On 30 November 2021, the Minister of Tourism announced significant changes to freedom camping in New Zealand. Most of the changes were anticipated by the NZMCA (following the Minister’s public statements throughout the year) and several are in line with our advocacy efforts over the past few years. 

Our primary concern is the impact these changes will likely have on the many thousands of members who own well-designed vehicles with portable toilets.

The changes will commence in late-2022 and are expected to be completed in the summer of 2024/25.  They will have an impact on what vehicles can be certified as self-contained, how certification will be undertaken and where uncertified vehicles can be used for freedom camping.  A detailed summary of these changes along with useful FAQ’s can be found on the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s website.

Outline of the five key changes

  1. Certified self-contained vehicles only - vehicle-based freedom camping can only be done on local council sites in certified self-contained vehicles unless a council has designated the site as suitable for non-self-contained vehicles.
  2. Fixed toilets must be installed in order for a vehicle to be certified as self-contained and may either be a cassette-type toilet or one with a black water holding tank. Further detail on what constitutes a ‘fixed toilet’ is still to be released. 
  3. Improved regulation of vehicle certification and registration to ensure better oversight of the certification process and the tighter application of agreed standards.  A national database of certified vehicles will also be available for prospective vehicle purchasers and to assist in Council enforcement.
  4. Stronger enforcement mechanisms include a graduated system of infringement fines up to $1000 and easier and quicker systems for collecting fines.
  5. Extending the application of the Freedom Camping Act to land managed by Waka Kotahi – New Zealand Transport Agency and Toitū te Whenua – Land Information New Zealand. 

Timeframe of changes

Implementation of these changes relies on the phasing out of the current system for certifying self-containment of vehicles (the blue stickers) to a new more centralized one which will be based on a new system of certification with proposed green stickers.  The main difference between blue and green stickers is that vehicles without fixed toilets – such as those using Porta-potties, will not be able to be certified as self-contained (using a blue sticker) beyond the 2023/24 summer.  By the summer of 2024/25 the blue stickers will no longer be valid so vehicles without a fixed toilet can no longer be classified as self-contained.  Implementation is expected to start in late 2022 or early 2023 when Government is proposing to change the Freedom Camping Act. 

Please visit MBIE’s website for a detailed outline of the timeframes and how they will affect where and how freedom camping can take place.

Implications for NZMCA members

There are three main impacts on NZMCA members as a result of these changes. 

Phasing out of portable toilets for CSC

Under the proposed changes, members who own vehicles without fixed toilets will be unable to freedom camp on public land which is restricted to certified self-contained vehicles only.  They will only be allowed to freedom camp at sites designated by the local Council or on conservation land that is open to vehicles with portable toilets.  

The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) hosted a couple of public webinars during December to help explain the changes.  MBIE officials advised the exact definition of a fixed toilet will be worked out with the Parliamentary Counsel Office, which is responsible for drafting a new Bill that will be introduced to Parliament next year. Until the definition of a fixed toilet is determined, MBIE is unable to say with certainty which toilets will or will not be acceptable under the new self-containment requirements. However, the outcome MBIE is seeking to achieve is that a fixed toilet will not be easily removed (which will likely mean being attached to either the floor and/or wall of the vehicle), and with a permanent OR removable black water tank. The toilet will need to be secured and not easily removed. MBIE has advised the exact definition will not be released until the Bill is introduced to Parliament – where everyone will then have an opportunity provide feedback.

Changing of certification regime and technical requirements for CSC

The certification regime and technical requirements for CSC will change by way of new regulations.  The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board will approve organisations that can inspect and issue certificates, provided they meet the approval criteria set out in the new regulations. The regulations will outline the process for issuing certificates, fees and penalties for non-compliance (including the issuing of non-compliant certificates). At this stage, MBIE expects individuals will need to pay $40 - $60 every four years to have their vehicle certified and maintained on a national register, which will be accessible to the public. 

MBIE has confirmed the regulations will be prepared with the industry and that it will publicly consult on the changes to the certification process. The NZMCA will represent its members throughout MBIE’s consultation on the new regulations, however we will also encourage and help members participate in the process.

Stronger enforcement and infringement penalties

Stronger enforcement and infringement penalties will apply to all freedom campers including members.  The possibility of a graduated scale of fines may mean that one-off minor infringements receive modest fines.  Members who play by the rules and take care to ensure that they only park where they should are unlikely to be affected by this change.

Camping on private land including NZMCA parks, other camping grounds and the Park Over Property network are not affected by these proposed changes. It remains the right of private property owners to decide the terms of use of their property for camping as long as they operate with the relevant planning rules and campground regulations.

NZMCA current position

The broad changes listed above will most likely occur given the clear signal from the Minister of Tourism and wide public support for them. 

The NZMCA acknowledges most of the changes are worthwhile and necessary, although we will be advocating for an outcome that doesn’t unfairly punish members with well-designed vehicles that rely on portable toilets.

Changes to the Freedom Camping Act and its supporting regulation are likely to happen in late 2022 or early 2023. The detail of these proposed changes is not known and probably still needs to be developed by Government officials. NZMCA will take every opportunity it has to work with officials in developing this detail including those around certification of self-containment, definitions and standards especially around fixed toilets and the application and scale of infringement fines.

This page will be updated as this work unfolds and as the picture becomes clearer for what these changes mean for NZMCA members.