If you’re out for a camping holiday in New Zealand, you’d be foolish not to take advantage of the extensive network of campsites administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC). They are inexpensive, don’t have the commercial character of private camp network franchises and are often in the most scenic spots around the country.
Types of DOC campsites, payment & booking
DOC campsites fall into three categories: basic, standard and serviced sites. Normally, all campsites have some access to water, whether from a tap, stream or lake. Basic campgrounds are free of charge and only offer toilet facilities (portaloos) and perhaps a small shelter for cooking. Standard sites normally cost between 3 and 12 NZD and provide toilet facilities, water from taps (which may still need to be treated for consumption), a cooking shelter, and picnic tables. Serviced sites, of which there are few, are more akin to private camping outlets in their facilities, offering flush toilets, hot showers, tap water, rubbish collection, and basic kitchen facilities. There may be additional facilities available, e.g., laundry or barbecue. Fees for those sites range from 8 to 14 NZD. All fees are per person per night, children and youth pay up to 50% of the adult price.
Basic and standard sites do not need to be booked in advance; visitors just arrive, choose their favourite spot and set up camp. Payment is done either by paying the ranger directly if there is one permanently stationed at the site, or by filling in a form and putting the fee in the envelope provided in the registration box at the camp’s entrance. It’s that simple. Instructions and special notices (such as fire risk) are also posted on the notice board at the camp’s entrance. For further information, visit the DOC’s website.
How to get to the Department of Conservation campsites
DOC campsites are listed in two brochures, one for the North Island, and one for the South Island. They are available at every iSite and DOC visitor centre. Every region has their own section with separate maps for you to gain an overview of where the various sites are located. Every campsite has their own picture, description of facilities and directions on how to get there. Sites are normally easily accessible by vehicle, often involving shorter or longer stretches of gravel roads. Some sites, for example, those located in the Marlborough Sounds, are only accessible by boat.
Before you head out camping
There are a few things to keep in mind before you head out to Department of Conservation campsites:
- Leave no trace:
Apart from serviced sites, there is no rubbish collection at sites. Please help keep New Zealand’s beautiful nature clean so that others can also enjoy the scenery and to keep fees low.
- Be aware of natural hazards and pests:
Be sure to check if conditions allow the use of an open fire for BBQ. Also make sure you are informed about didymo, a water pest that has destroyed the natural balance of streams, rivers, and lakes in New Zealand. Any of your equipment that gets in touch with infected water, whether your shoes, bucket or fishing rod, needs to be checked, cleaned and dried before being used in another waterway. Please take a moment to read this information from Biosecurity New Zealand.
- Water supply:
Take your own supply of water in canisters and additional tablets for purifying water.
- Check leisure facilities icons in your brochure:
Campsites have different rules for the use of motorised equipment, i.e., boats, etc. That should help you estimate what kind of atmosphere to expect.