What You Need to Know About Self-Contained Campervans in New Zealand
For ultimate convenience and to legally be able to “freedom camp” in New Zealand, you will need a self-contained campervan. But what does self-contained mean? We’ll go through what self-contained campervans in New Zealand are in this guide.
Self-contained campervans are considered more environmentally friendly than your average campervan, according to New Zealand legislation, by storing freshwater and wastewater and by having a toilet that is permanently fixed in the vehicle. Therefore, New Zealand rewards you with more campsite options that only allow self-contained vehicles, as well as the option to camp on public land where permitted. This guide will tell you what you need to know about self-contained campervans for road tripping in New Zealand, from what they are to whether you should rent or buy a self-contained campervan.
What is a Self-Contained Campervan?
First things first, let’s get the definition out of the way. The Self-Containment Standard NZS 5465:2001 is the certification used to show that a campervan can contain water waste for up to three days. This includes water in the form of water supply, grey water (sink and shower water), and septic waste. In detail, these are the features a campervan must meet to be self-contained.
- Freshwater tanks: 12 L per person for three days
- A sink via a smell trap/water trap connected to a watertight sealed waste water tank
- Grey/black wastewater tank: 12 L per person for three days, vented and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank
- Evacuation hose (3 m for fitted tanks) or long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank
- A rubbish bin with a lid
- Toilet: Needs to be permanently fixed to the vehicle in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Note: “per person” is measured on the number of people a campervan can sleep, for instance, a three-berth campervan needs will need to meet the minimum tank storage requirements for three people. Even if a campervan has all these features, it is not classed as “certified self-contained” until it has received a warrant under the NZ Standard for Self-Containment of Motor Caravans and Caravans, NZS 5465:2001.
Why Use a Self-Contained Campervan?
So what are the benefits of travelling New Zealand in a self-contained campervan or motorhome?
More Environmentally Friendly
By storing wastewater and a toilet inside the van rather than dumping it on the floor, self-contained campervans are considered much more environmentally friendly. Plus, it’s safer for public health.
Access to More Campsites
There are also personal benefits to travelling in a self-contained campervan, such as the ability to use all of New Zealand’s campsites. Many campsites, including the free ones, do not allow vehicles without the self-containment certificate. There are approximately 340 free campsites to take advantage of across New Zealand. With this, you have more freedom to explore this amazing country without having to be on a constant lookout for showers, toilets and water. Take a look at some of the designated free campsites in our Campsites and Holiday Parks section.
Ability to Freedom Camp
Travelling in a certified self-contained campervan also permits you to freedom camp on public land where permitted. Usually, signs will indicate where there is no camping allowed. Otherwise, if there are no signs, you can usually assume freedom camping in a certified self-contained campervan is allowed. Local councils are often changing their freedom camping bylaws, which differ between districts across New Zealand. If you want to freedom camp on public land, do some research first to see the rules for your chosen district in New Zealand. We list the pages for freedom camping for each council in our guide, Freedom Camping Rules in New Zealand: Region by Region.
The Self-Containment Certification
Update: All new Self-Containment Certifications and Stickers are green. The blue Self-Containment Certifications and Stickers expire either on their expiry date or 7 June 2025, whichever comes first.
To know whether the campervan you are purchasing or renting is self-contained, look for the green card on the front left-hand side of the windscreen and check the date the certification expires.
If you have your own campervan that you think meets the requirements but does not have a valid self-containment certification, you can get an inspection and certification from an issuing authority such as an organisation like the NZMCA or All Points Camping or a registered plumber, gasfitter or drainlayer who is a qualified self-containment testing officer. Find out more about getting your camping vehicle certified in our full guide, How to Get Your Campervan Certified Self-Contained.
Where to Dispose of Your Water Waste
By having a self-contained campervan, it is your responsibility to empty the wastewater when needed in a safe and environmentally friendly way. The answer to this is to use “dump stations” to dump wastewater.
There are many dump stations in New Zealand to safely dispose of your campervan water waste. You can ask the local i-SITE for their locations. They are often also featured on most local maps, as well as camping apps.
Should You Rent or Buy a Self-Contained Campervan?
Visiting New Zealand on a short trip? Renting a campervan is the fastest and most convenient way to hit the road. Campervan rental companies should explicitly say whether their vans are certified self-contained. (Beware, some will say they are “self-contained” but this doesn’t always mean they are “certified”). For more information on renting a campervan, head over to The Essential Guide to Renting a Campervan in New Zealand.
Staying in New Zealand for more than a couple of months? In this case, it will be much more cost-effective to buy a self-contained campervan and sell it at the end of your trip. This is, however, quite time-consuming so leave yourself a couple of weeks at both ends of your trip to allow time to buy and sell. Get more information at Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand: A Step-by-Step Guide.
More About Self-Contained Campervans in New Zealand
Have more questions about self-contained campervans in New Zealand? Take a look at the following guides for more useful advice:
- How to Get Your Campervan Certified Self-Contained
- How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan
- Car Camping NZ: Where to Camp if Your Campervan is Not Self-Contained
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in How to Plan a Campervan Trip in New Zealand: Full Guide.