What You Need to Know About Freedom Camping
It’s the dream right: parking up among the stunning scenery of New Zealand in your car or campervan to camp for the night? Well, that isn’t always the reality of a campervan trip in New Zealand. In reality, you can’t exactly park anywhere for the night. In order to keep New Zealand beautiful, there are restrictions on where you can camp for free, more commonly known as freedom camping. So to set the record straight, here is what it’s really like to freedom camp in New Zealand.
If you want to be able to freedom camp as often as possible in New Zealand, then you will need to get or rent a self-contained vehicle. Otherwise, be prepared to add the cost of campsites and holiday parks to your budget. For more information on the reality of camping in New Zealand, check out 10 Things You Need to Know About Camper Van Rental in New Zealand. We also have some general tips in Camping in New Zealand.
Freedom Camping Etiquette
Rules to remember when freedom camping in New Zealand.
- Take rubbish away with you or use rubbish bins
- Use public toilets or your campervan toilet
- Check for camping restriction signs before setting up camp
- Don’t camp on private land.
Where Can You Freedom Camp in New Zealand?
The easiest way to talk about where you can freedom camp in New Zealand is to talk about whether you have a self-contained vehicle or not. We’ll talk more about what exactly a self-contained vehicle entails in the section below.
Freedom Camping with a Self-Contained Vehicle
If you do have a self-contained vehicle, then you are generally allowed to camp on district council land and Department of Conservation (DOC) land. However, each council and sections of DOC land have their own set of rules about freedom camping. For instance, some councils will not allow freedom camping with 1km of the town or you may only be allowed to stay in a car park for one night. To get up-to-date information on where there are restrictions or where freedom camping is prohibited on DOC land, see this page of the DOC website.
Freedom Camping with a Non-self-contained Vehicle
If you are camping in a tent or a car/campervan without a self-contained certificate, then you need to stay in designated sites that allow freedom camping with no self-contained vehicle. These can be free campsites or parking areas with a toilet block nearby.
How to Find Out Where You Can Freedom Camp
Freedom camping needs a bit of planning because of the difference in laws between districts. The best way to be sure on where you can freedom camp is by asking at a local information centre (i-SITE), a DOC visitor centre, a local holiday park or at the local district council. Many district councils have this information on their website, so simply google the district and “freedom camping” gives you the answers you need from a reliable source.
We also update our freedom camping listings for as many places as possible in our North Island Camping Guides and South Island Camping Guides.
A self-contained vehicle is a vehicle that meets the Caravan Self Contained Certificate standard. The vehicle must have a Self-containment NZS 5465 certification and the appropriate blue sticker to show this. The standard for a self-contained vehicle must include:
- a toilet
- freshwater storage for at least three days
- wastewater storage for at least three days
- a rubbish bin with a lid
For more information, see Self-Contained Campervans in New Zealand.
Penalties for Freedom Camping
Council officers and DOC rangers patrol areas that a prone to illegal freedom camping, especially in the high season and during the mornings and evenings. So what if you are caught freedom camping in New Zealand?
While some officers or rangers may politely tell you to move on, you could be given an instant NZ$200 fine for one of the following:
- camping or preparing to camp where you are not allowed to
- damage an area you are camping in
- dump any waste or rubbish
- refuse to leave an area when told to do so
- camp in a vehicle or tent without a toilet/water supply that only allows self-contained vehicles
- refuse to give information to the officer or ranger
In relation to the above, you could also be fined NZ$5,000 if you behave illegally toward the officer or ranger. You could also get a court fine of up to NZ$10,000 if you dump waste onto public land, such as dumping a waste water tank from a campervan.
How to Pay Your Fine for Freedom Camping
When you receive a fine for freedom camping, instructions on how to pay will be on the notice. However, if you do not pay your fine, you will receive another notice to pay the fine plus an extra cost to be paid within 28 days. Refusal to pay could mean you have to go to court and if you were using a rental vehicle, then the rental company can charge the fine to your credit card. Customs Officers at the airport can refuse you from leaving New Zealand if you have outstanding fines to pay.
While you’re here, you might also be interested in the other laws in New Zealand that might affect your trip.
Alternative Camping Options
So if you find yourself in an area where there are freedom camping restrictions or there are no appropriate freedom camping sites, then where else can you camp? It’s likely that you will have to pay to camp in a campsite or holiday park.
The DOC manages around 200 campsites around New Zealand, some of which are accessible by camping vehicles. They have basic facilities and range in price between free to NZ$15 per person per night.
Holiday parks have a lot more facilities and even the option to have a powered site so you can plug in campervans to a power supply. Expect to pay between NZ$20 to NZ$50 for two people in a tent site or powered site.
For more information on what to expect from campsites and holiday parks, take a look at What is the Difference Between a Campsite and a Holiday Park?