In a country where every corner brings something new and exciting, it’s not surprising that you will often find a campervan parked on a roadside, lakeside or beachside overlooking a stunning vista. You may even find them stopping overnight in such scenic locations. However, before you choose your camping spot it’s important to be aware of your responsibility to protect our country and to check if wild camping is permitted in your location.
We New Zealanders believe we live in the most beautiful country in the world and we’re committed to keeping it that way. New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people strongly believe in the concept of Kaitiakitanga or guardianship. They believe that this precious land and its abundant natural resources are gifts from the creator that has been protected by our forebears for the benefit of present and future generations. It is our responsibility to guard our land as our parents and grandparents have and to encourage visitors to do the same.
Our plea to visitors is to respect our most precious land. Take care to leave no sign of your visit. Recycle your waste where you can in a recycling bin or at a recycling centre, dispose of your rubbish in the bins provided, use the toilet in your campervan or a public toilet (not the bush or roadside), dump your waste water at a designated dump station, and camp only where camping is permitted.
Wild Camping Restrictions
A few reckless campers, often travelling in low budget campervans or cars with no toilet or water storage facilities, have tested the patience of many locals over recent years. They have dumped their waste on the roadside, used the bush as a toilet, and generally mistreated our beautiful land while wild camping.
The adverse impact these campers have had has lead the New Zealand Government to legislate wild camping (freedom camping). Local authorities can prohibit wild camping in specific areas and enforce the bans. People who wild camp in an area where camping is not permitted, damage the area, dispose of waste inappropriately, or refuse to move on if asked to by an enforcement officer can be issued with a NZ$200 instant fine. The penalties for wild camping are much larger if the offence is considered severe.
Local authorities are required to designate sites where wild camping is permitted. Most also require that your campervan is designed to have a minimal impact on the New Zealand environment.
Wild Camping Certified Motorhomes
All the motorhomes in the Wilderness fleet are designed to have a low impact on the environment so are suitable for wild camping. Each one has been certified self-contained – a requirement for wild camping. This means it meets the ablutionary and sanitary needs of the occupants for a minimum of three days without requiring any external services or discharging any waste. Fresh water for drinking and cooking is stored in tanks. Waste water is collected in the motorhome rental’s waste water tanks and disposed of via motorhome dump station facilities connected to a proper sewerage scheme. A self-contained motorhome rental used properly will have no adverse effects on the environment and present no risk to public health. Only certified self-contained campervans or motorhomes are permitted to wild camp.
Where is Wild Camping Permitted in New Zealand?
Each local authority manages wild camping in ways that are most appropriate for its communities. Most local authorities have bylaws to control wild camping. The bylaws restrict wild camping to specific areas. Some local authorities require the purchase of a wild camping permit for a small fee (<$6 per night).
Don't just assume you can wild camp anywhere - always ask someone who knows and check for "no overnight camping" signs. Visitor Centres (called i-SITES) located in most towns and cities are great sources of local information as are Department of Conservation (DOC) visitor centres. But you’ll find the most comprehensive source of information about where you can camp in New Zealand including free and wild camping sites on the “I Respect New Zealand” map. This detailed map provides up-to-date information about commercial and wild camping sites, Department of Conservation camping sites, and dump stations. Plus it includes information about facilities and costs. The app for iPhones or android phones is a must-have accessory for your road trip. Remember, if you choose to wild camp, please don’t stray - only camp in the designated locations.
Where are the Best Wild Camping Spots?
The "I Respect New Zealand" camping map will give you information about where you are PERMITTED to camp, not the BEST camping spots. You may be permitted to camp next to a busy highway adjacent to an industrial area but it may not be a pleasant experience! And it certainly won't be a "wilderness" experience.
As a Wilderness hirer, we recommend you use the WilderNessts Camping Directory to find the best wild camping spots. This guide book has been compiled exclusively for Wilderness and lists 100+ of the camping spots that will give you the best wilderness experience. If you want to get off the busy tourist trail and experience the real New Zealand then this is the camping guide book for you!
Choosing the Right Campervan for Wild Camping
Wild camping by its very nature requires you to be self-sufficient. If you’re planning to do some wild camping on your campervan road trip then you must at least have a certified self-contained campervan that has sufficient fresh and water storage plus a toilet. All our campervans are designed for regular wild camping. If you’re looking to escape holiday parks and soak up New Zealand's natural beauty without having to entertain your neighbours then choose a campervan setup for wild camping. The large water tanks and the long life batteries plus inverter allow you to stay away from civilization for days on end.
A final thought on wild camping. We love to get off the beaten track and encourage you too as well. While we have a right to wild camp we also have an obligation to protect the environment. Both visitors and locals alike are charged with the responsibility of Kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the land). It’s New Zealand’s pristine landscapes that make it such a compelling destination to visit and treasured place to live. It’s in all our interests to safeguard that. Please take your time, respect the environment you share with us, and leave only footprints.