It feels like New Zealand was made just for you to explore — to wander off-the-beaten-track, soak up the incredible panoramas, and park up for the night.
Whether you’ve camped in the middle of nowhere before, or you’re planning a first time, choosing to freedom camp in a motorhome will be the best travel decision you make.
What is freedom camping?
Freedom camping is when you camp or park up overnight in a designated public space — rather than at a managed campsite like a holiday park.
Freedom camping generally takes place on public land where there’s no:
- Running water
In other words, expect to find minimal facilities.
You can find freedom camping areas in all sorts of places, like in the mountains by lakes, rivers and beaches — or even in the centre of a city.
Find out everything you’ll need to know about freedom camping in New Zealand.
How to freedom camp in New Zealand?
Freedom camping in New Zealand comes with a few rules and regulations to follow. By doing so, you’ll avoid getting a fine and you won’t annoy the locals.
The most important assurance you need to freedom camp lawfully in New Zealand is that your campervan or motorhome is a self-contained vehicle that meets the certified self-contained (CSC) guidelines.
Hiring a certified self-contained motorhome
For your motorhome to meet the New Zealand standard for self-containment, it will need to:
- Be fitted with one of the onboard toilets detailed in the standard
- Carry enough water to last three days — for each of your passengers drinking, cooking and washing needs
- Have sufficient water storage for grey and wastewater to also cover this time period
- Contain a rubbish bin with a lid.
By choosing to hire a motorhome that’s well prepared for freedom camping, you won’t have to worry about any of these CSC details. Your recreational vehicle will be all set up and ready to travel off-grid — with the blue responsible camping sticker displayed on the windscreen.
The main reason for the CSC standard is to ensure campers minimise their impact on the New Zealand environment. When you reach a designated dump station, you’ll be able to dispose of your rubbish and waste.
Having respect for the local people and environment
Freedom camping comes with plenty of responsibility. To ensure that freedom camping remains a viable option for RV travellers around New Zealand, we need to respect the environment and the local people.
You can do you part by:
- Taking out all of your waste — including any compostable or biodegradable material
- Using your onboard toilet — rather than using the land as a toilet
- Leaving your overnight park-up location exactly as you found it — leaving only tyre tracks.
Locals can naturally become inhospitable when a minority of campers disrespect these picturesque freedom camping spots, and ruin the experience for the majority.
The guardian of freedom camping land in New Zealand
You’ll find more than 420 freedom camping spots throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.
Over half of the vehicle-accessible camping areas located on conservation land are cared for by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Many other freedom camping spaces are looked after by local councils.
Essentially what that means for you — the freedom camping motorhomer — is that there are varying rules and regulations in place for camping free. You can’t simply park up anywhere overnight.
Be sure to check the local city or regional council bylaws on their websites to ensure you’re following the rules.
General rules around freedom camping
Some of the rules that come with camping free across New Zealand are common sense and easy to follow, such as:
- Overnighting only where freedom camping is permitted
- Disposing of waste appropriately
- Moving on when asked to by an enforcement officer.
Always look out for "No overnight camping" or "No overnight parking" signs if you’re unsure about a potential freedom camping location.
How to find freedom camping spots
Remote landscapes are just waiting to be discovered — but how do you best go about finding them? The answer is with the right camping apps.
Motorhome camping has become a lot simpler with the ease of downloading camping apps to your mobile device. All the camping information you need can be in the palm of your hand.
Before you head off on your adventure, download one or all of:
- Wilderness NZ — on the App Store and Google Play
- CamperMate — featuring an interest only toggle to view fishing spots or golf courses
- Rankers Camping NZ — with percentage ranking scores
- WikiCamps — includes offline maps and offline content.
Also call in to local information centres known as isites. The staff can often offer hands-on experience of locations to help you find the right freedom camping sites for your tastes.
Take a look at our top ten travel apps for an easy motorhome vacation.
Do you need to book freedom camping locations in advance?
Freedom camping usually operates on a first come, first served basis — meaning you won’t have to book.
However, some DOC campsites and regional park camping areas will require you to book in advance. Their websites will make this clear and provide details of:
- How you can book
- What rules come with your booking.
It’s therefore essential to do some research ahead of time. Many freedom camping sites also have a limit on how many days you can stay there.
Why a motorhome is your best freedom camping option
Freedom camping rules focus largely on having a CSC vehicle that will avoid being the target of fines by enforcement officers. So overnighting in a tent or a car isn’t a valid choice.
That leaves a motorhome, a campervan or a caravan. Caravans also require hiring a vehicle to tow it — so this isn't a feasible option for most travellers.
When deciding between which motorhome or campervan to choose between, there are a few things to consider.
If you’re travelling during the cooler months from April to October, you’ll definitely want to book a vehicle with central heating and insulation. Find out about how a fully winterised motorhome can make winter travelling a joy.
Contrastingly, if you’re travelling in the warmer summer months from November through to March, enquire about roof vents and latchable windows with insect screens. Learn how a motorhome with excellent ventilation can help make a summer road trip enjoyable.
You’ll want to have a reliable fridge and a grill (or even an oven) to keep your perishable food cool and to cook easily while off-the-beaten-track.
A portable barbecue / outdoor grill will also come in handy for keeping the more aromatic aspects of cooking outside. Bedding that smells of sausages isn’t everybody’s idea of tantalising aromatherapy.
If you’re travelling with bikes, kayaks, paddle boards or any other outdoor toy to enjoy in the middle of nowhere, storage space must be a consideration. How long you plan to be off-the-grid will also dictate how much food and provisions you need to have available.
Take a look at the best motorhome spots to park up in New Zealand.
Choosing to freedom camp as a holiday is often linked with wanting to get away from it all. You may not want to have access to the internet or notifications pinging every hour while you’re relaxing in paradise.
Having said that, if you do still want to connect with the world, onboard WiFi will be a necessity when you decide on the best recreational vehicle for you.
Freedom camping requires a toilet and storage tanks that meet CSC standards — but do you prefer a separate shower and toilet, or a combined one in the same space?
See our guide to motorhome toilets and showers to see what you should expect.
If travelling off-the-beaten-track is a priority on your adventures, you’ll need to navigate some gravel or unsealed roads.
Choose a recreational vehicle that can handle gravel roads with ease — from a motorhome hire company that will let you travel without road restrictions.
For more information on camping throughout Aotearoa, take a look at our comprehensive guide to motorhome camping in New Zealand.