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Travelling around New Zealand means discovering magical places. There are lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains, native bush alive with the sound of bird song, and sweeping stretches of sand pounded by waves. Instead of just stopping off for a few photos, imagine if you could spend the evening watching the sun set over that mountain range, or wake up to sun rise over that surf beach. Freedom camping lets you do just that.
What is Freedom Camping?
Freedom camping is when you stay on public land that isn’t a recognised campground. To do this legally, you need a vehicle (usually a campervan) designed to be self-contained for up to three days. It means you have enough reserves of water and power to stay in an area with no services (toilets, fresh water etc.) because you have the required facilities (a toilet, fresh water storage, wastewater storage and a rubbish bin with a lid) in your campervan to be self-sufficient. Campervans that are certified self-contained have a compliance sticker to show this.
Where Can I Freedom Camp?
New Zealand has a huge range of freedom camping spots, many of which are beachside, by lakes or native bush, or with spectacular mountain views; while others are in towns and cities. Sites on public conservation land (usually near beaches or bush) are administered by the Department of Conservation (DoC). You can search the DoC website to find a spot with campervan access. The most basic DoC campgrounds are free, with fees increasing according to the services available (for example, the water supply may just be a stream).
You can’t just freedom camp anywhere – an increase in freedom campers in New Zealand led the government to legislate it, so local authorities designate sites where freedom camping is permitted. Some may also require the purchase of a freedom camping permit for a small fee (less than NZ$6 per night). Always check for “no overnight camping” signs or ask for recommended spots at a local Visitor Information Centre (called i-SITES). You can get an instant fine of $200 for freedom camping in a prohibited area and get a court fine of up to $10,000 for a major dumping of waste, for example a campervan emptying its sewage tank onto public land.
Some of the places that are free to camp might be next to busy roads or in council car parks. Do some research beforehand to find the best spots, or once you’re on the road use an app like Campable to see all the freedom camping spots and amenities near you.
If you want the freedom camping experience without the crowds and bustle of a holiday park during summer, you can choose and book the perfect view and location on private property with Campable. This app offers the best of NZ’s magical camping and motorhome sites in one place. It’s like Airbnb for motorhomes.
Anything Else to Know?
A self-contained campervan is a great way to travel as it covers your transport and accommodation. Don’t be put off by having to top up water or empty the toilet – it’s clean, quick and easy, will only need to be done every few days and is well worth the freedom a campervan holiday brings.
All vehicles from Wilderness Motorhomes are modern European campervans that are certified self-contained and ideal for travelling year-round in New Zealand.