road to mount cook new zealand 1

The great outdoors, off the beaten track, the road less travelled, are all synonymous with the adventurous appeal of Freedom Camping. Like the ‘ultimate outdoor adventure’; how amazing does spending the night under the stars, cradled by the sounds of nature, and waking up to a brand new million-dollar view every day sound? Pretty amazing to us. And that’s just one of the many (awesome) reasons to hire a campervan as your primary mode of transport when travelling around New Zealand.

As amazing as Freedom Camping sounds, and contrary to the name, there are a few rules and regulations to ensure you are aware of before hitting the road. These rules are strictly enforced and heavily regulated throughout New Zealand, so it pays to have a sound understanding of them before planning your road trip.

What does the term ‘Freedom Camping’ actually mean?

Essentially, ‘Freedom Camping’ is a term that means camping in areas that are not classified as official camping grounds. This ‘type’ of camping is free of charge, which has default appeal for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, avid campers and for those travelling on a tight budget.

Freedom Camping sites can range from roadsides to lakefronts, even free overnight car parks. Unofficial camping grounds such as these are typically located on Department of Conservation (DOC) land and are signposted ‘Freedom Camping’.

There are strict rules and regulations to follow though:

To keep New Zealand’s clean and green reputation, and to avoid harmful damage to the environment, New Zealand enforces strict rules and regulations to Freedom Camping. Each designated area may have their own unique set of Freedom Camping rules, so make it a habit to pay the local i-SITE office or District Council a visit to find out what you need to know.

Remember, you can only Freedom Camp in designated areas that allow Freedom Camping, otherwise you may wake the following morning and discover a hefty fine in the vicinity of NZ$200 neatly folded under your window wiper blade. Camping on private property is strictly prohibited too, so be weary of the consequences.

You must have the right type of vehicle for Freedom Camping

Designated camping grounds and areas are not the only limitation when considering Freedom Camping; there are specific vehicle qualifications to adhere to as well. Only fully ‘self-contained’ vehicles, i.e. vehicles that include their own toilet facility and waste system, are allowed. If you’re caught answering the call of nature in the bush or on the side of the road, you could be faced with a fine.

Talk to your campervan hire company about self-contained campervans if you’re planning on Freedom Camping.

Leave only your footprints

Keep the natural beauty experience of New Zealand for generations to come by respecting the ‘Leave No Trace’ policy. Keep the following guidelines top of mind:

  • Respect New Zealand’s environment and refrain from littering.
  • Avoid trampling over vegetation. Keep within areas where others have previously camped. Securing the ideal spot is important when camping sure, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of what makes it beautiful.
  • Park or camp at least 200-feet from any natural water sources such as streams or avoid contaminating the source.
  • Be responsible with your rubbish. If there are no bins available, take it with you and look the nearest rubbish disposal facility,
  • Avoid the temptation to take sea shells, sand samples or rocks as a souvenir of your travels. Take a photo instead and take pride in leaving the area in the same condition you found it in.

Dump your waste responsibly

The advantage of self-contained campervans has for Freedom Camping, is each vehicle includes their own independent water and waste system. However, this also comes with the responsibility of disposing your waste water properly.

Look for signposted disposal facilities, which are usually found in most holiday parks.

Freedom Camping rules; what are the penalties when failing to comply

Park rangers and council officers alike take their jobs very seriously. So, expect regular patrols, especially during the peak seasons. You’ll be slapped with a NZ$200 fine if:

  • You’re caught Freedom Camping in prohibited areas (always look for Freedom Camping signs before choosing where to spend the night).
  • You refuse to cooperate with the authorities or refuse to leave the area.
  • You cause damage to the area.
  • You leave trash or dump waste (fines can go up to NZ$10K for this penalty! Ouch!!).
  • You’re camping in a standard vehicle or tent in an area that only allows self-contained vehicles.

Keeping safe when Freedom Camping

Although spending the night in a campervan is generally safe, it doesn’t hurt to be on the cautious side, especially when travelling with little ones. Take note of the following:

  • Avoid parking close to busy roads or motorways.
  • Familiarise yourself with the area’s entry and exit points in case you need to leave quickly.
  • Ensure all your belongings are safely stored away before sleeping and check you have locked all your doors and closed your windows.
  • Carry warm clothes and rain gear. ‘Four seasons in one day’ is a popular phrase in New Zealand (we even have a song for it!), so be sure to keep an eye on the most recent weather report.

Final thoughts

Freedom Camping is a great choice of transport to explore and experience the beauty of New Zealand, but it does come with a certain sense of responsibility. Rules and regulations are not in place to compromise your travels in New Zealand, rather are strictly enforced to protect New Zealand’s flora and fauna from damage.

You can play a big part in helping preserve New Zealand’s natural beauty by respecting these regulations. And remember;

  • Only fully self-contained vehicles are allowed to Freedom Camp.
  • Be sure to follow the local rules.
  • ‘Leave No Trace’.
  • Stay safe.
  • Camp responsibly.

You’re good to go!