• Patrick McBride

Better rules proposed for freedom camping

  • Public consultation launched on ways to improve behaviour and reduce damage

  • Tighter rules proposed for either camping vehicles or camping locations

  • Increased penalties proposed, such as $1,000 fines or vehicle confiscation

  • Rental companies may be required to collect fines from campers who hire vehicles

Public feedback is sought on proposals to improve the regime for freedom camping, to protect our environment, remove unfair burdens on locals in some destinations, and lift the quality of tourism.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has released a discussion document with ideas to better manage freedom camping to reduce the negative impacts on local councils, communities, and our 100% Pure brand.

“The most consistent complaints I hear about the tourism sector relate to abuse of the freedom camping rules,” said Mr Nash. “A sub-group of visitors are spoiling the experience for more responsible campers and for locals who are left to clean up the mess".

In Northland, growing pressure from a surge in freedom camping saw Whangarei ban the practice at coastal sites this summer. Marlborough District Council found 500 vehicles tried to illegally camp over summer. Golden Bay locals say bird nesting sites are threatened by campers. In Queenstown, freedom camping is banned within city limits.

“Backpackers and budget travellers are welcome. Responsible campers in motorhomes, caravans or budget vehicles in campgrounds are welcome. But it must be ‘right vehicle, right place.’ This document asks for public feedback on the future of vehicles that are not self-contained.

“Freedom camping in self-contained vehicles has a place for Kiwis and international visitors. However change is needed where vehicles are not self-contained, so communities have more confidence in the system. We want clear rules and expectations so we can deliver a high quality visitor experience".

Changes will also support small business owners who run campgrounds or backpackers’ hostels, who have lost business. Private campgrounds offer sites from around $20 a night. DoC has hundreds of campsites, many of which are free or as low as six dollars a night.

Over the last three years, the government invested $27 million in council facilities and programmes related to managing freedom camping. A second fund, for communities with high visitor numbers but small ratepayer bases, has allocated $59 million on tourism infrastructure.

The first two proposals are alternatives:

1. All vehicle-based freedom camping would be limited to certified self-contained vehicles only


2. Vehicle-based freedom campers would be required to either stay at a site with toilet facilities, or stay in a vehicle that is certified as self-contained. Freedom campers on public conservation land and regional parks would be excluded from this requirement.

Other proposals are:

3. Stronger powers to enforce the rules, including:

  • A regulatory system for certifying self-contained vehicles involving checks on the people doing the plumbing work and issuing the certificates, and a centralised vehicle register

  • Tougher penalties and fines

  • Requiring vehicle rental companies to collect fines, and

  • Additional grounds for confiscation of vehicles that breach freedom camping requirements.

4. Strengthening the standard for self-contained vehicles, including testing whether it should align with the recommendation from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that would require toilets in self-contained vehicles to be permanently plumbed in, rather than merely portable.