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This blog includes everything you need to know about getting self-contained certified in New Zealand including the specific requirements and how to meet them. If you are planning on doing a campervan conversion, then reading this blog first is essential!
Converting a vehicle into a livable campervan or motorhome is an exciting journey, however, there are a few things that can make it stressful. In New Zealand, one of those things is a self-contained certificate. With this certificate, you have to option to camp in thousands of places across New Zealand completely free!
But without it, freedom camping becomes a lot more difficult and you risk getting a hefty fine.
But getting your campervan in New Zealand certified self-contained can be challenging and downright confusing.
After getting my own campervan the self-contained certification, I realized it didn’t have to be this way, and instead it was actually quite easy once it was explained to me properly.
So in this post, I will outline all the things you need to do in order to get self-contained certified in New Zealand, in a few simple and easy steps!
Note: this guide was written for the intended use of small van conversions (not larger fixed tank conversions.) It is also in accordance with the New Zealand self-contained certification standards NZS 5465:2001, so be sure to check your local council’s requirements (if any) before starting your campervan conversion!
FAQs about Self Contained Campers in New Zealand
What is a Self-Contained Certification in New Zealand?
A self-contained certificate in New Zealand is a license that certifies that your campervan or motorhome can be self-sufficient for up to 3 days. This means dealing with all types of waste and providing ample fresh water.
In order to get this certificate though, you must meet a detailed list of requirements and pass a thorough inspection.
All of the requirements of a self-contained vehicle are based around those two rules and these both protect the environment and the user.
Who Issues the Self-Contained certification?
Around New Zealand, there are individuals and companies that inspect campervans and issue self-contained certificates to them. They are usually plumbers.
In some areas of New Zealand (such as Queenstown,) there are no local inspectors and you will have to travel to find one. However, in areas such as Auckland, testing officers they can be found very easily.
You can find a list of self-contained testing officers for the South Island here and North island here!
Related Read: If you haven’t purchased your campervan yet here is all the information you need before you buy a campervan in New Zealand.
Self-Contained Requirements in New Zealand
Below are the self-contained requirements in New Zealand put in simple terms. There is a huge book that inspectors use that outlines the rules, but I have summarized the main points below.
When you go to get your van inspected for self-contained certification, you must declare how many people can live in the van. This is important because it changes the amount of freshwater and the size of waste tanks you need. Most people build a campervan to house only two people.
Fresh Water Tank
You must carry 12 liters (3.2 gallons) of fresh water per person (4 liters (1 gallon) per day for 3 days) if you plan to get your campervan self-contained. This means that for two people you need 24L (6 gallons), or for 3 people, 36L (10 gallons).
This tank must be opaque and made of non-toxic material. Most tanks intended to hold drinking water will meet this requirement.
The inlet (lid on portable tanks) must be no smaller than 25mm in diameter (0.98in), unless it is pressure fed, then 12mm (.47in) is fine.
Grey Water Tank
The grey water tank will be connected to the sink in your van and sealed so it doesn’t leak. You need to be able to carry 12L (3 gallons) per person (the same as the freshwater.)
This tank needs a vent (mentioned in detail below) that must rise from the grey water tank up to the sink and terminate outside the van. I used a hole in the step of my van for this but you may need to drill one. Please do not drill through the side of your van.
You must have a sink connected to your grey water tank via a trap. The trap can simply be a loop in the hose to trap water.
The sink also needs a tap that is connected to your freshwater tank. This can either be a pump tap or an electric tap
All of the water tanks must have vents. These vents allow air to flow in and out of the tanks when water is being taken out or drained to allow water movement easily.
If you have a fixed tank, your evacuation hose needs to be 3m (9.8ft). If your tanks can be removed then this is not important as you can simply remove your tanks and pour the waste out.
Online it does say that even if your tank is portable you need this hose, however, during my certification, this wasn’t even brought up.
Rubbish bin with a lid
You need to have a rubbish bin (garbage can.) There is no size requirement for this.
The rubbish bin does need to be fixed to the vehicle to prevent the garbage from flying all over the place when you are in motion. A simple strap to hold the bin in place and upright will do the trick! The bin must also have a lid.
A fixed or portable toilet is required and must have 3L (3qt) of waste storage per person. The new rules state that you must be able to use the toilet with the bed down and have some elbow room.
Related Read: If you’re looking to hire a mortorhome in New Zealand here are the best companies and what you should know before you go.
Steps to Hooking Up Your Sink for Self-Contained Certification
Step 1: Secure your sink and fresh/grey water tanks
Part of the requirements for getting self-contained in New Zealand is having your tanks securely fitted so they don’t move around while driving and having a fixed sink.
If you have a fresh and grey water fixed tank that can’t be removed then this isn’t an issue, however, if you plan to use portable tanks then you must have a way of temporarily fixing the tanks while you’re in your campervan.
I did this in my campervan by building a wooden frame around the sides and using elastic straps. However, there are no set rules to this and you can do this however you want.
The sink must be permanently installed. I did this by cutting a hole in my kitchen bench (countertop) and gluing it in.
Step 2: Hook up the grey water tank to the sink
For your grey water tank, you will need to run a waste pipe from the bottom of the sink to the grey water tank. This must be watertight and must have a water trap.
The rules around the size of the hose state that it must be no smaller than 18mm (.7in) if the hose is less than 3m (9.84), and 25mm (.98in) if it’s over 3m (9.84). For my setup, I only needed an 18mm (.7in) hose.
To connect the waste pipe to the grey water tank I drilled a hole in the tank and then glued in a plastic fitting that the hose could be hose clamped to.
The tank must also have a vent no smaller than 12mm (.47in) in diameter that is connected to a hose that terminates outside the vehicle. This hose must travel higher than the waterline of the sink before exiting the vehicle. The below diagram explains this.
I bought my vents from Burnesco and they cost me $12 ($12.99 in 2022) each. These vents require you to simply drill a hole in your tank and push them in.
Step 3: Hook up freshwater
To hook up the fresh water tap you need to buy a hose that will connect to the fitting on your tap. Once you have this hose, drill a hole the same size in your freshwater tank. Then, run your hose from the bottom of the tank through the hole you drilled and up to the tap. You should be able to use hose clamps to connect this part to the tap.
In your freshwater tank, you should also have a vent. Install this the same way as the greywater vent but you do not need the extra hose connected to the vent to exit the vehicle.
Important Guidelines about Getting Self-Contained in New Zealand
One of the most helpful guides I found on the internet was this APCNZ guideline book for getting self-contained. If you are specifically converting a small van (like I was) then you can read the whole book, but page 14 is the most specific to the smaller van conversions.
Another helpful guide is this New Zealand government regulation handbook. This is the same as the guide above, however, I found it is written in a more confusing way.
Where to Buy Your Equipment?
Bunnings or Mitre 10 – These hardware stores are great for most of your hoses, glues, hose clamps, and fittings. However, I could not get the food-grade hose from them.
Burnsco – These guys are motorhome hardware suppliers in New Zealand. They have the right size vents and food-grade hoses for your fresh water. I also got my sink and pump tap from them. If there is a Burnsco near you go see them and they can help you out a lot when it comes to getting certified. Otherwise, you can order things online and get them shipped right to you!
Repco – I got my water tanks from them. I only used them as I was in Queenstown and they were delivered for free to my house. You could, of course, get these tanks at Burnsco or Bunnings too.
Related Read: What’s it really like living in a van? Here’s the pros and cons about vanlife.
Cost of Equipment and Self-Contained Certification in NZ
Certificate – This cost me $150 but you can get it much cheaper. I was in Wanaka and there is only one guy who does it there, so he charges what he wants.
Tanks – The tanks were $25 each, so $50 total. ($60 for one 25L tank in 2022)
Vents – $12.50 each, so $25 total. ($13 in 2022)
Pump tap – $60 ($70-$75 in 2022)
Sink – $100, you could get this much cheaper if you find one secondhand. ($80-$250 new in 2022)
Hose clamps and fittings – $20
Toilet – $40 as I got my second hand. They are around $110 brand new
Rubbish Bin – $6 from Kmart
Tools to remove tanks for dumping – $5. I bought a flat head screwdriver for the hose clamps
Straps to hold tanks in place – $5
Total = $461 (around $520 in 2022)
Keep in mind that fully converting my van costs much more than the price above after adding in the cost of wood, accessories, and extras (such as a second battery.) For a full list of how much converting my van cost, check out my guide to DIY Campervan Conversion!
Thanks for reading!
Getting my van self-contained was a big hassle and my goal for this post is to make it easy for others. If there is something you don’t understand or need help with, just leave a comment below and I’ll help you the best I can.
Let’s be honest, making your own self-contained campervan in NZ is a lot of work! If you decide to rent one instead, check out our guide to campervan rental in NZ to help you decide on what exactly you need!
If you would like more information on building or converting a van into a campervan check out all of our blogs about vanlife! And, if you plan on traveling in New Zealand, we have written a ton of blogs that include useful info on the things to do in NZ including road trip itineraries, the best places to visit, and more below:
10 Tips for Scoring a CHEAP Campervan in New Zealand
Essential Tips for Buying a Campervan in New Zealand
10 Awesome Road Trip Itineraries in New Zealand
Sunday 9th of April 2023
Possible the best explanation about NZ plumbing in a van .. helps me a lot thank you mate , well done
Saturday 27th of August 2022
Cheers man, this is very helpful cleared up a few things for me :)
Tuesday 16th of November 2021
Hi Daniel. Great blog and very helpful thanks. I have a quick question about your mattress. Where did you get it from and would you recommend it? Thanks
Friday 15th of October 2021
Hi there - for the toilet is it 3L per person for 3 days? Looked in their PDF to say 1L per person per day so I'm confused?
Friday 15th of October 2021
Yes, the 3L is for 1 person for 3 days or 1L per person per day (for 3 days). The reason you need 3L is that to be considered self-contained you need to be able to live without services for 3 days straight. So if you are 2 people you need to have 6L in total for the 3 days.
Let me know if you need any more help
Tuesday 1st of December 2020
Thanks for the blog. Am I correct in thinking that the vent pipe for the Grey water is supposed to start at the top of the grey water tank. Rise to a hight above the bottom of the sink then vent outside. In your case the pipe was bent back on its self and went outside via a convenient hole in your step? I think the point is that if the grey water tank is full water will not drain away from the sink, giving you a warning of over full. I'm just gathering the bits to start my conversion.
Wednesday 2nd of December 2020
Yes, that's correct. I do say this is the blog post but I may need to word it better. It says "This hose must travel higher than the waterline of the sink before exiting the vehicle"
My van did originally do that, however, I ended up moving it because it was not needed and that entire process is a lot of overkill for a setup with a hand-pumped sink. To get certified you do need it though.