First off, a self contained campervan, according to New Zealand terms, is a van that meets certain criteria so as not to require its occupants to need public facilities – like a toilet, sink, or even a shower – while road tripping around New Zealand, and likely living full time in their vehicle. The way they see it, if you are paying a one-time fee for your van and then traveling around using the public facilities paid for by the local tax-paying residents, you don’t deserve to be a “freedom camper,” meaning you camp for free at the majority of places available. If, however, you agree to build (or buy) your van to include their list of requirements that alleviate your need for these public facilities – besides filling up your fresh water tank and dumping your grey water tank – a whole new list of possible campgrounds is then open for your use, the majority of which cost nothing at all.
Basically, getting your campervan self contained is great for you because it means less money spent paying for campgrounds and way more overall camping areas to choose from, and great for them because it means you’re not typically using their facilities and it’s one less #vanlife hippie shitting in bushes in front of a horrified old lady’s house.
If you plan on on living full time in your van for any length of time in New Zealand, I still highly recommend getting the self containment certification. I just can’t recommend doing it yourself, as we have done, for a number of reasons I will explain below. As stated in my previous post about buying and renovating a campervan in New Zealand, if you have the funds to buy an already self contained vehicle, DO IT. If, like us, you do not and figured ‘how hard can it possibly be?’ to knock off a checklist of relatively simple-sounding materials, the answer is ‘harder than it should be,’ and I recommend having three glasses of wine immediately before proceeding.
Self Containment Certification for Campervans in New Zealand: A How To Guide for the Clueless
Before I even begin explaining the tedious process of getting your campervan ready for self-containment in New Zealand, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you possess an infinite amount of patience, and at least a decent chunk of free time?
- Do you consider yourself to be somewhat handy, and know how to properly use the majority of common tools?
- Do you have money to buy aforementioned common tools, money to hire someone with tools, or a generous friend who’s at least willing to let you borrow their tools?
- Are you prepared to spend way more time than you’d like buying, returning, and most likely re-buying minuscule pieces of somehow very important hardware from your local hardware store, all while annoying a recently retired man named Ted who’d much rather be sorting hoses or playing miss-the-finger with a nail gun?
- Are you prepared to finally pay a mechanic to properly do all of this for you, only to have him give you a newer, somehow even more vague list of hardware to purchase from the nearest local hardware store and come back?
- Are you willing to delve into the weird world that is the Boys Club of the NZ Self Containment Certification process?
- Are you willing to drive hours across the country to meet one of approximately 5 available older gentleman in the parking lot of their own home or shop, only to have them certify your campervan in 11 minutes or tell you to fix 19 things and come back the next week?
- Are you then willing to hand deliver a single piece of paper across the country, or wait an inordinately long amount time to receive a sticker in the mail at an address you may or may not currently have?
- Are you still prepared, after all of this, to have to poop in your own vehicle if and when it becomes necessary, and then have residents and the government question why you wouldn’t want to do this on a regular basis since your van is, after all, equipped with a plastic portable toilet?
- Are you prepared to store said poop somewhere near your head and/or food supply while you sleep, relax, and/or travel around in your home until you locate the nearest appropriately named dumpsite? (Just for reference, we have NOT done this, so that’s at least an ounce of well-earned victory.)
- Are you willing to wash all of your dirty dishes in a sink that is decidedly smaller than even your smallest dish?
- Are you willing to ignore the petri dish of bacteria growing inside your kitchen wastewater container in your van, simply because a vent leading to the outdoors is attached to it, and it is sealed as tightly as your weak hands allow?
Glorious! You’re all set to get your self containment certification, friend. Let’s move on.
Step #1: Prep Your Car & Buy the Materials
As of 2018, the requirements for self containment certification for campervans in New Zealand are:
- Two 24-Liter Water Containers for Fresh Water & Grey Water (or 4L per person per day): Approximately $30 NZD each.
- Metal or Plastic Sink: The sink can be as large or small as you want (and as flimsy and shitty as you want), but we recommend buying one with a lip so that it is easier to install. The sink must be connected to your sealed, water-tight, completely portable grey water tank, and also fitted with an additional hose (aka “evacuation hose”) leading out of your car to act as a vent for the smell from the grey water tank. The sink and grey water and vent attachment portion of the process is by far the most painstaking, just FYI. All the parts for the sink and fittings cost approximately $80 – $90 NZD.
- Trash Bin with a Sealable Lid: Sealable swinging lids seem to work just fine. Approximately $6 – $12 NZD.
- Portable (or Fixed) Toilet: Unless you have a massive campervan, you’re going to want to buy a plastic portable toilet, preferably one that comes apart so that it’s easier to store. The minimum storage must be 3 liters net holding per person. Portable toilets normally cost approximately $130 NZD, but ours accidentally rang up as a $65 beach chair, to which we made no effort of alerting our salesperson.
*As an added challenge, as of late 2017 you are now required to have enough elbow and head room to use the toilet inside your van when the bed is completely made up. Since the majority of people buy their toilet for the certification sticker and then store it under their bed, never to be touched again, they recently added this clause to ensure you can actually use the toilet in your car, if needed, when the bed is fully laid out.
Had our friend not thoughtfully decided to build our bed with the ability to fold over with room to put our legs on the ground, we would NOT have passed this portion of the certification process, and thus wasted valuable time, money and alarming levels of sanity. And a final note on this: We were told by more than one self containment officer that technically, yes, you could have a toilet and then a tent in which to use the toilet in, but for purposes of the new, revised self containment certification process, you now have to show that you can use it in your car before you can theoretically use your pop-up poop-tent at any point after. This new rule obviously now limits the kinds of campervans that can get this certification, because once your bed is made up – which normally takes up the entire back portion of your van – how many vans actually have enough head and elbow room to allow for a useable toilet in the back, especially one that’s not sitting atop your mattress?!
Step #2: Find a Self Containment Officer
Once you have all the checks on your self containment checklist crossed off – congrats! – you’re ready to meet with a registered Self Containment Officer and have them sign off that you’ve met all the stated requirements.
But hold up, homie. This is unfortunately, and absolutely idiotically, way more difficult than it should be. Since we originally bought and renovated our campervan while living in Queenstown, we first searched for Self Containment Officers in Queenstown. I’ll save you some time – there are none. Zero. Zip. Nada, amigo. Any why would there not be a single man or lady capable of checking off a relatively straightforward checklist in the single most touristy spot in the country? Because fuck if I know, y’all!
Having read on yet another misinformed website that any registered plumber could also probably accomplish this for us, we proceeded to call every single plumber in Queenstown, to which all of them also promptly said no, they did not offer self containment certifications, and we should try calling someone else. I’ll save you more time – there is no one else. Zero. Zip. Still nada.
In addition, the arrogant tools at the most predominant Self Containment Certification Organization in the country, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, not only charge a one time fee of $130 and an annual $90 subscription fee just to join their association, which allows you to access their list of supposed “400-plus volunteer Self-Containment Officers located across the country,” but also recently added this to their website: “From 13 December 2017 the NZMCA has temporarily suspended accepting new membership applications from overseas applicants who are not also members of an affiliated overseas club.” So in essence, unless I am a 65 year old (likely Floridian) member of something called the ‘Good Sam Club’ in the U.S., I am shit out of luck for not only 1) becoming an unwanted member of an expensive, entirely lame caravan’ing club within New Zealand, but 2) cannot even do so to simply access a list of people who qualify to self contain my van in the first place. If you’re reading this, NZMCA staff, and I dearly hope you are, here’s an acronym I’d like you to look up, for once – GTFO.
I promise I will stop bitching after this paragraph, but if New Zealand, a country touted as one of the world’s most amazing road trip destinations, actually wants people to continue making the effort to get legally self contained, I highly recommend them taking the proper steps to make this a more accessible, doable and timely process. Otherwise, while I understand the temptation to make an example of the humans shitting on random pathways and in relatively conspicuous neighborhoods, you’re actually punishing the ones attempting to follow the correct steps to ensure they won’t resort to that behavior. Rant over! Ahh.
Thankfully, the much kinder, more reasonable souls at All Points Camping NZ currently offer their list of certified Self Containment Officers at no charge at all. The only problem? If you’re on the South Island, there are currently only 7 people on that list, one of which may have died last year (RIP), if I correctly recall from my many phone calls within the Self Containment Boys Club. Also, it is likely that anywhere from 1 to 3 of them may currently be on vacation or away for the foreseeable future, so your phone calls will end up sounding a lot like this…
“Hey Neil, my name’s _____ and I recently bought a campervan in _____. I’m calling to ask if you still happen to do self containment certifications for campervans, and if you might have any time to look at ours within the next week?”
“Ahh yeah I do, but I’m actually up in Nelson at the moment, so you should try Richie over in Gore instead.”
“Yes, well I actually just called Richie and he’s out of the country until late next month, so…”
“Well you also might try my friend Tony in Dunedin.”
“Yes, I actually just talked to Tony too, and he can’t certify vans on his own until after he’s done 20 of them. We’re hoping to get it done fairly soon if we can.”
“Okay, hmm. I believe another guy up in Christchurch might still do them, but I’m not sure.”
“Okay, thanks!” End of convo; continued nothingness accomplished.
After having actually met Tony in Dunedin, who very kindly helped us install our sink and correctly fit our grey water and hose attachments together, and who is also a stellar mechanic who will not try to rip you off and is now able to certify campervans on his own, I suggest you contact him at 027.526.4455 or pop into his Marine & Motorhome shop for your Self Containment Certification on the South Island, closely followed by Gordon of Hampden who actually certified our own van (though he didn’t seem too eager to be included in this post, so make him your alternate).
Step #3: Send in Paperwork & Get the Sticker
Holy mother of moses and a tiny blue sticker, you’re almost there! After receiving final approval from a Self Containment Officer and paying them approximately $30 NZD, they must send a faxed copy of your paperwork in for processing from the All Points Camping NZ staff, located on the North Island. You also have to mail in the original paperwork, along with a $30 processing fee, into their office at 32 Kennedy Avenue Feilding, NZ, 4702, and include a return address – which, like I said before, you may or may not have – for them to mail back your self containment sticker, card, and associated paperwork.
While we didn’t know this at the time, you can skip the whole snail mail process and instead snap a clear photo of your original paperwork, email it to [email protected], and pay the $30 processing fee via Paypal from their website, which is likely much faster than our way of doing it.
In fact, after dropping our paperwork in the mail slot on a Saturday morning in the small South Island town of Oamaru, taking a leisurely week-long road trip through Tasman, moving to the North Island via Interislander Ferry, and camping in Wellington for a 3 day weekend and still not receiving our precious blue sticker, we finally decided to just drive to Feilding ourselves and pick it up in person. Basically we beat the mail and weren’t even trying to do so.
Step #4: Add Sticker to Van & Celebrate Wildly
Put that little blue baby on your newly certified campervan, and hell, do a jig! Pop some champagne! Treat yo’self. You deserve it.
Best of luck, pals. If this post still hasn’t convinced you to splurge for a pre-certified self contained campervan in New Zealand, you must be as poor as we are, and we salute you. Also, Backpacker Guide does a solid job updating their site with the newest regulations for the NZ self containment process, so be sure to keep on eye on their site for the latest info.