Freedom camping by international visitors in New Zealand
This page contains statistics and information about freedom camping by international visitors in New Zealand, based on data from the International Visitor Survey (IVS).
How we define and measure freedom camping
The International Visitor Survey (IVS) provides 2 measures of the extent of freedom camping by international visitors in New Zealand:
- the number of visitors for whom freedom camping was their main form of accommodation
- the number of visitors who freedom camped at least once.
The exact definition of freedom camping in the IVS is “Free camping — staying at a place that is NOT an official camp site, in a tent, caravan, campervan/motorhome”.
Statistics on freedom campers can vary significantly from year to year. This is because only around 3% of all international visitors have done some freedom camping, and the IVS samples only a small proportion of all international visitors. The average sample size over the past 5 years is around 420 for visitors who did any freedom camping and 89 for visitors who mainly freedom camped.
Individual figures and year-on-year changes should be treated with caution, but trends over many years are more informative.
In this article, we've chosen to focus only on the visitors who did some freedom camping at any point in their visit to New Zealand. This is because it provides a larger sample with which to produce statistics, and captures visitors who use a mix of different forms of accommodation.
The number of freedom camping visitors is proportionally small but growing
The number of international visitors who did some freedom camping in New Zealand has been rising recently, from 54,000 in the year ended 2013 to around 123,000 in the year ended 2018. This followed a period of moderate growth from around 10,000 visitors at the beginning of the 2000’s.
Total estimated spending by visitors who did some freedom camping has also increased significantly in this period, from $210 million in 2013 to $540 million in 2018.
The growth in numbers and spending from this group of visitors followed a similar pattern to that seen for total international visitors. However, even with this increase, only 3.4 per cent of visitors to New Zealand did some freedom camping in 2017 and 2018.
German visitors were more likely to freedom camp than others
German visitors were nearly 3 times as likely to do some freedom camping in New Zealand than any other of the other top visitor markets in 2017 and 2018.
Over the last 2 years, 14% of German visitors (14,000 per year) did some freedom camping while in New Zealand, compared to visitors from the UK who were the next highest with 6 per cent.
Australian visitors make up the largest number of freedom campers
Even though German visitors were the most likely to do some freedom camping in New Zealand, the visitor market with the highest number overall was Australia.
Of the total number of visitors who did some freedom camping, Australian visitors made up 29% of these — an average of 33,000 per year in 2017 and 2018. Germany was the next highest market, with an average 14,000 per year (14% of the total).
Freedom campers tended to stay longer and therefore spend more
International visitors to New Zealand who did some freedom camping had a tendency to spend more on average. Average spend for those who did some freedom camping was $4,400 per visitor in 2017 and 2018, and although it was higher than the national average, the overall trend was similar.
One of the major reasons for a high average spend per visitor is that people who did some freedom camping tended to stay longer. The average length of stay for visitors who did some freedom camping was 46 days in 2017 and 2018, almost 3 times longer than the average of all other visitors (17 days).
Freedom campers spent less per day
On average, visitors who do some freedom camping spend a lot less per day than all visitors.
In 2017 and 2018, visitors who did some freedom camping spent, on average, around half as much per day ($99) compared with all visitors ($195). The available data doesn't include a breakdown of what visitors are spending on, so it isn't possible to assess what freedom camping visitors are spending less on relative to other visitors.
Less spending on accommodation would most likely be a big factor, but this is possibly also related to the regional dispersal these visitors (see following section).
Freedom campers visit more regions
Visitors who did some freedom camping tend to have dispersed more around the country, visiting around double the amount of regions that total international visitors to New Zealand did.
In 2017 and 2018, people who did some freedom camping visited 6.2 regions on average, with all visitors only visiting 3.1 on average.
Use caution with figures between the December 2014 and June 2015 quarters
The number of international visitors who did some freedom camping was a lot lower than expected from the middle of the December quarter in 2014 to the middle of the June quarter in 2015. This included zero responses being given during the March 2015 quarter.
This issue arose from questionnaire changes made by the survey provider at the time, which mistakenly removed the freedom camping response option from the questionnaire.
When using figures that include this time period, we would advise using a multi-year average (at least 5 years) to minimise the effect of this issue. Looking across the last 2 years (2017-18), there were on average around 123,000 international visitors who stated that they had done some freedom camping.
We apologise for any inconvenience caused by this issue.