New Zealand is a country located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. It is made up of two main islands, the North Island and South Island, as well as over 700 smaller islands. New Zealand is a bucket list destination for many world travelers due to its stunning landscape. Travelers will often choose to freedom camp in New Zealand so they can experience the beauty and wonder of these amazing islands without the hefty price tag. What is freedom camping? Keep reading to find out!
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What Is Freedom Camping?
Freedom camping is camping on public lands. This means the land is not specified as a campground or holiday park (RV park) and is not privately owned, so you won’t have amenities or hookups.
Freedom camping in New Zealand is akin to boondocking in the US. It’s free, off-grid camping away from the hustle and bustle of traditional campgrounds.
Freedom camping can be done in a tent, car, or RV. However, some local councils in New Zealand require a “self-contained” vehicle for freedom camping. This means the vehicle must have a toilet, fresh, grey, and black water tanks, and a trash bin with a lid. They also require that the fresh and waste water tanks be large enough for 3 consecutive days of camping without refilling or dumping.
If you’re not traveling in an RV, don’t just pull your car over or pitch a tent in any old place. Always check with the local council to verify the self-containment rules in the region where you’re planning to stay.
Where Can You Freedom Camp in New Zealand?
The general rule of thumb is you can freedom camp on Department of Conservation (DOC) or local council land. However, the rules vary for each.
Generally, freedom camping on DOC land is permissible as long as the land does not have a special designation or is not being protected for other purposes. For example, you cannot camp on indigenous burial sites or in areas where protected species live.
As for local council land, the rules vary by region. Some local councils have specific limitations regarding how long you can camp and how far you can be from the town. Always know and follow the local council’s rules to avoid fines.
You should also look for signs indicating what type of camping, if any, is allowed. If you see a circular sign showing a tent and camper with a red line through it, that means camping is not permitted.
If you see a blue and white sign showing a camper with the words “SELF CONTAINED”, you can only camp in a self-contained vehicle in that area.
Although signs can be helpful, we recommend you don’t solely rely on signs because some areas may not be posted. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that all open land is public. Private land may or may not be obvious, and you do need permission to camp on private land. Camping on private land without permission can result in fines.
Your best bet is to do your research in advance. Consider using the Rankers Camping NZ app, which is officially supported by the local councils and DOC, to find appropriate freedom camping areas in New Zealand.
Responsible Freedom Camping in New Zealand
New Zealand is a gorgeous country with scenery that would rival just about any place on earth. Yet, it won’t stay that way if people don’t enjoy the outdoors responsibly. If you plan to freedom camp in New Zealand, here are a few tips for being a mindful visitor.
When freedom camping in New Zealand, you want to follow one of the most important golden camping rules: leave your site as good as you found it. And if you’re freedom camping in a natural habitat, you should leave no trace that you were ever there. Make sure you always pack out whatever you bring with you, including camping supplies, food, and trash.
If you are freedom camping in a self-contained vehicle, make sure you use your toilet (not a bush!) and never dump your water tanks on the ground. Those who plan to camp in a tent or sleep in their car overnight should be mindful to camp near public toilets. Apps like CamperMate can help you locate nearby toilets and dump stations.
Lastly, be respectful of the environment and wildlife. Don’t chop down trees or cut off tree branches for firewood. Don’t feed wild animals and always keep your distance from them. Also, be careful not to contaminate local waterways with soaps, detergents, other chemicals, or litter. All of these actions can be very damaging to New Zealand’s fragile and protected ecosystems.
The Freedom Camping Act
The word “freedom” does not imply that there are no rules. Due to irresponsible freedom campers, New Zealand passed the Freedom Camping Act in 2011 to keep things in check.
Yes, freedom camping in New Zealand is free, but only if you do it legally. Under the Freedom Camping Act, you can be fined $200 for camping in prohibited areas. Additional fines up to $10,000 can also be added for things like illegal dumping of waste water or not complying with an enforcement officer.
If fined, you have 28 days to pay. Failure to pay fines can result in more fines, a court case, or even being prohibited from leaving New Zealand. Also know, if you are renting a vehicle, the rental company can charge these fines to your credit card.
Freedom Camping Safety
As with any camping trip, you’ll want to use some common sense and follow general safety guidelines when freedom camping in New Zealand. Always be aware of your surroundings, including what people, plants, animals, and insects are in the area.
Of course, New Zealanders are friendly, but there can be bad actors anywhere. Lock your RV doors at night or while you are away, and report any suspicious activity or freedom camping violations. You should also be aware of any native plants, animals, or insects that could be a danger to humans or pets.
Check weather conditions before setting up camp. Unexpected storms or sudden changes in temperature can turn a pleasant trip into a disaster. Also make sure you have plenty of supplies (food, water, etc.) and someone knows where you are, especially if you are freedom camping in a remote area. Lastly, use common sense fire safety when lighting a campfire and check for fire bans in the region before you burn.
Enjoy Wonderous New Zealand – Just Be Responsible!
Freedom camping in New Zealand can be a fun and cost-effective option for enjoying this wondrous country. Just be responsible and make sure you are freedom camping in designated areas. Not only will this ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip, but you’ll be ensuring New Zealand remains beautiful for natives and future visitors alike.
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