An introduction to freedom camping in New Zealand

Many long-term travellers choose to go freedom camping in New Zealand. Doing so is an excellent way to save money whilst enjoying the very best of Aotearoa. The following guide will talk you through everything you need to know to enjoy the best freedom camping New Zealand offers.

Is travelling widely around New Zealand top of your bucket list?

If it is, you’ve probably thought about how you’re going to get around the country whilst ensuring that you stretch your budget, allowing you to see as much as possible. Though there are several ways of doing this, one of the best is renting a campervan and freedom camping. 

Freedom camping will guarantee you a trip of a lifetime and ensure you get to see all of the best sites New Zealand has to offer, all at your own pace.

The best thing about it is that it’s a convenient way of getting around and it’s cheaper than booking hotel rooms. 

If you haven’t tried freedom camping before, we’ll teach you a few tricks of the trade.

You may also want to check our 101 New Zealand travel FAQs for first-time visitors that covers everything from visa requirements, top tourist destinations, transportation options, and more.

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A white caravan crosses a bridge that is surrounded by autumn leaves.

Everything You Need to Know About Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Right now it feels like everyone is talking about freedom camping, but is it for you?

Without doubt, it’s essential to understand what it is before you get into it.

You need to know what it means to freedom camp, the rules, and ensure you cover all bases before renting or buying a campervan in New Zealand. 

An Introduction to Freedom Camping in Aotearoa

There are many recognised campgrounds, campsites and dedicated car parks on public grounds in New Zealand designed for freedom campers. These sites often offer unobstructed views in peaceful settings, ready for travellers to enjoy.

Some freedom camping sites will charge you a small fee for specific amenities, and others (the vast majority) are free. Facilities range from next-to-nothing, to spaces with full bathrooms.

Freedom camping is when you camp on public land that isn’t a recognised camping ground or holiday park.

The New Zealand Government
A couple walking on the flattened rocks on the bay of Kaikoura.

What Exactly Is Freedom Camping? How is it Different to Camping?

Freedom camping (which is also known as free camping) is the practice of camping (or as is more often the case in New Zealand, campervanning) in a public environment that is not specifically designated for this purpose.

Instead of paying to stay at a campground with facilities, this free form of camping is available throughout the country (often at picnic areas or in remote spots).

As you would expect, ‘free camping’ is quite a different experience to doing so in a normal campsite.

Let’s take a look at the differences between staying at a normal campsite and freedom camping…

What are the Advantages of Freedom Camping?
  • Freedom camping saves campers a significant amount of money. Once you’ve got a campervan or tent organised, your stay is free (or super affordable). It’s worth noting that the vast majority of freedom camping sites in New Zealand require guests to be fully self-contained which means pitching a tent is seldom possible. If you plan on freedom camping, it really is best to do so with a self-contained campervan.
  • Freedom campers have the opportunity to stay in some of the most stunning (and remote) parts of the country.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to meet other like-minded travellers.
  • There are approximately 420 freedom camping sites around New Zealand (as recognised by local councils and the Department of Conservation). With that in mind, it shouldn’t be hard to find a place to stay wherever you are in the country.
What are the Disadvantages of Freedom Camping?
  • Generally these sites do not have many facilities (if any). You won’t be guaranteed access to clean drinking water, waste disposal facilities or toilets. With that said, many freedom camping sites say they don’t have toilets open 24/7 when in reality they do.
  • They generally don’t allow visitors the ability to book in advance (as bookings simply aren’t possible). This means that you can turn up to a camping spot for the night and find there is no availability.
  • Freedom camping can have a negative impact on New Zealand’s beautiful environment. Unfortunately, some freedom campers leave litter (that’s rubbish for the Kiwis amongst us), grey water and even human waste behind. For this reason, freedom camping is not always highly regarded by locals – it doesn’t have to be that way if done respectfully though.

Did you know? The rules around freedom camping in New Zealand tightened up around the time of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Freedom camping now is more regulated and visitors are expected to show respect for our clean, green environment. They are, of course, still more than welcome though!

White caravans driving in convoy going to Lake Tekapo.

NZ’s Freedom Camping Rules

While travelling around New Zealand may seem liberating (and it is), freedom campers still have to follow rules. These are stringent requirements put in place to ensure that freedom camping is an enjoyable experience for everyone, so be sure to follow them. 

Other than spoiling other people’s experiences, you will have to pay exorbitant fines if you don’t follow the rules.

Here are the regulations you must follow while freedom camping…

Your Vehicle Must Be Self-Contained

Most freedom camping sites in New Zealand will only grant you access if you have a self-contained vehicle – this will generally be a campervan that contains everything you need to stay overnight happily.

Fortunately, many automobile companies in New Zealand offer self-contained campers for sale or rent. 

As long as you aren’t breaking any rules, having a self-contained campervan will allow you to camp on district council or Department of Conservation land.

While freedom camping, it’s vital to observe any rules that relate to your campsite – for example, a maximum duration of stay.

Whilst some locations may allow vehicles that aren’t self-contained as well as tents, the majority of freedom camping grounds don’t, so it’s better to be on the safe side.

While looking for a place to set up your campsite, do not camp on private land or council land that doesn’t allow camping. Doing this will get you into a lot of trouble.

Tips For Your Self-Contained Vehicle

There are some standards your vehicle has to meet to ensure that it’s marked as self-contained. Most of these standards ensure that it’s environmentally friendly and that you can use it for freedom camping without the usual camping facilities on a site.

To qualify as a self-contained vehicle, your campervan must:

  • Have storage for waste and fresh water for a minimum of three days.
  • Have a rubbish bin with a lid.
  • Have a toilet that can be used (even when the bed is in place)

Once your vehicle passes the test, it will be given a “NZS 5464” sticker to display. This label shows that your campervan meets all the criteria in the Caravan Self- Contained Certificate Standards.

While a self-contained vehicle must go through a check to ensure that it meets all the caravan certificate requirements, it also comes with some perks. 

Campervans come loaded with most of the equipment and utensils you may need to cook or store food, such as a microwave, fridge, sink, and gas cooker.

Additionally, there’s plenty of room in a campervan so they can carry multiple people.

Besides, there’s lots of storage space to store your stuff. Some campervans have convertible benches or tables that you can use for sleeping or eating. Once you hire your campervan, you’ll be amazed at how much it can hold.

And best of all, there’s no need to unpack and repack each time you move from spot to spot!

Preserve Nature

While freedom camping, you will come into contact with the country’s world-class nature.

New Zealand has stringent laws when it comes to environmental conservation to ensure our country remains clean and green. Because of this, keeping your freedom camping site clean is a priority.

This means that you have to:

  • Their use a public toilet or the toilet in your campervan. You aren’t allowed to relieve yourself in any other spots.
  • Be cautious when you light a fire; never leave it unattended and ensure that you put it out once you’re done with it. Some areas don’t allow campers to light fires so try to find out before lighting one.
  • If you camp near residential areas or other campers, be mindful of noise. 
  • Never dump your water or toilet waste in the wilderness. Please get rid of it only in designated areas. 
  • Never leave trash behind as you exit your campsite. Take it with you and dispose of it in designated rubbish bins. While disposing of your waste, try to separate it and ensure recyclables get to recycling facilities.
  • As you exit your site, try to leave as little evidence of your visit as you can.
Two couples enjoying a snack in front of Nin's Bin.

The Best Apps To Help You During Freedom Camping

As a freedom camper in New Zealand, you’ll find a few tips will really help you to make the most of your trip.

The best way to find this information is by downloading a couple of apps. These will help you find great camping spots in the North Island and the South Island with ease.

Even though these camping apps are not exclusive to freedom camping, you will still find them useful.

If you’d like to find more remote sites, here are some of the apps you should check out:

Rankers Camping NZ

If you’re planning to camp in New Zealand, we recommend downloading the Rankers Camping NZ app.

With holiday parks, DOC campgrounds and freedom camping spots, they cover all possible bases. You’ll even find options for non-self-contained vans, tents and people travelling with dogs.

Plus, you can download an offline version of Rankers Camping NZ to use when you don’t have data/reception.

Download: Android or Apple.

Campermate Australia & NZ

Browse a map for freedom camping spots, holiday parks, accommodations, activities and more.

Campermate has a whole section dedicated to freedom camping campgrounds. It has an online map that can help you with your planning and you can bring up road warnings as you make your journey too.

Download: Android or Apple.

WikiCamps New Zealand

Wikicamps New Zealand is another great app to load to your phone if you’re looking to camp here.

Though there is a small cost to download this app, it is considered one of the best when it comes to finding freedom camping spots.

You can also access Wikicamps New Zealand via its website.

Download: Android or Apple.

Pro tip: SIM cards in New Zealand are easily purchased and affordable. You’ll want to ensure you have plenty of data in order to run these apps and use your online map app too.

Related: Our favourite NZ apps and websites | The best international travel apps.

Where Should I Freedom Camp in Aotearoa?

New Zealand is blessed with lots of incredible freedom camping options. The following are our favourite spots…

The Best Freedom Camping Sites in the North Island

  • Anzac Bay, Waihi Beach
  • Lake Aniwhenua, Kopuriki
  • Mohi Bush, Maraetotara
  • Rotokare Scenic Reserve, Taranaki
  • Tuapiro Reserve, Katikati

The Best Freedom Camping Sites in the South Island

Freedom Camping is a Great Way to See the Country!

Freedom camping in New Zealand is a great way to explore the country. With the number of freedom camping sites available to campers, the possibilities are endless. All you’ve got to do is ensure you follow the rules, be prepared and keep the environment clean.

So, get your bags packed and get out there ASAP – freedom camping is an amazing way to see the country whilst being kind to your wallet.

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