There is a lot of confusion over the term freedom camping. What it really means is there is no charge to camp at the designated site. It does not, and has never meant, you have the freedom to camp in any car-park or reserve in NZ. All NZ regional councils have strict, enforceable [read fine able] rules around overnight stays in car-parks. Unfortunately a lot of the confusion stems from less reputable rental companies alluding to clients that freedom camping means you’re good to stay anywhere, it’s just not the case.
Many of the public spots that appear good for camping have been treated poorly by campers in the past, prompting local councils to make such spaces ‘No Camping’ zones. Don’t be THAT guy.
Bob Osborne from Responsible Campers Association explains it more, ” Yes, there is a lot of confusion over the term ‘Freedom camping’. While it may be free to camp it is not free of responsibility. When Councils have a Freedom Camping Bylaw they may not specify where camping is permitted but may, with some restrictions, make sites prohibited for camping. There is a very strict process for this in the Freedom Camping Act.
A minority of Councils use Certified Self Containment as a means to limit camping, this means your RV must meet the requirements set out in NZS;5465. This certification is only available to RV users and at the time of writing (Aug 2020) is subject to a number of official complaints.
Not all Councils have a Freedom Camping Bylaw.
An alternative program which is finding informal acceptance by Councils, is the Responsible Campers Accreditation program. This program places the onus on the campers with education rather than focusing solely on facilities within a RV. In this way it is inclusive for all freedom campers while leaving the ultimate decision of what facilities a camper needs up to the camper who is provided education in that respect. This allows those only camping for a single night to not need to meet some standard requiring massive amounts of facilities and money. “
Check out the RACi, there’s a really good explanation of the current state of play HERE
At Recreational Society we encourage everyone to have an understanding of NZS;5465 which is the requirements you need to be certified self contained… which also has become a muddied area over the last few years. There are in fact multiple ways of getting that certification that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Want to be fully conversant in the rules? The 37 page Freedom Camping Act 2011 with a downloadable PDF verson top right of page is HERE
There are areas the local council have allocated and service for you to can pull over; park your camper for the night free of charge. Most councils see the value in providing these areas to attract and retain travellers in their region so at the time of writing there are more popping up. The Freedom Camping website www.freedomcamping.org is a good place to find regional information on freedom camping spots. There are also some great Apps that have all the paid and freedom campsites on them including maps and contact details; check out our App post HERE. Local information centres or Department of Conservation offices are also happy to answer your queries on where you are allowed to camp.
Department of Conservation sites
God bless NZ and DOC! The cherry on the camping cake is DOC; The Department of Conservation manages over 250 public camping areas on conservation land throughout New Zealand. These campsites usually don’t have an on-site manager and are operated on a trust basis. Tents, vans, motorhomes and caravans are all welcome on DOC conservation campsites. Facilities are typically minimal and basic, but fees are very reasonable – sometimes free. There are three grades of DOC campsites and the level of facilities and the cost will vary accordingly.
Price range: Between NZD$0 and $23 per person, per night depending on the type of campsite.
Facilities you may find at a DOC campsite
· Basic toilets
· water may be from a tank (untreated), stream or lake. There are a small number of basic campsites where there is not a water source. This is noted on the DOC website for any campsite where this is the case.
Standard and Scenic Campsites:
· Basic toilets
· water supply (treated or untreated tap water, stream or lake.
Wood BBQs and fireplaces, cold showers, picnic tables, a cooking shelter and rubbish bins may be provided – they aren’t available at all Standard and Scenic campsites. The only guaranteed facilities are toilets, a water supply and vehicle or boat access.
· Flush toilets
· Tap water (treated or untreated
· Kitchen / cooking benches
· Hot showers
· Rubbish bins & rubbish collection
· Laundry facilities, barbecues, fireplaces, cookers and picnic tables are all facilities that may be provided – they aren’t guaranteed at all serviced campsites.
. Road access for all types of vehicles.
To find out the facilities at any given campsite, search the campsite name on the DOC website and read information about that campsite. HERE
The Department of Conservation website is a wealth of knowledge, and of course the place you book their campsites, the Great Walks and huts. Their page on Camping Care Code is how the Recreational Society encourages you all to tread.
It is estimated that there are over 6,000 legal camping spots in NZ, with a little guidance from an app, or the local Information centre you have no reason to do the dodgey park up. Deciding to risk sleeping in an out of the way, secluded place does expose you to the darker side of camping. Criminals do target campers and this has led to tragic deaths, here in NZ as they do overseas, generally you’re carrying a lot of expensive kit.