Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park
This campground is located in what locals consider a remote part of New Zealand, and despite it being one of the Great Walks, many kiwis have never even heard of this lake or forest reservation area.
It’s maybe a three hour drive southeast from Rotorua.
The drive from Murupara to Lake Waikaremoana was at least a 40km drive on some of the worst road we saw in New Zealand, which is really saying something. (We drove 7,000km.) It was almost completely gravel, constantly winding with cliff-side drops (most of the time without guard rails) and more blind corners than we cared to count. The worst of it was the terrible drivers who drove crap cars at high speeds without caring if there was enough space for both cars to get by. A woman we met at this campsite told us that on her first visit to Lake Waikaremoana, a truck driver drove her and her boyfriend right off the road. The truck driver drove straight at them without caring that there wasn’t enough room. Thankfully their car was caught by a huge tree on the cliff so they survived. It’s a lot better to do this drive if you have a car you don’t care about, but we had a brand new, red rental car. Not so good. We had to do our best not to get it scratched or dinged up. The car was a solid brown by the time we arrived.
Besides the insane driving, the campground was great! When we first arrived at the holiday park, there were only a few spots taken by campers. But the lady at the sign in desk told us there were no spaces available since a big group was coming. After leaving us hanging for a while, she called us back over and said we could stay. No big group ever came, so we don’t know what that was all about.
To camp you’ll have to pay NZ$15 per person for non-powered. Powered sites and cabins are also available. This includes unlimited hot showers, and for campers, access to a kitchen with ovens, stoves, a fridge and big freezer (if you are planning on trout fishing.) If you don’t have your own cooking and eating utensils, a box with everything you need can be rented for NZ$10.
Beware that the only gas available for miles around is one little pump at this holiday park. But maybe this gas is only for boats, I’m not sure. So make sure you fill up where the gas is cheap in Rotorua.
The bathrooms were good, the spots spacious and the scenery was stunning. While many people come here to do trout fishing (as I believe it is artificially stocked), the hiking around is fantastic. Lake Waikaremoana provides one of the great walks in New Zealand, but even if you aren’t up for multi-day hiking, there are plenty of paths to explore.
Click here for a list of the shorter walks, some of which bring you to spectacular waterfalls.
This is one of our favorite campgrounds. While I’d like to recommend it more, I really do believe the drive out to it is very dangerous.
We camped here for six nights.
Reid’s Farm Taupo
This was our first experience with freedom camping in New Zealand. After looking at hotel and hostel prices in touristy Taupo, free accommodation seemed good to us. It’s a short drive out of town to a spot near a river.
To be honest, it was a little unnerving at first. We arrived at around 7pm so the place was already pretty full with 20 and 30 somethings hanging out of campervans looking a little like vagabonds.
It ended up pouring rain so the night was a quiet one even though we had to sleep in the car. There were three long drop toilets that were actually decently maintained. We only stayed that one night and left early and tired.
Waitomo Farm Stay
I hugely recommend this place. It was so quaint and cute, had great facilities and heartwarming, kind owners. It’s directly off of State Highway 3 near the west coast on the way south from Hamilton. Campsites are NZ$15pp for non powered. Power sites and family cabins are also available. Price includes unlimited wifi (a rare find!!), unlimited hot showers, and a kitchen with cooking utensils, pots and pans, etc. Here’s an entire blog post that tells more.
We stayed here twice, both on our way down and on our way back up New Zealand.
I think we camped a total of four nights here.
Mangahuia Campground (Tongariro Crossing)
This DOC campground is located just a few miles off State highway 4 and just about 6 miles or so from the starting point of the famous Tongariro Crossing hike. There are quite a few places to camp, including by a beautiful river or a bit secluded in the woods. There are counters near the campground (as opposed to where the campervan parking spots are) where you can cook, but you’ll need all your own gear, including your own cooker/stove. There is water here and while it says it needs to be boiled, there’s a man who said he had been drinking it for 14 years with no problems. I drank it and turned out fine. 🙂 The only food around is a four square at the gas station before you make the turn off State Highway. There are only drop toilet facilities. Cost is NZ$13pp, $6.50 for children ages 5-17, and free for ages 4 and under.
We stopped at a view point a ways up from the Tongariro Crossing and looked out at the mountains. A man came up beside us and asked if we knew what we were looking at. We didn’t. He pointed out the volcano (Mt. Doom) and everything in front of us. He turned out to be a local and a Christian. After a while of talking, he told us about this campground, and although he had never been to it, had heard it was a free campground. It turned out not to be free, but when we got to the Mangahuia campground, the ranger saw Grace, and as a single mom herself, decided not to charge any of us. So it was free after all!
There’s a nice walk at the back of the campground if you want to stretch you legs without going too far.
We camped here 2 nights.
Battle Hill Campground
If this campground had showers, it’d be perfect. It does have a stream though, so, don’t tell anyone, but after hiking for 10 hours through the Tongariro Crossing and up Mount Doom and spending that night at the Mangahuia campsite, which also didn’t have any showers, I was feeling pretty gross, so I threw on a bathing suit and showered in the river. But I did it carefully so that my shampoo didn’t wash into the water. Don’t worry.
As Wellington is so expensive to stay in and as the reviews for the hostels were terrible anyway, this campground presented a solid alternative. We stayed here twice on our way down and again on our way back up through North island. It’s about 40 minutes away from the capital and only costs NZ$6 per person! What a deal. 😀
What this campsite does have are the most beautiful camping spots next to the river, with friendly ducks and cute ducklings running around, free, clean drinking water, clean toilets (NOT long drop, just regular! Hurray!) with soap and sinks, proximity to Wellington and AWESOME hiking. There weren’t too many things I wanted to do in New Zealand besides just see what it was like, but I did have this desire to see sheep up close and get some good pictures of them. Battle hill made that wish come true! Plus this area used to be the site of a historic battle, which you can read and learn about as you hike the summit trail.
Here are some pictures from our stay and hike.
We camped here somewhere around… five or six nights total?
This was our very last stop before flying out of Auckland. Again, to get to this campground the drive is incredibly dangerous. The road is very narrow, with all the blind curves in the world, around 6 miles on gravel with more cliff drops without guard rails. Also, a bus sometimes transports kids through this road. The camp ranger will tell you when the bus will be on the road, because there’s only enough room for the bus to be on the road (even though it’s technically a two-way road…) And again, you have idiot drivers who want to speed regardless of everyone else’s safety.
BUT once you get there…. just wow. A ten minute walk brings you to a perfect black sand beach with huge rock formations meeting the water and a little lighthouse. I went out every night of our stay at around 9pm for a run on a seemingly endless and deserted beach. That was one of my favorite things ever. I’d love to do that every night for the rest of my life. 🙂
You can also hike out to some pretty cool caves. One of the caves is so big that locals used to host parties in it.
There are four long drop toilets and two cold water showers. Campsites are NZ$7.50pp. Water must be boiled, but if you really need it, you can get water from the lodge. There is nothing around as this campground is located in a protected reserve. Make sure to bring all food and supplies with you!
We camped here two nights.
for a great camp ground between Auckland and Whangarei, check out my post about the awesome campground at Uretiti Beach! We only checked it out for the day and didn’t stay there since we had been housesitting in that area, but it’s a great option.
That adds up to 3 weeks of camping on North Island!
But we did a whole lot more camping on South Island, so stay tuned for a post on our South Island camping spots soon. 🙂