Camping in the Catlins New Zealand vanlife

The Best Camping Grounds in the Catlins

Last Updated: 26th August, 2023

There is a wide range of accommodation options in the Catlins, which make this area in the Southland region of the South Island of New Zealand awesome and accessible to travel on any budget. If you love to rough it in the outdoors, the camping grounds in the Catlins are some of the most beautiful and remote in the country! In this post, I will list the best places to camp while travelling through the Catlins.

Curio Bay, Curioscape, camping grounds in the Catlins, New Zealand

When we visited the Catlins, we did so in November, and so were lucky not to be visiting in the height to peak tourist season. We were on a pretty tight budget at this point of our New Zealand travels, however we had our trusty self-contained van, which allowed us to travel to the more remote camping grounds in the Catlins and explore this region on the cheap!

The 5 Best Camping Grounds in the Catlins

Camping is an awesome way to be able to explore the region on a budget! The camping grounds in the Catlins vary in amenities and prices, so you can pick and choose how much you are happy to spend, and what kind of adventure you are wanting!

In this post, I will point out the 5 best camping grounds in the Catlins that we stayed at during our trip through this remarkable region!

Purakaunui Bay Campsite, camping grounds in the Catlins

1. Kaka Point Camping | Kaka Point

Kaka Point Camping Ground is a small, family run campground found in the small township of Kaka Point. The location is incredible, surrounded by native bush and birds, with a beautiful stretch of coast only a few minutes walk from your tent! It is also a good central location for the wide range of activities in the area – a sheltered beach for swimming and surfing, Nugget Point for nature walks and wildlife spotting, the Clutha River for trout and salmon fishing, and a cafe and bar for a lovely cold beer at the end of the day!

There are a range of accommodation options at the campground, including tenting, campervan parking, and cabins. Camping costs around $35 for 2 adults a night, and so is an inexpensive way to stay and explore the surrounding area. The campgrounds also offer facilities such as toilets and showers, a well-stocked kitchen, and WIFI – which definitely makes camping a lot more relaxing!

Kaka Point, camping grounds in the Catlins, New Zealand
Kaka Point Beach, the Catlins

Location: 34 Tarata Street, Kaka Point 9271, New Zealand

2. Catlins Newhaven Holiday Park | Newhaven

Our stay at the Catlins Newhaven Holiday Park ended up being quite spontaneous, as we had travelled into the area to have a little explore of Surat Bay before heading down the coast. However, once we arrived and saw this campsite, we couldn’t help but decide to spend a few nights here! This campground is perfect, it is in an incredible location and has breathtaking views from your camping spot. This is one of the places that you are better off if you camp, as there are a few pitches right by the stream and the beginning of the beach. It is also a bit more out of the way than the normal tourist route, making this a very peaceful and relaxing place to spend the night. 

Newhaven camping grounds in the Catlins, new zealand
Camping with a view!

This campground offers all the amenities to make it a comfortable place to spend a few days. There is a good kitchen that contains all the needed utensils, a lounge area with books, games and (most importantly for us) lots of plugs and fast WIFI! There is also a good toilet and shower block, and laundry available. As this is an eco-camp, they are careful with their water usage, and so the shower does cost a couple of dollars. Even so, this was one of our favourite camping grounds in the Catlins.

My favourite aspect of this campground was the easy access right onto Surat Bay, and I spent the evenings wandering down the beach after dinner, watching the stunning sunsets and looking out for any sea lions that are often having a nap in the dunes. 

Location: 324 Newhaven Road, RD 1, Catlins

3. Purakaunui Bay Campsite | Purakaunui

Purakaunui Bay Campsite was one of the most remote and wild campsites that we stayed at during our time at the Catlins, and it felt like a proper adventure! Purakaunui Bay is a hidden gem of the region, with a wide sandy beach framed by striking cliff faces and native bush. This campground is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and so is a very basic campground, however this seems to make it all the more beautiful! Purakaunui Bay is also known for having an awesome surf break at the south end of the beach, and so you will more than likely find it busy with keen surfers! When we were there, there was a surprising number of vans and tents around, however the campsite is so large that there was no problem finding ourselves a private, grassy area to set up for the night. 

Amenities are pretty basic here, so don’t come expecting a shower and a kitchen (or even any cell phone reception!) There are toilets, which are not the most pleasant, but do the job. Luckily, the amazing views and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean more than makes up for it! As with most DOC sites, there is a small donation (fee) to stay the night, which is used to maintain the campground and the surrounding areas. This was $8 per adult, and remember to bring cash! As you place it into an envelope and into a donation box when you arrive.

Location: At the end of Purakaunui Bay Road, Catlins

Getting to Purakaunui Bay Campsite:

Purakaunui Bay Camping Ground is situated around 25 minutes drive south of the town of Owaka. From the main Southern Scenic Route highway, take the left fork and continue down Purakaunui Falls Road, which curves around the end of Catlins Lake. From here, travel along until you reach a second right turn, onto Long Point Road. This is the beginning of the winding gravel road that will take you all the way down to Purakaunui Bay campsite. Although the road was a little rough, with small potholes in places, it was easy enough to navigate in our old, 2WD van. Just remember to take it slow and she’ll be sweet!

4. Papatowai Campsite | Papatowai

In the small coastal village of Papatowai we stumbled across a gorgeous campsite, nestled in native bush, right on the banks of the Tahakopa River. This is a DOC-run campground, however is a little more maintained than many of the DOC sites around New Zealand. There are also a few amenities to make the stay pleasant and relaxing, including a basic kitchen, clean toilets, and a store at the entrance. Don’t always rely on the store to be open, however! Its opening hours change throughout the year, so make sure you have most of your necessities with you. 

This campsite costs $10 per adult, which makes it a fantastic budget option for families! The campground itself is beautiful and well spread out, and the areas of trees allows you to have privacy.  

This campground is a good base for exploring this area of the Catlins, and we ended up staying here for a couple of nights! There is a selection of small hiking trails that lead from the campground around the coast, or if you fancy just having a walk along the inlet you can see if you can spot dolphins that often feed there at dawn or dusk. Papatowai is also close to many of the popular waterfall walks in the area! If you are interested in seeing these, check out my post here!

5. Curioscape | Curio Bay

Camping accommodation around Curio Bay is limited only to one campground. Initially, we weren’t planning to stay here, as it is a lot more expensive than many of the other campgrounds in the area, clocking in at around $50 for two adults a night (unpowered). However, we quickly changed our minds when we arrived, as this area was just too incredible to explore in a day!

This is one of the largest camping grounds in the Catlins, with 32 powered sites and over 100 unpowered sites nestled amongst the flax, right in between Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay. The sites have beautiful views overlooking the beaches, and offer privacy and a spot out of the wind within the natural flax walls. From the campground, you can wander up the headland and down to the stunning Porpoise Bay beach, where you can swim and spot the local pod of Hector’s dolphins that call this bay home. A short walk in the other direction takes you to Curio Bay, where you can explore the ancient fossils of the petrified forest, and in the evening sit out and see if you can spot one of the rare Hoiho (Yellow-Eyed Penguins) coming back to roost after a long day out at sea. 

The campground has excellent amenities, and is prepared to cater for lots of tourists during the summer season! Big kitchens with all the necessary utensils, clean toilets and excellent hot showers. There is also good WIFI and a cafe, although we found this to be quite overpriced, as you are paying for the location. A note on this campground: there are no shops or grocery stores nearby, with the closest being a small food centre in Tokanui (a half an hour drive away), so try and stock up if you are planning to stay a few nights!

During the summer season, this campground can get pretty booked up, so make sure you check availability! We were lucky, as when we stayed in November it was super quite, and we felt like we were pretty much the only ones there.

It was a truly awesome adventure travelling around the Catlins and camping in such a mix of both wild and scenic campgrounds. If you are looking for other campgrounds, either for parking up your van or setting up a tent, I highly recommend downloading the Campermate app! This was the app I have used throughout our travels in New Zealand, and it helps us find the best place to stay in the area we want to explore.

We hope you enjoy your camping adventure as much as us! Let me know if you stay at any of these camping grounds in the Catlins!

If you want more information on what you can do in the Catlins while you’re there, check out my post on must-see spots here!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *