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There’s no need to rush this Summer. Is it better on the other side?

 Gary Stoneley




The new self-containment regulations that the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board are trying to implement have more bumps, twists and turns than the North Island Saddle Road.

Since 2017 and the closure of the Manawatu Gorge, with many millions spent, there has been slow progress for people wanting to travel across from Tararua / Hawkes Bay to the Manawatu. For many campers it is now a brief but expensive trek across the steep winding hills to get to the other side. On the other side there are always camping opportunities but weather is fickle in these parts and you never know what you are going to get. It is intended that the new Manawatu Tararua Highway will be operating in 2024 but there are still a few bridges to cross before that happens (more).

The new self-containment regulations managed by the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board (PGDB ), soon to be implemented and running alongside the current standard, are a bit like this. Pushed by disgraced former MP Stuart Nash, with a fetish for portable toilets, it was rushed through the 2nd and final reading without a Select Committee report by Peeni Henare MP and Kiri Allen MP, by the Labour Party majority. The legislation was quickly followed by MBIE-drafted regulations that had not been tested in the industry. 

Fast forward to November and the PGDB are recklessly trying to implement flawed regulations and self-containment testing officer guidelines that have more holes than a kitchen sieve, because they have been legislated to do so. Somehow, even with all the technical experts, the MBIE Responsible Camping Team, with government ministers tasked to do due diligence, we have still ended up with new regulations that don’t actually work.

Common sense would dictate that if you are bringing in regulations that affect the fit-out and construction of caravans, campervans and other vehicles you would actually do physical testing within the industry to ensure everything works out as planned. Um… no. The regulations weren’t tested and no, they don’t work. For the vast majority of motorhomes, caravans and other camping vehicles the planned new regulations do not follow international industry standards. And all due to the misguided assumption that vehicle campers using portable toilets just aren’t responsible enough to freedom camp.

I estimate that the new highway across the Tararua ranges will be up and running with all bridges crossed well before the new regulations can be implemented, due to the many legal and technical issues.

A technical regulation is binding in law but when it contains fundamental errors it cannot be implemented. At least travellers will soon be better off with the Manawatu Tararua Highway completed and looking forward to what’s on the other side. We can’t say that vehicle campers will be any better off with the new regulations that can’t be applied in the industry without millions of owners’ dollars being spent.

So what are the failings in the new regulations?

They only apply to council-managed land for free camping

The new alternate regulations (targeting vehicle campers without fixed toilets) primarily apply only for ‘free’ camping on council-managed land that is not a designated camping area, plus LINZ (South Island land). Where camping areas are designated or available for all campers, on private or commercial properties and other Govt land, clubs events etc. or where any payment (incl paid parking) is made, the new regulations don’t apply. Basically, outside of the ‘free’ council-controlled land the current self-containment standard with the blue card is fine.


If you are in a rush to move across to the new self-containment regime, and can find someone to do it, it will cost you the $120 levy to fund PGDB plus the cost of the testing.

Strange and unnecessary venting requirements

The majority of cassette toilets are industry designed as a sealed system and not vented externally. Under the new regulations the vehicle inspector/testing officer will be required to sign off that your waste water tanks, including your fixed toilet’s cassette, is vented directly to the exterior of the motor vehicle, and designed to prevent entry of birds and vermin. Though unnecessary, this can be done and tested. The alterations will cost an additional $600 + installation costs for each vehicle (for 50,000 NZ vehicles that is more than $30 million).

Certifying that legionella has been prevented

In addition, the testing officer, without scientific knowledge, will need to certify that your fresh water tanks/containers are suitably insulated or away from heat sources / direct sunlight to prevent legionella. This also applies to external and portable water tanks. Anyone gets legionella: the testing officers are liable.

Who is brave enough to sign off on these?

It is unlikely that any sane, self-containment testing officer will be happy to sign off on any self-contained vehicle in this situation, given that they are legally liable for any failings.

Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that the new PGDB regulations will be able to be implemented in the foreseeable future.

A long winding road yet

For now there is no need to rush to get to the other side. With Government changes and a new Ministry of Regulation, it’s going to be a long and winding road for a while. There are still more bridges to cross yet, but it’s looking promising.

Summer is here, for now, let’s all just get out and enjoy it.

Gary Stoneley is co-founder of the All Points Camping Club of NZ and Managing Director of NZ Lifestyle Camping Ltd.

The regulations

The regulations weren’t tested and no, they don’t work.


More on Freedom camping and self-containment:

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