Camping at Raetea Reserve

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Trees in the Raetea Reserve

We’ve struggled to find places to sleep since the start of our trip. There aren’t many free campsites in New Zealand for cars, which shouldn’t be an issue because of the country’s freedom camping rules: as long as it’s not specifically forbidden, you’re supposedly welcome to camp anywhere provided you clean up after yourself and act responsibly. Freedom camping is part of the New Zealand psyche: when we were planning our trip and asked our Airbnb host in Auckland about free campsites, he looked at us like we were crazy. “Just pitch a tent anywhere out of the way and freedom camp,” he laughed. The problem is that most local councils of New Zealand have now heavily restricted or outlawed freedom camping, so in most places we’d technically be breaking the law.

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A trail closed to prevent the spread of Kauri dieback disease

But let’s set that aside for now because we’ve found a free campsite to stay at for this night! It’s at Raetea, and the reason it’s free is that the rest of the reserve is technically closed to prevent the spread of Kauri dieback disease. So it means there’s absolutely nothing for us to do at this reserve, but it does mean a night of sleep free from fees and worries that someone will find and fine us for sleeping in the car.

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The campgrounds, sheltered from wind and fairly quiet.

There isn’t much at this campsite except a huge grassy field and some drop toilets across the stream. When we cross to use it, we notice people washing their dishes in the stream water. I almost want to shout at them: GUYYYYS, this is why they’re outlawing freedom camping. This is why we can’t have nice things, and it’s only a matter of time before freedom camping dies out entirely.

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There’s also this sign, so stay classy folks.

Otherwise, the campsite is absolutely lovely. Though its hiking trails are all closed, the reserve still has beautiful scenery and is blissfully quiet. And except for the moon, it’s entirely dark at night. Time to get our first good sleep in days.

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The stream near the campgrounds
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The moonlight night in the campgrounds