Lake Tekapo / Mackenzie BasinMount Cook National Park

Freedom Camping Near Mount Cook: Lake Poaka

If you’re planning on hiking in Mount Cook National Park and want to sleep for free nearby, consider Lake Poaka. You don’ t have to have a self-contained vehicle (unlike a lot of other freedom camping spots), which makes Lake Poaka a great place to freedom camp near Mount Cook for people with all types of vehicles (or a tent). It’s also quite a scenic little lake, especially in autumn.

Getting to Lake Poaka

Lake Poaka is around 8 km outside of Twizel, heading towards Mt Cook National Park. The national park is round 60 km away but this is probably the closest freedom camping spot — you can stay at the Hooker Valley DOC camp (White Horse Hill) but you’ll have to pay.

  • If coming from Twizel: Leave Twizel and keep driving until you reach the Pukaki Ohau Bridge. Cross the bridge and immediately turn left (there is no sign). Drive down the gravel road (along the Pukaki Canal) and you’ll soon come to a Lake Poaka sign. Don’t turn down yet as the road is really rough. Keep going until you see the second sign, then turn down the hill (if there are already cars there you’ll see them).
  • If coming from Mt Cook National Park: Drive towards Twizel and turn right immediately before the Pukaki Ohau bridge (then follow the directions above).

READ MORE: Hiking the Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park

Staying at Lake Poaka

We arrived at around 5 pm and there were a couple of other cars there. There is heaps of room and you can park right next to the lake. There is lots of open space around Lake Poaka (we played with our rugby ball for quite a while), one toilet and a picnic table right next to the lake. It’s a really nice little camping ground and seemed very clean. By the end of the night there were around 20 cars and a few tents at Lake Poaka and there was plenty of room for more.

Freedom camping near Mount Cook at Lake Poaka -- near Twizel, New ZealandLake Poaka, New Zealand -- a great place to freedom camp near Mount Cook

Freedom Camping Near Mount Cook Tips

  • Don’t camp where you’re not allowed: You’ll get a large fine if you get caught.
  • Use the bathrooms in Twizel: They are pretty nice and if you’re heading that way anyway after freedom camping at Lake Poaka it’s a better place to get cleaned up. There is also filtered water available.
  • Consider spending a night at the White Horse Hill DOC camp: It’s in a stunning location and only costs $13 per person. We spent one night there and one night at Lake Poaka and it worked out well.

READ MORE: 16 Fun Things to Do in Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie Basin

Sleeping in a car at Lake Poaka, New Zealand

Have you been freedom camping in New Zealand? Where was your favourite spot? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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