These sites are free.
As such, they are very popular with young Europeans who drive up in a car, unload tents and sleep on the ground. There are toilets but these often are huge plastic boxes with a toilet seat. You look into the toilet bowl and see a pool of blue disinfectant... and of course errr... excrement passed by other people. There are no showers, no kitchens, no plug-in electricity. In both the freedom campsites we went to, there was a river with sparkling clear water to boil and drink. If you're not afraid of the cold, you can swim in there to freshen up. Just don't use soap. The views at freedom campsites are stunning.
With a self-sustained vehicle (i.e., one with its own toilet, excrement tank and grey water tank) it is quite comfortable to spend the night in a freedom campsite. It's also easy on the wallet.
The 4 star holiday parks (i.e., paid campsites) usually charge $20 per person. You get access to communal kitchens, showers and toilets. These are spotlessly clean in the 4 star sites... and there may be other fun stuff such as a trampoline, a swimming pool, a thermal pool. One even had an aviary. Another had a glow worm cave, warm muffins on arrival and lamb feeding. We've been camping at these sites every other night because they allow us to plug in and recharge the battery that powers the lights. We also get access to water supply to fill up our 120 liters water tank. There are washers and dryers for laundry too.
There'll also be a waste water and excrement dump for campers with self-sustained vehicles to offload all the icky stuff.
Self-sustained vehicles rental don't come cheap - about $4000 to $6000 for a 4 person.
Another option is to rent a car and then pay for the cabins in the holiday park. These also have beds and then you share the cooking facilities. There are also lodges with private cooking facilities.
RVs are only cheaper if one does a fair bit of freedom camping. I'm not keen on freedom camping because I dislike showering inside the RV. The Husband, to indulge his wife's fanatical need for cleanliness (laundry has to be done every other day and showers to be taken every day) has very kindly booked us into paid campsites quite often.
We met another family which spent 2 out of 18 nights in paid campsites. They did freedom camping every other night, subsisting on water from the free water top-up stations, and daily driving to recharge batteries.
Oven and Sink at Smith's Farm Holiday Park
Fridge and Microwave at Smith's Farm Holiday Park
Midges and Sandflies
We've learnt to keep the insect screens of the RV down shortly before dusk. The first night, midges came in and flew around our lights. They don't bite but when they die the next morning, they litter the insides of the RV.
Sandflies, however, do bite. Like mosquitoes, they all come for me and mostly leave the others alone. Their bites are a lot worse than mosquito bites. They itch horribly for days and days! I've got them all down my legs. Sandflies reproduce in areas of running water, laying their eggs on leaves and stones. The female sandflies used to feed on seals and other mammals before humans came along. Now they make a meal of us.
We learnt to eat inside the RV at dawn and dusk because these nasties love to bite at those times.
Rewards of Camping
There are definite rewards to camping out. It is a near magical experience to wake up to stunning views in the morning, of crystal clear waters and sunlight shimmering on the leaves of the trees. The birds sing in the morning too. Along hidden pathways bordering the campsites there are magical corners that let you pretend you're in Rivendell (the home of the elves in The Lord of the Rings).
In early December, the temperatures range between 12 degrees celsius to 25 degrees celsius. These are very comfortable temperatures and it's wonderful to wake up and breathe in clean and pure air.
Hidden corner of the Whakapapa Holiday Park at Tongariro, resplendent in the evening sun.
Just the place for dinner.
Clear waters of the mountain river beside the freedom campsite at Reid's Farm, Huka Falls.