Freedom Camping Explained | New Zealand

Written by Freedom Strider

On July 3, 2019
Freedom camping new zealand

Freedom Camping Explained | New Zealand

by Jul 3, 2019

"Untamed beauty." "Natural wonderland." "A picturesque paradise." "Freedom camper poos in Dunedin street!"

What the heck were they thinking!!!!!!!! O.o

What is it? Is it safe? Where can I do it?

Welcome to New Zealand. A beautiful wonderland, a land filled with extinct (sort of) volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, and sheep poop, cow poop and now human poop.

Freedom Camping (also known as Wild Camping) – albeit a simple and self-explanatory term – has a lot of controversy and mystery surrounding it. We have done a whole video series on Freedom Camping explaining it. The New Zealand government even wrote an entire law on it back in 2011 (although who reads those?!).

Freedom Camping is always in the news in New Zealand. ALWAYS. Whether it be a good old fashioned discussion/debate, a new wild headline about some tourist crapping in someone’s front garden, or even mandatory education for every person entering the country on how to go to the toilet properly (imagine that at the airport…).



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Section 5: Meaning of Freedom Camp

5.1 In this Act, freedom camp means to camp (other thaan at a camping ground) within 200m of a motor vehicle accessible area or the mean low-water springs line of any sea or harbour, or on or within 200 m of a formed road or a Great Walks Track, using 1 or more of the following:

a) A tent or other temporary structure.
b) A caravan
c) A car, campervan, housetruck, or other motor vehicle.

5.2 In this Act, freedom camping does not include the following activities:

a) Temporary and short-term parking of a motor vehicle.
b) Recreational activities commonly known as day-trip excursions.
c) Resting or sleeping at the roadside in a caravan or motor vehicle to avoid driver fatigue.”

This here is a quotation pulled directly from the Freedom Camping Act 2011. To read the full version please click here. (I suggest grabbing some popcorn, it is such a fun read): 

In short, you are allowed to Freedom Camp within 200m of a road, low-water tide or a Greater Walks Track on public land in a tent, motor vehicle or other temporary structure.

If you Freedom Camp on private land or more than 200m away from these places, then you are freedom camping illegally. (whether the police will get a tape measure out is yet to be confirmed).


It also states later in the Act that you cannot camp where Freedom Camping is strictly prohibited (either via local councils, camping grounds, or via certain signs).

Each district in New Zealand has their own rules about Freedom Camping, though no region is permitted to fully ban Freedom Camping. For example, Otago (where Wanaka and Queenstown are located) has banned freedom camping for all non-self-contained vehicles

Only self-contained, are only allowed to freedom camp in certain areas and only for a few nights at a time. This is the strictest council policy across any region of New Zealand.

Other Councils have certain areas where freedom camping is prohibited, so check out this link here.

If you are unsure about a certain area, then the best way is to go into the ‘i-Site’ in the nearest town and ask! They will not only be able to tell you if Freedom Camping is legal (and where), but also they will point you in the direction of free/cheap campsites nearby too!

Side note:

Self-contained vehicles are often more accepted to Freedom Camp in areas than non-self-contained vehicles, as you will notice. This is because non-self-contained campers are often the main source of the issues surrounding freedom camping in New Zealand. Self-Contained vehicles are seen as less harmful to the environment.



You go to jail for 50 years!


If you break any of these laws and are caught Freedom Camping illegally, or you are being disrespectful (i.e. littering, causing public disturbance) you will receive a $200 NZD fine which you must pay!

Some people even refuse to pay these fines when they were in the wrong, and this makes the entire problem worse.

If you don’t pay and manage to get out of the country (because they usually check at airports and will make you pay), then good luck coming back in the future. 99% of the time though, you will be forced to pay the fine and if you don’t then you will miss your flight and still need to pay anyway!

The Answer is Simple:

Unless you were Freedom Camping legally and have a valid reason to challenge the fine, pay the fine! Don’t be a stubborn sourpuss because you were caught.


We travelled New Zealand from North to South in a non-self-contained vehicle (meaning no toilet or running water), for ten months. After spontaneously buying a car, ripping out the seats and spray painting it yellow (along with, you know, fitting a bed and such), we decided to tour the country and sleep in our vehicle. Best decision we ever made. – Here is the full car conversion story.

We were continuously on the move and in that time, we paid a grand total of $0 NZD for accommodation.

Let me repeat that, we paid $0.

(or £, €, tin cans, raindrops or corn kernels…however you like to measure your currency)

Instead of paying upwards of $50 NZD a night (£30, $40 USD), we either legally Freedom Camped (whether that be at allocated free grounds or stayed in free campsites) or we pulled over to rest for a few hours at roadside rest stops. (or we housesat: click here for more info on that).

Don’t Forget

Download your FREE housesit checklist

Housesitting is an incredible way to travel on a budget and still have the company of pets, however, housesitting carries a lot of responsibilities. Here is a comprehensive checklist guiding you through what you need to know and not miss to ask before your housesit starts.

It was the best experience we ever had. Being free to stay in amazing places all across the country. We could go wherever we wanted (bearing in mind there was a road) and Freedom Camping in our vehicle allowed us the freedom to explore the country at our own pace and in our own space. Hence the ‘freedom’ part of Freedom Camping.

We followed all of the very simple rules when we freedom camped and we were never stopped once (by police or locals). We were always inside the law as we researched beforehand and planned our travels accordingly.

This is what you need to do! Otherwise the negligence of a few will force the government of New Zealand to BAN FREEDOM CAMPING.

So taking a brief look at all of this, Freedom Camping seems a simple thing to understand. Freedom camp where there are no signs preventing you, where the council has not prohibited it and within the law.

However, you are probably here because the law is not that simple, so you know this blog is not finished yet! We have scraped the iceberg’s surface; it is time to dive underwater.


New Zealand’s tourism industry has rapidly increased over the past 20 years or so. More people = higher strain on facilities. If there aren’t the facilities in place, then things start to go wrong…and this is where the problems arise.

Some people wish to travel the country via bus, plane or train, or just hire a car for the day and stay in hotels, hostels, Airbnb’s. But a growing number of people like the independence and idea of touring the country in their very own mobile home. And by a mobile home we mean a 15-year-old car with a self-made bed in the back instead of seats…there are more of them than you realise.

Since a lot more people are driving around the country without toilets, bins and showering facilities (i.e non-self-contained vehicles), then when these people need to use said facilities, there aren’t enough to go round. If people need to poo but there are no toilets…you can guess what is going to happen… *facepalm*

Tourists usually are the ones blamed for freedom camping issues, even though the locals are to blame as well. But pointing the finger isn’t going to stop it.

We always took the approach of “Leave no trace, leave no damage, leave no mess” when it came to freedom camping. It’s pretty simple, take all waste with you and dispose of it properly. If everyone were to follow this, there wouldn’t be much of a problem, but alas…ignorance…and laziness.

Since you now have a million questions, here are some simple answers. 

(most are simply common sense yet some people seem to have lost quite a lot of this…).

We followed these rules and we never disturbed in our six to seven months of freedom camping.


I am freedom camping where there is no public toilet. What do I do when the urge hits me?

Before you set off, check to see if there are public toilets along your route, so you can minimise the possibility of you needing to go… in the wild.

If you absolutely need to go and there are no toilets nearby, then you will need to go… in the wild! (respectfully of course)

This is a big controversy, not just in New Zealand but around the world. The problem is, is that there are too many humans and if we all pooped in the wild, it wouldn’t be sustainable. Nonetheless, we should all be realistic instead of ignoring the fact that people, will and do, do the deed in the wild.

We have written a step by step guide on how to respectfully and sustainability manage your waste on the road in the event of no toilet facilities. Click here for Level 3 Potty Training (it’s free).

Where do I put my rubbish?

A: In a bin.

Whether it be just a pizza box or a black sack filled with waste, rubbish is inevitably going to build up whilst you tour the country on your own set of wheels. This one is even simpler to solve than the first point; yet, some people still turn out to be lazy and dump rubbish wherever they please with no second thought. This does not even deserve a numbered step-by-step guide.

Take your rubbish with you – store it in a bag and empty it into a bin that is not already overflowing!

Where can I take a shower?

A: Some towns (like Taupo with its SuperLoo, or Whangarei i-Site) have purpose-built warm showers just for campers, from as little as $2 NZD!

Swimming pools are another great source, some will let you pay a couple of dollars to use their showering facilities whilst others require you to pay the full admission, which is around $4 – $8 NZD per person (but hey, you get to go swimming as well). If you’re desperate, cold beach showers are a free alternative (only recommended during the summer months)! ;D

We used the CamperMate and apps to find showering facilities along our route; there were plenty of them and affordable as well.

It really baffles me that some people still choose to go off into lakes and rivers with their shampoo and such and bathe in the water. It contaminates the water with soap and your sweat and dirt too. Most of the lakes and rivers in New Zealand are crystal clear and part of nature reserves, so don’t ruin the landscape! We saw locals bathe in a natural hot spring as well when there was a sign specifically saying not too!

Sidenote: In the summer months when New Zealand gets an influx of tourists and travellers, some smaller towns’ facilities like toilets, showers and rubbish sites are often overwhelmed since they are insufficient to deal with the number of people who pass through. Even though this is the government’s fault and they should accommodate for this, do not make the problem worse by showering/littering/going to the toilet wherever you feel like it.

Freedom camping PARTY?!?

A: No! Keep the alcohol and loud music at the clubs, not on the road and in campsites!

Avoid freedom camping in large groups! When Freedom Camping, the best course of action is to be invisible when there are houses nearby. This means lights off, no noise, and to be as undisruptive as possible. Come late at night and leave early in the morning. This way, neither you nor the locals nearby can feel threatened by the others presence as neither would really know the other one is there and everyone can get a peaceful night sleep.

Of course, when parked at a campsite (free or otherwise) you can cook in peace and open but don’t be unnecessarily loud.

Can I light a fire whilst Freedom Camping?

A: The ruling is a little sketchy here, but we recommend that you do not light a fire unless there is a sign and a designated area allowing you to do so.

Can I cook while Freedom Camping?

A: Of course, however, leave no trace, take all rubbish with you and don’t be too obvious about it by picking the appropriate locations.

What if I am woken up by an officer/local in the middle of the night and told to move along even though I am Freedom Camping legally and am not making a mess?

A: This situation never happened to us but we were always prepared for the eventuality. We always made sure that we were Freedom Camping legally and there was nothing saying it was illegal in that area – this is very important as it gives you a solid leg to stand on if you get disturbed.

If you have followed all the above steps and are being quiet and not leaving any mess and a local still comes knocking on your window then all you need to say is “I’ve done my research, it is legal for me to be here I’m not disturbing you in any way and I am being respectful”. If they persist that you need to move (or even call the police) then you have two options:

1. Wait for the police to arrive, and say the same thing to them. Quote the Freedom Camping Act and the regional bylaws if you have to. They should know the Freedom Camping laws of the area as well.

2. Reluctantly move along, even though you are in the right, to save the hassle of having to waste police time and your own sanity and sleep.

If you have not done your research properly and you are Freedom Camping illegally, then the police can give you a $200 fine on the spot. If it is legal then they cannot fine you (they might try but you can argue this fine), but it is infuriating being treated as though you are guilty until you prove you are innocent.

If you turn out to be in the wrong, then apologise and pay the fine.

Can I freedom camp at a rest stop?

A: Not quite…well…sort-of…it depends.

Driving along the main highways you will come across blue signs with a tree and a bench. These rest areas are where you can pull over from a long drive and rest.

We have done a whole video, which explains camping at a rest stop perfectly, so go and check that out for the full explanation, linked here.

I don’t have a self-contained vehicle, can I still Freedom Camp?

A: Yes, but there may be more restrictions.

Some councils put rules in place in certain areas, which only allows self-contained vehicles to Freedom Camp there. [In case you did not know already, self-contained means your vehicle is certified and follows the guidelines, which include a toilet, water tank and a bunch of other things].

Furthermore, some campsites only permit self-contained vehicles to camp at the premises. This is because self-contained campers as seen as less likely to pollute the environment and thus get more of a leeway.

If you are in a non-self-contained vehicle then double-check the rules and guidelines! For a more detailed explanation on the differences between non-self-contained and self-contained then check out our video here.


To wrap this up, when you freedom camp, follow these simple guidelines:


  • Check whether it’s legal in the area you are planning to camp in first.
  • If yes, then see if there are any toilets nearby and go before you set up camp.
  • Make sure you arrive after dark.
  • Don’t park in large groups (lots of people = bad idea).
  • Park in a suitable place, make sure you are as out of sight as possible and are not damaging the environment in any way.
  • Keep quiet, turn all lights out and head straight to sleep.
  • Wake up the next morning and move along as quickly as possible.


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Here is the complete overview of What alternative living is, Why it’s a good idea and How you can get the ball rolling.