Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Freedom camping  New  Zealand
Our campervan parked at Tokerau Beach Freedom camping area in the North Island

Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Parking beside the ocean as the surf laps against pure white sands, a cooling breeze bringing relief from the Summer sun. The view is priceless, if it were a property, it would be worth millions of dollars. For us in our Campervan, it’s free, providing overnight parking- this is Freedom Camping in New Zealand at its very best.

We’ve spent a few months each year touring New Zealand in our Campervan. To be honest, initially we were very naive about Freedom Camping, the logistics and rules that surround it.

A Complicated System!

Although similar in principal to some European Motorhome parking schemes, such as Aires in France or Sosta’s in Italy. Freedom Camping in New Zealand is probably about the best you’ll find anywhere in the world, for legally stopping overnight in a Motorhome.

So, let’s begin to explain this fabulous system of Freedom Camping in New Zealand!

New Zealand
Parked at a freedom camping spot alongside a very nostalgic Kiwi motorhome

What is Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

These are designated areas where Campervans can legally stay overnight, usually for free, provided by local council’s across New Zealand.

Who can use areas for Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

Anyone can stay overnight at a Freedom Camping location, so long as the Campervan is certified as Self-Contained. Occasionally other rules apply, such as a restriction on size of Campervan.

What is a Self-Contained Campervan?

For a Campervan to be certified as self-contained, the rules changed a couple of years ago. This was to prevent people sleeping in vehicles that didn’t have on board facilities.

Following the change, the criteria was tightened. Campervan’s must now have a toilet which can be used when the bed is made.

You can supposedly no longer have a vehicle passed as self-contained, where it’s impossible to use the loo – typically having one stored away unused, in the back of the people carrier or car!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
The Self-contained sticker on the back of our campervan

This is generally what a Campervan needs to be certified self-contained and what we had to ensure when building our own campervan:

Fit water and waste tanks big enough for 3 days use;

Install a sink, connected with a smell trap to the sealed waste tank.

Have a portable toilet, secured for travelling with enough space around it to be used when the bed was made up, with elbow space and enough head room above, again with a holding tank capacity for 3 days;

A vented waste tank with 3m long hose to dispel the waste and a fixed rubbish bin with a lid.

In addition, there had to be capacity for the number of people who can travel legally in the vehicle, 3 in our camper. This was 12L per person per day minimum for water tanks (if waste had been smaller, we’d have needed a monitoring device) and 3L per person per day for the toilet.

Check NZMCA For further details on requirements for self-containment

Freedom Camping New Zealand
A typical Freedom Camping Sign Stating the Rules for that location

How to be officially certified as Self-Contained?

Campervans are independently inspected by registered inspectors to ensure they meet the rules.

If passed, a paper certificate is sent to the owner, along with a blue Motorhome sticker to display on the rear of the Campervan and a blue certificate card, which must be displayed in the windscreen. This states the vehicle registration, date of expiry etc.

Our own campervan inspection was independently arranged, we had to drive to the inspector where everything was checked to ensure it met the standards.

The certificate lasts for 4 years. Our certification arrived in the post about a week after inspection, although we were told it had passed on the day.

Can you use Freedom Camping if you’re not Self-Contained?

This is where confusion sets in. Each region is different and areas within regions vary again with the rules. The vast majority of Freedom Camping is just for Self-Contained vehicles, however there are a few locations where Non Self-Contained vehicles are permitted along with some tent areas.

The only way of knowing for sure is to obtain the information from the relevant council or i-Site where you are travelling through and to read the signs carefully at the various Freedom Camping locations.

If the signs say “Self-Contained” then they mean it! If Non-Self-Contained are allowed, the sign will say so and these will almost certainly be situated next to a public loo.

Is Freedom Camping the same as Wild Camping?

In a nutshell – No! Freedom camping is a properly provided overnight parking place, it’s the authorities putting you where they will tolerate you!

Freedom Camping in designated areas is a legal way of parking overnight, as long as you stick to the rules stated at the location.

It’s also the safer option, whereas Wild Camping is just parking up for the night, where you could be vulnerable, parking illegally or in an area where by-laws forbid it…the list goes on!

How do you find a Freedom Camping area?

Freedom Camping areas are well signposted once you get to the location.

Signs will indicate the parking places to ensure you park properly, within the designated area.

Finding the area usually comes from:

Passing by and noticing the signs and other campervans;

Leaflets from an iSite or Tourist Information with a list of locations in the local vicinity;

Road maps – look for the Motorhome symbols for both dump areas and parking;

Apps – There are a few out there, we use Campermate

Will there be facilities?

Usually a public loo is close by but not always. Otherwise, the idea is to use your own on-board facilities, which is why your vehicle should be fully self-contained.

What about showers and dishwashing?

There will be no shower or washing-up facilities. However, there could be a cold shower at a beach location, for those coming off the beach!

Hot showers are rarely, provided by the local council, although we have found the odd one!

There are never any washing up facilities.

Are Freedom Camping Areas Always Free?

As the name suggests, this is Freedom Camping, so yes they are free to use!

Local council’s do, however, provide some motorhome camping areas that have a fee.

For example:

Auckland has several regional parks. Walking tracks, leisure activities and camping areas for motorhomes to stay overnight are available for a low-cost fee.

Similar overnight parking areas for motorhomes are available in Wellington and Auckland centre. Here, you pay at a parking meter in the parking area itself, expect to pay between $30-$40.

Auckland motorhome parking
Motorhome Parking in Auckland at Westhaven Marina

How long can you stay for?

This varies for each location, so you need to check on arrival by reading the signs. It could be just 1 night or up to 3 or 4 nights, read the rules and stick to them!

Will it be marked parking bays?

The parking area could be grass, gravel, dirt or a hard surface. There may or may not be designated parking lines marked out on the ground.

Can you park anywhere at the Freedom Camping location?

No – you must park within the section allocated for Freedom Camping.

This will usually be shown on a sign and in addition, there will often be signs indicating the parking place.

Most areas have signs and arrows which show that the Freedom Camping area is between the arrows!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
A Typical Freedom Camping Sign, Rules will differ at each location

Surely no one actually checks – do they?

This is the biggest myth of all! The authorities really do come round and make sure that parking is in the designated areas. They don’t want you overstaying you’re welcome or parking incorrectly.

We were naive in thinking that it didn’t really matter where you parked. However, we’ve had official visits on almost every Freedom Camping area that we’ve used.

Usually these are in the evening and early morning. Traveller’s have told us they’ve had written warnings, speaking to some who have been fined (often around $200).

In the Whangarei district, we had 3 visits by different officials within a couple of hours! This included the Police, a Freedom Camping ambassador and a security officer! The latter moved 3 motorhome’s and their occupants on – for parking outside of the designated area.

Lastly, we’re not immune – having a verbal warning by a Ranger in Wellington. Arriving after dark, the area was full. Parking one space after the marked zone, we thought we’d be ok.

The following morning, a knock on the door resulted in a sharp warning and a log of our details. It was the Ranger, who even put his hand on the bonnet to make sure it was cold!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
Freedom Camping area near Red Rocks, Wellington

Are They Always Scenic Locations?

Very often yes, but each one is different, so it’s not always guaranteed to be a picturesque setting.

What about the dump and filling with fresh?

There are public dump areas throughout New Zealand. They won’t always be at the same location as the Freedom Camping area.

At the dump, the waste water is dispelled using a long hose attached to the waste pipe of the Motorhome. This flows into the same drain as the toilet waste. They’ll be a water tap for washing the loo out and cleaning the drain after use (not to be used for filling the fresh or drinking).

A fresh water tap is nearly always available too, but this will be separate from the toilet/dump point.

Never empty the waste water down a drain in the road, always use the designated area.

Is Freedom Camping like a campsite?

No! The space to park will often be small. There’s a strict limit on the amount of days you can stop and no facilities.Think of it as a place to park overnight if you have everything in the van to keep you self-sufficient.

If you need somewhere to wash your dishes, brush your teeth or go to the loo then a campsite is the place to be. What you shouldn’t be doing is using the local’s public toilets as a bathroom and kitchen!

What do the locals think?

Until last year, we had no idea that Freedom Camping in New Zealand was so controversial.

It became apparent that the locals really don’t like it. In fact, we’ve felt quite uncomfortable, overhearing the locals comment as they pass by.

Questions are usually, “Have or got a toilet? Also “Are you Self-contained?” Followed by the declaration of problems they associate with tourists in small vans. Supposedly those without the toilets that like to fertilise the landscape and hang washing out on display!

It doesn’t seem to be an issue that’s going to go away anytime soon. Here in NZ, the press often have a story on the perils of Freedom Camping. Seemingly, a few council’s have closed some areas as a result.

As pressure mounts from disgruntled locals, welcoming tourists in campervans and keeping the local community happy, isn’t going to be easy.

Are Touring Caravans Permitted on Freedom Camping Areas?

In France and other countries in Europe, Aires are only for motorhomes. Here in New Zealand, they allow caravans too, despite not having on board waste/fresh tanks, relying mainly on portable containers. Of course, caravans also need a car to tow them, taking up an extra space.

Whatever your opinion, Freedom Camping welcomes all forms of self-contained vans.

Can you sit out and have the awning out?

This all depends where you are and how much room there is. Sitting outside is part of the package, many motorhomes have awnings out, regardless of taking upon too much room.

Using polite discretion, ensuring space for a neighboring motorhome is the best option.

Freedom camping new zealand
Parked at a Freedom Camping area with lots of space around us

Enjoying the Freedom

Knowing you are parking somewhere authentic, whilst enjoying the natural surroundings, is a unique mix.

That’s the big difference between “Wild Camping” and “Freedom Camping”. The safety aspect of parking in areas provided for you, amongst some of the most beautiful scenery. Actually, it can feel like ‘Wild Camping”, without the drawbacks or uncertainty that come with that.

Freedom Camping is Here to Stay

“The locals may not like it, but it’s not going away”! This is the fact of Freedom Camping, it’s how one Ambassador described it to us just a few weeks ago. A culture so set in the heart of New Zealand life that we should embrace it for all it has to offer.

As long as we all respect the rules, certainly don’t use the area as a toilet and don’t overstay our welcome, then we can do no more. What we don’t want is to give an ammunition by being disrespectful.

Watch Out for Snappers!

Last year we were on the freedom camping area in Coromandel Town, when a car sped across the parking area, coming to an abrupt halt at the foot of our bonnet. The passenger window wound down and a camera aimed directly at our van and us, before it sped off again!

Why, we will never know! Reminding us though, that we can all be vulnerable to the digital era.

Finally, just enjoy it!

Last but not least, Freedom Camping offers the most enjoyable, freedom in some of the most amazing locations.

As travellers, we pay back into the local economy one way or another. Embracing, respecting and remembering the country back home that we’re representing overseas is in important part of sharing this wonderful country with those local communities.

Freedom Camping New Zealand
Freedom Camping on the North Island’s West Coast

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