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Castle Hill New Zealand – Best Free Campsite on Earth? Update: Yes!

castle hill new zealand

Castle Hill New Zealand – One of the most spectacular places in the universe. It’s true.

Castle Hill New Zealand is one of those places that you just can’t believe is real. Driving along the incredibly scenic route between Christchurch and Greymouth, I discovered that Castle Hill is more than worth a stop – it’s an overnight-er for sure. And if you have your own bed, it will cost you nothing. If you absolutely don’t want to stay overnight in Castle Hill, it would only be just over an hour drive for anyone staying in Christchurch.

Sitting between Darfield and Arthur’s Pass, surrounded by mountains, and sitting at an altitude of 700 metres, Castle Hill is an imposing collection of limestone boulders, drawing comparisons to a collapsed or at least very decayed ancient stone castle. It’s a bit of a favourite with the Dalai Lama, who named it a “Spiritual Center of the Universe”. I couldn’t agree more.

Castle Hill New Zealand is famous for more than “Bouldering”.

You may have seen the Castle Hill area in the movies – the final climatic battle scenes of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” were filmed around this location. But, it’s not only film buffs that are attracted to the area – the unique giant limestone boulders are widely considered to be the heart of the rock climbing scene in New Zealand.

the morning - near castle hill new zealand

Morning at Cave Stream Car Park – the views are free, and so is the accommodation.

cave stream in new zealand's south island

The evening views out in the other direction, are equally as stunning. That’s our RV – the “Blue Streak”.

castle hill new zealand - rock climbing paradise

Castle Hill New Zealand – Rock climbing paradise, and an easy 2 minute drive from the overnight car park.

The Yomadic tip for the day is: about three km’s West of New Zealand’s Castle Hill, is a small car park known as “Cave Stream”. So named due to the stream that runs below the car park, containing an extensive caving system. This is the free overnight stay of Kings. Facilities are extensive. Onsite toilet. That’s it. However, with 360 degrees of mountains by day, and a carpet of stars in the inky black of night, Cave Stream car park is definitely one of the secret gems of New Zealand.

Despite my proficiency of the English language, I should say that overnight stays are (ahem) possibly illegal at this location. But given the vista’s on offer, I wasn’t going to stay anywhere else. A couple of travelling French professional snowboarders had the same idea, and shared the car-park with Phillipa and I overnight.

castle hill new zealand view

The view from the top of the main collection of giant boulders at Castle Hill.


Castle Hill – Trekking For All Levels of Skill and Fitness

Castle Hill is an easy trek. Even to get to the top of the limestone boulders, it’s a simple and non-technical tramp, taking only about twenty minutes from the car-park area. Once you get to the top, you are rewarded with stunning views in all directions, made all the more surreal by the strange rock formations. With the rocks framing the views in the foreground, and snowy mountains in the distance, the Castle Hill locale makes for easy travel photography.

castle hill new zealand 2

It’s not like I needed the reflection to make this scene any more amazing, but hey, I’ll take it!

Giving the regular readers a bit of continuity, I am currently exploring the South Island of New Zealand, in a motor-home/RV/Winnebago on loan from Phillipa’s father. As long as I don’t hit any black ice whilst traversing the mountains in these cold winter months, I’ll deliver the vehicle back in one piece. Thanks Ken.

Cave Stream, New Zealand.

This is “Cave Stream” about a twenty-minute hike from the Cave Stream car park.

near castle hill - Cave Stream car park

This is Phillipa in her Pyjama’s. It was just us, and a team of French snowboarders staying overnight here.

castle hill new zealand panorama

Panorama 1 : The view from atop one of the Castle Hill boulders.

cave stream new zealand

Panorama 2: evening, looking out over Cave Stream car park, 3 km’s from Castle Hill.

near castle hill panorama

…and panorama 3 : morning, looking in the other direction from Cave Stream car park.

I’ve seen some stunning locations already in New Zealand, prior to Castle Hill – – and will bring some more posts soon. Internet is a bit non-existent off the beaten track, but I will update Yomadic as regularly as possible. Consider this a “live” post, it was actually just this morning that I visited Castle Hill.

Hope you enjoyed the photos of Castle Hill New Zealand.

Oh, and the soon to be famous Cave Stream car park. ;)


PS, if you already have a decent travel camera, and are “stuck in auto”, not getting the images you expect – you need this. It’s already helped many of my readers take their travel photography to the next level. I PERSONALLY recommend it 100%, and refer back to it frequently – check it out.

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8 Responses to Castle Hill New Zealand – Best Free Campsite on Earth? Update: Yes!

  1. Noelle Aug 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Wow! What gorgeous views! Thank you for sharing your Castle Hill adventure, can’t wait to hear/see more about New Zealand. Safe travels. :)

    • Nate Aug 18, 2012 at 6:14 am #

      Thanks Noelle…the views were spectacular, but they seem to be spectacular everywhere in the South Island of NZ!

  2. Kieu Aug 19, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    Don’t you just LOVE the internet in New Zealand?! Lol.. Those boulders look fake. And awesome. Sad we didn’t get to do this part of the drive. Ours ended from Queenstown to Christchurch. :(

    • Nate Aug 19, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      Hi Kieu…hope the Yay area has welcomed you back nicely! Yes, the internet is a bit sketchy in this part of the world, but I have been in some pretty isolated locations. I arrived in Queenstown tonight, wow, this is one cool town. Although you didn’t get to see Castle Hill, New Zealand, and particularly the South Island, has some incredible drives all over. You can always come back ;)

  3. Gina Sep 8, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Amazing photos. I’m going to New Zealand this winter and visiting Castle Hill is one of the parts I’m most looking forward to!

    • Nate Sep 8, 2012 at 1:09 am #

      Thanks Gina – I really recommend visiting Castle Hill, and the surrounds. The South Island in general is just spectacular, you will love it!

  4. maria Sep 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    thanks for sharing some pictures so beautiful, I know where to go on your next vacation, a greeting

    • Nate Sep 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks Maria, hope you enjoy your vacation. Nate.

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