Freedom (camping)

March 6, 2012 by Jeramie

We set out this morning for the east coast, no major goals in mind for the day, just a long drive ahead, ending with a stop just outside of Blenheim (blen’ – uhm, they really don’t like to annunciate vowels here) to see an old sunken shipwreck. It was a beautiful little walk, through what is actually a series of open air sewage treatment ponds, which shockingly did not smell, at all. A long hike, beers in hand, through tall grasses along a coastline, is always good. At the end I got to climb around an old rusty ship like an overexcited schoolboy, putting myself in jeopardy of tetanus or landing in a creek of sewage below.

That afternoon we stopped in the i-site (visitors’ center) to get some info on wine tours. This area is becoming quite famous, and growing quickly, and we hoped to do a tour the next day. Tour costs seemed somewhat reasonable, until we found out tastings were not included. Then we found a map of all the wineries in the area, and also descriptions of all their offerings, which included several cellar doors with complimentary tastings. We decided we’d try it DIY style and hope for the best. The problem for this evening was where to stay…

The south island is much more difficult to freedom camp… Ah freedom camping, haven’t really explained that one.

So here’s the deal. “Camping” in New Zealand covers a broad spectrum, as it does for many different walks of life back in the States. First off, you have “Holiday Parks”. These places are well established chains throughout the country which have tent sites, hookups, cabins, wifi at many of them, hot showers, the works. The closest thing I would compare them to in the U.S. would be KOA, although most of them here seem a bit between KOA and a motel.

Then you have DOC (Department of Conservation) sites. These also range in their amenities, but are much more like the campgrounds we’re used to back home. You have 4 different categories based on amenities available, which then affect the prices which range from free to $30+ per person (almost everything here is per person).

Beyond all this you have what they call “freedom camping.” This is the poor man’s version. Run around the country in a vehicle of some sort, find a spot to park it, and call it good. Freedom Camping has been a fine way to travel in NZ for years, but given its growing popularity, they’ve begun to crack down on it. The south island is much more aggressive in its restrictions, which are formed primarily by signs which designate areas restricting freedom camping (in some cases for everyone, in others for those who don’t have a toilet on board). So it comes down to you the individual to figure out where to stay, and whether it’s causing anyone any headaches. So far, Zoe and I haven’t spent a dime on a place to stay since buying our van though! (knock on wood).

So, as I said it’s more difficult on the south island. This evening we had the added difficulty of being in wine country where SOMEONE owns everything. We had been passed some knowledge about seeking out spots, one morsel of which, was to look for dirt roads along creek beds. Fisherman pull in here at all hours, and supposedly these areas are kosher for freedom camping. So we headed for a blue squiggle on the map, amongst the hectares of grapes, and landed on a little dirt road set down from the highway, just out of view of passing headlights. I’m finally achieving the teenage dream shared with a few fellow Sawyers, of “livin’ in a van, down by the river”. (R.I.P. C.F.)

Posted in New Zealand |

One Response to “Freedom (camping)”

  1. ScottCook says:

    RIP for sure!!! My book printer used to address my invoices “in a van, down by the river”. I’m impressed you kept your ears peeled for all my scaccato bursts of “tips” Jeramie. Well listened!! I love the pic inside the Waverly—way better than my own by a long shot!!

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