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Freedom camp

March 26 2019 by E.L., Former Camping Ambassador

Freedom camp [free-duh-m kamp]: the practice of putting up tents or parking up campervans in areas not designated for camping.

Touchy: easily upset, needing to be dealt with carefully. People are hiring or buying campervans in droves.

NZ is such a desirable destination, and seeing it at your own pace and without spending much money makes this kind of tourism a very popular option. Some campervans are self-contained, meaning there is adequate toilet, fresh and waste water storage on board to permit a minimum three-day-stay away. Having a certified self-contained camper is an advantage, as it permits you to camp in remote places without requiring external services. However, some rental agencies actively promote cheaper, non-certified vehicles – hugely appealing to the thrifty traveller who arrives penniless while wanting to see it all.

I spent the summer working as a Responsible Camping Ambassador and I quickly learnt how crazily complicated freedom camping is. Every day, multiples of campers arrived (to the Hub) in assortments of cars and vans (many of these adorned with dream-catchers and potted cacti). Once parked, these vehicles unfold into a kitchen, bedroom, dining room and laundry, with socks hung out to dry on the steering wheel. While campers can be commendably inventive and incredibly engineered, for many of these vehicles, a bathroom never fits. The space a toilet requires is just the right size for something more important, so it’s dispensed with. After all, there are toilets along the way, right?

Every day I’d explain to campers that ‘freedom camping’ didn’t actually mean they could camp anywhere they liked. I advised them about our deficient infrastructure (read: a complete lack of toilets on the route). I cautioned them about the disapproval they might encounter from Mr and Mrs New Zealand, who didn’t always approve of freedom camping. Further, the issue of our easy-to-fake certification system kept coming up. If you are a rule bender you will adore the certification process. Presently unregulated, it’s so full of loop-holes that it’s simple to jazz up forged documents and certificates. You could easily rip it off if you wanted to.

Personally, I don’t care about certification, as it does so little to stop a camper from disrespectfully abluting in our woodlands. When they’ve gotta go they do go, absolutely anywhere. In my view, what matters most now is finding the best solutions to fix the many problems freedom camping has. Responsible Campers Association say camping responsibly depends on the camper, not their campervan. It can be argued that enforcing self-containment on travellers is not the point; it’s the behaviour of the person camping that needs attention and certification. How do you do that? The Responsible Campers Association Incorporated website’s worth a read (accreditedcampernz.com).

Former Camping Ambassador

- E.L., Former Camping Ambassador
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  • Jan Egen

    Well stated document, so many young tourists enjoying our country and so many disgruntled kiwis trying to deny them this adventure, I just wish the powers that be would wake up and supply more infrastructure, the ratepayers are willing to pay out for a security service to get rid of them but not for the necessary toilets to a op the problems

    Posted 27/03/2019 9:12am (6 months ago)

  • Here,There&Everywhere

    Jay Egen.,The reason why ratepayers are willing to pay for more security guards is they want to be rid of these omnipresent feral freeloaders . The reason they are flocking to New Zealand is because we are seen as a soft touch both with the ground space facilities and the low key enforcement. It follows that the more free facilities we provide and word gets around,that the more and more of these freeloaders will invade our shores for a low cost extended holiday paid for by the New Zealand rate and taxpayers.. I would ask you if this occurs how many should we let in?

    Posted 27/03/2019 12:38pm (6 months ago)

  • Happy Camper

    I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the intentions of most freedom campers. I live in New Zealand and I enjoy freedom camping because it's relaxing, close to nature and you often meet like-minded people on the road. Conventional camp grounds are crammed with families whose kids scream all day, then they demand 'lights out' at 9pm when the brats go to bed. If I had to pay for a $100 annual 'freedom camping pass' to help pay for more facilities I would – it's not about saving money, it's about enjoying nature and the flexibility to arrive and leave the site whenever you want. Most of the people I've met while camping are nature-loving, leave-no-trace, respectful people who simply want to enjoy New Zealand's environment in an unstructured way. Yes, like every group, there's a small percentage of disrespectful idiots ruining it for everyone else, but that's not a good enough reason to ban it.

    Posted 27/03/2019 3:38pm (6 months ago)

  • Over&Out

    Survey after survey and anecdotal conversations, for example see the recent 7 sharp interview with overseas freedom campers ,clearly suggest they do it because its Cheap, the commune with nature bit is used as a good excuse..
    If they like Happy Camper delight in nature side and don't want to be stuck in a Holiday Park, why is it that Holiday Parks through out New Zealand including those in Queenstown are continually having to patrol their Parks and turf out Freedom Camping freeloaders who try to sneak in and use the facilities?

    I agree with the pass concept but it should be much more than a measly $100.00 and should be limited to a capped number each year, with those caught out , wheel clamped till they pay their fines rather than skipping the country as the majority do now.

    Posted 27/03/2019 5:05pm (6 months ago)

  • Daniel

    Clearly the little blue stickers saying "self contained vehicle" are too easy to buy off the internet or simply photocopy so the only solution is to make it part of an annual WOF/COF check. They will then have another little card in the front window that can be scanned like a rego sticker to see if it's fake.
    Rental campervan operators should also have their annual rego fees increased to $5000 ( a mere $100 per week) so that money comes back to the Government to fund better infrastructure. That would have the desired effect of making freedom camping holidays too expensive for the feral free-loaders who will then go back to travelling on green backpacker buses and staying in hostels - and Queenstown Inc will get the visitor levy.

    Posted 28/03/2019 2:49pm (6 months ago)