13 Unmissable Campsites In New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand’s South Island is a haven for adventurers, offering countless hiking trails, stunning coastlines, and breathtaking mountain landscapes. Camping is the ultimate way to fully immerse yourself in the endless beauty, and we strongly suggest you don’t miss these incredible campsites in the South Island of New Zealand!

During our 4-month road trip around the South Island, we stopped at countless campsites – some leaving a permanent glorious imprint in our minds and some not so much. But those that did blow us away were some of the best campsites we have ever been to, so naturally, we want to share them with you!

Our favourite New Zealand South Island Campsites hold a special place in our hearts – not only for the stunning views that captivate us, but also due to their ultimate locations that grant effortless access to our beloved adventures in this region.

Continue reading to find our curated list of the best campsites in New Zealand’s South Island, complete with vital details for each campsite and unmissable adventures to enjoy nearby.

Sunrise blasting through the pine trees at Albert Town Campground in New Zealand's South Island

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The 13 Best Campsites In New Zealand’s South Island

Quick Tips For Camping In New Zealand

  • Buy a DOC Campsite Pass – If you are planning to camp in New Zealand’s South Island for more than a week, purchasing a DOC Campsite Pass is definitely worth it
  • Pack bug spray – Sand flies are common on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and they are ferocious. I highly recommend packing insect repellent with at least 20% DEET to help fend off these nasty little flies
  • Make sure you’re covered – Make sure to buy travel insurance with adequate accident coverage specifically for renting campervans. We recommend Cover-More as our top choice
  • Campfires are very limited – Many campsites in New Zealand have a strict no-campfire policy, while the ones permitting campfires require them to be used only in designated fire pits
  • Phone reception isn’t always reliable – This is especially true when heading into the more remote areas of New Zealand’s South Island
  • Fuel is expensive – To save money on fuel, look for self-service fuel stations where you can typically save at least 20 cents per litre. Gaspy is a great resource for finding these fuel stations
  • New Zealand’s best camping resources – Use Rankers to discover campsites; CamperMate for campsites, showers, gas refill, and washing services; Gaspy for fuel; and Roady or Get Your Guide for finding attractions

White Horse Hill Campground

Location: White Horse Hill Campground
Fees/Bookings: 9th Feb – 25th Dec $15 NZD per person per night, 26th Dec – 8th Feb $18 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders), book online in advance
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No, coin-operated showers can be found in Mt Cook Village
Phone Service: Yes
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

White Horse Hill Campsite in Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand

White Horse Hill Campground is found at the base of the Sealy Range in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and provides direct access to the Mueller Hut Route and Hooker Valley Track.

It’s hard to explain the might of the landscape you’ll be surrounded by, but as you drive past Lake Pukaki and move into Hooker Valley, its beauty will strike you all at once. The sheer size of the mountains towering above and the close proximity of the formidable hanging glaciers make this an unmissable campground in New Zealand’s South Island.

On top of being an impossibly beautiful campsite, White Horse Hill Campsite makes for the perfect adventure base to explore many of the best hikes in Mt Cook and also marvel at the impressive Tasman Glacier.

Shelter at White Horse Hill Campsite in Mt Cook

The campsite is equipped with toilet blocks, a large undercover shelter with untreated water and spacious sites with incredible views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Although there are no showers at the campground, you can find coin-operated showers at the Mt Cook Village Public Shelter located on Bowen Drive at the beginning of the Red Tarns Track.

Note: This is the only option for camping within Mt Cook National Park, so it is important to pre-book your campsite to avoid missing out.

Purakaunui Bay Campsite

Location: Purakaunui Bay
Fees/Bookings: $10 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders), booking in advance required
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: No
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Campervans camping at Purakaunui Campsite in New Zealand's South Island

Purakaunui Bay is a surfer’s paradise and easily the best campsite in the Catlins. Along with the consistent surf, you’ll often find seals lazing about on the rocks along the beach and an incredible scene for both sunrise and sunset.

This campsite is located in a grassy field overlooking the towering white sea cliffs of Purakaunui Bay. The large campground accommodates up to 40 camping set-ups across the grassy area, and with no specific sites assigned, you can park wherever you please.

Purakaunui Bay is a great choice for a picturesque campsite while you explore many of the best things to do in the Catlins, or simply chill out on a south coast surfing holiday.

Surfing at Purakaunui Bay in New Zealand's South Island
Flat grassy area at Purakaunui Campground in the Catlins

The only downside to the Purakaunui Bay Campsite is its popularity. But considering its beauty and the optimal location to explore the beautiful coastline and impressive waterfalls in the Catlins, we highly recommend stopping at Purakaunui Bay on your New Zealand South Island road trip!

Lake Camp

Location: Lake Camp
Fees/Bookings: Free Campsite
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: No, untreated water is available at Lake Clearwater Campsite, though technically you’re meant to pay for these facilities
Showers: No
Phone Service: No
Most Suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, and tents

Campervan camping on the shores of Lake Camp in the snow in the Ashburton Lakes District in New Zealand

Set beneath the foothills of a mountain that would inspire artists, Lake Camp is surrounded by trees that turn a brilliant orange in autumn and pebbly beaches perfect for lazing in the sun during the summer months.

Camping isn’t restricted to certain areas around Lake Camp, instead, you’ll have the freedom to set up wherever you desire. The northern side is equipped with more grassy areas, making it perfect for tents or campervans. While the eastern banks offer beautiful views towards the west, showcasing the distant mountain ranges of Mt Cook National Park.

We chose to camp on the eastern banks of Lake Camp and we are so glad we did. Every morning, we were gifted a breathtaking sunrise over the distant mountains, which were mirrored in the glassy lake on a calm day.

Sunrise over the Southern Alps from Lake Camp in New Zealand

You’ll find two toilets at the eastern edge of the lake and a newer toilet block with three toilets (including a disabled one) on the northern side.

Lake Camp offers a great free alternative to the popular Lake Clearwater Campsite. It provides the perfect base for exploring the Ashburton Lakes District and hiking the thrilling Mt Guy Track.

Note: The eastern side of Lake Camp is prone to becoming muddy during rain or snow and is only recommended for 4WD vehicles.

Road Trip in New Zealand driving in Mt Cook Nation Park

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Cascade Creek Campsite

Location: Cascade Creek
Fees/Bookings: NZD $15 per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders), booking in advance required
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: No, the closest reliable service can be found at The Divide Car Park
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Van camping at Cascade Creek Campsite near Milford Sound

Cascade Creek is the largest and most popular campsite for exploring Milford Sound. The vast campground can accommodate up to 120 camping set-ups in a valley surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains.

Cascade Creek offers a variety of different sites, from sheltered spots in the trees to expansive grassy fields with stunning views. What’s more, these sites can accommodate even the largest caravans, making Cascade Creek an ideal choice for all campers.

Campervans camping at Cascade Creek Campsite near Milford Sound in NZ South Island

Although it’s uncommon to have this New Zealand South Island campground all to yourself, Cascade Creek is the perfect base to explore the beautiful walks in Milford Sound and also marvel at the incredible fiords while on a Milford Sound Cruise.

If you’re planning a trip to Milford Sound in a campervan, Cascade Creek Campsite is our top choice every time.

Glendhu Bay Campground

Location: Glendhu Bay
Fees/Bookings: From $20 NZD per person per night, book online
Toilets: Yes
Bins: Yes
Power: Yes
Water: Yes
Showers: Yes
Phone Service: Yes
Most Suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Camping in Glendhu Bay overlooking Lake Wanaka

If you’re looking for a campsite in Wanaka that boasts incredible views combined with the comforts of a holiday park, then Glendhu Bay Campground is what you’re searching for! This campsite in New Zealand’s South Island provides all the typical amenities you would expect from a fully equipped holiday park at a slightly lower rate.

Glendhu Bay Campground is nestled right on the shores of Lake Wanaka, just 15 minutes northwest of town. It is within riding distance of Bike Glendhu and a short drive to Diamond Lake and the iconic Roys Peak.

Campervan in Glendhu Bay Campsite in New Zealand's South Island

Glendhu Bay Campsite is also a great base for exploring Mt. Aspiring National Park and tackling more challenging hikes like Cascade Saddle or Shotover Saddle, especially if you’re not travelling in a self-contained campervan.

For those after a free campsite near Wanaka, our top picks are Red Bridge Campsite and Raspberry Creek Car Park.

Otto/MacDonalds Campsite

Location: Otto/Macdonalds Campsite
Fees/Bookings: $15 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders), book in advance online
Toilets: Yes, drop toilet
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: Very patchy, not reliable
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Sunrise at Otto/Mcdonald Campground in Frans Joseph on New Zealand's West Coast

If you’re looking for a quiet lakeside campsite while camping on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, then you’ll love Otto/Macdonalds Campsite.

Located amidst the forest surrounding Lake Mapourika, this DOC Campsite is divided into two sections, both equipped with shelters, running water, and toilets. It is designed to accommodate even the largest camping setups, so don’t worry if you’re travelling in a big rig.

Amazing reflection of Frans Joseph Glacier from Otto/Mcdonald Campground

At the campsite, you’ll find a short walk down to the lake’s edge which offers a stunning view of the Franz Josef Glacier and New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It’s a fantastic spot to catch the sunrise and on a calm day, the reflections of the snowy Southern Alps will blow you away.

Sylvan Campsite

Location: Sylvan Campsite
Fees/Bookings: From $15 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders), book in advance required
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: Yes, Spark only
Most Suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Camping at Lake Sylvan Campsite during sunset over the snow covered mountain peaks

Nestled along the banks of the Routeburn River, Sylvan Campsite boasts incredible views over the Dart Valley and magical sunsets that bathe the surrounding peaks in a golden glow.

This campsite in New Zealand’s South Island was beautifully maintained, with a private picnic table and lush green grass at each site. The basic drop toilets, commonly found at DOC campsites, were clean with little odour when we visited in November.

Sylvan campsite was our favourite of the campsites in the area and we used it as a base to explore the incredible hikes near Glenorchy. Our favourites were Sugarloaf Saddle and Earnslaw Burn.

Sylvan Campsite is also the closest campsite to the Routeburn Track, adding to its long list of positives.

Katiki Beach North Reserve Rest Stop

Location: Katiki Beach North
Fees/Bookings: Free, self-contained vehicles only
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: No
Showers: No
Phone Service: Yes, patchy
Most suitable For: Self-contained campervans

Campervan camping at Katiki Beach North Reserve on New Zealand's East Coast

If you’re looking for a less popular camping ground on New Zealand’s South Island, Katiki Beach North Reserve will not disappoint.

Located just south of the famous Moeraki Boulders, Katiki Beach is another beautiful white sand beach that stretches down the east coast of NZ. Tucked into the large conifer trees, you’ll find a sheltered spot that backs right up to the edge of the beach, providing amazing views over the South Pacific Ocean.

Many travellers use this beach as a simple rest stop as they make their way along the coast. But this quiet little spot proved to be a great location for an overnight camp. You can often see seals and penguins on the beach, and if you’re lucky, you may catch a decent wave. However, what truly makes this campsite special is the breathtaking sunrise it offers.

Sunrise over Katiki Beach on the East Coast of New Zealand's South Island

Katiki Beach is a great overnight spot to stay on your travels down to the Catlins or for visiting attractions like the Nugget Point Lighthouse.

Lake Alexandrina Campground

Location: Lake Alexandrina
Fees/Bookings: South Campground – $20 NZD per vehicle per night, East Campground – $10 NZD per person per night
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: No
Showers: No
Phone Service: No
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Sunrise over Lake Alexandrina with boats on the shore while camping near Lake Tekapo

Lake Alexandrina Campground is easily the most beautiful campsite you can find on your visit to Lake Tekapo. This peaceful spot consists of little more than a collection of small Bachs (holiday shacks) lining the shores and ducks splashing about in the lake, making it one of the best camping grounds in South Island New Zealand to unwind and get away from the hustle of modern life.

However, the Lake Alexandrina Campgrounds can be a little confusing to understand at first glimpse. There are actually two campsites – one on the eastern banks and one on the southern shores – and each provides something slightly different.

The southern campground is smaller, with space to accommodate only a handful of campervans at a time, but offers beautiful views of the lake and distant mountains. In contrast, the Eastern campground is larger, positioned between Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor, and includes the opportunity to take a short walk to a hilltop view overlooking both lakes.

Jucy campervans camping at South Lake Alexandrina Campsite in New Zealand's South Island
Southern Campsite
Caravans Camping at Lake Alexandrina's East Campground with snowy mountains in the background
Eastern Campsite

Our pick is to stay at the southern campground as it is generally quieter and the views across Lake Alexandrina to the rugged mountain range silhouetted on the horizon are incomparable.

At both campgrounds, you’ll find flat grassy sites for camping and simple drop toilets. If you’re looking for a free campsite to stay at during your visit to Lake Tekapo, your only option is the Mackenzie Waitaki RV Campsite.

12 Mile Delta Campground

Location: 12 Mile Delta
Fees/Bookings: $15 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders)
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: Very patchy and unreliable
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

12 Mile Delta Campsite in Queenstown overlooking The Remarkables

If you’re a Lord Of The Rings Fan, there’s a good chance 12 Mile Delta is already on your list. And if it’s not, then it should be.

Just a 10-minute drive south of Queenstown lies the renowned filming site of Ithilien Camp. It’s where Sam and Gollum had a heated debate about cooking a stew and where the battle between the men of Harad and Faramir’s rangers took place.

Other than the Lord Of The Rings, 12 Mile Delta is the closest campsite to Queenstown and makes for the perfect place to stay when visiting the adventure capital of New Zealand – especially if you purchased a DOC Campsite Pass.

The campground itself is massive with plenty of sites available and operates on a first come first served basis. It offers typical DOC Campsite amenities like untreated water and drop toilets and also features breathtaking views over Lake Wakatipu.

Campervan at 12 Mile Delta Campground in New Zealand's South Island

But even though the campsite is very large, during the peak seasons surrounding summer and winter, 12 Mile Delta fills up quickly in the evenings. Be sure to get in early if you want to secure a campsite, especially on weekends and during school holidays.

If you’re unlucky and arrive when 12 Mile Delta is full, keep heading south and camp at Moke Lake, you won’t regret it.

Moke Lake Campsite

Location: Moke Lake
Fees/Bookings: $15 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders)
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: No
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Sunrise at Moke Lake campsite, one of the best South Island New Zealand Campgrounds

Tucked into the folds of the mountains, 20 minutes east of Queenstown, you’ll find a peaceful campsite lining the banks of Moke Lake. Surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, you really get a sense of wilderness when you head up to this tranquil location.

While it certainly isn’t a secret spot, Moke Lake is a peaceful alternative to 12 Mile Delta when camping near Queenstown. You’ll find all the same amenities as the closer campsite but in a far more picturesque location.

Clouds blowing over Moke Lake Camspsite near Queenstown

There is a beautiful short walk around the lake to keep you busy, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can climb a short but steep mountainside for an even better vantage point overlooking the stunning campsite – this is a popular adventure for sunrise.

Kingston Freedom Camp

Location: Kingston Freedom Camp
Fees/Bookings: Free, self-contained vehicles only
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: Yes
Power: No
Water: Yes, fill from the lake
Showers: No
Phone Service: Yes
Most suitable For: Campervans, camping trailers, caravans and tents

Campervan on the shores of Lake Wakitipu at Kingston Campground, a great South Island New Zealand Campsite

Kingston Freedom Camp is a well-known campsite in New Zealand’s South Island, situated on the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu. With stunning views of the lake, this spacious campground is an ideal place for an overnight stay or a weekend getaway.

If you’re lucky, you can score a campsite right on the lakefront for front-row seats to the incredible views. However, being such a popular camping spot close to Queenstown, this campsite does get busy. If you miss out on these lakeside spots, there’s still ample space nestled within the open forest behind.

Campervans parked at Kingston Campsite near Queenstown

At the campground, you’ll find two drop toilets on the eastern side and rubbish bins scattered throughout. However, during our visit, the bins were overflowing and remained unemptied for the duration of our stay.

We planned an overnight stop at Kingston Free Camp while travelling NZ in our campervan. But after waking up to the incredible vistas the first morning, we ended up staying for 3 nights, enjoying the tranquil views and plenty of afternoon swims.

Gillespies Beach Campsite

Location: Gillespies Beach Campsite
Fees/Bookings: $10 NZD per person per night (free for DOC Campsite Pass holders) book online in advance – bookings aren’t currently unavailable for the 1 July 2024 to 30 June 2025 season, check the DOC website for updates
Toilets: Yes, drop toilets
Bins: No
Power: No
Water: Yes, untreated
Showers: No
Phone Service: No
Most suitable For: Campervans and tents

Camping at Gillespies Beach Campsite on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island

Gillespies Beach Campsite offers a prime camping spot for travellers exploring Fox Glacier and the broader West Coast region. Located right on Gillespies Beach, you’ll find several walking tracks along the coast, easy access to the dramatic coastline and incredible views back towards the impressive Southern Alps Range – including Aoraki/Mt Cook on a clear day!

The campsite is equipped with toilet blocks, a sink with untreated water, a spacious grassy area for tents, 8 reserved spots for pre-booked campervans, and additional parking for day visitors.

Southern Alps view from Gillespies Beach Campsite

While this campground is no secret, you can often find it free from others outside of the summer months. And even considering its popularity, it is a great base to have while you explore the surrounding sights and take on the awesome hikes in the area.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, our favourite campsites in New Zealand’s South Island that are scattered throughout the endless valleys and unique coastlines. Truth be told, we expected to find more campsites offering sensational views of the rugged landscape, but most of the cheap or free campsites we stayed at were just roadside stops that left little to be desired.

However, as we’ve just demonstrated, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough that we guarantee will leave you breathless. If you only have time to visit a couple of these South Island New Zealand Campsites, we strongly suggest starting with White Horse Hill Campground in Mt Cook National Park, Glendhu Bay near Wanaka and Lake Alexandrina near Lake Tekapo.

We hope that this list of the best campsites in South Island New Zealand has helped you plan your road trip. If you have any questions regarding camping in New Zealand, please don’t hesitate to reach out by leaving a comment below or contacting us on Instagram.

Happy Adventuring 🙂