Haast Pass, Cameron Flat view, New Zealand

Best Freedom Camping Spots on the West Coast, New Zealand

Last Updated: 16th August, 2023

The West Coast of New Zealand is one of our favourite places to explore in our tiny, self-contained van. It is a paradise for freedom campers, with a vast expanse of rugged coastline, lush rainforests, glacier-carved valleys… and barely anyone else around! In this post I will show you some of the best freedom camping spots on the West Coast, so that you can experience the best that this region has to offer!

A friendly warning too all you travelers setting out to explore New Zealand’s stunning West Coast… beware of the infamous sandflies that are prolific in this region! They can make a gorgeous scenic campground into a living hell if not prepared, so make sure to pack some extra strong insect repellent and long socks to protect your ankles as you settle in to your campsite!

1. Kōhaihai Campsite – Karamea

Located near Kahurangi National Park in the north of the West Coast, Kōhaihai Campsite is an awesome area for freedom camping! Nestled amidst native bush and overlooking the wild coastline, this campsite is an incredibly peaceful and quiet place to spend a night (or two!)

Facilities: Toilets, Picnic tables, BBQ facilities, and drinking water. 

Campground Price: $10 per person/ per night – during peak months it can get quite busy with hikers on the Heaphy Track, so its a good option to book online!

Directions: Kōhaihai Campsite is located north of Karamea (the furthest north town on the West Coast!) at the end of Council Road. It takes about 20 minutes to drive from the Karamea township, with the last 3 km being a gravel road.

This campground is perfect if you are looking for a couple of days immersed in nature. It is close to the river and wild West Coast beach, with incredible sunsets to be seen! There are also a couple of good walks around the area. The campground is near the start of the Heaphy Track – one of New Zealands Great Walks! If you are looking for something a little shorter, however, there are a few options for you!

Scotts Beach Walk

This walk gives you a taste of the Heaphy Track’s gorgeous coastal section. Crossing the suspension bridge over the Kōhaihai River takes you through thick native forest, over Kōhaihai Bluff, and down to the golden, palm-fringed beach. Bliss! There are even toilets and a sheltered picnic area, so remember your lunch!

Walking Time: 2-3 hours return

Trail Length: 6.4km

Difficulty: This is an easy and well, maintained path, with a few uphill sections over the bluff.

West Coast New Zealand

Nikau Walk

For a more leisurely stroll, take the right branch of the trail after crossing the Kōhaihai suspension bridge. This trail will take you through groves of native nīkau palms, before looking around and back to the river. 

Walking Time: 35 minutes return

Trail Length: 1.3km return

2. Potikokua Freedom Camping Site – Fox River

The Fox River Freedom Camping Site, situated north of Punakaiki, provides a convenient spot for freedom camping amidst the captivating West Coast scenery. The campground is looked after by the local community, and makes for an absolutely stunning place to spend the night! It is situated alongside the Fox River, and is surrounded by lush vegetation and towering cliffs. In the morning, we strolled along the beach, enjoying the stunning rock formations and wild coastline. If you are feeling brave, you can also take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear river! While the facilities are minimal, the location offers a peaceful retreat where you can unwind and appreciate the natural wonders of the area.

Facilities: Basic toilets, no showers, occasional phone signal

Campground Price: Free.

Nearby Attractions: Fox River Caves, Pancake Rocks, Truman Track.

Bonus: There is a fantastic coffee cart that comes along most mornings, run by the amazing Andrew! Be sure to pick up a coffee and have a good ol chat – a definite highlight of our stay!

Directions: The Fox River Freedom Camping Site is situated on State Highway 6, approximately 12 kilometers north of Punakaiki.

Fox River, West Coast New Zealand

3. Punakaiki Beach Camp

Set against the backdrop of the iconic Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, Punakaiki Beach Camp is an awesome place to stay while visiting the incredible Pancake Rocks! Yes, I know this is not technically freedom camping… however this is a campsite you don’t want to miss (plus, who doesn’t enjoy a hot shower and a few luxuries every now and again?!) The campsite is right next to the beach, and you can lie awake and listen to the soothing sounds of the waves crashing from your tent. Bliss!

While here, there are plenty of things to do and see in the area! Check out my post on the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks if you want to read more 🙂

Facilities: Toilets, showers, kitchen facilities, BBQ area, laundry facilities.

Campground Price: NZD 20 per person per night (approximate).

Nearby Attractions: Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, Punakaiki Cavern, Truman Track.

Directions: Punakaiki Beach Camp is located in Punakaiki, right off State Highway 6, approximately 45 kilometers (50 minutes drive) north of Greymouth.

Punakaiki Rocks West Coast New Zealand

4. Lake Mahinapua Campsite – Hokitika

This is a DOC run campground, nestled on the banks of the beautiful Lake Mahinapua! It is a pretty basic, consisting of 2 big grassy fields surrounded by trees, however it is a lovely place to stop and take in some of that amazing West Coast scenery. A bonus for all you outdoor lovers – there is a well-maintained boat ramp, so it is perfect you have a kayak with you!  A note: this campground is known to have a few local Weka (very cheeky birds), so make sure you have your tent zipped up tight or you may find they take your food!

This campground is also a fantastic spot to stay if you are planning to spend a day or two exploring the artistic town of Hokitika, or travelling out to walk around the amazing Hokitika Gorge! 

Facilities: Toilets, cold showers, picnic tables, water supply, cooking shelter.

Campground Price: $15 per person/ per night

Nearby Attractions: Lake Mahinapua, Hokitika Gorge, West Coast Treetop Walkway.

Directions: Lake Mahinapua Campsite is situated on the edge of Lake Mahinapua, approximately 12 kilometers (10 minutes drive) south of Hokitika along State Highway 6.

5. Lake Ianthe Matahi Campsite

Situated between Hokitika and Haast, Lake Ianthe Matahi Campsite offers a serene setting for freedom camping. Camp near the tranquil lake and enjoy the peace and quiet of the surrounding native bush. Take leisurely walks, try your luck at fishing, or simply relax and soak in the beauty of your surroundings. We spend the evening sitting on the pier and looking for eels! With basic facilities available, including toilets and water supply, Lake Ianthe Matahi Campsite provides a peaceful escape in the heart of nature.

Facilities: Toilets, picnic tables, water supply.

Campground Price: $8 per person/ per night

Nearby Attractions: Lake Ianthe, Three Mile Lagoon, Mahitahi River.

Directions: Lake Ianthe Matahi Campsite is located near State Highway 6, around 40 minutes (56km) drive south from Hokitika.

6. Otto/ MacDonalds Campsite

Located near Franz Josef Glacier, the Otto/MacDonalds Campsite offers a convenient base for exploring the two incredible glaciers of the West Coast! The campground is surrounded by native forest and on the edge of the gorgeous Lake Mapourika, so you are getting the best of the West Coast all in one!  Enjoy nearby walking tracks, soak in the stunning alpine views, and discover the enchantment of Franz Josef Glacier. With basic facilities provided, this campsite is an ideal spot for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts.

A note: there a a few Kea at this campsite, which always make for great entertainment! Though make sure you have all your food packed away well, or else it will be gone!

Facilities: Toilets, drinking water, picnic area, some phone signal

Campground Price: $15 per person/ per night. 

Nearby Attractions: Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson.

Directions: Otto/MacDonalds Campsite is situated on State Highway 6, approximately 13 kilometers (11 minutes drive) south of Franz Josef Township.

7. Gillespies Beach Campsite – Fox Glacier

Gillespies Beach is a captivating freedom camping spot located near Fox Glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand. Nestled along the rugged coastline, this campsite offers a unique blend of stunning natural beauty and tranquility. You can set up camp right on the beach, and have incredible views all around – with the Southern Alps to your back, and the wild Tasman Sea in front! Wake up to glorious sunrises, explore native bush tracks, and head inland to see the awe-inspiring Fox Glacier – you won’t get bored here! With limited facilities available, Gillespies Beach provides an authentic camping experience where you can connect with nature in its purest form.

Facilities: Basic toilets, no showers, no phone signal

Campground Price: $8 per person/ per night

Nearby Attractions: Gillespies Beach, Southern Alps, walking tracks.

Directions: Gillespies Beach Campsite is located near Fox Glacier. Access is via Gillespies Beach Road, off State Highway 6.The road is well maintained, but is narrow so just take it slow!

8. Lake Paringa Campsite

Nestled on the shores of Lake Paringa, this campsite provides a serene escape in a picturesque setting. Camp near the tranquil lake, surrounded by native bush and snow-capped peaks. Enjoy fishing, boating, or simply relax and soak in the peaceful ambiance. With basic facilities available, Lake Paringa Campsite is an ideal location to unwind and connect with the natural wonders of the West Coast.

Facilities: Toilets, picnic tables, boat ramp, no phone signal

Campground Price: $15 per person/ per night

Nearby Attractions: Lake Paringa, fishing, kayaking, West Coast Wilderness Trail.

Directions: Lake Paringa Campsite is situated on the edge of Lake Paringa, approximately 67 kilometers (50 minutes drive) south of Fox Glacier along State Highway 6.

9. Cameron Flat Campsite

The Cameron Flat campsite is located within the Haast Pass, just across the road from the amazing Blue Pools! This is an awesome place to spend the night, with lovely grassy parking, and amazing views over Mount Aspiring National Park. The camp is near the Haast River, and is surrounded by native bush, so there are lots of walking trails and fishing opportunities! 

Facilities: Toilets, picnic tables, drinking water.

Campground Price: $8 per night/ per person

Nearby Attractions: Haast River, Blue Pools and Waterfalls!, Mount Aspiring National Park, hiking trails.

Directions: Cameron Flat Campsite is located in Haast Pass, approximately 70 kilometers (1-hours drive) south of Haast along State Highway 6.

To see more on the waterfalls through the gorgeous Haast Pass, check out my blog post here! 🙂

These campsites on the West Coast of New Zealand offer a variety of natural settings, from beachfront locations to serene lakeside retreats. Whether you seek tranquility, adventure, or a connection with nature, these campsites provide an opportunity to embrace the unique beauty of the West Coast while enjoying the freedom of the great outdoors.

It is important to remember that with freedom camping comes responsibility. Respect for the environment, local communities, and other travellers is paramount. It is essential to follow the guidelines and regulations set by local authorities, including adhering to waste disposal practices, camping time limits, and campfire restrictions. By being mindful of your impact and leaving no trace behind, you can help preserve the natural wonders of the West Coast for generations to come.

For more information on Freedom Camping on the West Coast of New Zealand, check out the Westlands site here!

FAQs – Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Can you freedom camp anywhere in NZ?

Can you freedom camp on beaches NZ?

How much does it cost to stay at a freedom campsite in NZ?

Can you camp in a tent on the beach in NZ?

Can you sleep in a car in freedom campsites in NZ?

Can you sleep on the side of the road in NZ?

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Thank you for reading my post on Freedom Camping on the West Coast! We really enjoyed travelling and seeing the region like this, and I hope you do too! If you want to see more things to do while travelling the West Coast, please check out my blog post here! Happy travelling! 🙂

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