New freedom camping rules see ban on vehicles without fixed toilets from using council land

Only self-contained vehicles with fixed toilets will be able to stay on land managed by councils under new rules designed to clean up New Zealand’s freedom camping image.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said the Self-Contained Vehicles Bill, set to be introduced to Parliament in 2022, sets minimum standards for campers and subjects those who break the rules to tougher fines.

“Higher standards must be met before vehicles can be certified as truly self-contained with fixed toilets,” he said. “Abuses in the past included campers slapping bogus blue stickers on vehicles to falsely claim compliance.”

The new laws do not go as far as banning tourists from hiring non-self-contained vans, as Nash said he intended to do last year.

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Under the new laws, only certified self-contained vehicles will be allowed to stay overnight on land managed by local or regional councils, unless the council has stipulated otherwise.

However, non-self-contained vehicles will be allowed to stay on Department of Conservation (DOC) land and in commercial campgrounds, unless DOC or the campground has prohibited this. Campers will also still be allowed to stay in tents overnight where permitted.

Despite saying in 2020 that New Zealand should sell itself as a destination for the wealthy when borders reopen, Nash said backpackers in budget vehicles, along with motorhomes and towed caravans, will be welcome.

“But at the heart of the new law will be greater respect for the environment and communities through a ‘right vehicle, right place’ approach.”

Nash said feedback from communities and councils had made it clear uncertified vehicles, the inappropriate disposal of human waste, littering, and parking outside designated areas were still problems.

New freedom camping rules see ban on vehicles without fixed toilets from using council land

“Our country is a paradise for tourists. When international borders reopen tourism will not match pre-Covid levels, but we can expect greater pressure. Abuse of freedom camping by domestic and international travellers not only damages our 100% Pure brand, it erodes public support for tourism and undermines its social licence to operate.”

A new regulatory system overseen by agents authorised by the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board will be introduced to certify vehicles as self-contained. To qualify, vehicles will have to have a fixed toilet, ruling out the portable loos used in some.

Freedom campers who break the rules will be slapped with fines of up to $1000, five times higher than the current $200 fine.

The changes are set to be phased in over two years once the bill is passed to give owners enough time to upgrade their vehicles if necessary.

The Government has committed $10 million to support local councils in educating freedom campers and developing local bylaws during that period.

The new rules follow a round of public consultation earlier this year that attracted more than 5000 submissions.

Karl Woodhead, acting general manager for MBIE Tourism, said 70,000 vehicles will potentially be impacted by the new rules.

The ministry is hosting a series of webinars to help people understand the changes. More information on the webinars – to be held between December 8 and 15 – can be found on the MBIE website.

Nash said the changes should benefit hostels and campgrounds which have lost business as a result of freedom camping.

“Hostels and campgrounds are perfect for the budget-conscious traveller who may have considered freedom camping in the past.

“There are hundreds of campgrounds and campsites managed by DOC and commercial operators, many charging very low nightly rates for the use of facilities. They will gladly welcome all travellers, no matter what type of vehicle they have.”

The number of freedom campers in New Zealand has climbed since the early 2000s, peaking at around 245,000 in 2019. Some councils have banned freedom camping in certain areas as a result of resident complaints.