Find out about freedom camping on public conservation land.

If you plan to freedom camp on public conservation land, you need to know where you can do this, and follow these rules.

Definition of freedom camping

Freedom camping means to camp on public land outside of a formal campsite (on the side of a road, at a parking area, by the coast etc) using:

  • a motor vehicle,
  • tent,
  • bivouac,
  • or another type of temporary structure.

See the full definition of freedom camping in the Freedom Camping Act 2011

Freedom camping is allowed on much of DOC managed public conservation land – but there are exceptions, and special conditions apply in some areas.

Note: Staying at DOC campsites is not considered ‘freedom camping’, even if the campsite is free of charge. For more information, see Free DOC campsites.

Where you cannot freedom camp on public conservation land

You cannot camp in DOC administered scenic reserves or recreation reserves, unless you are within a managed campsite.

This is in accordance with section 44 (1) of the Reserves Act. Note that not all reserves will have a sign saying that camping is prohibited (not allowed).

You cannot freedom camp in specific areas where DOC has prohibited freedom camping.

Find a list and an interactive map of areas where DOC has prohibited or restricted freedom camping

Prohibited areas are normally near roads where:

  • there has been a history of problems caused by inappropriate freedom camping, or
  • there is a conservation management reason that warrants restricting camping; for example: ensuring fair access to a site or where sensitive native species are present.

Where you can freedom camp on public conservation land

You can freedom camp on public conservation land (except at DOC reserves) if the land is not listed as a prohibited (no camping) site.

General rules to observe in all cases are:

  • Take notice of the signs.
  • Always be responsible with your waste.
  • Carry in, carry out. Leave no trace.

Freedom camping with dogs

Freedom camping with dogs is not permitted in national parks.

For other public conservation land where freedom camping is permitted there may be different rules and bylaws for dogs. Find more information about where you can take your dog and access rules.

Freedom camping on council land

Be aware that if you wish to freedom camp on council (local authority) managed land using a vehicle (for example: by sleeping in a car / campervan at the side of the road or at a parking area) your vehicle typically needs to be certified self-contained.

Councils may also prohibit freedom camping in certain areas. Check in with your local council to find out more: Find your local council

Free DOC campsites

DOC provides more than 320 campsites across the country, including 92 basic campsites where you can stay free of charge.

Because most campsites have toilets provided, you typically do not need to have a certified self-contained vehicle to stay at DOC campsites.

However, there may be local restrictions for some campsites, and we recommend checking the individual campsite for more information. Search for free DOC campsites.

Take notice of camping restriction signs

No camping sign

Camping overnight is prohibited at sites displaying no camping signs, including this sign:

Freedom camping is prohibited within 200 m of this sign.

Self contained vehicles only sign

The following sign means you can only camp overnight in a vehicle that is certified self-contained:

Sign for camping with self contained vehicles only.

Note that new requirements for certification of self-contained vehicles were brought in via the Self-contained Motor Vehicles Legislation Act 2023.

Vehicles with a portable toilet are no longer able to be certified self-contained, and from 7 June 2025, all vehicles will need to be certified under the new requirements with a green warrant to be certified self-contained under the new requirements.

You can find more information about the new requirements:  

Freedom camping infringement fines

The minimum fine for freedom camping in breach of a prohibition or restriction is $400.

The minimum fine for inappropriate disposal of waste, or for causing harm to an area while freedom camping is $800.

Find a full list of freedom camping infringement offences and penalties.  

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