Freedom Camping is the ultimate way to explore New Zealand! Before we went on our own one-month trip around the South Island we had a million questions. Where are the best Freedom campsites in New Zealand? What exactly is Freedom Camping, and what are the biggest costs and challenges to overcome? Let us break down the need to knows of this unique style of travel so you can decide if Freedom Camping is right for you!
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15 Tips for Freedom Camping in New Zealand
1. Self-Contained Vehicle
The first thing to know about freedom camping in New Zealand has to do with a little blue sticker! Around the country at freedom camping sites you will see signs requiring you to have a self-contained vehicle.
Now what that means is pretty simple… Your vehicle must meet your hygiene needs. Basically, it has to have a bathroom, sink for cooking and dishes, and be able to hold wastewater for three days inside.
The idea behind this is that many Freedom campsites in New Zealand don’t have bathrooms or cooking facilities available. So if you don’t have a self-contained vehicle you’d be forced to use nature.
Obviously, they don’t want every traveler doing this! Now just because you don’t have a giant 6-berth campervan doesn’t mean you can’t go Freedom Camping in NZ.
We’ve seen everything from built out school buses to minivans that people convert to be self-contained. Just remember, if you’re buying a used van you will need to get it certified with the blue self-contained sticker before parking at these designated sites.
Jucy Van: The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.
2. Finding an Amazing Freedom Campsite
There are plenty of great free camping sites all over the country where you can spend the night. The best freedom camping NZ spots can be found by using the CamperMate app.
This shows the location, facilities of each site, and even reviews from actual campers! If you choose to not park at designated Freedom Campsites in New Zealand you may face hefty fines. Still, know that there are hundreds of great free places to park overnight.
3. Best Routes for Camping in New Zealand
There’s so many great routes and itineraries to choose from when you’re planning your trip to New Zealand. Which one you pick completely depends on how much time you have. Also, whether you’re visiting the North Island, South Island, or both!
On our last visit we had one month for the South Island and did a road trip around the Southern Alps. We had an initial game plan, but ultimately changed things due to the weather. Below you can check out our sample itinerary for some fun ideas for your own Freedom Camping journey.
→ Explore all our South Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides
→ Explore all our North Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides
One Month South Island Sample Itinerary
- Pickup Van in Christchurch
- Lake Tekapo – 2 Nights
- Mount Cook – 3 Nights
- Queenstown – 3 Nights
- Milford Sound – 2 Nights
- Monkey Island Beach – 2 Night
- Dunedin – 2 Nights
- Lake Wanaka – 3 Nights
- Fox Glacier – 1 Night
- Franz Josef Glacier – 1 Night
- Paparoa National Park – 2 Nights
- Abel Tasman National Park – 2 Nights
- Golden Bay/Wharariki Beach – 2 Nights
- Kaikoura – 2 Nights
- Akaroa – 2 Nights
- Drop Off Van in Christchurch
4. Driving a Campervan in New Zealand
The difficulty of driving a van in New Zealand will completely depend on your prior experience. If you’ve never driven a large vehicle before you may want to opt for a smaller campervan or just rent a normal car.
New Zealand is very mountainous which means the roads can be windy, steep, and tight. The weather can also change in an instant so you’ll need to drive carefully.
The other feature of Freedom Camping that you’ll need to keep in mind is the other drivers. We noticed immediately that New Zealanders are very serious about following the rules of the road.
There are thousands of campervans driving here year round which must get annoying for the locals. A few things to watch out for are parking in the right spots, moving over for cars to pass, and being very aware of your surroundings.
5. Using the Bathroom
We were able to find enough public bathrooms to make it work without always using the one in our vehicle. You should know that New Zealand is very well set up for camping which means many of the public bathrooms are actually very nice.
There are also a bunch of them available, and the signs are well marked on the road. All our Freedom Camping sites in New Zealand had some sort of bathroom accessible, although some were cleaner than others. Keep this aspect of the great outdoors in the back of your mind while planning your trip.
6. Easy Freedom Camping Meals
Another important thing to note about camping in New Zealand is that you are slightly limited in the kitchen. Propane is easily obtainable on the road, but you need to time it correctly so you don’t runout while cooking.
The biggest challenge about cooking (even in a large campervan) is having little to no space and cleaning all the dirty dishes. What we’re trying to say is don’t attempt to make 5 star gourmet meals for your group everyday!
Not only will you make a mess inches from where you sleep, but you’ll be left with dozens of plates and cups to wash. Think about easy meals or sandwich stuff when you’re at the grocery store stocking up.
Some of our go-to Freedom Camping meals were oatmeal, eggs, pasta, and salads. Also, by saying at Freedom Campsites you’ll hopefully have more money to treat yourself to some meals out like the famous Fergburger in Queenstown!
→ Best New Zealand Food & Drinks: 27 Delicious Things to Try
7. Making Fires At a Freedom Campsite
Sadly, fires are not allowed at most Freedom Camping sites in New Zealand. However, it’s for a good reason considering the barren landscape. Some campsites do allow fires, but know that you need to have the correct permits to do so.
Remember that permits will add in another expense to your trip and you’ll have to get firewood as well. For us it was better to just rule out fires from the beginning on our adventure. In the summer months you’ll at least be able to sit outside until the sun sets late with no fire necessary!
8. Freedom Camping in the Winter
That brings us to our next point, and something we just experienced firsthand. Yes you can go Freedom Camping in New Zealand all year round! Winters are actually temperate in New Zealand especially in certain parts of the country.
We’ve spent time in warm spots like the Bay of Islands and Abel Tasman National Park where it stayed 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above the entire time we were there.
Even so, you may want to plan to save parts of the South Island for a different time of year. It can get extremely cold and snowy in places like Mount Cook. Be mindful that the winter season is from June to August in New Zealand which is the opposite if you’re coming from the Northern Hemisphere.
9. More Freedom Camping Expenses
Contrary to popular belief, Freedom Camping is not actually free! We’re kidding, but you’re going to want to take into account the other expenses that come with this journey.
RV’s, campervans, and other vehicles are very expensive especially in the peak months of New Zealand travel. Luckily, companies like Jucy often run discounted promotional deals throughout the year.
On top of that you’ll need to consider food, gas, and other essentials while planning your trip. If you’re doing the calculations you may be thinking “Wow, this is starting to add up.”
Yet, when you take into consideration how expensive accommodations in New Zealand it still may be cheaper to go Freedom Camping.
Traveling in New Zealand is doable by bus, but there’s so many places you wont be able to get to easily without a vehicle. At least this way you’re bringing your bed with you!
10. When to Pay for a Campsite
So with Freedom Camping being “free” why on earth would you want to pay to go camping in New Zealand? The truth is that after days on the road you’re going to need some of life’s essentials.
Everything from having a real kitchen to shower and electricity will make you want to pay for a campsite every once and awhile. Also, in locations such as Mount Cook or Milford Sound there were no Freedom Campsites so a paid campground was our only option.
It was especially important for us traveling through New Zealand in the winter to be plugged in at a site so we would have heat on during the cold nights.
Most paid camping sites in New Zealand offer both electric and non-electric parking spots, and you will be charged per person for your stay. Below you’ll see some of the best things about paying for a site, which we deemed necessary at least once a week!
- Community Kitchen
- Real Bathrooms with Hot Showers
- Laundry Machines
- Dump for Trash, Water, and Toilet
11. Freedom Camping With a Tent
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need to have a campervan to stay at Freedom Campsite. Many areas have signs stating that you need a self-contained vehicle. However, we did see a handful of travelers with just small cars and tents at Freedom Camping sites in New Zealand.
While this may seem like a great way to save money as you can get a great deal on a rental cars in New Zealand. It is however a bit of a rougher sleeping arrangement depending on how prepared you are! Every time we saw a camper hunkering down in their tent we felt fortunate to have our beds.
If you do plan on this style of camping we highly recommend doing some of the multi-day hikes in New Zealand which cater more towards backpackers with a tent. Either way, it’s sure to be a blast for outdoor lovers!
→ 10 Easy & Helpful Tips For Traveling in New Zealand
12. Freedom Camping Safety
New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world and that also applies to Freedom Camping. You’ll also feel safe knowing that the number of dangerous wild animals pales in comparison to Australia, and countries in Southeast Asia.
That’s right! You won’t have to worry about venomous snakes, deadly tigers, or anything other than sharks in the ocean. Like we mentioned, if you’ve never driven a large campervan before you may want to select one of the smaller vehicles. The weather is the biggest issue to be aware of.
13. Reality of Freedom Camping Sites in New Zealand
Freedom Camping sites in New Zealand are not always as incredible as you might think. Honestly, many of the free sites are just bare parking lots! Some nights you may be in a grass field surrounded by other camper vans, while others you could be at a beach watching the stunning sunset over the Tasman Sea.
It’s kind of a crapshoot with camping in New Zealand, and like anything else in life you often get what you pay for. You should know that some of the best locations are paid sites. Specifically we loved staying a the Top 10 parks.
Before stopping, we would check reviews as much as we could to get a feel for what it was actually like. Nevertheless, one of the best parts about Freedom Camping in New Zealand is you can leave the spot whenever you want. As soon as you wake up you can literally move to a better location for your morning coffee!
14. Downsides to Freedom Camping
Don’t get us wrong… We loved Freedom Camping in New Zealand, and wouldn’t change our trip around the South Island for the world! Still, there is some obvious drawbacks to being on the road for long periods of time. To start, if you’re sharing a small space with a group it can get a little cramped.
There was times where all we wanted was a hot shower or big bed to lay out in, and it just wasn’t available. The days where it rained, snowed, we had no wifi reception, or heat felt like we were just passing time in the small van. These were definitely not our favorite moments of Freedom Camping!
15. Why It’s the Best Way to Travel
We think it all boils down to that one word… Freedom! The fact that you are able to go, park, and sleep (just about) anywhere makes Freedom Camping the ultimate way to see New Zealand.
There’s nothing better than waking up and walking straight out into the beautiful nature right from your bed. Many of the best Freedom campsites in New Zealand are also placed right at beginning of hiking trails and other famous attractions.
We had the time of our lives Freedom Camping and we highly recommend it to anyone ready for a serious adventure!
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own favorite Freedom Camping sites in New Zealand? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
New Zealand Travel Planning
Rental Car: If you’re not renting a van you’ll still need a vehicle to get around. We use Discover Cars when traveling and enjoy having the freedom to get around.
Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites for the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over New Zealand! They have everything from a Milford Sound cruise with underwater observatory, to a Otago wine tour with gourmet wine & lunch, and even a Kaikoura whale watching cruise!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
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