What are the Freedom Camping Laws in New Zealand? Best Areas to Stay

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New Zealand is an increasingly popular destination for tourists. Not only do they have a stellar female politician at the helm (we love you Jacinda!), but it has raw natural beauty, fabulous wildlife, and not a deadly insect to be seen! As their summer is just around the corner, now seems the perfect time to discuss freedom camping laws in New Zealand!

Just what are these laws? Can you camp anywhere you like? And what facilities will you find there? We have the answers to all of these burning questions and more.

Read on, but be warned. These tips and tricks are likely to have you booking a flight and heading to the airport before the day is through!

freedom camping NZ
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Is wild camping legal in New Zealand?

The good news is, yes it is! The Freedom Camping Act was set in place by New Zealand’s Environment Minister Nick Smith in 2011. Which is great, as standard campgrounds can get incredibly busy during high season (between September and March).

The Freedom camping 2011 act allows campers to park up at any local authority area. Unless otherwise restricted. More on these restrictions later.

Marshalled by the Department of Conservation (DOC), freedom campsites don’t have the amenities campgrounds afford. They may sometimes offer some picnic benches. But, what it lacks in facilities it makes up for in space, peace, and that real back-to-nature feel!

Laws and Locations: where is freedom camping allowed in New Zealand?

Whilst the term ‘freedom camping’ sounds very relaxed, there are a few rules and regulations to take note of.

The DOC holds a list of over 200 campsites across the North and South Islands. These can be found on their official website and cover some beautiful areas.

Top beauty spots such as the Coromandels, Bay of Plenty, Gisbourne and Tongariro National Park on the North Island have plenty of options. The lengthy and less inhabited South Island has some incredible camping spots. Picton is a fantastic spot to pitch up and explore the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds. There are also plenty of camping spots further south, towards Mount Cook and Queenstown, and east towards the glorious Dunedin. We could go on!

NZ coastline
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Many of these campsites are free to use, but not all. These freedom camping sites are often in fantastic locations, but it is important to do your research. Camping in non-designated spaces could lead to fines of $200 NZD or more!

Whilst public conservation grounds are fair game, there are some restricted and prohibited areas. The list of these is lengthy, so it is worth checking out. Prohibited areas are split up by location, so cross referencing with planned routes is advisable.

Prohibited areas are usually down to conservation management of species in the area. However, it can also be restricted due to inappropriate use of the land by previous campers.

These are excellent reasons to follow the rules whilst travelling around New Zealand. Failure to do so could result in further restrictions.

This might seem a little complex, but don’t worry. There is a simpler route to planning your trip!

Freedom Campground Apps

If you don’t want to have to trawl through the freedom campground laws within New Zealand, there are a couple of handy apps you can download to use on the road. This will save you time and money, and allow you to be spontaneous!

Wikicamps is a paid app, but at $2.99 it’s not going to break the bank. This is a great travel buddy as you can download maps to use offline. These maps show an exhaustive list of paid and free campsites. Whilst the DOC manages 200 of these, there are actually more than 1500 in the country! Whether you want lakeside lodging or forest frolics, there will be something for you.

The app also show the DOC huts, which can be pre-booked. Excellent to stay in if you are planning a lengthy hiking trip. These can often serve as a good jumping-off point.

Like hiking? Check out our top tips for hikes in America:

Tackling the Adams Canyon Hike: What you Need to Know (Updated for 2020)

The DOC do have their own app, though it is quite basic. It is handy for navigating managed sites, however. And a better tool for finding campsites without having to navigate the website on your phone. It is fairly intuitive, allowing you to select specific locations that have free and paid campsites, as well as managed huts for hiking trails. 

freedom camping nz
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Freedom camping in New Zealand: the unwritten laws

Many freedom camping sites are unmanned with little to no facilities. This can create a feeling of ‘anything goes’ with some campers. There are, however, a number of basic laws to be observed while freedom camping in New Zealand.

All items that you bring to the site, including rubbish, must be taken with you. Once off the site you must dispose of your waste responsibly. This is all part of the initiative to keep New Zealand clean and pristine—as you would wish to find it.

This also goes for bodily waste. Many assume that the wilderness is their bathroom when camping. This is not the case! Those with Motorhomes are urged to use the bathroom within. If camping, it is advised to ensure there is a public bathroom nearby. Alternatively, there is the old ‘bucket and chuck-it’ trick, keeping hold of the waste in a bucket until you find a toilet to dispose of it in.

There are many public dump stations throughout New Zealand. Check for locations and plan your route accordingly.

It isn’t always nice to have to worry about these issues. Similarly, it isn’t nice to leave your waste for others to find. It is all about communal spirit.

freedom camping nz
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Additionally, tourists must be respectful of the local flora and fauna. Conservation areas must be treated with respect. This means overly loud noise and damage of fences, gates or signage is prohibited. This both keeps areas looking lovely, and does not scare or damage surrounding wildlife.

This next one isn’t a rule as such, but something to be mindful of. Whilst many free campsites exist for motorhomes, freedom camping is rather restricted for those wishing to pitch up a tent. Whilst it isn’t prohibited in paid camping sites, this can restrict you and your budget.

In the Whangarei District, for example, there are only 6 locations where you are allowed to pitch tents. It’s therefore imperative to check the local area’s camping rules before setting up camp.

Freedom camping: all the beauty of the wild, with almost zero cost!

New Zealand is such a wonderful place to visit. And those lush green hills, epic hiking trails and balmy temperatures make it the perfect camping adventure.

Hiring a camper van is very accessible within the country, with many places offering vehicles of all different sizes. Whilst you can hire a car and pitch a tent in many places, freedom camping is a little more restrictive, but still possible. Just ensure you are following New Zealand’s laws when it comes to freedom camping.

  • Do not camp in prohibited areas (use an app or check the DOC website)
  • Be respectful of local wildlife, conservation areas and signage
  • Leave campsites clean – take out what you bring in
  • Dispose of all waste responsibly, using designated disposal sites
New zealand freedom camping
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Whilst many paid camping sites have generator hook-ups and additional facilities, the beauty of freedom camping is there is no need to book! It is also the chance to get out into the wilds and enjoy New Zealand for what it is famous. Unbridled natural beauty and world-class outdoor activities!

And if you are saving a bit of cash on accommodation, perhaps you could combine your trip with a few days on a beach in Bali, or the Pacific Islands?

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