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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Spirits Bay DOC
Matai Bay DOC
Kai Iwi Lakes Camp Ground
Tawharanui Regional Park
Te Arai Point
Otama Beach Camping Ground
Hahei Holiday Park
Bay of Plenty
Mount Maunganui Holiday Park
Tatapouri Motor Camp
Maraehako Bay Camp Ground
Pelorus Bridge DOC
McKee Memorial Reserve (Ruby Bay)
Marahau Beach Camp
Kerr Bay DOC
West Bay DOC
Lake Middleton Camping Ground
White Horse Hill DOC
Moke Lake DOC
Queenstown Holiday Park
Punakaiki Camping Ground
Gillespie’s Beach DOC
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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