Strain-free freestanding GaN layers were prepared by in situ lift-off process using a ZnO buffer as a sacrificing layer. Thin Zn-polar ZnO layers were deposited on c -plane sapphire substrates, which was followed by the growth of Ga-polar GaN layers both by molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). The MBE-grown GaN layer acted as a protecting layer against decomposition of the ZnO layer and as a seeding layer for GaN growth. The ZnO layer was completely in situ etched off during growth of thick GaN layers at low temperature by hydride vapor phase epitaxy. Hence freestanding GaN layers were obtained for the consecutive growth of high-temperature GaN thick layers. The lattice constants of freestanding GaN agree with those of strain-free GaN bulk. Extensive microphotoluminescence study indicates that strain-free states extend throughout the high-temperature grown GaN layers.