Once-upon-an-ideal-time wild camping (sometimes called freedom camping and which means camping outside of a designated camp ground) was widely practised by both Kiwis and visitors and totally accepted in New Zealand. However, the general advice now is to use designated camp grounds and there are also many widespread restrictions in place with the government, local councils and conservation bodies all having pressed for total blanket bans at various times.
Why? Because the typically encountered, open-minded tolerance and patience of Kiwis has been pushed just too far; the pristine nature of their beautiful land, of which they are so justifiably proud and protective, is being threatened. Thoughtless campers have been responsible for leaving behind rubbish and human waste, showing total disrespect for eco-sensitive areas and polluting natural waterways.
However, wild camping (for the time being at least) is still both legal and possible but there are a few things you need to know.
As someone who has wild camped extensively in New Zealand I used to feel this list was common sense. Unfortunately, it seems I was obviously sadly mistaken as the many ongoing infringements by certain individuals have proved. If you can read through this list and it seems like common sense to you then congratulations, you are a fully-fledged member of the responsible and ethical camping crew and New Zealand will love you.
ALL waste must be taken away with you which includes food scraps, human waste and anything which hasn’t burned in a fire. If you really want to gain some karma points then take away your waste AND anything left behind by those before you.
Waterways (rivers, streams, lake, ocean)
Do not introduce any type of cleaning product into them – soaps, washing powder, washing up liquid and so forth – no matter how eco-friendly the product claims to be.
No fires means no fires. In places where they are allowed then be sure you know how to properly build, contain and extinguish them. Metal, glass and plastic don’t burn – they leave hazardous mess and create toxic fumes – don’t put them on your fire.
Eco-sensitive areas/rare and/or vulnerable flora and fauna
Do your homework to avoid any negative impact and closely observe any signage relating to this.
Don’t tie washing lines, tent poles or anything else to trees and bushes.
Where CAN I go?
Anywhere that doesn’t violate any of the points above.
Anywhere not expressly forbidden or in an area with local by-laws in place.
Follow any local signage. Where wild camping is forbidden you are usually left in no doubt.
You will need to get off the beaten track to find your opportunities.
Ask a local – they are always the best source of information.
Be sure the land is not restricted or private. If you make you enquiries respectfully you might even find yourself being offered a piece of private land for camping – Kiwis are like that! – www.rankers.co.nz/respect shows all the wild camping spots in New Zealand
Where CAN’T I go?
Make yourself familiar with the New Zealand Freedom Camping Act 2011. Fines of up to NZ$10, 000 are now possible for certain violations.
Urban areas – always a no-no and often strictly reinforced such as in Queenstown and Wanaka.
Wherever there are ‘NO CAMPING’ signs in place.
Near a designated camp ground – this is rude and disrespectful even if it isn’t illegal.
Use your common sense – if an area doesn’t expressly forbid you, you will still need to be sensitive. For example, blocking someone’s holiday home view isn’t going to go down well.
Districts with strict policies
Coromandel, North Island – total ban on wild camping.
Mahia Peninsula, North Island – total ban.
Clutha district, South Island – in order to wild camp you must have a 3 day capacity chemical toilet and grey waste storage.
Ashburton district, South Island – wild camping allowed but with similar restrictions to the Clutha district.
Westland, South Island – some designated areas set aside with similar requirements as the Clutha district.
New local by-laws are being constantly brought in or updated with regard to wild camping so make sure you are up to date.
NB – A word on the use of the term ‘freedom camping’. Everywhere in New Zealand the terms ‘freedom camping’ and ‘wild camping’ are interchangeable. However, the Eastland of the North Island has its own wonderful ‘Freedom Camping’ system and, although this offers mega cheap camping in stunning locations, it is NOT wild camping. See www.gisbornenz.com for full details of this scheme.
….And everything else
Consider investing in a good water purification system so you are less likely to run out of water.
Thousands and thousands of people every year travel safely around New Zealand in vans, motor-homes and campers. However, crimes do occur, some of them directly associated with this type of traveller and although rare can be pretty nasty.
As a general rule, avoid camping up in isolated spots which are close to urban areas (you are actually far safer in VERY isolated spots, far from civilisation) or where you are visible from the road such as with lay-bys and the roadside. This will make you much more vulnerable to opportunist type crime.
Small, cheap and bound to earn you a few gold stars from the conservation conscious and of course you will have lots more places to choose from to wild camp. Dump stations are everywhere and even marked on many tourist road maps.
Alternatively, always camp up somewhere within walking distance of a public toilet.
You really can’t go far wrong if you keep at the forefront of your mind that you are a guest in this magical land. A good guest behaves with respect and sensitivity and treads lightly. If you apply these rules then there is no nation in the world who will welcome you with wider arms than the Kiwis.
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