Freedom-Camping: Why so many locals are against it – Backpacking Tipps

What is Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Freedom Camping in itself is actually a great thing! You can park your van where you like it, or pitch your tent – without having to pay money.
A few years ago (until 2011) this was exactly how Freedom Camping in New Zealand was LEGAL. Today there are still many places where free sleeping is allowed, but the areas are limited and are getting less and less every year. In Nelson, for example, transitional pitches have been set up, which are closed in the low season. In some region’s freedom camping is now even completely banned.


Freedom Camping in New Zealand

A few reasons why freedom camping is getting harder and harder


So, what has happened that so many Councils & Locals are against Freedom-Camping?

Quite simply, it was exploited by former backpackers and tourists. Rubbish was left lying around, shampoo and shower gel washed in lakes, dishes were washed in rivers with detergent. This kind of pollution not only disturbs the local residents, but also the D.o.C. As a consequence, the individual councils have taken a more critical approach to the issue of freedom camping and have been restricting it further from year to year. So, what former backpackers failed to do, we, the backpackers of today, have to pay for!


What is the DoC?

The DoC (Department of Conservation) is a public service authority and was founded on 1.4.1987.  Its task is the protection of nature. This includes topics such as:

  • Pest Control (pest control).
  • Keeping hiking trails in good condition.
  • Establishing and maintaining nature reserves.
  • Protecting endangered animal species.
  • Making nature accessible to people without destroying it.

Two examples to illustrate the last point

  • To build and maintain footpaths through nature reserves (only thanks to the DoC, for example, can we come closer to the Kauri trees in the Northland than anywhere else).
  • The DoC campsites. The DoC is the only authority allowed to build campsites in nature reserves – no one else would get a permit for this!


How much does it cost to stay overnight at DoC campsites?

The DoC distinguishes between 4 different types of campsites:

  1. Basic: A basic is free of charge. There is usually an outhouse, rarely a sink.
  2. Standard: Standard sites can offer everything from simple outhouse without washbasin, to running water and cold shower. The price was 6 NZD in 2017 and has been increased to 8 NZD since 2017.
  3. Scenic: A Scenic campsite can offer as much or as little as the standard, the difference is in the nature and the location! A Scenic campsite is either in a particularly sought after and beautiful location or in some other area of nature that is worthy of protection. The price here has been raised from 10 NZD to 15 NZD.
  4. Serviced: The Serviced Place offers hot showers, kitchen, bins, drinking water and costs 20 NZD.
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Why have the prices increased?

As you can see, the Doc has raised the prices by at least 2 NZD.

But why?

Firstly, because more people using the campsites means more work for the D.o.C. The toilets have to be cleaned more often, the rubbish bins emptied more often and the rubbish left behind by abusive users also has to be disposed of.

And here is the second reason – that rubbish is left lying around. This also includes the wrong use of a toilet, or not using it!

This is a frequently observed phenomenon, especially in outhouse toilets. Yes, sometimes outhouses are really not nice, it can smell and it is unusual. But taking a dump in the middle of a nature reserve can't be the solution! And it's actually quite simple to keep such outhouses tidy, put the lid down and open the door – and she won't smell anymore!

But back to the D.o.C. A lot of people mean a lot of work, and if there are “only” 5% of people who don't behave properly, it becomes a lot of work! So, this is the explanation for the price increase.


What does this have to do with Freedom-Camping?

Unfortunately, quite a lot. Because of the price increase many people seem to consider the DoC campsites as too expensive and either don't pay or go to a free spot. The Free-Spots are of course getting fuller and fuller, and as already mentioned: more people make more work. But who takes care of the waste disposal here? Right – the DoC or the councils. So, in order to be able to take care of the free spots in addition, the DoC demands more money at the DoC campsites – the vicious circle is perfect!


How can we break this vicious circle?

It is actually quite simple – by simply following the rules!

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By taking our rubbish with us and disposing of it in rubbish bins. When a bin is full, we don't put the rubbish next to it, but wait for the next bin. By leaving the toilets tidy so that nobody is “forced” to go into the forest. By paying at the DoC campsites! The DoC allows us to stay overnight in nature reserves for a small amount of money. We must not forget that the DoC does much more with this money than “not cleaning the stinking toilets”, as you can read in some comments. In addition, a nice quotation we found on a toilet wall: “To keep the toilet smelling sweet, don’t forget to close the seat. It can be so easy if we all stick to it!


What is the essence of this?

Many pubs have learned over generations of backpackers that they cannot behave, leaving behind rubbish and chaos. Bad-tempered locals put pressure on the Council, which limits freedom camping. Restricted freedom camping and rising prices for camping sites produce dissatisfied backpackers who, out of defiance, no longer follow the rules. So, the locals see a generation of bad backpackers again.

It's up to us, who travel through New Zealand as backpackers today, whether we want to continue to mess up Freedom-Camping for future generations by showing no consideration, or whether we start to prove to the locals that we know how to deal with the responsibility of Freedom-Camping!

If we all follow the few rules, we can break the vicious circle.


What you should do now

Please share this article with other travellers you know, because only together we can make Freedom-Camping a better reputation. Do you have any more ideas and suggestions what we can do to achieve this goal? Let us know through the comments!


Kia Ora. We wish you a wonderful journey through this wonderful country!


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