New Zealand might be the best prepared country for camping tourism!
It is of no surprise that during the high season in summer (December-February) most of the vehicles seen on the streets of the South Island are camper vans. Even though prices of the many rental companies skyrocket in the high season.
People from all over the world enjoy the great service the country of the Maoris offers for campers. While driving through the amazing landscapes of New Zealand campers can always rely on free public toilets in every town. Toilets are clean and are mostly electronically locked and unlocked.
There are also many different petrol stations spread along the country. As for all products, prices of petrol go up the further south you go. As of now, prices are in the range of 2,00-2,20 NZD per liter, Diesel being much cheaper! (Tip: make use of the discounts on petrol provided by receipts of the supermarkets.)
Camping is not free in New Zealand! In order to provide the right service to different types of campers, the government of New Zealand organised many different camp sites throughout the country. The main camp sites (DOCs) are available for everyone and located basically everywhere, mainly either on hills with amazing views or right at a lake. Costs are 8 dollars a night, including the usage of toilets and sometimes running drinking water.
For campers that are used to camping for free there are a few camping sites offered for free. These are smaller sites with just a few parking spots available and are mainly not located on such great spots like the paid ones. Importantly, those sites do not provide toilets and are only permitted for so called “self-containing” camper vans. Backpacker sleeping in a normal car for example are not allowed to stay there.
On the other side, campers that like to have it a little bit more luxurious there are several so called “holiday-parks” that offer a great service with warm showers and amenities for about three times the price of the normal camp sites.
Generally, camp sites are still not overcrowded despite the increasing tourism, which allows for some space between camper vans to enjoy the great views even more. Open fire places to prepare a great barbecue at night are not always allowed on camp sites.
The South Island: Where to go?
If one would divide the South Islands into two halfs from north to south, one would encounter the left site to be completely covered by mountains, and the right site comparatively flat, but still with great landscapes mostly comprised of forests and agricultural areas where millions of sheep and cows grass. Good equipped camper travel with a bike and/or a kayak attached to the vehicle because there are the most beautiful lakes, rivers and bike tracks all over the country.
Here are some personal recommendations of places to visit:
Abel Tasman National Park: kayaking in the beautiful shallow water of the north coast
Arthur’s Pass: hiking in the mountains in the inland enjoying beautiful views and natural rivers
Wanaka: relaxing in the tranquil and beautiful mountain town and taking a day-long bike ride around the beautiful lake and extending area
Queenstown: Hotspot in the South Island. Beautiful town on a lake with great bars and amazing outdoor activities nearby such as bungee jumping or paragliding
Nevertheless, being such a prepared country for the tourism, New Zealand offers, for people that require more information about where to go, information center in every big town that explain about the local attractions. They often also have free wifi. Another good spot to get a free internet connection are libraries in the towns. Wifi might be restricted for 30 minutes only.
One last thing. Crossing the islands is expensive (ca. 150 NZD per vehicle one way + 50 NZD each person; prices provided by the two independent companies operating the ferry transfer vary). Therefore, it is recommended to book cars for each island (e.g. it is possible to drive down to Wellington and return the car there, take the ferry and get another car in Picton (South Island)). There are many many car rental companies, recently established Jucy and Omega being one of the cheaper ones.
Some more pictures of the beautiful South Island of New Zealand