New Zealanders love the outdoors and as a result you’re never far from a campground.
It’s normally no trouble at all to find at least one campsite within an easy day’s ride, although things are difficult for wild camping aficionados, with most land fenced and plenty of ‘no camping’ signs in the most beautiful spots.
For this reason you’re almost always likely to end up at an official campsite. What kind of campsite you’ll find is an entirely different matter. One day you might arrive at a very basic site run by the local municipality for a few dollars. The next day could bring a fully-serviced caravan park with luxurious extras like hot springs. In towns and cities, you can often pitch your tent on the back lawn of the local hostel. Just stop by and ask if camping isn’t advertised.
Camping prices are also spread over a wide range. Some are free such as domain campgrounds and a few run by the Department of Conservation (check their site for a nice guide to DOC campsites or pick up a leaflet at a NZ tourist bureau). At the other end of the scale, you might pay NZ$20 per person in a resort town or at a posh private campground.
Budget NZ$10-12/pp for a tent site on average. The nice thing for solo cyclists is that campsite fees are usually charged per person and not by site, making camping a very economical way to go for anyone on their own.
Domain Camping – What’s That?
Just about every town and village in New Zealand has a domain – a grassy patch of land for recreation. For the passing cyclist, this is somewhere you can often pitch your tent. Facilities tend towards the rustic end of the scale but prices are low. You might pay nothing at all or for a small charge (around NZ$5) you can occasionally strike lucky with a hot shower and electricity. The hardest thing about domain camping is finding out where they are. They aren’t always signed. Ask at information bureaus or the local shop. The more off the beaten track you are, the more likely you are to find them.
What will you find? Even at the free end of the scale there should always be some source of water (usually from a tap but sometimes from a nearby river) and either pit or flushing toilets. Once you start paying a few dollars, you’ll find showers, often operated with a coin or token, laundry facilities and a kitchen.
The kitchen may not be fully stocked with cooking utensils, pots and pans so bring your own supplies, just in case. In all but the cheapest spots you’ll find a cooker. There will always be a fridge, a sink and often a microwave, a toaster and a kettle. Sometimes you’ll find free tea and coffee.
The most expensive campsites like those run by the Top 10 chain will have extras like a swimming pool, a playground for kids, a games room and internet access. Occasionally these campsites focus on caravan traffic, however, and refuse to take tents!
If you don’t want to pitch a tent, campgrounds also tend to offer cabins and dorm beds – a good option if the rain is pouring down outside. These run about the same price per person as a bed in a backpacker’s dorm – from NZ$15-25 per person. You may have to provide your own linen for the cabins or rent it for a small additional fee.
This map gives a good overview of campsites in New Zealand, including some free sites.