Freedom Camping: Everything You Need to Know

What is freedom camping?

In New Zealand, Freedom camping is when you camp on public land that isn’t a traditional camping ground. In these sites you will often have no or limited facilities, for example, just a long drop or flush toilet. There will be no charge to stay the night and the locations will vary from fields to car parks. In order to camp in many of freedom campsites you will need to have a self-contained vehicle.

What does self-contained mean?

A self contained vehicle is one that you can sleep, cook and live in. It must be able to store at least 3L of fresh water, 3L of grey (dirty) water and 3L portable or fixed toilet per person per day for up to three days i.e. 9L of freshwater per person etc. It must also contain a sink with an extraction pipe connected to your grey water tank and a dustbin with a lid for rubbish. All self-contained vehicles will have the following stickers on display:

Where do I find freedom camping sites?

The three best places I came across for locating freedom sites were the local I-Sites, Rankers and Campermate.

I-Site

These are the visitor information sites in New Zealand. There are over 80 offices throughout the country. Here you can get free booklets and maps, book activities and excursion, get advice on camping, showers, and dump stations etc. You can also get tips on things to do in the area, advice on walking tracks and weather conditions. You’ll spot the I-Sites in towns with the following sign:

Rankers App

This was my most used app through our time travelling. It lists all campsites available in the country. This can be further broken down into self-contained sites, non self-contained sites, free non self-contained sites, holiday parks, Department of Conservation (DOC) sites and tent camping. Each site will also have contact details (where relevant), directions, user reviews, facilities available and prices for the site. For all the freedom sites it will tell you how many spaces there are available. The reviews are great for knowing what to expect, how busy the site is etc. The app is free in the apple and play store and all maps can be downloaded for use offline.

Campermate App

This app is very similar to Rankers in that it shows holiday parks, campgrounds etc. It is more catered towards people staying in holiday parks and does not show as many freedom campsites. It also shows any available public showers, bathrooms and laundries. The app is free in the apple and play store.

What facilities will there be?

Freedom campsites will vary massively in quality. Most of the rural freedom sites we stayed in only contained a long drop toilet (which could be great or horrific). On the other hand some sites such as Donegal House Hotel had clean flushable toilets, free cold showers and paid hot showers. As a general rule of thumb you will need plenty of clean drinking water, water for cooking, a stovetop and all your cooking utensils. Some sites may have bins and clean drinking water available. If you are running low on water or need a dump station then check out the Campermate app or ask in the local I-Site.

The sign at the site says there’s a fire ban! Does that mean I can’t cook?

No! We did have this panic the first time we saw the sign. Typically in summer New Zealand has a fire ban due to the intensity of the heat and risk of fire. In most freedom campsites you cannot light any bonfires instead you can only light gas stoves for cooking.

There’s no shower, dump station or laundry! What do I do?

Once again go straight to the local I-Site. They will be able to tell you where everything you need is. Most towns will have a paid public shower in the petrol station, public shelter or the local swimming pool. Typically swimming pools will offer cheaper prices if you only want to shower and do not wish to swim. Most towns will have a laundromat where you can do your own washing and drying. Normally for any laundromats or paid showers you will need either $1 or $2 coins.

How do I charge all my stuff?

The bonus of freedom camping is the word free, the downside is that there will be no power there. Luckily you’ll be driving a lot to different places and can easily buy a car charger to charge your things while you’re on the move. We had a multi lead charger which meant we could charge multiple things at once. Splash out on a portable charger. We got this one (LINK) which takes a long time to charge but will provide up to 8 full phone charges. This meant we never had to worry about our phones dying. As there’s rarely wifi we didn’t use our laptop very often but when we did we could easily recharge it in a cafe or the local library. Anytime we booked into a holiday park we made the most of the electricity and made sure to charge everything we had before moving on.

What supplies do I need to freedom camp?

Cooking Utensils

If you intend on freedom camping regularly then you won’t have access to a kitchen. On this basis I would advise getting the following:

  • Buy a two ring gas stove. We had a one ring one initially and it’s a complete pain as you can only cook one thing at a time. We found a second hand two ring stove on Trademe for only $40 and it meant we cook fry veggies and boil pasta and rice at the same time. This is especially helpful when its cold and windy outside or you’re under attack from sandflies!
  • A small 4kg gas barrel. You can buy these for $40 in warehouse and costs approx $7 to refill at most petrol stations. We used our one multiples times a day and it lasted about 6 weeks
  • Plastic dishes and bowls. They’re easier to clean and far more durable than ceramic ones
  • A large pot and a non-stick frying pan is essential
  • Plenty of cutlery, wooden spoon, sharp knives, a chopping board, sieve etc.

Toiletries

  • Stock up on plenty of insect repellant, fly spray and sunscreen- you will never have too much
  • Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are essential for freedom camping especially for these less than ideal long drop toilets
  • Baby wipes are ideal for tiding you over between showers. They’re also great for giving the inside of the car a quick clean – you would be amazed how much dust can accumulate in there!

Other

  • Have plenty of blankets. It can get very cold in certain parts of the south island. We had one throw under us (above the mattress), one throw on top of us and two large blankets in case it got very cold. It’s definitely better to have more than less
  • Freedom sites typically won’t have any lights so be sure to have plenty of lanterns and torches for those late night trips to the bathroom
  • Be sure to have some camping chairs and a table to eat at
  • Purchase a couple of plastic storage boxes for all your shoes and clothes –  I’ll be uploading a post on how we laid out our camper soon

My top tips for freedom camping

  • Be sure to empty your grey water tank regularly – at least once a week if you’re using it daily. When emptying it I suggest giving it a couple rinses out and then adding some lemon juice to neutralize any remaining smell
  • Always have a supply of $1 or $2 coins as you’ll use them for paying for any DOC sites, laundromats and public showers. Any bank or local I-Site will be able to give you change – in my experience shops are very hesitant to give away the coins
  • Make the most of local libraries, particularly when its wet and miserable outside. Here you can happily sit for a couple hours undisturbed, charge all your things and utilise all that free wifi. We always downloaded new podcasts, movies from netflix and books for our kindles
  • To save your data from getting used up fast download google maps and the maps on rankers for offline use. You can find free wifi in local libraries, New World and some Warehouses. If you are on the Spark network there are free wifi hotspots throughout the country
  • If you’re stuck looking for a bathroom then head to the nearest I-Site – typically they will have free public bathrooms there
  • We covered about 4000km travelling throughout the south island and all the fuel doesn’t buy itself. Everytime you shop in New World your receipt will give you 6c off a litre of fuel at all Z petrol stations, spend over a $100 and get 20c off. Your Countdown Supermarket loyalty card will also give you 6c off a litre at Caltex and BP petrol stations. FInally pick up a Mobil Loyalty card which will (you guessed it) give you 6c off a litre at all Mobil petrol stations
  • As you’re sleeping in the car condensation will build up on the inside of the windscreen so consider buying a moisture absorber to soak up the excess moisture. Alternatively keep a towel up front to dry off in the morning or park with the front facing the sunrise to dry off the window before you wake!

Any other top tips you came across while travelling? Let me know in the comments below!

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