While there are plenty of awesome camping grounds, holiday parks and Department of Conservation (DOC) huts and facilities that cost next to nothing in New Zealand, camping out on public land or ‘Freedom Camping’ as it is commonly known, is still permitted in designated places across the countryside.
What Is Freedom Camping?
Particularly popular with backpackers and other tourists travelling on a budget, freedom camping in New Zealand means staying overnight in your vehicle in non-designated campground locations usually without any on site facilities (like toilets, running water, showers and public waste disposal etc.)
Your choice of vehicle whether it is campervan, caravan or van, will depend on how many of you there are, what resources you have or require, legal constraints, length of stay and the level of comfort you wish to achieve.
For many, freedom camping can be an attractive option offering greater flexibility, cost savings, and a feeling of really connecting with the true essence of New Zealand while holidaying in the country.
5 Of The Best Freedom Camping Spots In NZ
Wondering where to find the best places for freedom camping in New Zealand? Here are our top picks.
Sandy Bay near Matapouri not far from Whangarei
Reid’s Farm Recreation Reserve near Taupo
Mangatutu Hot Springs Campsite in the Hawkes Bay
Cobb River Campsite near Nelson in the Kahurangi National Park
Danseys Pass Campsite near Nasby in the Central Otago region
NZ Freedom Camping Rules
Although freedom camping is permitted in many places throughout New Zealand, some limitations have been introduced in recent years due to litter, human waste problems and to encourage the use of commercial campground facilities.
There are two instances where freedom camping is permitted in New Zealand:
Certified Self Contained Vehicles. The number one rule for freedom campers here in New Zealand is in the majority of cases you must have a Certified Self-Contained Vehicle that is able to hold and carry all waste for a minimum of three days. This certification is indicated through the use of an approved ‘Blue Sticker’.
Camping With Just Toilets And Running Water. While having a self-contained vehicle is the best option, in some cases freedom camping in your vehicle at sites with basic toilet facilities and access to running water is also permitted.
The Department of Conservation website has an extensive list of the areas where freedom camping is expressly prohibited or restricted to self-contained vehicles only, but it is always best to check local council as the rules will vary from region to region.
Freedom Camping Regional Bylaws
New Zealand’s regional Councils have separate council bylaws setting out their own rules and regulations around freedom camping – where it is permitted, for how long and the potential fines associated with spending the night in non-designated areas.
Council restrictions usually cover the following;
Designated Parking Areas. Restricting the number of vehicles that are able to stay overnight at any one time.
Relocation Time Frames. Express instructions on the amount of time individual vehicles are permitted to stay in the location.
Departure Times. There may be certain times of the day or week where you are expected to depart. For example by 9am the following morning or all campers must be gone on Saturdays etc.
Penalties For Illegal Freedom Camping In NZ
Under New Zealand’s Freedom Camping Act of 2011, breaking the rules or camping without a self-contained vehicle can result in on the spot fines ranging between $200 and $1000 NZD or if prosecuted – a maximum of $10,000 NZD.
All offenders are also liable for any clean-up or repair costs incurred as a result of their actions in relation to the illegal freedom camping.
What Are DOC Campsites?
Enhancing the freedom camping experience, New Zealand is lucky to have access to simple but adequate camping facilities dotted throughout the country supplied by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
While the facilities may not be five-star luxury, they do provide a convenient, responsible option for freedom campers to enjoy parts of the country that may not have larger commercial camping grounds.
The Department of Conservation website has information on where these areas are, and if there are any limitations, rules and/or fees associated with them. You can also find out more about other budget accommodation options in New Zealand.
Why Is Freedom Camping Restricted?
The concept of freedom camping is a phenomenon that has risen in popularity in New Zealand in recent years, however it has caused some debate with local residents, government authorities and tourism organisations concerned about the environmental and economic implications.
Sadly the increase in disrespect towards the areas available for freedom camping has forced some interest in banning freedom camping in New Zealand entirely.
As always it is important to remember to leave as little trace of your stay as possible and of course, be responsible and keep your trash and waste contained until you reach a suitable rubbish bin or dump station. Preserve the future of freedom camping in New Zealand ensure you treat the countryside with the respect and kindness it deserves.
Where Can I Freedom Camp In New Zealand?
New Zealand has an abundance of remote, scenic spots ideally suited to freedom camping, however please be aware freedom camping is only permitted in certified self-contained vehicles, or in designated areas in close proximity to public restrooms. Therefore it is important to do some investigation prior to departure in order to obey any legal requirements and avoid fines.
Select an area below to see more information on freedom camping rules and regulations in the region.
In The South…
Heading south down the East Coast of the South Island you will encounter Blenheim and Kaikoura – home to delicious seafood and plenty of opportunities for marine fun. Further along you will encounter many smaller rural townships in the Waimakariri District as you head southwards to Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island.
The Central Otago region is home to some amazing bike trails and delicious stone fruit along with some of the most interesting southernmost wineries. At the southernmost tip of the South Island lays Dunedin and Invercargill, overnight temperatures here can become quite chilly, so plan ahead and make sure you are fully prepared.
In The North…
Lower down the North Island you have the picturesque Coromandel countryside, the remote areas of Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and the East Cape, and the warmer, more central areas of the Bay Of Plenty including Rotorua, Tauranga, Whakatane and Kawerau.
Can I Use My Rental Van For Freedom Camping?
If you plan on using a rental van for freedom camping in New Zealand, it is necessary to find an official campsite or a place to stop that has basic facilities such as toilets and a shower. DOC campsites are the perfect option for this.
Other than DOC campsites you will need to be in close proximity to public toilets as well as being in a permitted freedom camping area. See above for Regional Council details. It is also necessary to check with your van hire company when booking your rental as there may be restrictions on using the vans for the purposes of freedom camping.
For more information on camping in New Zealand see the Tourism Industry Association’s website or contact the local iSITE information centre. When camping in New Zealand please help to keep our rivers, lakes, bushland and public areas free of pollution and trash, be eco-wise, respect our native flora and fauna, follow the rules, and most of all – enjoy yourself!