New freedom camping rules ban vehicles without fixed toilets from using council land
Only self-driving vehicles with fixed toilets will be able to stay on land managed by the councils under new rules designed to clean up New Zealand’s image of free camping.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said the Autonomous Vehicle Bill, due to be presented to parliament in 2022, sets minimum standards for campers and subjects those who break the rules to stiffer fines.
“Higher standards must be met before vehicles can be certified as truly autonomous with fixed toilets,” he said. “Abuses in the past have included campers applying fake blue stickers to vehicles to falsely claim compliance. “
The new laws do not go so far as to prohibit tourists from renting non-autonomous vans, because Nash said he intended to do last year.
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Under the new laws, only certified autonomous vehicles will be allowed to stay overnight on land managed by local or regional councils, unless the council provides otherwise.
However, non-autonomous vehicles will be allowed to remain on Department of Conservation (DOC) lands and commercial campgrounds, unless the DOC or the campground prohibits it. Campers will also still be allowed to stay overnight in tents, where permitted.
Although he said in 2020 that New Zealand should sell itself as a destination for the rich when the borders reopen, Nash said backpackers in economy vehicles, as well as motorhomes and towed caravans , would be welcome.
“But at the heart of the new law, there will be greater respect for the environment and communities through a ‘right vehicle, right place’ approach.”
Nash said feedback from communities and councils made it clear that uncertified vehicles, improper disposal of human waste, garbage and parking outside designated areas are still issues.
“Our country is a paradise for tourists. When international borders reopen, tourism will not match pre-Covid levels, but we can expect increased pressure. The abuse of the freedom of camping by national and international travelers not only damages our 100% Pure brand, it erodes public support for tourism and undermines its social license to operate.
A new regulatory system overseen by officers authorized by the Board of Plumbers, Gas Fitters and Drainers will be introduced to certify vehicles as autonomous. To benefit from it, vehicles must have fixed toilets, excluding the portable toilets used in some.
Freedom campers who break the rules will be fined up to $ 1,000, five times the current fine of $ 200.
The changes are expected to be phased in over two years after the bill is passed to give owners enough time to upgrade their vehicles if necessary.
The government has committed $ 10 million to help local councils educate freedom campers and develop local bylaws during this time.
The new rules follow a series of public consultations earlier this year that drew more than 5,000 submissions.
Karl Woodhead, acting managing director of MBIE Tourism, said 70,000 vehicles would potentially be affected by the new rules.
The ministry is running a series of webinars to help people understand the changes. More information on the webinars – which will be held between December 8 and 15 – can be found on the MBIE website.
Nash said the changes should benefit hostels and campgrounds that have lost customers to loose camping.
“Hostels and campgrounds are perfect for the budget-conscious traveler who may have considered loose camping in the past.
“There are hundreds of campgrounds and campsites run by DOC and commercial operators, many of which charge very low nightly rates for the use of the facilities. They will gladly welcome all travelers, regardless of the type of vehicle they have.
The number of loose campers in New Zealand has increased since the early 2000s, peaking at around 245,000 in 2019. Some councils have banned loose camping in certain areas following complaints from residents.