Freedom Camping (sometimes called Wild Camping) is allowed in many parts of NZ, however it is getting more and more difficult to find good, free camping spots. The rules changed in 2011, just before the Rugby World Cup, when a new law was passed that allowed councils to make up their own regional rules regarding freedom camping. This law also allows councils to hand out fines to people breaking their rules.
Freedom Camping in General
In general it is legal to park up and spend the night on public land, apart from in places where there is a regional by-law prohibiting it. Regions that have passed these laws tend to be the really popular places for tourists to visit e.g. Queenstown. Places where freedom camping is prohibited are usually very well sign posted. If you see a no camping sign, it’s best not to as you could well be in for a fine up to $200.
Self Contained Campervans
In some areas you will see a sign saying ‘self contained campervans only’. To be self contained your campervan has to have a toilet on board, a grey water tank to catch the water from the sink and a valid certificate of inspection. All of our PiwiWiwi Campervans are certified Self Contained, meaning that you can take advantage of some great freedom camping spots around the two islands of New Zealand.
There are lots of great camp sites in NZ. Our favourite places to stay are the DOC campgrounds. These are run by the Department of Conservation (DOC), are located in beautiful conservation land and are cheap! The standard campgrounds cost $6 per person per night. For this you get a field, a toilet and a water source – what else do you need? We tend to stay in these, or freedom camp, for a few nights. If we are staying in one of our HiAces we then book into a Holiday Park when we really need a shower. Holiday parks will cost anywhere from $10 to $25 per person, and have facilities such as hot showers, kitchens, laundry, TV lounge, book swap etc.
Freedom Camping Etiquette
If you do come across a beautiful spot where you would like to spend the night, please follow these guidelines:
1/ Assume Nothing – Ask a Local. Make sure that you are staying on public land, and that you are allowed to do so. Ask at the nearest house, or check with the local i-Site (information centre).
2/ Use the Facilities – Leave No Trace. Public toilets are abundant in NZ, so there is no excuse for leaving toilet paper (or even human waste) lying around. Also make sure that you tidy your campground before leaving – make sure all rubbish finds a bin, or (better still) is recycled. If you see rubbish left by someone else, do your good deed for the day by picking it up and helping dispose of it correctly.
3/ Protect the Environment – Be Aware. New Zealand’s ecosystem is beautiful and fragile. Be aware of where you are parking and avoid damaging vegetation. Also be aware of the local fire danger, and follow the rules for open fires. Open fires are often prohibited during the summer months as the land is so dry a small spark can have devastating effects.
Freedom Camping Resources
Finally, if you are travelling with a Tablet or Smart Phone, there are some great Apps available to help you find off the beaten track camping options.
• Camping NZ (aka the Rankers App). This is by far our favourite! It lists every designated camp site in NZ (including the free ones) and includes reviews of most. It also lists and reviews great free things to do, and the best paid things too. Well worth the $15.99 cost!
• CamperMate – also includes wifi spots, recycling bins, public toilets, petrol stations & supermarkets!
• WikiCamps NZ – includes backpacker hostels, points of interest, information centres & day stops.
If you are not travelling with ‘smart’ devices or if you feel like talking to real people for information, the information centres around New Zealand (called i-sites) are a great place to get information and advice.