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Freedom camping in Tairāwhiti gives you that opportunity for true wanderlust.

Imagine travelling wherever you fancy for days on end, with just you, your vehicle and all your supplies – parking up each night with nothing booked.

Of course, you can’t just park up or pitch your tent anywhere. Happily, there’s a list of sites to Freedom Camp. Many have world-class views or beaches right on the doorstep, and you can stay there for up to three nights. These sites allow Freedom Camping all winter (i.e. Easter Monday to the start of daylight savings in September), but some of them do require a paid permit in the summer season, so take note.

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1. Tokomaru Bay – 2 sites – free April-Sept only

“Toko” as it’s known on the East Coast, has rustic and artistic charm, a historic wharf, and an absolutely stunning beach. There are two freedom camping sites in Tokomaru Bay. The site in the north (opposite Potae Street) provides absolute beachfront camping. There’s a long stretch of grass between the road and the beach, with beach views and lots of space to make yourself at home. It is an easy walk to the Tokomaru Bay Four Square supermarket to stock up on essentials, a fish and chip shop and the Te Puka Tavern.

The southern site, on Waiotu Road, is also near the beach, but in some spots, there are sand dunes between you and the water.  

2. Kaiaua Beach – free April-Sept only

There is no settlement here, just an incredibly beautiful and secluded place to camp on the absolute beachfront (with toilets). Unless you’re there in peak holiday season, you’ll probably have the place to yourself! Great swimming and lovely beach walks galore.

3. Tolaga Bay - free April-Sept only

Blue Waters offers freedom camping not too far from the beach in a lovely grassy reserve in a quiet neighbourhood. Being at the Northern end of Tolaga Bay, it’s a short drive across the river to the wharf and to the Cook’s Cove Walkway. Look out for 12m Te Pourewa sculpture, The Beacon of Light, lighting up on the hill at night – it was erected in October 2019 to commemorate Tahitian ancestor, navigator and priest Tupaia and his arrival at Opoutama (Cook's Cove) on the Endeavour in 1769. 

4. Makorori Beach – free all year

This is a beautiful spot right on the water and being close to Gisborne you’ll have to get in quick because it gets very busy. There is no camping here – self-contained vehicles only. There’s a bit of road noise from logging trucks rumbling by, but this site does have incredible sea views  

5. Kaiti Beach – free all year

Kaiti Beach freedom camping is also one that gets very busy – get there early afternoon for a spot if you can. Camping must be in vehicles, in the carpark. There is a toilet and an adjacent playground, and even though there is some noise from the port nearby, the views are amazing, and the location is handy to the city centre. 

6. Doneraille Park - free April-Sept only

Away from the beaches now and right inland on the Tiniroto Road, this is a beautiful riverside camping and picnic area, with huge trees and remnant native bush nearby. The river is good for trout fishing and swimming.

7. Motu rest area – free all year

Another inland destination: if you’re driving between Ōpōtiki and Gisborne via the rugged Waioeka Gorge, this lovely little site is not far from the Gorge on the Gisborne side. Off the beaten track, this peaceful settlement offers a campsite in a paddock (with two flush toilets and a school playground nearby). Listen out for kiwi at night, and get a dose of nature on the Whinray Scenic Reserve Track.

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Remember, no freedom camping sites can be booked so it’s first in first served – even pegging out a tarpaulin for a friend before they arrive doesn’t count! This makes it fair for everybody.

Make sure you bring drinking water and a gas stove (don’t light a fire) – and you’re set for an epic Freedom Camping experience in one of the most beautiful corners of the world! You can find more information about Freedom Camping in Tairāwhiti here

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Summer camping

If it’s summer and you’d love to camp at the stunning Kaiaua Beach, Tolaga Bay, Tokomaru Bay and Doneraille Park (summer is when Freedom Camping at these sites is prohibited) and other great camping sites, just buy a permit: it’s easy. You can purchase permits from the following locations:

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