Just How Free is Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

Freedom Camping in New ZealandFreedom Camping is a very popular activity in New Zealand, both for the locals and tourists. You always see campervans on the road – they’re great for getting around the country, combining travel with accommodation to keep expenses down, and allowing you to spend the night in beautiful locations, surrounded by nature.

Freedom Camping, by definition, is spending the night in the wilderness, not on a site you have to pay for: you have the freedom to stop wherever you want and it’s free.

If only it were as simple as that.

It’s a paradox, but Freedom Camping in New Zealand is restricted. In 2011, just before the country was inundated by a tidal wave of Rugby World Cup tourists, Parliament passed the Freedom Camping Act. You can now be fined up to $10,000 for camping in the wrong place or in the wrong way.

MotorhomeIn many ways, this is a good thing. Although most campers are sensible, respectful people, there are always some who are quite happy to leave their rubbish behind, including used toilet paper. Before the introduction of the Freedom Camping Act, there was no effective deterrent to this sort of behaviour. The odd irresponsible person, for example, would empty the dirty water and human waste from their campervan in an inappropriate place, risking the health of the environment and other people.

Understandably, locals were becoming increasingly frustrated at the pollution of their countryside. This was a classic case of a few unthinking people ruining things for the majority.

The problem is that different councils have different by-laws concerning Freedom Camping, which can cause confusion among campers, seeing as Freedom Camping, by its very nature, means moving
freely around the country.

Lake Pukaki

Of course, you could always play it safe and camp at a regulated campground – there are, after all, hundreds of them all over New Zealand – but, although they can be very cheap, they are not free.

Freedom Camping is still possible, but it is governed by strict rules. You constantly have to check if you are allowed to be where you are – and remember that there is a difference between a campervan and a self-contained campervan.

(A self-contained campervan has a sticker on it that certifies it can go for a minimum of three days without having to discharge its waste. If you are hiring a campervan in New Zealand, you should make sure that it has this sticker, as not only does it make your trip easier, it helps to protect the environment.)

Thankfully, there’s a map available that shows the location of pretty much every campground in New Zealand and – even better – whether or not it’s free, and what kind of vehicles are permitted there. You can find it here.


Article by Abigail Simpson, author of POMS AWAY! A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand

4 thoughts on “Just How Free is Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

  1. Hi.. I plan to visit NZ south island this coming December..for it is in summer.. From my reading I understood that during summer many visitors will come and spend their holidays in NZ.. My question is, should I book our campsite if I choose to stay at serviced campsite? Thanks for your kind reply..

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