People picture freedom camping in NZ like this...
When the reality is more like this...
Even so, you wouldn't catch us dead in most of them at this time of year. We don't need to limit our 'Kiwi experience' to the summer months, we get to enjoy it all the time! We're happy to wait until the rest of the world has gone home and we can take advantage of these beautiful free spots in relative peace and quiet. And beautiful or not, in summer at least many freedom camps ARE eyesores. Imagine between 80 and 140 vehicles packed like sardines into the one space every single day and night; everyone hanging out washing, airing bedding, washing dishes, clothes and bodies in rivers and lakes or in buckets. They're all just doing what they need to do, getting back to basics, like in the good old camping days. But unlike the 'good old camping days' these places aren't in picturesque fields, tucked away from the rest of the world. They're in public cark parks and prominent surf and dog walking spots, on waterfronts, in front of people's houses. They look like shanty towns or a giant hippy gathering and many people find them intimidating. It doesn't matter how lovely the people are on the inside; from the outside it looks bad and that's why freedom camping is so often in the news.
I'm not sure whether other countries use the term 'freedom camping' as much as we do here. But when it comes to this country at least, I'm not alone in feeling that the term 'freedom camping' gives off the wrong connotations. What sounds very idyllic in theory is misinterpreted widely, giving overseas visitors and Kiwis alike the impression that here in jolly old Lord of the Rings land you can STAY for free, LIVE for free and all in all BE free. Even Gareth and I thought this was the case when we first talked about living on the road and thought we would never have to pay a cent to stay anywhere again! Lovely as that sounds, it simply isn't true. A couple of years ago it was, but not any more. You can indeed stay for free at a lot of places if you have the right set-up - in other words a certified self-contained vehicle, with a toilet on board which can be used at all times, as well as adequate water and waste disposal facilities. However most overseas visitors do not have the money to afford a self contained vehicle. It's cheap enough to buy a vehicle big enough to sleep and cook in - but if you don't have that all important self-contained status, your options for getting around New Zealand cheaply and easily become a lot more limited.
If you don't have one of these, your freedom camping spots are a lot fewer and farther between!
Forgive me here if that paints these poor young people in a negative light. I'm trying to explain the situation, not the people. We have made a lot of wonderful friends from all over the world, who rely almost totally on freedom camping to be able to fulfil their dreams. They live on a miniscule amount of money and struggle every day to a) make ends meet and b) find the next place they can stay safely and legally. One couple we met had managed to survive for six months with just $1200. That's just $6.60 per day. Most of them work to supplement their travels, picking fruit or whatever they can find, working long hours for minimum wage. I admire the heck out of them, they are all lovely people who are not scared to work hard; they learn very fast that they have to. It is wrong and inaccurate to call them bludgers for being 'too stingy' or 'lazy' to pay for accommodation; in the majority of cases they are simply trying to survive. The hardest hit places are the popular tourist centres such as Wanaka, Golden Bay and New Plymouth - places with amazing lake or ocean views. And what tourist wouldn't want to stay in a place like that for free if they could?
Still, as any New Zealander living on the road will tell you, Kiwis are just as bad as overseas visitors when it comes to flouting the rules. In fact they're probably worse as for some reason they seem to feel that the rules and laws don't apply to locals. Which is very poor because we have no excuse. We have the time, the money and the facilities to all be able to achieve certified self-contained vehicles. In addition, we also have a nationwide motorhoming association, the NZMCA which makes it super cheap and easy to stay all over the country for next to nothing in their 'member only' camping grounds. These grounds are increasing in number all the time and cost as little as $3 a night for a safe and pleasant place to stay at anywhere from Kerikeri to Whitianga, Waihi Beach, Fiordland and everywhere else in between. It costs around $90 a year for our membership and you get a heap of awesome discounts to boot, from the Bluebridge and Interislander ferries, to insurance, Department of Conservation camps - even Specsavers! If you're planning to travel between the North and South Islands even once a year the discount more than covers the cost of the membership. We Kiwis are incredibly lucky and well provided for. For overseas campers in search of freedom however, unfortunately it is only going to get harder, as more and more councils and communities are cracking down and putting new laws and boundaries in place; going as far as to literally lock campers out. It's a huge shame, but to my mind, it seems our country has become a victim of its own misleading marketing and reputation.
Watch out! Gareth is on the warpath :-D
We ALL need to look after places like this