Freedom camping is when you camp on public land that isn’t a recognised camping ground or holiday park. Make sure you plan your journey and respect the area you camp in.
Where you can freedom camp
You can freedom camp on DOC (Department of Conservation) and local council land. Your vehicle may need to be self-contained depending on the bylaws that apply in that region.
The rules about freedom camping apply to:
- motor caravans
- mobile homes.
Fully self-contained vehicles are needed for the protection of these places and the environment from waste and rubbish.
A self-contained vehicle must meet the NZS Self containment of motor caravans and caravans standard.
You need to be able to live in it for 3 days without getting more water or dumping waste. The self-contained vehicle must have:
- a toilet
- fresh water storage
- waste water storage, and
- a rubbish bin with a lid.
A plumber or gasfitter needs to check if your vehicle meets the requirements. If it passes they’ll give you a warrant and sticker certification.
Camping on council land
Every district and council has different bylaws. Some will not let you freedom camp within 1 kilometre of the town, or will only let you stay in a carpark for 1 night.
Council rules are also different from the rules you have to follow on DOC land. Find out what rules you need to follow by contacting the local council.
Many councils will only let you freedom camp if your vehicle has a Self-Containment of Motor Caravan and Caravans certification.
Camping on DOC land
Freedom camping on DOC land is generally allowed. There are some places on DOC land where you cannot camp because the site has a special value, for example, it’s a Māori burial site (urupā) or a protected plant or animal is there.
Rules when you’re freedom camping
Make sure you’re following the bylaws for the area you’re in by checking with the local:
- do not camp on private land
- do not leave behind rubbish or toilet waste
- use public toilets if you do not have a self-contained vehicle.
Reporting problem campers
For non-urgent matters, such as camping in prohibited areas or dumping rubbish, contact the local council office.
Look out for signs that tell you what is allowed.
A round red and white sign with a red bar through a tent and caravan means camping overnight is not allowed.
A blue sign with a white caravan and ‘SELF CONTAINED’ written beneath it means camping overnight is allowed for self-contained vehicles only.
Fines for camping illegally
You can get an instant fine of $200 if you:
- camp or prepare to camp where you’re not allowed to
- damage the area you’re camping in
- dump waste or rubbish
- refuse to leave an area when you’re told to leave
- refuse to give information to an enforcement officer
- camp without a toilet in a place that only allows fully self-contained vehicles.
You can be fined up to $5000 if you’re convicted of behaving illegally towards an enforcement officer — either a council or DOC worker.
You can also get a court fine of up to $10,000 for major dumping of waste, for example, a campervan emptying its sewage tank onto public land.
Paying your fine
You have 28 days to pay. The notice will tell you how and where to pay the fine.
If you do not pay your fine:
- you’ll get another notice for the fine plus costs and another 28 days to pay
- if you still do not pay, you could get taken to court and if you’re renting a vehicle, the rental company can charge the fine to your credit card
- Customs NZ officers can also stop you leaving NZ if you have unpaid fines.