New Zealand is a fabulous country for camping. There are so many wonderful natural sites to see, and a huge variety of places to camp, from caravan parks, to national parks to free camps. But in order to really make the most of free camping in this country and to really open up your camping options, you need a vehicle or caravan that is Certified Self Contained (CSC). So what does that mean, and how can you achieve it?
Certified Self Contained (CSC)
The term Self Contained in its most pure form simply means you have everything you need to camp contained within your vehicle, and everything remains contained within your vehicle for the duration of your stay. This means you can essentially camp anywhere without the need for any outside assistance or any facilities. So not only do you need to have adequate water supply for your needs, you also need to have grey water tanks to catch used water, as well as a toilet for human waste, and a bin to take all your rubbish away with you.
In order to ensure freedom campers are genuinely self-contained before they camp at places that require it, there are some fairly strict, but clear guidelines for campers to meet. If they are able to meet those guidelines then they can have their vehicle inspected by a certified officer, who can then deem it Certified Self Contained. This certificate and associated little blue sticker that gets attached to your vehicle shows off to the world, and the local authorities, that you can meet the Self Containment standards, and are therefore eligible to camp in places that require people to be CSC to stay there.
So what are the guidelines?
The guidelines basically require campers to be able to sustain themselves for at least three days between water top ups and dump points. In order to be able to do this the minimum requirements are as follows:
- Fresh Water, at least 4L per person, per day. So if your caravan sleeps four people, you’ll need a water tank that holds at least 48 litres
- Grey Water tank also needs to hold at least 4L per person, per day. It must be vented, and if it’s a smaller capacity than your fresh water tank, then it must be monitored too so you can easily see when it is reaching capacity.
- A Sink that is connected to your sealed grey water tank via a smell/water trap.
- An Evacuation Hose that’s at least 3m long for fixed tanks, or long enough to connect to a sealed portable grey water tank.
- Toilet, can be portable or fixed. Must have a capacity of at least 1L per person, per day for three days. So for four people your toilet needs a holding tank of at least 12L. This toilet must be able to be used with the bed made up, and there must be adequate room to use it inside the vehicle. (These rules are to prevent people just shoving a toilet in the boot of their car and calling it, ‘self contained’). If these requirements are met you are however still allowed to use your toilet outside the vehicle inside a toilet tent if the campsite you are at allows it.
- A bin with a lid, no size requirement.
You can also get your vehicle certified for more people than it actually sleeps if you have the capacity. So for example our caravan sleeps four, but it is certified for six as it has larger than needed fresh/grey water tanks and a larger portaloo than needed to meet the guidelines. This means if we have two extra people travelling with us, and we’re staying at a campsite that allows it, they can sleep in a tent/their vehicle and still meet the CSC requirements by using our facilities.
So how did we do it?
We’re travelling in a 1972 vintage caravan that we stripped back to bare walls and completely renovated. It had a small old rusted water tank, but nothing else as far as self containment went, so we needed to start from scratch. We wanted to be fully self contained and off grid. So not only did we plan to meet the CSC requirements, we also included in our renovation the capacity to create our own power supply. For us, as a family of four, all we needed to meet the CSC requirement were fresh and grey water tanks of at least 48L, and a toilet with a capacity of 12L. However in reality, this is nowhere near enough for life on the road. So this is what we did:
In an ideal world we’d say the greater the water capacity the better, but unfortunately it’s not quite that simple – every extra litre of water you carry equals another kilo of weight to tow. So you need to weigh up (literally) your water needs with your weight limits and come to a happy compromise. For us we decided on 95L tanks for both fresh and grey water, which adds essentially another 95kg of water weight to our caravan, plus the weight of the tanks themselves. Keep in mind that you’re unlikely to have both tanks full at the same time. The fresh water shifts to the grey water tanks as it’s being used, so having the two tanks is really a redistribution of weight, rather than doubling the weight.
We ordered the tanks direct from the manufacturer and picked them up when they had finished being fabricated. We chose tanks made of heavy duty plastic so they’re not too heavy, but still sturdy and unlikely to become damaged, that were slim, so they would fit underneath the caravan (old caravans are low to the ground), and with baffles to stop the water moving around too much when in motion. The manufacturer was also able to put threaded holes in the tank for all our connections at a place of our choosing.
We had someone else weld some brackets to connect the tanks to the bottom of the caravan, and then after that we did the rest ourselves. We fitted a new water filler inlet to the side of the caravan to use to fill up the freshwater tank, from the freshwater tank the water is taken up and out the tap into the sink via a 12v pump. From there, after we take the plug out, the water goes down via a smell trap into the grey water tank where it sits until we reach a dump point and can empty the tank. When we need to do so we connect a waste water hose to an outlet on the side of the caravan, turn the tap, and the grey water runs out the waste water hose and into the dump point. Then we refill the fresh water tanks and start again.
We used a standard tap and sink from Bunnings rather than RV specific options that for some reason seem to cost three times as much.
We also know from experience that a 12L holding tank on a portaloo fills up really quickly, but that as a portaloo tank needs to be lifted and manually moved to a dump point, a larger tank can quickly become too heavy to lift. So again, it’s about finding a happy medium. We choose a portaloo with a 21L holding tank, which seems to be just about right for us. And while a portaloo is probably the easiest toilet solution for most people, it is by no means the only option – you could install a fixed toilet, or even put in a composting toilet if you prefer.
Getting the CSC paperwork
There are a number of ways you can get your self containment set up certified. You can find a certification officer and pay them to inspect the RV and sign it off. Or you can do what we did and join the NZMCA and have a volunteer come out and inspect it for you. As we were planning to join the NZMCA anyway, we found this a fantastic additional service as it cost us absolutely nothing for the volunteer to come out (although be aware some do charge a small fee for their time) and nothing for the certification paperwork.
He was able to sign us off and give us our coveted little blue ‘Certified Self Contained’ sticker for our caravan straight away, with the rest of the paperwork arriving in the mail shortly afterwards. The NZMCA volunteer was also a wealth of information and knowledge; he was extremely helpful with advice, and happily answered all our questions (of which there were many!)
Was it worth it?
Yes. 100% yes. Sure it was a process to get it sorted. Sure it was a massive learning curve fitting out a caravan like this having never done it before. Sure, it wasn’t exactly cheap to do. But now we have our pick of campsites throughout the country, and already we’ve stayed in some absolute pearlers that we wouldn’t have been allowed to access if we weren’t CSC.
Now there is some controversy in certain circles about whether this whole self-containment thing is really necessary at all. But wherever you stand on that debate doesn’t change the fact that it is currently required if you want to make the most of all the camping options available in NZ.
So if you plan to travel NZ for any length of time in any sort of RV then making sure it’s CSC is a must. Of course you could just go the fast route and buy one already certified, but where’s the fun in that?