After our day at Hobbiton and exploring the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, Kail and I were looking forward to spending our first night freedom camping. We’d picked out a site near the famous Huka Falls of Lake Taupo, but unfortunately part of the road — from what we could tell, the only road — leading there was closed.A quick consultation of our freedom camping guidebook led us to what turned out to be a pleasant surprise of an alternative: Orakei Korako Geothermal Park. There we were able to enjoy freedom camping with a beautiful view of the park across Lake Ohakuri and early access to the park itself.Disclaimer: While it was “freedom camping” in the sense that we were completely unplugged (relying on the camper battery, gas and water supply), we were in the parking lot of a not-minor tourist attraction. So we weren’t exactly out in the wilderness, removed from civilization. Also there was a bathroom (which was closed from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.).Orakei Korako Geothermal Park allows “free” freedom camping in its parking lot for visitors who have either attended or are planning to attend the park — and pay the $24 U.S. entrance fee. We arrived to the park after closing hours (earlier in winter) so we picked a prime camping spot (we were the only camper at the time) and made a simple spaghetti dinner.By morning, a couple additional campers had arrived, but we basically had the entire place to ourselves — cafe and park included. After warming up with some coffees in the visitor center (and taking advantage of the guest wifi access), we set out on a little boat to cross Lake Ohakuri to the park entrance.The park doesn’t look like much as seen from the parking lot, but once we arrived to the dock, we realized there was a lot more to it than the small area visible from carpark. The self-guided tour takes visitors on a roughly one-hour loop, along silica terraces, steam vents, geysers and mud pools.The landscape is eerily moonlike in some places, and surprisingly lush and green in others. It’s a really beautiful park that I actually enjoyed more than the super-developed Te Puia in Rotorua. Sure, the Pohutu geyser is bigger than the little one we saw at Orakei Korako, but the latter park seemed more natural and untouched.Our guidebook said it actually gets quite crowded with tour buses from Rotorua and Taupo later in the day, so maybe that’s not true (also we were visiting in low season), but I liked that Orakei Korako is fairly simple: A few signposts to guide the way and some information plaques, but for the most part, the park lets nature do the talking.Like these mud pools for example.With only one other couple at the park, Kail and I had a lot of time to enjoy its sights in peaceful solitude. The path began at lake-level and wound its way slowly up through wooded areas with lookout points over the silica terraces and steam vents below. At the park’s highest point, there were gorgeous views over the lake, where we could see our little camper across the way, framed by green hills in the background and rising steam around the sides.When visitors are ready to return to the mainland, there’s a buzzer at the dock near the park entrance, signaling the captain to bring the boat back over. We had another coffee in the cafe (enjoying the warmth and modern plumbing of the visitor center) before making brekkie rolls in the campervan and hitting the road. We had a five-hour drive to Wellington ahead of us.Have you ever seen natural mud pools?The Details: Orakei Korako Geothermal ParkGPS Coordinates: -38.473990, 176.143940Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/ee1dcFee: $36 NZD (about $24 USD)Hike: Moderate one-hour loop.See more photos from New Zealand’s North Island.