Take a Camper or Motorhome to New Zealand's Most Beautiful Corners

The epitome of a carefree vacation: driving free with your best friend in a camper/motorhome. No need for planning accommodation, or making it to your hotel before check-in closes. Where you stay and how much distance you make is a spontaneous decision. If you feel like stopping, you stop. You can explore your surroundings without time pressure because if it get’s late, you sleep where you’ve parked!

The Freedom Camping Act in New Zealand

Wait, is there really a freedom camping act? Yes, but many aren’t fully aware of this. In September 2011, the, “Freedom Camping Act” in New Zealand was drastically revised. It now states that only campers/motorhomes that are registered as “self-contained” are allowed to camp in the wild. All other motorhomes and campers are only allowed to stay at campsites for ecological reasons. Floods of backpackers and other campers had increasingly left traces and marks in New Zealands previously untouched nature. For too long rules and guidelines were ignored, bringing in a need for new legislation and boundaries in freedom camping.

What Does "Self-Contained" Mean?

This new status of “self-contained” basically means a motorhome/camper that is independent or autonomous. Certain equipment requirements have to be fulfilled to receive the status. Vehicles must contain a portable toilet and a waste water tank suitable for the number of people staying in the vehicle. Once a vehicle has the proper equipment, it also has to then be certified by the proper authorities and then continually correctly registered.

Self-contained means at least:

Portable toilet
Appropriately sized waste water tank

On our website you will always see indicated whether a vehicle is officially self-contained or not. Vehicles on site can be recognized by a sticker on the rear window, marking the vehicle as self-contained which makes it easy for inspectors to check if it’s legally allowed to camp in the wild.

Cost Factor of Camper and Motorhome Conversion

Converting campers and motorhomes into self-contained vehicles requires a lot of work. Not all of New Zealand’s larger rental companies were able to convert their large fleets as quickly as some others. Some companies reacted quickly to the high demand and got all of their vehicles certified. It does still occur today that some campers/motorhomes haven’t yet been converted or are unable to. Some vehicles face space constraints and therefore don’t meet the standards. It can even happen that identical looking vehicles may not actually both be certified. Be careful while booking to make sure that you get what you want! It’s important to realize that these upgrades costed money, and therefore self-contained vehicles do have a slightly higher price tag.

Non Self-Contained Challenges

Unfortunately, not every company likes to disclose the rules surrounding freedom camping. It can happen that after a trip begins, a customer discovers that their vehicle isn’t self-contained and their expectations for a holiday aren’t met. Having then to stay at campsites and not in the wild, they’re forced to pay $20/night per adult. The flexibility of the camper/motorhome trip isn’t able to be fully realized, having to search for places to stay and being subjected to check-in and check-out times. Once again, it’s important to have a close look at what you’re renting, and the importance of double checking.

Crowded Campsites

Consequently, the demand for campsites has also increased. Price is driven by demand, and now the prices for a place to stay has increased. Department of Conservation(DOC) camping sites are popular and a cheap option for those needing a campsite to stay. It is important to note that DOC campsites come in two forms. One is for self-contained vehicles, which are often much less expensive. The second is for self-contained vehicles and non-self-contained vehicles. They tend to be more expensive and are best booked in advance, because the spots fill up quickly and many spots are occupied by more permanent campers. There is always the option to stay at a private campsite, which often times have better facilities, but these places do come at a higher cost.

What’s the Damage?

It’s normal to expect to pay $20/night per person for a campsite in addition to the rental cost. At times you can find cheaper, but we find it better to always budget for the average nightly cost. Please consider these costs when considering a camper/motorhome. Freedom camping and the flexibility that comes with it do pay off.

Freedom Camping is Not Allowed Everywhere, Even When Self-Contained

Freedom camping isn’t allowed just anywhere though. Some cities and regions have their own regulations where freedom camping is allowed. Some protected regions have complete bans on wild camping. Take this information into account as you plan your route. Signs often mark where you aren’t able to camp, and if you’re unsure while planning you’re route, you can always check the DOC website for information on freedom camping.

Aside from the DOC website, there are other convenient ways to find out where freedom camping is allowed. Apps are available for this, telling people where good places to camp are! We recommend “Camper Mate,” but there are many other reasonable options as well. The advantage of these apps isn’t just to know where wild camping is allowed, but people can upload pictures of the sites so you know what to expect. Apps also provide live updates, comments and reports of potential crime/theft in the area. This gives you the opportunity to find a place where you know is safe and where you can feel comfortable.

Unfortunately, it can happen that locals express to you their dislike for freedom camping when staying in some residential areas. This is rarely the case thankfully, but once again it’s a reason that we suggest for freedom campers to be informed as to where they camp!

In short, freedom camping is the way to go! Flexibility, enjoying the great outdoors and freedom of movement really speak for freedom camping. Book your self-contained vehicle today and soon enough you’ll be unplugged, relaxed and experiencing New Zealand the way it was meant to be experienced.