The Best Way to Experience Ōtepoti Dunedin by Campervan

It’s a little-known fact that the beautiful coastal South Island city of Dunedin is one of the best cities in New Zealand to visit in a campervan, whether you’re fully self-contained or not. 

Dunedin is the commercial capital of the popular Otago province and the urban heart of Dunedin itself is relatively small and easy to navigate. Surrounding this is a sprawling hinterland and stunning coast, perfect to explore over a few days.

In addition to the Kiwi-style camping grounds (also known as holiday parks) that provide full facilities, you’ll also find council-run reserve sites that welcome a variety of camping styles. Most of these accommodate freedom campers for free or at a very low price.

A great addition to any road trip in the lower south, Dunedin can easily be reached from other major visitor destinations. And as an added bonus, the journey to and from the city in any direction is spectacular!

Two couples at the door of their caravan watching the night sky.
Dunedin is a campervan-friendly destination – be sure to head south to check it out!

The Ultimate Guide to Campervanning In and Around Dunedin

The Best Camping Spots in Central Dunedin

Central Dunedin offers plenty of choice in terms of campsites. So much so that you’ll have options depending on the setting and location you prefer.

Urban Freedom Camping in Central Dunedin

For nights out, shopping or whistle-stop tours in Dunedin, you’ll want to stay close to the city.

Fortunately, there’s a handy 2-night parking spot for campervans just over the footbridge behind the railway station.

Run by the Dunedin City Council, the Thomas Burns car park welcomes self-contained campervans any time of the year and non-self-contained campervans over summer.

It’s free to park there overnight, assuming you arrive after 6 pm. We suggest you bring earplugs with you though, as there is often road and railway noise there overnight.

A group of friends sitting outside at a table, enjoying food and drink at a Dunedin eatery.
Dunedin is known for its character-filled eateries. We recommend you visit some while staying in the city!

Beachside Camping in Dunedin

For more of a beachside vibe with all the facilities and great fish and chips close by, the Dunedin Holiday Park next to St Kilda Beach is the best of both worlds. This campground is perfectly placed for urban or Otago Peninsula exploration.

The Portobello Village Tourist Park is another option for those wanting to deep dive into the peninsula’s many wildlife and heritage attractions.

Stunning clear water at St Kilda Beach in Dunedin. Two surfers are in the water.
With water like this at St Kilda, why wouldn’t you head down South?! Photo: Dunedin NZ.

An Escape From the City, While Still Being Nearby

If you’re keen to be based a bit closer to the central city but still want to enjoy the lush bush settings New Zealand does so well, then the Leith Valley in North Dunedin is a good choice.

Tucked away between the suburban hills the Leith Valley Holiday Park and a NZMCA site sit side by side; both of which are only a 10-minute drive from the central city.

On foot, you can enjoy strolls in the nearby Woodhaugh Gardens or the impressive Dunedin Botanic Garden, which was the first in the country.

Trees and bush surround a footbridge in Leith Valley, Dunedin.
Leith Valley is a welcome get away from the buzz of city life. Photo: Dunedin NZ.

Our Favourite Campgrounds and Attractions Near Dunedin

Driving From the North of Dunedin: To/from Christchurch or the Southern Alps

Coming from the north of Dunedin, you have a couple of options. Many choose to drive down the East Coast from Christchurch or, better yet, drive from the Southern Alps (Tekapo, Mount Cook, Twizel and onwards towards the ocean) by branching off at Omarama. This will allow you to take in the grandeur of the Waitaki Valley before connecting up with Oamaru.

Tourists looking at view of Aoraki Mount Cook National park and mountains on pit stop next to their campervan.
Aoraki Mount Cook is a great place to park your campervan on the way through. You’ll find a range of accommodation options there.

With bikes on board, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy segments of the Alps to Ocean trail (assuming you travel from the Southern Alps). This is the longest continuous cycle trail in all of Aotearoa and it’s beautiful to boot!

Otherwise, go at a more leisurely pace around and stop off at the local wineries, the fascinating geological park sites including Māori rock art, or wander around the fascinating Oamaru Heritage Precinct.

The road onwards to Dunedin hugs the coast and passes by iconic spots such as the Moeraki Boulders en route.

There are plenty of reserves and camping grounds along this route, including lovely waterside sites at Oamaru Harbour Tourist Park and the Moeraki Village Holiday Park.

A woman jumps on huge rounded rocks on the beach while his boyfriend awaits her.
Check out the Moeraki Boulders when you’re down south. Photo: Miles Holden.

Only 40 minutes south of Moeraki, heading closer Dunedin, you’ll find the picturesque seaside village of Karitane. This makes a lovely stop, be it for a walk around the Huriawa Peninsula or an ice cream at the characterful local store. 

This is also where you can try your hand at paddling a waka with Karitane Māori Tours.  It’s a gentle experience that’s suitable for practically everyone and it’s a great way to develop team work amongst your whānau or group. We love that it’s also backed by insightful cultural storytelling.

You’ll find two good options for overnight stays in the area. If you’re looking for a few more creature comforts (or simply want to know you have a confirmed site), check out the Waikouaiti Beach Motor Camp. It is conveniently located just 10 minutes to the north.

Alternatively, there is space for a few self-contained vans to park up overnight near the Karitane playground. You’ll find freedom camping spot next to the river mouth.

Two campervans driving on the road in New Zealand on a sunny day.
New Zealand is blessed with beautiful scenery, making the journey half the adventure. A campervan is the perfect way to enjoy this.
Blueskin Bay

Hop a little closer down the coast towards Dunedin via SH1 you’ll find Blueskin Bay. Only 20 minutes from central Dunedin, this idyllic spot is a great day trip from the city, or an equally nice place to spend the night.

We recommend you enjoy a refreshment stop at a local favourite, Arc Brewery, before soaking up the other local attractions. Be sure to visit the majestic sea arches at Doctor’s Point Beach (one of our favourite natural attractions in the region) and the quirky settlement of Waitati too.  

Just up the hill, heading south towards Dunedin, you’ll also find the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. This genuine cloud forest is full of precious native birdlife and reptiles that are incredibly rare to see in the wild. Not to mention New Zealand’s tallest tree; a eucalyptus measuring over 80 metres high!

When you’re ready to park up for the night, Warrington Domain makes a peaceful freedom camping site for a few nights. It is situated on a spit between Blueskin Bay and Warrington Beach. There you’ll find a mixture of sites for tents, and self-contained and non-self-contained campers, with toilets, a dump station and fresh water nearby.

The beach has views for miles and is great for swimming, surfing and spotting the occasional sea lion or leopard seal that comes in to rest.

Driving to/from Central Otago: Queenstown & the Central Otago Touring Route

If you’re travelling to Dunedin from Queenstown, we highly recommend you take the Central Otago Touring Route. Along the way, you’ll discover spectacular landscapes, historical landmarks and foodie experiences so prevalent in this largely untapped region.

Breathtaking scenery of Queenstown, Lake Whakatipu and the Mountain ranges.
Queenstown is the start of the Central Otago Touring Route. Photo: Trey Ratcliff.

Enjoy the sweeping mountain plains under big blue skies and an abundance of delicious summer fruit orchards and vineyards, woven among the historical gold rush towns that today house award-winning eateries and country-style pubs.

This is authentic New Zealand at its best!

Stop off in some of the charming settlements along the way, including Bannockburn, Cromwell, Clyde, Ophir and Naseby.  Each offers a taste of our distinctive kiwi hospitality and a glimpse into the past.

As a bonus, this scenic route offers plenty of easy spots to stop and set up camp.

If you’re in a self-contained camper, pull in alongside Lake Dunstan. Or, if you’d like more facilities, both Clyde Holiday Park and Naseby Holiday Park are convenient bases to explore from.

A couple riding bikes while crossing a wooden bridge in Lake Dunstan.
Lake Dunstan is a great place to park for the night. In the morning, be sure to check out the Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail too. Photo credit: Miles Holden.

The Central Otago Touring route will also take you through Middlemarch. This town sits at the edge of regional Dunedin, nestled among the Rock and Pillar Ranges.

There you’ll find the iconic trailhead of New Zealand’s first Great Ride – it’s like our Great Walks, but enjoyed on the back of a bike, not by foot. It’s called the Otago Central Rail Trail and people travel from all over Aotearoa and the world to take on this cycle experience.

Bike hire is available locally if you’re eager to cruise the gentle trail for a few hours or you can tackle the whole thing with a local bike tour operator.

Back bike wheel on dry grass.
Cycling is a great way to get amongst the region’s beautiful outdoors.

For a little more action, head for the hills on a 4WD or helicopter tour. Either way, you’ll enjoy epic views.

The moonscape-like area is the backdrop for New Zealand’s only inland salt lake at Sutton. This just happens to also be a great spot for overnight self-contained campervans to park up at.

How convenient!

Driving to/from the Catlins or Further South: The Southern Scenic Route

It seems all roads lead to Dunedin and that’s certainly so in the case of the Southern Scenic Route. This popular drive kicks off in Queenstown and takes in many of the lower South Island’s highlights, including Fiordland (where you’ll find Milford and Doubtful Sound) and the lush sub-tropical native forests and wildly remote beaches of the Catlins.

This whole region is the domain of thriving birdlife, gorgeous waterfalls, lakes, fiords and beaches around every bend, along with famous sights such as the Nugget Point Lighthouse.

The Catlins caters well for motorhome travellers at the various holiday parks and freedom camping reserves throughout the region. Options include the Pounawea Motor Camp and the Kaka Point AA Camping Ground.

Just 2 hours south of Dunedin, the Catlins is easy to include in your itinerary before heading for the comforts and many charms of Dunners. It also makes a great stop as you head away from town at the end of your visit.

Waters running down the rocky surface of McLean Falls in Catlins, NZ.

As you leave Dunedin, headed for the Catlins, we recommend you take a slight detour at Green Island towards the city’s southern coastline.

Doing so will reward you with a bevvy of stunning white sand beaches and the lovely Ocean View Reserve, one of Dunedin’s welcoming freedom camping sites.

This is a great base to explore from and only a 5-minute drive to the Insta-famous Tunnel Beach.

Mans standing at the end of the tunnel at Tunnel Beach in Dunedin, looking out to the water with large rocks in the foreground.
Tunnel Beach is a must-visit on the outskirts of Dunedin. Photo: Roady.

Park Your Campervan and Explore the Best Things to See and Do in Dunedin

Now that you know exactly where to park up in and around Dunedin, it’s time to plan your visit to the city itself.

These are our top recommendations for things to do in central Dunners.

Check Out the World’s Steepest Street

Take on the challenge of the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street. But beware, this is one road you won’t want to drive up in your campervan.

Due to the steep gradient and many an eager sightseer getting stuck in the past, this is campervan-free zone.

So, leave it parked at the bottom and enjoy the hike and the selfie from the top.

This is just one of many activities that are only found in Dunedin.

The steepest street in New Zealand, Baldwin Street. The building looks like it is on its side, but it is a trick of the eye due to the incline of the road.
Be sure to take your camera up Baldwin Street as it’s a fun photo op!

Explore History in Motion

The inner city is full of interesting sights, especially for lovers of history, architecture and art. 

Dunedin was essentially New Zealand’s first proper city. It was born out of the riches of the gold rush era, and even today, the hallmarks of Dunedin’s heyday are still everywhere you look.

Grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings, such as the highly photogenic Dunedin Railway Station, Olveston Historic Home and a swathe of impressive cathedrals, are just some of the many heritage attractions you can visit and explore in this awesome part of Otago.

Oh, and don’t forget the most famous of all, Larnach Castle!

Larnach Castle in Dunedin, tucked in between two green hedges.
Photo: Camilla Rutherford.

Enjoy Art and Culture in Dunedin

Music, art, literature and design are all core parts of Dunedin’s identity. You’ll find evidence of this everywhere.

From vibrant and extensive street art and galleries to local fashion and jewellery stores, you’ll find hidden gems all over the city.

That’s not to mention a number of quirky gig venues tucked away, just waiting to show you a good time!

On a more institutional scale, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery houses an impressive national and international collection of works and the city’s major museums are exceptional in their offering.

Grab a Bite to Eat

Dunedin punches well above its weight in the culinary stakes. For a relatively petite city, there are a huge and fabulously eclectic range of eateries. From quirky cafes and miniature bars to sophisticated restaurants, you’ll find it all down south.

Sample your way around artisanal foodie destinations, including the popular Otago Farmers Market with its tempting array of ready-to-eat goodies and local produce.

Beer enthusiasts will appreciate the city’s many destination breweries. Each drop boasts distinctly unique flavour profiles, with many breweries serving up delicious food too.

Or, if you’d rather get on the hard stuff, you’re able to sample a nip or two at the diverse range of artisan distilleries found in the city.

Beers being poured in Dunedin.
Photo: Miles Holden.

Discover the Region’s Unique Wildlife

Last, but certainly not least on our favourite Dunedin activities are the extraordinary creatures that live on and around Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula.

As well as royal albatross, there are yellow-eyed penguins, little blue penguins, New Zealand sea lions and fur seals found all over the coast.

For animal lovers, few places in Aotearoa compare! It’s a magical experience for families too.

Three yellow-eyed penguins walking on the beach.
Spot yellow-eyed penguins walking along Dunedin’s beaches. Photo: travelwayoflife.

Dunedin welcomes campervans in their many forms and has a number of quality camping spots just waiting to explore.

It even has friendly rangers out and about at the various sites to answer questions and remind visitors of the best ways to care for the precious natural environment and local wildlife in the region.

With so much to see and do, and campervan-friendly facilities, ensure a trip to Dunedin is on your next motorhome itinerary!

This post was brought to you by Enterprise Dunedin – the Dunner stunner experts.

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