Responsible Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Responsible Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Camping for free is possible, but be a tidy Kiwi.

Choosing to explore New Zealand in a motorhome rental gives you to the chance to see the country in a way that few others ever get to experience. With the flexibility to travel where you want, at your own pace, it’s possible to uncover hidden gems, natural treasures and cultural highlights that aren’t included in any tour or guidebook. To take advantage of this extra measure of freedom which a motorhome affords, many holidaymakers are deciding to try ‘freedom camping’. This can be an excellent way to see the best of what New Zealand can offer, but those planning to try freedom camping need to remember a few vital points in order to keep this nation beautiful and avoid hefty fines.

New Zealand boasts many excellent freedom camping spots, but it pays to do your research before parking up your New Zealand campervan rental.


What is freedom camping?

Freedom camping is the practice of camping overnight in your motorhome for free, either at a free campsite or in an area which is not specifically designated as a campground. New Zealand’s laws and regulations used to be fairly relaxed in regard to freedom camping, but unfortunately due to repeated abuses by campers who were less than conscientious (littering, damaging the natural environment and even leaving behind human waste) there are now some strict legal guidelines for where and how to practice freedom camping in your New Zealand motorhome rental.


How to freedom camp responsibly

The first key to being a responsible freedom camper is making sure that you’re parking up in an area that permits freedom camping. We’ll go into detail on where exactly freedom camping is allowed in the section below, but for now suffice it to say that just pulling up on the side of the road and settling in for the night is a no go in New Zealand. That’s not all though: there’s more to consider than just location. Below are a handful of common sense guidelines on how to freedom camp in a way that keeps you safe and protects New Zealand’s natural integrity for generations of motorhome travellers to come.


  • If your motorhome is not self-contained (see more on this below) make sure to park close to a public toilet block. Unfortunately, one of the major causes for the tightening of New Zealand freedom camping laws has been the improper disposal of human waste. Always use appropriate toilet facilities when freedom camping.
  • When washing dishes (or yourself), stay away from waterways. Washing detergents and soaps have harmful effects on water life, so dispose of the resulting ‘grey water’ by pouring it into the soil where it can be filtered. Don’t leave food scraps on the ground, however - dispose of these in appropriate waste receptacles or take them with you for later disposal.
  • Speaking of waste disposal: never, ever leave any of your waste behind. Use nearby designated waste bins or take your rubbish with you when you depart.
  • Bring your own water, as many freedom camping sites may not have accessible water sources. When using water from a stream or any other source which may not be treated, always boil it for at least three minutes before consuming.
  • Roadside parking is not only noisy, it can also be unsafe. Park your motorhome in a safe place away from traffic.
  • If you arrive late at the site, keep noise to a minimum out of consideration for fellow campers.
  • Keep your motorhome doors locked at night for your own safety.
  • Avoid lighting fires. Not only is this highly unsafe during dry spells, it’s often damaging to the local environment as well. Use any cooking facilities provided in your motorhome or bring along a portable gas-powered cooker.


Always adhere to posted signs when freedom camping in a New Zealand campervan hire, or you may end up with a nasty fine.


Where (and where not) to freedom camp

Freedom camping isn’t allowed just anywhere in New Zealand - there are a few important rules about where you can and can’t stay overnight for free. 

For a start, there are different rules depending on whether you’re staying in a certified self-contained or non self-contained motorhome. A certified self-contained motorhome will have a built-in toilet, with the capacity to deal with at least 3 days worth of waste. Some freedom camping sites allow for overnight stays only if you have a certified self-contained motorhome. Keep an eye out for the sign below to let you know that non self-contained campers should look elsewhere.


Self contained motorhomes only


Department of Conservation land is generally okay for freedom campers, although there are some exceptions. Some DoC areas forbid or restrict freedom camping due to the site’s special value. For example, some sites are sacred burial grounds for indigenous Māori, while others are home to vulnerable protected species. DoC sites which restrict or disallow freedom camping will be signposted, either with the self-contained only sign above, or with a ‘no camping’ sign that will look something like this:


No camping please


Additionally, there are quite a few DoC campsites which charge a small fee for overnight stays, usually in exchange for varying levels of facilities like toilets, cooking stations, etc.

The easiest way to figure out where you can and can’t freedom camp in a New Zealand campervan rental is to download the free Motorhome Republic mobile app. Available on both Google Play for Android and the App Store for iPhones, ‘Motorhome Republic Travel’ is rich with information and locations for all kinds of travelcentric amenities including:


  • Campsites
  • Dump stations
  • Fuel stations
  • Supermarkets
  • Information centres
  • Toilets
  • WiFi


If all else fails and you aren’t able to get hold of the Motorhome Republic Travel app, don’t despair. There are a handful of different places you can go to find out where freedom camping is and isn’t allowed, including nearby holiday parks, iSITE centres and Department of Conservation visitor centres


Remember, whether you’re planning to try freedom camping or not, travel with a light footprint and leave no trace, so that New Zealand remains a pristine paradise for those who visit after you.

Written By: Kristof Haines

It’s funny how motorhome memories stick with you. I can still recall a motorhome vacation my family took when I was five years old and how awesome I thought I was, tucked away in a loft bed above the cab. From revealing unique destinations to providing tips and tricks, it’s my mission to help others build great motorhome memories too.