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Freedom camping in New Zealand – Our life in a self-contained van!

camping at beautiful places in New Zealand while living in a van

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.”

But what is freedom camping in New Zealand exactly? What does “self-contained mean?

Well, in this blog I’m going to explain to exactly what freedom camping in New Zealand is, what self-contained means. And most importantly, what they mean for your holiday!

What is freedom camping in New Zealand?

Dan and I have been living in our self-contained van for a couple of weeks now, and freedom camping is how we camp each night. Over the last couple of weeks, we have discovered a lot of about freedom camping first hand that we will share with you in this blog!

What we have also discovered while talking to other travelers is that many people don’t exactly understand what freedom camping in New Zealand exactly means. Well, let me explain!

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living in a self-contained van
Me, enjoying a glass of wine in our self-contained van. We were freedom camping right on the beach!

What is “Self-Contained”?

To really understand freedom camping in New Zealand, you first need to understand what “self-contained” means.

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.

In short, this means it has a bed, an operating sink, a toilet, and a rubbish bin. Everything you would need in order to live in the vehicle sustainably 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.

For more information on self-contained requirements in New Zealand check out our blog: A Guide to Getting Self-Contained in New Zealand

self contained sticker in new zealand
All vehicles in New Zealand that are self-contained certified have this sticker on them.
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How does a self-contained vehicle relate to freedom camping?

Why is self-contained important? Because if you want to freedom camp in New Zealand then you MUST be in a self-contained certified vehicle.

Let me repeat, you are not allowed to freedom camp in New Zealand in anything besides a certified self-contained vehicle.

the inside of our self contained van
The inside of our van! It is essentially a little home on wheels! We did this campervan conversion all on our own!

What is freedom camping in New Zealand?

Freedom camping in New Zealand is the notion that you can camp wherever you want! Except nowadays, there are that many rules and regulations that vary between every council, district, township, and city, that the word “freedom” doesn’t relate much anymore.

What is involved is the “free” portion of freedom camping. If you have a self-contained vehicle then there are certain places in New Zealand (a lot actually) that you can camp for 100% free of charge!

This is huge for travelers on a budget as most holiday parks charge between $15-$30 per person, and DOC run campsites charge between $8-$13 per person. Over a long trip, this amount adds up very quickly!

If you are planning on renting a self-contained vehicle for your NZ holiday, consider booking with the company Mad Campers, they are a local company offering affordable one and two person self-contained vehicles. We’ve organized a special bonus for our readers, enter DTRAVEL5 in at checkout and you’ll get 5% off your campervan rental!

Related Read:   Mad Campers Company & Campervan Review (and their New One-Person Campervan!)
freedom camping in new zealand allows you to camp at some really beautiful, and private, spots!
Freedom camping in New Zealand allows you to camp at some really beautiful, and private, spots!

Knowing where you can camp is the tricky bit as the rules change between different districts. It is important to stop in at visitor centers and ask where you can camp or Google it before deciding on a spot for the night. If you camp in the wrong place you could end up with a find of upwards of $200!

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Why is freedom camping in New Zealand so strict?

what is freedom camping in new zealand

New Zealand really takes the freedom camping rules seriously as they don’t want people just camping anywhere and littering, going to the toilet, or disturbing the environment. The self-contained certification along with the rules of where you can freedom camp are in place in order to protect New Zealand’s beautiful landscape, which to me, is fair enough!

My opinion of freedom camping

Dan and I recently moved into our self-contained van and have been freedom camping almost every night since. Overall, it has been great! We can’t believe how cheap it has been living on the road when we don’t have to pay for accommodation!

That being said, it has been a lot of work figuring out each council’s rules every time we change location and also finding a place to camp that complies to 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 cooker! If I’ tired, I have a bed! It has actually been really convenient, which I’ve loved. Not to mention, driving in New Zealand is the easiest way to get around to all of the best places!

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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 its 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.

freedom camping in new zealand benefits
In our self-contained van, we have some of the best views from our windows!
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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!


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!

For more information, check out all of our van-life blogs!

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Don’t forget travel insurance!

Traveling for a long amount of time? Save money on travel medical insurance with SafetyWing (who I personally use!) You can travel NZ spending as little as $37 every 4 weeks!

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