01 August, 2021
Last updated on 17 December, 2023
Posted by Spaceships Crew
Where can I freedom camp in New Zealand? Is camping in New Zealand free? These are the most asked questions by international travellers and first-time campers. At Spaceships, we are fanatics about camping at amazing, remote places in New Zealand... And we are determined to make sure everyone follows the rules about freedom camping in New Zealand. Therefore we have created free camping & road trip apps (for Android & iOS) but more about these apps later.
Is freedom camping the same as free camping?
Freedom camping is the freedom to camp at amazing places. A lot of people confuse freedom camping with free camping. Yes, freedom camping can be free but it can also be done paid as there are a lot of great budget freedom camping spots in New Zealand.
The challenge around freedom camping (and free camping) is that there is a lot of info out there, some is correct but a lot of it is confusing or even incorrect. You may get varied answers from different people or blogs. To make things easy for you we have gathered all the info about freedom camping in New Zealand and created this article for you.
What is freedom camping?
A lot of travellers think that freedom camping is parking your campervan in areas that are not always meant for camping, for example on the side of the road. This is a mistake that many first-time travellers to New Zealand make. You simply cannot park and sleep in your campervan just anywhere. There are rules about where you can and can't (freedom) camp in New Zealand.
New legislation was introduced in August 2011 around freedom camping in New Zealand. Local councils are now able to issue fines to people freedom camping in non-designated places. It may be a cheap option for a night but that one night could cost you at least $400, but can go up to $2,400.
Where can I camp and sleep in my campervan?
Do the words "designated camping area" or "camping site" sound boring to you? No worries, they are definitely not boring. A designated camping site or freedom camping spot can be located in amazing, remote places. Places that can only be reached by a dirt road and where you and a few other campers will spend the night on a basic campsite. Or it can be close to the main motorway, next to a river or in a forest.
Camping sites can be found just anywhere in New Zealand. There are 1000s free and budget campsites where you are allowed to camp. They will give you the freedome to camp and to enjoy New Zealand's amazing scenery.
Is freedom camping legal?
In the right places, (freedom) camping is legal. But it is important you understand where you can free camp. When on the road use the free Spaceships camping app (for Android and Apple), so you know exactly where you can and can't camp for free.
We recommend using the many great camping ground options available as much as you can. They are often in great locations and provide all the services and facilities you need. Prices for these campsites range from $0 (for the free camping spots) to $8 for basic campsites and up to $20 per night for camping sites with more facilities. There are so many free or budget campsites throughout New Zealand. You'll love it here.
Camping at a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite is responsible & fun camping in New Zealand
Do you have to be self-contained to camp in NZ?
Having a self-contained sticker and certificate is needed when you want to spend the night at campsites that are exclusively for self-contained motorhomes. Why are they exclusive to these kinds of vehicles? That's because there are absolutely no facilities at these campsites. There are no toilets, no running water, nothing. Therefore only campervans or motorhomes that are self-contained can spend the night there.
But you won't be missing out as these kinds of campsites are often a bit boring. It's often a simple parking spot next to the road turned into a self-contained camping site. Or a muddy field that isn't being used for anything else.
The real freedom to camp and the feeling that goes with it comes from spending the night at basic or scenic campsites where all campervans are welcomed. DOC, New Zealand's Department of Conservation manages many of these amazing freedom camping spots. Most of them are located in remote areas where you'll wake up hearing the sound of NZ's native birds. That's what we call freedom camping.
And yes, there are so many camping sites where you are allowed to camp with a non-self-contained campervan. You won't be missing out. Actually, you will be saving a lot many when going for a road trip in a non-self-contained campervan. Check out the advantages of these campervans vs big expensive self-contained campervans or motorhomes.
Freedom camping done the right way, is having respect for the beauty of New Zealand and stay at campsites or campgrounds where it is allowed to camp. And yes, these can definitely be in the middle of nowhere. That's what New Zealand is all about, camping in awesome places. Explore and respect New Zealand.
Not sure if you can camp somewhere? Don't assume anything but ask at an i-Site, holiday park or check it on the website of the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Do I need to stay at powered campsites?
Not at all. Roadtripping with a Spaceships campervan means that you are super-flexible. The smart battery system of a Spaceships campervan is self-charging, it charges as you drive. Except for the Rocket as that one doesn't have the smart-battery system. None of the Spaceships campervans can or need to be plugged in at powered campsites. Driving and camping with a Spaceship are easy.
Staying at a powered campsite means that you'll be able to charge your smartphone, laptop, camera or any other gadget you're travelling with. Hiring a mains plug from us could be a good option. You will also get access to proper bathroom facilities with a hot shower! Plus you are likely to meet other travellers and locals to share stories with and find out more about things to do and see in New Zealand.
Support nature in New Zealand by camping
A campervan road trip is more than the most flexible way to explore New Zealand's nature. It is also a great way to give back and to support New Zealand's unique nature and scenery. By camping at one of the many DOC campsites, you will be doing that.
DOC is NZ's Department of Conservation. a government agency focused on conserving New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage. By staying at a DOC campsite you are supporting the work of DOC while being super close to what they are conserving and protecting. DOC campsites range from free to $8 per night for basic campsites to $20 to $25 for the real special campsite, the most scenic ones.
Support NZ's nature, support DOC by camping at one of the many DOC campsites
Finding and camping at DOC campsites
All DOC campsites are listed in the Spaceships free camping app (available for Android and Apple), so finding these campsites is easy. The app not just describes how to get there, it also shows you. Some DOC campsites can be booked online, via the app, but most of them just have an honesty box. Fill out the registration card, tear off the receipt to put on your dashboard, put the card with the money in the supplied envelope and drop it in the honesty box.
What are holiday parks?
Another option to camp legally in New Zealand is to spend the night at a holiday park. Holiday parks are commercial camping sites with lots of features, for example, a kitchen, TV lounge, washing & drying machines and more. It is what overseas travellers mean when talking about a camping. Chains of holiday parks in New Zealand are Top 10 Holiday Park or Kiwi Holiday Parks.
Holiday parks are often located close to a town or city, on the fringe or just outside of town. It is a great option for travellers that are looking for a bit more than what the basic campsites of DOC offer. It is perfect to charge your gadgets, wash your clothes or enjoy a bit more luxury before heading off to the next remote freedom camping site.
Mix it up: hosteling while camping
As your Spaceships campervan drives like a regular car, you can go to places big motorhomes can't go. This means you can go to even the remotest (DOC) campsite, whether free or paid. And even the paid ones are a cheap option for camping in New Zealand.
But you can also mix and match and drive your campervan to any of the many hostels or budget motels in New Zealand. Sometimes it's nice to spend one or two nights there, especially if you plan to visit the sights in a city or town. As you'll save heaps when driving around in a fuel-efficient Spaceship, it's nice to treat yourself to the "luxury" of a hostel or budget motel every once in a while.
Have a great #spaceshipsroadtrip
Have fun out there exploring New Zealand. There's so much to see and do. Please look after New Zealand while on the road. You can also check-in at your local i-SITE (tourist information office) as you travel for information on where to camp.
Freedom camping top tip: if you're not sure if you can camp somewhere then don't assume. Please check the free Spaceships app, ask at an i-SITE or check with a local.
Play it safe while camping in New Zealand
Remember New Zealand weather can include four seasons in one day. Being prepared is important. If you are planning a walk in the hills or mountains it is best to take a day pack with some food, water and a rain jacket and spare warm clothes. You can browse the below links for further information on New Zealand.