjoyed have usually had one of the extras lacking - it depends on what is necessary to you.
There were only 2 campsites out of the 25 that managed to get all 7 in my list! Is my list too hard? I think they are pretty generic and it's surprising that only 2 managed to achieve all 7.
This campsite is in a beautiful setting and I love how they have left a lot of the native bush as it is. There is a sense of privacy and being back in nature.
It's a well run business which also caters to backpacker tours, but they don't stay in the gravelled campground area. They also have a welcoming restaurant and bar for those colder nights. The staff were great, the toilets are plentiful and showers enjoyable.
And there are plenty of hikes and activities in the area, plus a hot pool to relax in afterwards.
46 Cron St, Franz Josef 7886
+64 (0)3 752 0220 or 0800 873 346
This campsite is huge and wasn't busy when I visited in December. It's 10 min outside of Wanaka and is the perfect location to do the Roy's Peak hike and explore Aspiring National Park.
The staff were welcoming, the facilities good and there was easy access to fresh water and the dumping station.
What makes this campsite is the location. We picked our own spot with great views out onto the lake. I imagine it gets crazy busy over the Christmas holidays, as there were plenty of empty permanent caravans in other spots.
1127 Mt Aspiring Road, Glendhu Bay, Wanaka
+64 (0)3 443 7243
The below are fantastic campsites that I will likely go back to, but none ticked all 7 on my list. So close.
This is the cheapest campsite at only $12 a night for a powered site. It's behind the school, and was perfect while it was school holidays. They even had a dump station and laundry.
The town is small with just a Four Square, petrol station, info centre and the weirdest hardware store. But you come to Karamea to get away from it all and enjoy some hiking.
The reason it's not on my top list, is privacy... it's better than some campsites I stayed at, but one evening, I was surrounded by a family reunion... I ended up having a nosy father peer into my caravan while I was trying to read and he started a conversation. A bit disconcerting. The toilet and showers are basic with onto 2 shower cubicles with curtains, and a possible wait.
But it's a nice setting, right next to the school field and farmers paddock. I'd been roughing it before staying here, so loved having access to all the facilities and power again.
+64 (03) 7826 069 or
+64 (03) 7826 652
This campsite is in such a beautiful area with no other competition, apart from 4 spots at Glenorchy Hotel. It's new and will keep improving.
The biggest let-down is there is no dumping station. There is actually no dumping station in the whole town, so this is for short stays only. Which is a shame, because it's such a stunning area.
Apparently there was another campground, but it was very dated, so they started this new one. The future plans look very impressive, with plenty of cabins, but I think a dumping station is further down the list.
The kitchen is funky... very indoor / outdoor flow and it's easy to strike up a conversation. The toilets and showers are in moveable buildings, new and work well. The staff have multiple jobs, so someone might not be at the office all the time, but they leave a mobile number to call.
+64 (0)21 0889 4008
It's a Doc campsite with good facilities set on the edge of a lake and right next to some lovely walking trails. Go to the Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre up the road to pay and book a site. There are some powered sites and a large area for tents. I went off season and was the first to arrive, but it was fully booked when I visited around New Years.
There was a place for me to dump my grey water and full up with fresh water. The showers were good but you need to pre-pay at the info centre... the only reason this didn't make the top list.
My suggestion is to bring your rain jacket and insect repellent. It tends to rain here more than other places... but so peaceful.
This is a campsite in a larger town than the others on my list. It was a surprise for me. They have put up clever hedges and fences to create a bit more privacy and I wonder why other campgrounds don't do the same. It's on the edge of the town with a nice view of trees. I found this a great base for exploring Mt Cook and surrounding area. Plus there is a good size Four Square nearby.
The reason it's not on the top list is because the owners were a little odd and not great at making me feel welcome. I felt like I was interrupting them every time I went to the reception. I would have stayed longer but it became too hard to extend my stay, with needing to move sites once, then no one answering the reception buzzer.
122 Mackenzie Drive, Twizel 7901
0800 350 507
This is a truly beautiful setting for a campsite. No powered sites, but there is a dumping station.
There isn't always someone at reception, as they have a few other jobs to do at the same time. Press the in-comm button and have a chat - someone will come. A very relaxed system and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful.
It's a great base for exploring the area. There are plenty of doc campsites around, but I felt more comfortable leaving my caravan here, plus the showers and toilets are great. A hot shower after a day spent hiking is the best feeling.
The reason it's not further up my list is the dump station is a bit of a mission to get to with my wheeling tank. If you can drive your vehicle to a dump station, then you are set!
+64 (0)3 249 9122
So, that's 7 campsites I would recommend staying at in the south island of New Zealand. Lets see if I find more in my future exploration.
As you can see, none of my favourite campsites are in the cities or larger towns.... they are just not as nice. Also, most of these campsites require stocking up on food before you arrive. They are beautiful because they are in quiet parts of New Zealand.
Let me know if you have stayed at any of these campsites and if you agree/disagree. Or do you have a favourite campsite to add to this list?