Freedom camping in New Zealand – the do’s and don’t’s

Campervan travel is becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand. Scores of travellers these days are buying or hiring a campervan and doing a road trip around the country.

And there’s good reason to – public transport is scarce in many of the most scenic parts of the country and tours can be expensive and limiting for people who like to be independent.

Hiring or buying a campervan can be relatively cheap (we’ve covered tips on buying a campervan in a different post) and we thoroughly recommend it as the best way to see our beautiful country.

hawkes bay campervan

Freedom camping (i.e. camping for free in a public place) is a popular way to save money when travelling around New Zealand, but there are various rules that need to be kept in mind if you are going to try this out – you don’t want to get fined! Unfortunately, travellers who have left waste in public places when freedom camping have ruined it for the rest of us who care about our environment. The government has stepped in and introduced fines for people violating the freedom camping bylaws.

So be aware of what you can and can’t do with regard to freedom camping in New Zealand!

Self-contained campervans

There are two types of campervan – self-contained or not. A self-contained campervan, is, well, self-contained – it has a fresh water tank, a toilet, a black water tank (for toilet waste), a grey water tank (for kitchen and sink waste), and a rubbish bin. The tanks have to be able to hold a waste for a certain amount of days and self-containment certificates are issued by various authorities (see this site for information).

Most large campervans that you can hire will be self-contained, but there are many companies that rent smaller vans without a toilet that aren’t self-contained.

This is where the problems come in with regard to freedom camping. Generally speaking, if you don’t have a self-contained campervan, you can’t park overnight in a public place – you’ll need to be in a camping ground. This does vary in different regions so we encourage you to check the local bylaws of the region you’re visiting.

If in doubt, go to a camping ground. We love Department of Conservation campsites – they’re cheap and usually in scenic places. See further down for some of our favourites!

mountain biking auckland

Local freedom camping bylaws

Even if you are self-contained, you aren’t allowed to park just anywhere. Many local councils, like those in Queenstown, Coromandel, and other busy tourist spots, have brought in bylaws that don’t allow any sleeping in a vehicle within a certain area.

This handy map from Queenstown Lakes District Council shows where you can’t freedom camp and where there are camping grounds in that district. Many councils won’t have a resource like this but generally there will be signs saying that you can’t camp or ‘no overnight parking’. Again, if in doubt, check with the authorities.

36 hours in queenstown

Legal freedom camping spots

Luckily, some forward-thinking councils have provided space within their districts that they allow freedom camping at for self-contained vehicles. We’ve stayed at Te Arai Beach in north Auckland, a nice lakefront carpark in Taupo, beachfront parks in Napier, Evans Bay Marina in Wellington, and many more around the country.

You can find these spots using the free map-based Rankers or Campermate apps – these handy apps show campsites available for self-contained vehicles only as well as campsites for everyone!

Beware if you’re camping in one of these spots and you aren’t self-contained, you might be asked to move along or you could be fined $200. Not a good thing to happen on your holiday!

Slide-out area locked away

Our favourite camping spots

See the list below for our favourite camping sites (these are not free ones). The DOC (Department of Conservation) sites are generally the cheapest, and you can stay there for $10 per person per night. Some sites are getting crazy expensive, like the one at Mount Maunganui which charges over $60 for a site for a night in peak season (and more if you have more than two people)! This is somewhat ridiculous – and unfortunately is a reason why people break the law and sleep on the streets.

Northland

Spirits Bay DOC

Matai Bay DOC

Kai Iwi Lakes Camp Ground

Auckland

Tawharanui Regional Park

Te Arai Point

Te Arai Point

Coromandel

Otama Beach Camping Ground

Hahei Holiday Park

Bay of Plenty

Mount Maunganui Holiday Park

East Cape

Tatapouri Motor Camp

Maraehako Bay Camp Ground

Tatapouri Bay

Marlborough

Pelorus Bridge DOC

Nelson

McKee Memorial Reserve (Ruby Bay)

Marahau Beach Camp

Totaranui DOC

Kerr Bay DOC

West Bay DOC

Canterbury

Lake Middleton Camping Ground

White Horse Hill DOC

Aoraki/Mt Cook

Queenstown-Lakes

Moke Lake DOC

Queenstown Holiday Park

36 hours in queenstown

West Coast

Kohaihai DOC

Punakaiki Camping Ground

Gillespie’s Beach DOC

Kohaihai beach, Kahurangi National Park, NZ

With summer coming up, the number of campervans on New Zealand roads is going to massively increase. You can see why there’s an issue when many people think freedom camping without a self-contained vehicle is alright, can’t you?

So please share this post with your friends who are thinking about freedom camping in New Zealand – it may be more expensive to camp in a dedicated site if you’re not self-contained, but you’ll save yourself from potentially getting fined and you’ll have all the facilities! And if you’re in a self-contained camper, go nuts in the free spaces – they’re there for your benefit!

Have you ever been freedom camping? What’s it like in other countries? Share your comments below!

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 Freedom campingin New Zealand

8 comments

  1. This past February, I spent three weeks in New Zealand with my husband and our friends. We decided not to do a campervan because there were four of us, so instead we rented a SUV and camped in tents and stayed in hotels. The whole time I was kind of disappointed and wished we had done the campervan thing, just with two of them. My husband and I are planning a road trip through Iceland next summer and we will definitely rent a campervan there. I hope it’s as wonderful as your experience in NZ!

    • Petra
      Author

      Oh, that’s a bummer! Campervanning is such fun. At least you still got to camp though! Enjoy Iceland – I hear it’s beautiful 🙂

  2. This is a great informative post. New Zealand is probably the only overseas country I will be able to get my hubby to visit and we like the idea of being able to hire a campervan and drive ourselves without any real timetable.

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  4. Freedom camping.
    It states there is freedom camping at Te Arai Point/Te Arai Beach (same place).
    These is incorrect, there is no freedom camping at Te Arai Point. There is a SCC camping ground (Te Arai SCC Campground) that is bookable through the Auckland Regional Parks Network.

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