Regardless of if you are planning on freedom camping or just sightseeing, Cathedral Cove near Hahei is a must-do.
The entire area you see in the photo below is a marine reserve! It is managed by the Department of Conservation. No fishing takes place so there is an abundance of sea life. With a kayak or SUP, or snorkelling gear, you can see for yourself.
While this might not be evident from above, all you need to do is walk along a path. It’s easy enough to find a rocky area to explore along the shoreline. You can interact with snapper at just an arm’s length, and see loads of crayfish. Just be careful not to touch them!
Another thing that Cathedral Cove has going for it is the surrounding bush. During summer will give off an array of nature songs on full volume starring native birds and cicadas.
Freedom Camping Rules for Cathedral Cove and Hahei
If you’re in a self-contained campervan, you might be lucky enough to get one of the six parks designated for freedom camping
You’re allowed to stay here for 4 nights maximum in a single calendar month, between 5 pm and 9 am the following day (meaning you have to vacate the area by 9 am).
You can find all the freedom camping car parks near Cathedral Cove using your CamperMate app. In terms of facilities, it’s basic (but you can’t expect much for free) with only toilets available. These are well maintained but will be extremely busy in the summer during the day.
Things tend to quieten down around 8 pm which is when you have the place nearly to yourself (and most likely 5 other campervans). With Cathedral Cove and Hahei close by, this would have to be arguably the most scenic freedom campsite in New Zealand!
This is also one of the most popular freedom campsites in the area. You want to be planning your arrival at exactly 5 pm. It’s a bit of a gamble that you’ll get a spot, but it’s worth trying your luck. Some people arrive early at around 4 pm and park in the area as a day tripper, then stay there the remainder of the time. It’s not exactly fair play but just a heads up.
Overall, this Cathedral Cove and Hahei Freedom Camping site has to get a 5-star review, simply because of the amazing view on your doorstep. The parking area is very intimate which is great if you’re into being social, but if you’re the hermit type you might like the nearby Over-Flow Car Park at Purangi Boat Ramp to your liking instead, near Cooks Beach. Here you can hide away from people behind some bush!