Narrative, Travel

The Myth of Freedom Camping in New Zealand

In the future, I predict silence will be stupidly expensive commodity, and unadulterated nature even rarer. Right now lying in my tent beside a tree-encircled pond, near a flowing river under pounding rain in New Zealand. It feels like nature, except for the droning bass in the distance, which shatters any notion that I’m alone. Once I embraced the fact that I’m a loner, being alone is what I desire most in this hectic system called life. With three quarters of New Zealand’s population on the north island, I thought I’d find peace and nature on the untamed South Island. Tonight, however, I’m not. I’m freedom camping.

When I arrived here, everything told me freedom camping is the NZ word for wild camping. My host who has camped in the wild told me so, and all the people who pick me up hitchhiking only know one term: freedom camping.

Like I said, I though freedom camping was the same as wild camping, camping (sometimes illegally) where you decide in the nature. In theory freedom sounded fitting. Though not as wild as wild camping, I could understand New Zealanders having their own word for it I had to reframe it in my mind as something like, ‘be free to camp where you want,’ or ‘have the freedom to choose where you’ll camp.’ I went along with it. I’ve been going along with it… until now. I’ve slept the past 24 nights in my tent all over the island and freedom camping is not wild camping.

The Real Freedom Camping

Freedom camping is like Communism, it sounds good in theory, then breaks down in reality. With Communism you got lousy administration leading to food shortages and a starving population. With freedom camping you get intermittent resonating bass, a reeking closet full of shit and piss to avoid, a trashed camp spot, and sometimes beautiful nature. Word of mouth from the locals reached me that that NZ department is underfunded to maintain the freedom camping sites.

To me, there’s a flaw in the system and NZ is far from the worst example. NZ tourism is a consumerist package. Everything from rental vans, adventure activities in Queenstown, to camping is made possible with a credit card. Alongside that, her laws: prohibit camping in the wild, restrict people to campsites, and let them continue consumerist tendencies. For that you get freedom camping, a pretentious name for free camping.

Going Wild

These past three weeks, I’ve been wandering off, looking for the pathway so overgrown with thorns to deter others, or the hidden path, which leads me somewhere scenic and solitary. I choose to wild camp. Though, the locals look at me confused when I explain it, and think in terms of official campsites, they eventually help me find somewhere to sleep, with the understanding that I’ll leave the site spotless. I think wild camping could be completely sustainable if governments and communities made an effort to teach people how to do it vs telling them not to do it.

This also got me wondering how the wording we use subconsciously defines an activity. Freedom is such an abstract word. Using it with camping makes the definition fuzzy, because everyone has a different definition for freedom. Let’s not forget about the money focused who see it only as freedom camping. There are also the upholders, afraid to get a fine. There’s a comfort in going camping in a safe spot where there’s no chance of midnight visits from park rangers or, worse, angry owners. I get it, but I think we’re bs’ing ourselves by calling it freedom camping.

That said, wild camping in NZ does exist. I’ve wild camped in many countries around Europe and it’s unique here. If you want to experience NZ for what makes her unique, learn what it takes to wild camp responsibly, leave your car and dive into the nature with your tent and experience the only thing better than silence, the ambience of nature. Hell, it’s natural.

If you’ve never wild camped, here’s a good article by Atlas & Boots on how to wild camping, etiquette, what you might need, and how to do it. Happy Camping!