Background to freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand

Freedom camping has a long history in Aotearoa New Zealand. Many New Zealanders enjoy travelling around the country, staying outside of established campgrounds. Freedom camping is also a popular way for many international visitors to travel around New Zealand. Prior to COVID-19, an estimated 154,000 international visitors spent part of their trip freedom camping, representing around 63 percent of all people who freedom camped in 2019[1].

Freedom camping can have a complementary relationship with other kinds of camping experiences. Freedom campers who want access to greater amenities (such as bathrooms, power, a full kitchen or laundry) often choose to camp at either a commercial campground or a Department of Conservation (DOC) campground.

The Freedom Camping Act 2011 (the Act) defines freedom camping as camping in a tent, motor vehicle or caravan (other than at a camping ground) “within 200 m of a motor vehicle accessible area or the mean low-water springs line of any sea or harbour, or on or within 200 m of a formed road or a Great Walks Track.” The Act provides local authorities and DOC with the ability to manage freedom camping through local bylaws and notices. About half of Aotearoa New Zealand’s territorial authorities have freedom camping bylaws in place.

Freedom camping poses challenges for Aotearoa New Zealand communities

Freedom camping has, at times, received mixed levels of support from different communities around Aotearoa New Zealand. In recent years the number of freedom campers, and therefore their cumulative impact, has steadily increased. This has led some communities to raise concerns about freedom campers’ environmental impact and the cost of hosting them.

Approximately 76 percent of Aotearoa New Zealand residents think that freedom camping has negative impacts on the local environment[2]. This view is shared by councils and DOC rangers in key freedom camping regions who still face problems such as freedom campers bathing in natural areas, littering and the misuse of local waterways[3].

The Government has responded to these concerns by providing financial support to communities through the Responsible Camping Fund. This support has been used to provide more camper education, enforcement, maintenance of facilities and new infrastructure. However, these interventions cannot resolve the problems entirely. Concerns remain about the subset of freedom campers who stay in cars, or vans with sleeping platforms, that are not self-contained.

In addition, there is a lack of public trust in how the voluntary Aotearoa New Zealand Standard for self-containment of motor caravans and caravans (the Standard)[4] is currently implemented. Just under half of all submissions on the discussion document Supporting sustainable freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand noted that they had observed people staying in uncertified vehicles at freedom camping sites[5]. Many freedom camping bylaws and notices require campers to stay in a vehicle certified to the Standard, as this has been the best way for enforcement authorities to ensure that vehicles meet the minimum sanitary requirements to date. However, because there is no regulator to oversee the Standard, implementation of vehicle certification has been inconsistent or inappropriate.

We have also received information that the blue self-containment stickers are being counterfeited[6]. As there is no register of certified vehicles, it is difficult for enforcement authorities to verify whether a vehicle is, in fact, certified.

In 2021 the Government consulted on changes to support sustainable freedom camping

The Government decided that reforms to the Freedom Camping Act 2011 were required to address the challenges above.

From 9 April 2021 – 16 May 2021, the Government publicly consulted on four proposed changes to support sustainable freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand. A discussion document set out the Government’s concerns about the impact freedom campers who stay in vehicles that are not self-contained and who do not camp responsibly have on our communities, our environment and on our international tourism brand. Following the consultation period, the Government published a summary of submissions. You can find these documents here:

Freedom camping changes

On 30 November 2021, the Minister of Tourism announced a series of changes the Government intends to make to freedom camping[7]. These changes seek to improve the sustainability of freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand, protect the natural environment and local communities’ enjoyment of it, and support efforts to ensure that all freedom camping is done responsibly. The Minister of Tourism announced that these changes would be made by introducing new legislation to Parliament. The new legislation, if passed, would create a new regulatory system for self-contained vehicles.

The Government has introduced a Bill to change freedom camping laws

The Self-Contained Motor Vehicles Legislation Bill (the Bill) was introduced to Parliament on 25 August 2022 and is currently being considered by the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee.

At a glance, the Bill would change the law to:

  • require vehicle-based freedom campers to use a certified self-contained vehicle when they stay on council land, unless a council designates the site as suitable for non-self-contained vehicles
  • establish a regulated system for the certification and registration of self-contained vehicles
  • require vehicles to have a fixed toilet to be certified as self-contained
  • strengthen the infringement system for freedom camping
  • extend the Freedom Camping Act 2011 to include land managed by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency and Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand.

The Bill would create a new Regulatory system

The Government considers that regulation is the best way to address some of the negative environmental and community impacts of vehicle-based freedom camping. It also considers that regulation would enable a more sustainable freedom camping system.

The Bill would require the Government to make regulations that provide the legal detail on the following matters:

  • the technical requirements for self-contained vehicles
  • the criteria for approval as a self-containment certification authority
  • the format of the self-containment certificate and warrant card
  • the fees and fines attached to each infringement offence
  • exemptions from the need to be certified as self-contained
  • levies and fees.

There are also public health benefits associated with regulating self-contained vehicles. The health benefits associated with self-containment include the reduction or removal of human waste on the ground.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board will oversee the self-contained vehicle regulatory system

Under the Bill, the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board (PGDB) will be the regulator of the self-contained vehicle system. What this means in practice is that the PGDB will:

  • approve prospective certification authorities (those individuals and organisations who wish to offer self-containment certification services)
  • provide advice and guidance to certification authorities, vehicle inspectors and owners of self-contained vehicles
  • oversee the work of the certification authorities and vehicle inspectors, including through routine audits
  • where necessary, conduct investigations into issues and complaints
  • maintain the national register of self-contained vehicles.

The PGDB is a body corporate continued under the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Act 2006. It is responsible for administering the registration and licensing systems for plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers and in doing so, is responsible for ensuring those persons carrying out regulated work are competent to do so. You can find more information about the PGDB on their website.

Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board(external link) - PGDB


[1] Fresh Info, Responsible Camping Research 2019/20 [PDF, 589 KB], (April 2020).

[2] Summary of submissions: Supporting sustainable freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand [PDF, 1.2 MB], (24 August 2021), at page 2.

[3] Fresh Info, Responsible Camping Research 2019/20 [PDF, 589 KB], (April 2020), at page 4.

[4] Standards New Zealand reference number NZS 5465:2001

[5] Summary of submissions: Supporting sustainable freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand [PDF, 1.2 MB], (24 August 2021), figure 4 at page 11.

[6] Summary of submissions: Supporting sustainable freedom camping in Aotearoa New Zealand [PDF, 1.2 MB], (24 August 2021), quote from the Ashburton District Council at page 25.

See also Hamish McNeilly, “’Ain’t no toilet in there’: New Zealand flush with fake ‘self-contained’ bumper stickers(external link)”, Stuff (February 10 2019).

[7] New freedom camping rules - right vehicle, right place(external link) — Beehive