"I wanna hang a map of the world at my house. Then I wanna stick pins in the locations that I`ve traveled to.
...But first I have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won`t fall down."
-Mitch Hedberg

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wellington - Part Five - Freedom Camping

Alright. I’m taking this opportunity in the fifth and final installment of our (S)Wellington Extravaganza! to talk about something near and dear to my heart – Freedom Camping.

Freedom Camping is the subtle art of living in a van, camper, hollowed out VW Bug, what have you, allowing travelers to enjoy a country for much longer than they could if forced to pay for conventional accommodation like hostels, campsites, or hotels. The average price of a single bed in a Wellington is $26 – not ridiculous, but the cost for Care and I to stay for 7 days would have quickly mounted to $364 for the week, without including the savage parking fees our van would have incurred (some streets charge $6 per/hr Mon – Fri 8 am – 6 pm). For just five weekdays of parking we might have had to pay $200. Not on my watch.

Instead we drove 3 km outside of downtown to a lovely parking lot situated on Oriental Parade – a major street leading to the waterfront/museum district of downtown. When we pulled up we saw a half dozen other freedom campers in their garishly painted campervans all cooking, sitting out in the sun, or going for a quick swim at the adjacent sandy beach. Score.

The parking lot is one of several hugging the western side of the bay, and acts as a fishing area during the daytime hours. At night, freedom campers descend on the lot which also provides a bathroom to wash up, clean dishes, and…you know…use the bathroom.

Freedom camping in New Zealand is a strange tradition. It’s not illegal which is cool, but it is becoming more and more restricted in certain parts of the country. I get that some communities don’t want travelers squatting their neighborhoods, but the best and most surprising part about Wellington was that they had set aside these areas for travelers. We were never hassled about staying there, we never felt unsafe, and we had access to awesome beach front views, swimming, and amenities just a thirty minute walk into downtown Wellington.

It’s funny, the city was hosting a 15 km “Fun Run” that used Oriental Parade as the route, and at 7 a.m. a race official actually came around knocking on windows informing each camper that the road would be closed for the next four hours if we needed to leave before we got trapped. It wasn’t done maliciously or with the intent to roust us from our perch. It was an actual courtesy. Care and I decided to stay and watch the race.

Carolyn and I enjoyed one of our best weeks in New Zealand in Wellington, and while it was in large part due to Rich and Merridith, the great museums, cafés, and nightlife of Wellington itself, I’m not sure how much of any of that we would have been able to enjoy if we were paying over $500 to stay for one week. Freedom camping, while controversial and a negative side effect of travel to some, was the thing that really opened up doors for us in Wellington. Without it, we wouldn’t have loved Windy Welly enough to write this five part extravaganza.

So, thank you Wellington. Thank you for realizing that just because some travelers don’t have a lot of money it doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy your city.

Wellington is Swellington.


  1. I see you're still enjoying your peanut butter! I thought I hit a new low the other day when I dipped a chocolate bar into Shaun Rice's peanut butter jar. I was desperate!

  2. i have no less than 4 jars in reserve at all times!

  3. Right now we have five.


  4. hahah I panicked the other day when I realized I had NO jars. I usually make sure I have two.