Freedom Camping New Zealand 101

Before I launch into another tale where Mountain Dad is used as amusing fodder for my anecdotes, I would just point out that often the dates of these posts will not necessarily sync with the writing of them. We’re ‘Freedom Camping’ roughly two thirds of our time here in NZ. Three nights out, is about as long as our fridge battery and water reservoir will last us before requiring a re-charge at a campground.

O’kay, fine. It’s about as long as I will endure without a shower.  

 Freedom Camping as the term denotes, means camping for no charge in a park, or by a beach or in a reserve with no facilities other than what we have on board. Maybe there’ll be a public loo if I’m lucky. During these nights our Little Laide, as seen previously bathes in the camper sink. I do wash downs of self with a face-cloth. Shea usually opts for, well nothing really. I’ve seen him actually pondering the use of soap when we finally do reach ablution facilities; his tolerance is a lot higher than mine. It’s the hair, you know?

So, Happy is what I’ve dubbed our camper. She’s from the company Happy Campers and has the name emblazoned all over. Happy is the general tone of affairs within (so long as Shea showers relatively frequently) and Happy seemed to jump to mind. Happy therefore, she will thus be referred to. Happy is one of numerous campers we see pootling round the windy “there’s no bloody shoulder” (that’s Shea) roads of NZ. There seem to be more rental companies than we can keep track of. 

Happy and her merry (though oft times wiffy) crew, have embraced wholeheartedly the notion of Freedom Camping. It is one that I pursued during my roaming of Europe a few years ago, yet neither Shea nor I were entirely clear of the possibilities in NZ. We hadn’t read anything about it and began by camping furtively in parks or by the ocean, concocting our own guiding principles as we went.  The underlying theory, or Guiding Principle number 1 is:

- Although you see many beautiful spots that have a sign with a symbol of a tent with a slash through it, as there are no campervans depicted, then it isn’t referring to us. 

Or at least that was going to be our innocent argument when accosted by angry locals or the police.
Maybe a week into our travels we pulled up at an amazing beach on a glorious bay (can’t tell you where cause a local told me to keep the secret), following another of our Guiding Principles. 

- Follow the small, dead end roads on the map and they should find you a good spot to camp.
Pulling up in wonder at this particular spot, we sussed out a prime overnight location but as it was still a little early in the day, we thought it’d be pushing things a little to set up just then. This is pursuant to Guiding Principle 3:

- Never overstay your welcome. Keep a low profile. Arrive late. Leave early-ish. (We’re not the earliest of risers so have to make do with early-ish).

Staying true to our code we pootled off to another lovely spot on the beach side and pulled up to make dinner, thinking we would move to the prime spot after a bit of time had passed. As luck would have it (you’ll know why ‘luck’ shortly), our smugness was turned to chagrin with the arrival of another (bigger) camper that pulled up right in the prime spot we’d so coveted. We complained to ourselves as we ate dinner. We cursed them as we washed the dishes and grumbled our way through a walk that took us right by the offending party. 

The spot was a gem. 

Damn them.

Camping by them would surely contravene our Guiding Principle that wonders if many campervans in the one spot would be asking too much of the locals.

As I made the bed for the night, a friendly chap stopped to say hi and wouldn’t you know it but it was the gent from the rival camper. Hugh and his wife Dianne turned out to be two of the most warm and welcoming folk we’ve met on our journey. Not only are they fellow Freedom Campers but they are locals and have the scoop on all the good spots north of Auckland. Hugh and Dianne have been living and Freedom Camping in their camper for a year now. They introduced us to the term and completely re-wrote our Guiding Principles.

1) Of course you can camp in front of the tent-with-a-slash-through-it sign. That doesn’t apply to campervans.

2) You can absolutely pitch up for a few days in one spot. Why this one here is where we plan to be for the next four days. (We opted to join them).

3) Talk to the locals and get a feel for the area. Be open and frank about your intentions and see how they feel about it. (Previously we’d been deliberately vague when asked by locals where we may be staying the night).

4) Don’t ever pay for accommodation when you can Freedom Camp.(Note: they have a shower aboard and fill up their water tanks at Bowling Clubs and petrol stations – these two know all the tricks)

5) You can totally camp with other campervans. In fact, why don’t you pull up and camp with us for a few days?

And so we did and made some wonderful friends in the process. We now believe ourselves to be seasoned and informed Freedom Campers. 

Tonight as a treat, we are in a basic State Park campground. Though not Freedom Camping, we have the park totally to ourselves. The Ranger on the phone told me there were two campgrounds, but the better one was past the entrance at the back of the park. I’m not quite sure why I then decided Shea was correct when he insisted that the Ranger (who he hadn’t spoken to) meant the site was down this incredibly steep, grassy hill into a damp hole of a spot that was pretty much right by the main road.

“Will we be able to get back out?” I worried, scanning the skid tracks already muddying the wet slope.
“Oh yeah,” Mountain Dad assured me as we rolled down. 

You know it wasn’t the right spot and you know we couldn’t get back out, don’t you?

Having set our camp up we wandered off for a stroll of the park and found the more scenic camping spot the Ranger had directed us to. Deciding it was worth moving, meant we also discovered that ol’ Happy has pretty worn tires and just wouldn’t pull herself out of this hollow. After the first attempt I was ready to go find a tractor but the determined Mountain Dad would not be deterred. On the  fifth attempt at the exit he pulled the hand-brake at the highest point we could reach. Channelling the Little Engine That Could, he decided that I would take over driving and he would push us the rest of the way.

Inch by inch we made our way out as the rain began pelting and as he pulled dead branches to lay beneath the skidding tires. He was pushing so hard I could feel the effort before I had released the brake.

Soaked and out of breath he finally joined Little Laide and I back in the campervan at the top of the hill. We dubbed him our hero and showered him with grateful hugs and high fives.

And we didn’t even press the point about him really needing a shower after all that exertion.


Just googled "freedom camping" and there you were....and amazingly, Canadian born (at least one of you, if I'm correct). Love your charming writing style and, especially, your "charmed life"!

I'm a fellow Canadian, and have just launched a new website, Booondockers Welcome (I won't include the link here since that may not be allowed - hoping google will work its magic). This site will help camper van travelers ( RVers as we call them) connect with others who are willing to offer free camping on their private property.

Of course down-under no one would ever google "boondocking" - so I'm hoping for some exposure down there - any suggestions?

Did I mention that this web site will provide access to a whole bunch of additional freedom camping? Worldwide?

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