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The power of freedom camping bylaws

Bette Cosgrove

Bylaws differ between regions of Aotearoa New Zealand, and do not exist in almost half of all council districts. 

Bylaws are created by local authorities — regional and district councils — to manage public land and facilities. Bylaws add to the current Freedom Camping Act 2011, which is the overarching national legislation. 

Bylaws used to restrict or prohibit freedom camping The Freedom Camping Act gives local authorities the right to manage and control freedom camping in their district. They can prohibit or restrict some areas, but they cannot apply a restriction across a whole region as the intent of the Freedom Camping Act is to make freedom camping a permissible activity. 

The Act allows authorities 3 reasons for making restrictions: in order to:

  1. protect an area;

  2. protect the health and safety of people who may visit an area ; or 

  3. protect access to local authority areas. 

A bylaw also has to be the most ‘appropriate’ and ‘proportionate’ way of addressing the perceived problem and it must be consistent with the Bill of Rights Act which protects NZers rights and freedom to travel to public areas of our land. 

The Act allows bylaws to be enforceable, with a maximum fine of $200. 

Of the 68 district & regional councils which have bylaws? 
  • 38 have written and notified bylaws which can restrict or prohibit some areas of their public land from freedom campers staying overnight. 

  • 62 have allocated some freedom camping sites on public land.

  • -- The other 6 have none, or only paid sites. 

  • 30 have no current bylaws, and generally allow freedom camping according to the Act. 

  • 31 have areas set aside for ‘non self contained’ freedom camping in a vehicle, but in many cases this means ‘not certified as self contained using the NZ Standard’. 

  • 50 councils have guidelines or bylaws restricting camping, 

  • -- 43 to ‘certified self contained’ vehicles

  • --  7 to a ‘self-contained’ vehicle.. 

  • 65 councils provide public toilets at campsites.

  • -- 61 have toilets at every freedom camping site; 

  • --  4 have some sites with and some without toilets. 

  • 3 councils do not offer freedom camp sites on their managed public land, contravening the Freedom Camping Act

Restricted areas 

Bylaws can state clearly that people may freedom camp in particular areas, but that there might be restrictions in place. Examples of some restrictions councils use: 

  • restricted to self-contained vehicles; 

  • restricted to a maximum of three consecutive nights in any four week period; 

  • restricted to designated carparks within a particular area;

  • camping in a non-self-contained vehicle or a tent must occur within 100m of a public toilet. 

Self containment of vehicles as it may be used in bylaws

If local authorities restrict freedom camping at a particular site to self-contained camping only, the following definition of self-contained vehicle may be useful: 

“Self-contained vehicle means a vehicle designed and built for the purpose of camping which has the capability of meeting the ablutionary and sanitary needs of occupants of that vehicle for a minimum of three days without requiring any external services or discharging any waste and complies with New Zealand Standard 5465:2001: Self Containment of Motor Caravans and Caravans, as evidenced by the display of a current self-containment warrant issued under NZS 5465:2001.” From a model bylaw, Local Government NZ 

Note that “self-contained vehicle” is not defined in the Freedom Camping Act and that this is not the only example of how it may be definedThe NZ Standard 5465 is currently a voluntary standard for self-containment of caravans and campervans, which is not monitored by any government agency or written into any national legislation. You may download one free copy of the standard here: Compliance to the Standard is not mandatory, although it is not included in current legislation, it is used in some bylaws as a (legal) condition of restriction. 

The NZ Standard 5465 is included in the new bill before Parliament — the Motor Vehicle Self Containment Legislation — which has not yet passed into law. 

All information shared here is correct at time of publication, by researching all 68 councils’ published information about Freedom Camping Bylaws or Guidelines 

See also 

What’s in a name? 

If the law changes

Waiting on a law change

3 Autumn 2023

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