Nationwide consultation on how we should deal with the minority of freedom campers who are causing “quite a stink” around the country is underway.
Freedom camping is where you camp on public land that isn’t a recognised camping ground.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has released a discussion document with ideas to better manage freedom camping to reduce the negative impacts on local councils, communities, and New Zealand’s 100 % Pure brand.
“The most consistent complaints I hear about the tourism sector relate to abuse of the freedom camping rules,” said Nash. “A sub-group of visitors are spoiling the experience for more responsible campers and for locals who are left to clean up the mess.
“Backpackers and budget travellers are welcome. Responsible campers in motorhomes, caravans or budget vehicles in campgrounds are welcome. But it must be ‘right vehicle, right place.’ This document asks for public feedback on the future of vehicles that are not self-contained,” Nash said.
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult has plenty to say on the issue.
Do you welcome the consultation?
“There is a social license thing here for Kiwis and we have got to do something about it,” he said.
“I think our district was probably the catalyst for changing things. In 2016 and 2017 the district was getting overtaken by freedom campers and we put in some pretty strict bylaws to control it. These have worked marvellously for us and we are very supportive of the minister's actions.”
What were the issues which brought you to ban freedom camping in parts?
Freedom camping in a vehicle that has a flush loo on board- we have some places around the district where they are more than welcome.
From our point of view, it was people flying into New Zealand, buying a second hand Subaru station wagon or a Mazda Bongo van in Auckland, putting a porta-loo in the back and saying it had onboard facilities. Then they would never get used and we would have the problem of human waste, which was disgusting.
We had reports of kids walking into the trees and finding all this stuff. It was a very sore issue.
There is a hui (meeting) tonight ( Tuesday) in Queenstown – do you think there will be a big turnout?
I don’t think we will have many attending because I think we are on top of the issue.
Generally, if you went out into the street in Queenstown and asked a local what they thought, they would be supportive of this recent legislation.
Your changes came in in 2018. Did you see any negative economic impact on the region?
Not at all. Generally speaking, we got the message through and it seems to be working quite well.
There are a couple of issues and the first is we are not against vehicles camping where there are facilities for them to use.
The other issue is that New Zealanders should be able to camp in the woods if they want to.
So you have to get the balance right between ensuring that you can do that without taking away one of those basic rights of Kiwis.
What have you done in the district that has worked well?
We have restricted certain areas from freedom camping where our residents do their recreation and if you take an area like the Lake Hayes Reserve, for example, you couldn’t move there in 2017 due to freedom campers. That’s where mum dad and the kids go on Sunday afternoon for a barbeque and a swim in the lake. It has worked well- it has given those areas back to our residents.
Fines and confiscation-are you supportive of these?
Yes. It is also about education- people understanding what they can do and what they can’t.
Nash said the proposed changes are in line with priorities for tourism once borders can safely re-open. We want to reset tourism on a sustainable model, mitigate the negative impacts associated with tourism, and elevate Brand New Zealand. The time to do so is now before we fully reopen to international tourism.
Submissions can be made online, by email or by mail. MBIE tourism officials will also hold public information sessions around New Zealand, as well as webinars for people who are not able to attend a meeting.
Read edition 1023 of the Wānaka Sun here.