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If you are looking into planning a holiday in New Zealand including renting a vehicle then you have probably already come across the term “freedom camping.” Here’s everything you need to know about freedom camping in New Zealand.
Dan and I love freedom camping in New Zealand! The freedom you get from being able to pull up and sleep in amongst the best attractions in New Zealand is really an amazing experience.
Unfortunately though, freedom camping in New Zealand isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There are lots of rules and regulations to freedom camping with the most common being self-contained certified.
So what is freedom camping in New Zealand and how can you enjoy as much as we have over the years. Well, in this blog, we’ll explain everything you need to know about freedom camping in NZ!
What is freedom camping in New Zealand?
Freedom camping in New Zealand is the notion that you can camp wherever you want! Before tourism numbers in New Zealand exploded this was a very relaxed way to travel in New Zealand and both locals and tourists loved it.
However nowadays, with tourism numbers so high, there are many more rules and regulations in place to protect the environment, local communities, and the safety of travelers.
The biggest issue with these freedom camping rules is they vary between every local council, district, township, and city. This has made freedom camping in NZ more difficult to understand and the risk of fines much higher.
With that said if you have a self-contained vehicle then there are thousands of places around the country that you can camp for 100% free of charge! The trick is just knowing where!
This is huge for travelers on a budget as most holiday parks charge between $15-$40 per person, and DOC run campsites charge between $8-$13 per person. Over a long trip, this amount adds up very quickly!
Freedom camping in New Zealand is still a very viable way to travel and still gives you the freedom you want. But, you need to do a little more planning than simply renting a motorhome or campervan, parking up, and sleeping. But I’ll touch more on that below!
Related Read: You might find yourself wanting self-drive to Milford so make sure to check out the best road trip route from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Designated and non-designated – what is the difference?
Two terms you’re going to hear lots in this blog on freedom camping in NZ are designated and non-designated freedom camping spots. But what are they?
Designated freedom camping areas are popping up more and more these days as councils try to control where people can camp without taking away their freedom camping rights. A designated spot is simply an area, parking lot, or beach where the council allows people to freedom camp.
These places can accommodate both self-contained and non-self-contained vehicles DEPENDING ON THE INDIVIDUAL CAMPSITES RULES. But it is most likely they are only for self-contained vehicles.
These designated areas can have some or no facilities that range from freshwater, dump stations, toilets, and sometimes cold showers.
When planning your road trip itinerary in NZ you can visit local council websites and these places will be listed if they have any.
Non-designated freedom camping spots are simply any area where freedom camping is allowed. In places like Queenstown, you can camp anywhere outside of the city boundary. In fact on the council website, they have a map showing the boundary and you can camp anywhere outside of that.
So you can simply pull over wherever safe and camp. I did this for weeks on the Queenstown to Glenorchy road (which is no longer allowed as of March 2020.) However, this form of freedom camping requires a self-contained campervan or motorhome.
Please note: Since writing this post, freedom camping on the Queenstown to Glenorchy road has been banned. Please see the map linked above for more info on the Queenstown, Wanaka, and Lake Hawea freedom camping zones.
The most common freedom camping laws
There are lots of rules when it comes to freedom camping. Most vary from place to place and in designated spots there are signs displaying these rules. However, below are the most common you need to be wary of and look for online in the district or council zone you are in.
1. Being self-contained certified
If you want to actually freedom camp in nondesignated spots just off the highway or at a beach (where permitted of course) then you’ll need to be self-contained certified. If you’re planning on renting a campervan in New Zealand then most come self-contained certified however it’s something to check. Below I tell you exactly what self-contained certification is and explain it in more detail.
2. Limits on how long you can stay
In both designated and non-designated places to freedom camp there are always limits on how long you can stay in any one place. This stops people from literally living there.
For most places it’s 3 nights in any calendar month, however, on odd occasions, it’s 1 night. To check, look up the local council website and it will have a section on freedom camping. This rule is only strictly enforced at designated spots.
3. Residential zones are off-limits
You cannot camp in residential areas in any city or town unless it specifically says you can. This is unlikely as in the 5 months I spent freedom camping in NZ, there was not one place this was allowed. What this law does is prevent people from parking out in front of people’s houses, it’s not allowed and strictly prohibited in Auckland or any other town or city.
4. Don’t be a pig
Ok, so you won’t find this specific law in any official book but it’s a general rule of thumb that covers basic laws in NZ. These include no littering, impacting the environment, disposing of waste properly, and just generally being a nuisance to local communities and other campers.
Freedom camping rules in NZ are getting stricter and it’s almost all because of people being pigs while freedom camping.
Related Read: There are so many South Island destinations here that you need to add to your New Zealand bucket list.
What is “self-contained certified”?
A self-contained vehicle in New Zealand is a term used for describing a vehicle in which you can camp, or live in without needing any other facilities while protecting the environment.
In short, this means it has a bed, an operating sink with grey waste and freshwater, a toilet, and a rubbish bin. Everything you would need in order to live in the vehicle sustainably for 3 days without having to litter or damage the environment.
In New Zealand, they take being self-contained very seriously. In order to get “self-contained certified” (yes you must get a certificate from an issuing authority), you need to meet a ton of different rules and regulations pertaining to the type of facilities in the vehicle, the size of tanks, and fittings, the type of toilet. This list goes on and on (to the point that the official manual is actually 70 pages long!)
Once a vehicle meets all of the criteria set out by the government for becoming self-contained, the vehicle can get inspected and then certified. With certification, comes that pretty little blue sticker that you see on the back of all the swanky motorhomes.
If your renting a motorhome in NZ or a campervan then this will all be done already providing you ask for a self-contained van.
For more information on self-contained requirements in New Zealand, this blog shows you exactly how to get self-contained in New Zealand.
How do I know where I can freedom camp in NZ?
Good question! It’s really easy actually with the use of both apps. visitor centers and council websites.
1. Freedom camping apps
In New Zealand, there are two specific apps to guide you through freedom camping in New Zealand. The are Rankers and Campermate. Both apps are great but for me, I used Campermate way more but it’s still best to have both as one app might miss a spot and the other won’t.
They basically show you places you can freedom camp based on official websites and traveler reviews.
2. Council websites
Both the above apps are great but they don’t always show the non-designated spots and rely on travelers’ reviews. The problem with this is a traveler can say “camped here last night, no problems”. They may have been lucky to not get a fine but you might not be so lucky.
So when it comes to non-designated spots, do a quick search on the council website and see what they have to say about their own freedom camping laws.
Below is a list of all the most popular councils in NZ with links to their websites on freedom camping.
Lakes district (Queenstown, Wanaka, Glenorchy area)
West Coast (Franz Josef to Punakaiki)
Coromandel Peninsula (Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove)
3. Visitor centers
By far my favorite way to find freedom camping spots was to visit a visitor center. Here you’ll get great info, maps, and the exact spots as well as recommendations of the most beautiful freedom camping areas.
There are visitor centers all over New Zealand so pop in and double-check your planned freedom camping spot is good for the night.
Related Read: You must check our post on the best photo location in Mount Cook National Park so you can add them to your itinerary!
How much can I be fined?
The fines for freedom camping in prohibited areas are generally $200 NZD. These will be placed on your windshield without warning if an officer believes you are freedom camping.
You can contest these fines at the local council but this does take time.
Renting a self-contained campervan or motorhome
The best way to make your freedom camping experience in New Zealand as stress-free as possible is to rent a self-contained vehicle. That way you’ve got the best chance of finding the best places to stay. I’m talking meters from the beach listening to the waves break!
Bailey and I recommend two companies that both have self-contained vehicles for all budgets. The first is Mad Campers. These guys specialize in budget campervans for both 1 or 2 people. In fact, they are the first company with a 1 person campervan.
The second company is Kiwi Motorhomes. If you’re in the market for a nice motorhome you can beat Kiwi Motorhomes. They offer amazing service and quality that includes so many extra other companies charge for. Just check their reviews for yourself.
For both these companies, we can offer you a 5% discount. For Mad Campers use the code DTRAVEL5 and for Kiwi, Motorhomes use the code DEST5.
If these companies aren’t for you then jump over to Motorhome Republic. They are the largest motorhome and campervan search engine around. It’s like Booking.com for motorhomes.
Planning your freedom camping itinerary
When it comes to freedom camping in New Zealand you don’t have to do too much planning but it helps. Speaking from experience my recommendation to you if you’re planning on freedom camping in most places, is to look into each town first and make a few notes so you have a rough idea of where to go.
Us the apps to help make a rough plan and then when you arrive pop into the visitor centers to double-check it’s a good spot. I say this because it can be stressful trying to find a place before dark when you’re tired from traveling or hiking all day.
Also, be sure to arrive early to places with limited spots, as these fill up especially in the busy summer months so have a backup plan.
My opinion of freedom camping
Freedom camping in New Zealand is awesome! To put it simply we absolutely love it and hope the laws around freedom camping are protected in NZ.
That being said, it has been a lot of work figuring out each council’s rules every time we change the location and also finding a place to camp that complies with the rules. It is also hard to find a place with phone reception (internet) so we can get work done when we need to.
I personally love having my house on wheels with all my belongings. Wherever we go, I have everything I could possibly need right there in the van! If it rains, I have rain gear! If I’m hungry, I have a fridge full of food and a cooker! If I’m tired, I have a bed! It has actually been really convenient, which I have loved. Not to mention, driving in New Zealand is the easiest way to get around to all of the best places!
What about the bathroom and showering?
This is a question we get asked a lot. Our little van does have a portable toilet, but to be honest, we don’t use it as it is more of a headache than it’s worth. We use public toilets when we need to go, but carry the toilet just in case of emergencies! We often shower at public recreation centers with swimming pools.
For the most comfort, consider renting a motorhome in NZ instead of a van! Check out this company, Kiwi Motorhomes, and enter our discount referral DEST5 to save 5% with them!
Thanks for reading!
Freedom camping in New Zealand definitely has its advantages and disadvantages – but overall it was one of the best things we did in NZ! I’m really glad we have the van to live in right now and it is such a simple – and free life just being on the road!
Do you think you could live in a van and freedom camp? Let us know what you think in the comments!
If you found this blog helpful then you’ll love all our other New Zealand travel guides! you can check them out on our official New Zealand page! If not check out these other related articles below!
Best beaches in New Zealand’s North Island
Guide to visiting Hot Water Beach, New Zealand
Monday 7th of November 2022
Thank you for sharing. This is very helpful.
Tuesday 5th of July 2022
Thanks so much for your extensive guides about New Zealand! They help a lot with preparing for our first NZ trip. We're thinking about going this September and doubting between renting a Campervan or just a car and sleep in accommodations. Do you think it's still a bit too cold to sleep in a Campervan during September - October? Or do most of the rentals come with a heater? We're Digital Nomads as well and need to charge our laptops, and also think about safety if we go out for hikes, we'll leave the laptops in the van... Of course they are insured, but did you feel comfortable leaving valuable stuff in the van while out for hikes for example? Thanks for your reply!!
Thursday 7th of July 2022
Glad you love the blogs!
These are all very good questions. First off, no, not all campervans come with heaters although they are a common add-on to a rental. With that said, the battery in a campervan will not likely be able to run a heater without being hooked up to power at an RV park or holiday park. So, if you planned on freedom camping, you would not be able to use it much (maybe for a little bit here and there.) I would reach out to the rental company you want to use and ask them before renting. They'll have specifics on the battery size and what it can run.
September and October are cold months, especially in the south. We actually lived in our van around this time and it was very cold in the mornings. You can actually still ski until Mid September if that gives you an idea. I personally can handle the cold, but our van was insulated and we had lots of warm blankets. Just be prepared that it's hard to get out of bed and during that time, daylight hours are not great. So, to answer your question, it's cold but manageable.
You could also split your time between a rental car and a campervan. By far the best island to campervan is the South in my opinion.
Also, when factoring in price, you need to be prepared for the cost of the campervan, the extra fuel it takes (it's over $3 a liter), and staying in holiday parks some of the time. I am not sure if this is a huge factor for you, but it is for some.
You are correct in worrying about break-ins. It certainly does happen. In our campervan, I actually made a small hidden compartment where I would put our laptops and other valuables and screw shut when we left the van overnight. You should check with the campervan company before renting to see if they have a safe or other safe compartment. With that said, it is not common and much less common on the south island as opposed to the north island.
If you're not doing many overnight hikes, and sticking to busier places, this isn't a huge concern. Just know it does happen.
I hope this helps Ilse!