Ever wished that you could simply go where the wind takes you, road-tripping between destinations without worrying about where you'll lay your head that night? This dream can become possible thanks to freedom camping in NZ.
Once you discover the joy of freedom camping, you'll never be able to go back to regular road trips where you need to book backpackers along the way. Freedom camping untethers you from having to make plans and organise your trip. Instead, you can just head off into the unknown, ready to stop anywhere that takes your fancy. Better yet, freedom camping is usually free, so you don't need to spend tons of money to go on an incredible holiday.
What is Freedom Camping?
Freedom camping refers to staying at a spot that has no facilities for people to stay overnight, such as an area with no showers, toilets, or electrical outlets. Instead, people often arrive in self-contained caravans or have a plan to otherwise dispose of their waste.
Is Freedom Camping Legal In New Zealand?
Freedom camping is legal in New Zealand at over 500 sites across the country, so there are plenty of beautiful areas to choose from.
Most DOC land allows freedom camping, although there are a few exceptions. These are usually because the site has particular value, such as being a Māori burial site, so it's crucial that you look out for signs telling you not to park there. The areas where freedom camping is allowed will usually have signs denoting this.
In terms of the various regions, each council and district has different bylaws about freedom camping. Some allow it, while others don't let you stop for the night within 1km of the town. Read up on the local bylaws before you go!
Freedom Camping NZ Rules
The main rule of freedom camping in NZ is to do your part in keeping New Zealand beautiful by leaving behind no trace that you were there. The main rules include:
Take Away Your Rubbish
The camping area must be left clean for all those who come after you. Collect your waste and take it with you. You will need to dispose of it in a suitable rubbish bin along the way.
Use a Toilet
Unfortunately, part of the challenge that comes with freedom camping is that you won't have access to a bathroom. You can find a spot with local public toilets nearby, or the easiest option is to have a campervan that's self-contained.
Waste Disposal Station
Part of the beauty of owning a self-contained campervan is that you will have a toilet facility in your vehicle that you can safely empty out in a suitable waste disposal station. You can also empty your wastewater here.
Freedom Camping Spots In The South Island
If you're travelling throughout the South Island, Lake Pukaki is one place that you can't miss. While there aren't so many pine trees at The Pines anymore, you still get an incredible view of Lake Pukaki from the campsite. This is a peaceful spot that's far away from most tourist areas, ideal for relaxing family vacations or a romantic getaway.
Be aware that the weather can get pretty cold at night in this area, so rug up warm and bring plenty of extra blankets. However, it's well worth braving the cold to holiday in this picturesque location for a few days. You'll also have your pick of spots to stop at, as it's usually a very quiet area for campers, and there are many spaces you can park up.
If you're keen to find a campsite on the West Coast, Cargills Road is the perfect option. This area is close to the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, a popular tourist attraction that brings visitors from all over the world to our serene West Coast region. Despite the beauty of the area, the campsite is usually a pretty tranquil spot, ideal if you want to get away from the world for the weekend.
The Cust Domain is the ideal place to stop on your way to or from Christchurch. It features a kids' play area with gorgeous views of the snow-capped mountains, depending on what time of year you go. It even has a toilet facility!
Hanmer Springs Reserve
Hanmer is a town in the South Island that's famous for its natural hot springs, view of the mountains, and quaint village vibe. Just outside of the town centre, you are allowed to freedom camp at the Hanmer Springs Reserve. We recommend arriving early as this spot doesn't have a lot of room and fills up quickly.
Freedom Camping Spots In The North Island
The Wairoa District is a stunning part of Hawke's Bay on the East Coast of the North Island. They welcome freedom campers to enjoy their incredible lakes, hills, rivers, and gorgeous coastline. The must-visit areas include Lake Waikaremoana, where you'll find one of NZ's famous Great Walks, as well as forest-filled Te Urewera.
What could be more fitting than camping on the shores of Welcome Bay? This Tauranga campsite has everything you could want, with stunning views and clean toilet facilities that stay open all night. You can watch the sunrise from the comfort of your campervan, and you'll be located close to the city, which is perfect if you want to treat yourself to a dinner out.
Many reviewers mention that this camping area fills up quickly, so arrive much earlier in the day to secure your spot for the night. The gates get locked overnight, which allows those staying at this site a peaceful night's sleep.
Morrison's Bush Picnic and Camping Area
Located on the outskirts of Greytown, Morrison's Bush Picnic and Camping Area is a peaceful oasis away from the usual crowds of people you may find in other camping areas. Nestled on the banks of the Ruamahanga River, you'll find plenty of native manuka trees to camp under.
Dawson Falls Carpark
Wake up to a stunning view of Mt Taranaki when you stay at the Dawson Falls carpark. This carpark can be found in Egmont National Park, and it is the start of many excellent walking trails. From a 1.5-hour loop track to a walk that's 4 hours return, you can take your pick of hikes through the beautiful area. This site has flushing toilets, so it is ideal for those who don't want to deal with waste!
Best Tips For Free Camping In New Zealand
Always Check Freedom Camping is Allowed
The most important thing you will need to do when freedom camping is to double-check that freedom camping is allowed in the area you want to stop at. Camping areas change their rules from time to time, so while the above list is correct at the time of writing, you'll need to check before you stop there. Areas should have signs to denote whether camping is allowed, or you can call Doc or check the Campermate app.
Check the Weather
Wisely choose when you head off on a road trip. If you are freedom camping, life can become very difficult when the weather turns sour. Imagine trying to cook outside when the wind is raging and rain is pouring down on you! The situation can quickly become dangerous, so only head out if no storms are predicted.
If you stay in one place for too long, you'll likely get bored of the local scenery. After all, the point of freedom camping is to go wherever you want! Plus, many campsites have a maximum stay of just a few nights. Take the chance to move your campervan and keep exploring new areas of our beautiful country.
Keep Yourself Safe
Unfortunately, campervans may not always keep you safe. To ensure your safety, try to find campsites that are not too remote and have at least a few other vehicles there when you pull up. Don't get blocked in when parking – park somewhere that allows you to quickly drive off if you need to, and always lock the doors of your campervan when you leave for a walk!
Know the Self-Contained Rules
There are rules for self-contained campervans to ensure that people have a proper plan for getting rid of waste. You must have a 1-litre toilet capacity for each person onboard per day. You will also need 4 litres of fresh water for each person per day and the same capacity for wastewater. Additionally, you'll need a smell-proof sink and a closable waste bin.
Freedom campers have unfortunately gained a negative reputation thanks to the small percentage who are noisy and leave behind waste and rubbish. Don't spoil this amazing opportunity we have to freedom camp in NZ by being careless!
Go in the Off-Season
If you want to avoid the hordes of tourists that flock to campgrounds over summer, consider going freedom camping in the shoulder season. Head to your favourite locations in November or March so that you can enjoy these areas while they are less overrun. You will have a more peaceful trip, and the weather should still be quite enjoyable.
Find the Hidden Gems
Finding the ideal freedom camping destination may require some thinking outside the box. Instead of just heading to where the tourists love going in New Zealand, spend some time researching various campsites and reading reviews online. You never know what exciting areas you may stumble across on your journey as well!
Buy Your Own Campervan
If you're keen to start freedom camping, there is one crucial decision you need to make – will you rent a campervan or buy your own? Campervan rentals are pretty expensive, and most freedom campers get addicted and want to go on trips as often as possible. You can save a lot of money by purchasing your own self-contained campervan, as it means that you won't need to shell out for a rental every time.
Get a Campervan Loan
If you want to buy a campervan to save money over time but can't afford the upfront cost, Stadium Finance is here to help. We love helping people live out their dreams and enjoy enabling kiwis to explore their own backyards on summer road trips. That's why we are proud to offer campervan loans at highly competitive interest rates.
We have many kiwis come to us because they know it will be more cost-effective to own a campervan, but they need help getting one. If this sounds like you, get in touch. We'd love to discuss how we can help out by offering you a campervan loan. With terms from 12 – 60 months, there are plenty of options for you to pay off your loan as it suits you.
Apply online, and we'll make a decision within 24 hours – you could be driving away in your new campervan by tomorrow!