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Freedom campers clash with rangers as strain hits home

January 19, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Illegal “freedom camper” tourists are clashing with enforcement officers trying to clamp the wheels of their vehicles in disputes over parking, rubbish and excrement strewn around campsites.

The scene is New Zealand, where tourism is doing so well that some facilities are groaning at the seams (see: Tourism to NZ doing so well that stresses show)

More than 3.4 million visitors arrived in New Zealand over the past year and a booming summer season is due to set a new record.

The country’s Department of Conservation (DOC) staff report that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep designated freedom camping sites clean. Piles of rubbish and human excrement face them regularly, according to a report by Fairfax in New Zealand.

Freedom camping has a specific meaning in New Zealand, as defined by the country’s Freedom Camping Act 2011.

In this Act, freedom camp means to camp (other than at a camping ground) within 200 metres of a motor vehicle accessible area or the mean low-water springs line of any sea or harbour, or on or within 200 metres of a formed road or a Great Walks Track, using one or more of the following: 

(a) a tent or other temporary structure:
(b) a caravan:
(c) a car, campervan, housetruck, or other motor vehicle.

Many freedom campers are young backpackers who use low-cost campervan/motorhome type vehicles or vans fitted with beds and rented as cheaply as possible.

Freedom campers are valuable because they spend more and stay longer than other tourists. Official analysis has shown freedom campers spend about NZ$260 million a year, or on average about NZD 4880 each.

Radio New Zealand quoted DOC’s Queenstown manager, Geoff Owen, saying rangers were spending more and more time driving around camping spots picking up rubbish.

Freedom campers were crowding into road lay-bys with no facilities, or heading for reserves with just a single toilet – pushing the spaces beyond anything they were designed for, Owen said.

“You’re having to actually walk around the facilities to pick up behind people. The worst is the human waste. Where we have sites with a single toilet… the capacity is not there for the numbers.”

Since December, the Queenstown Lakes District Council has handed out 484 enforcement notices to freedom campers. Council staff have taken to clamping the wheels of non-compliant campers as a deterrent, usually during early-morning patrols, but this has brought them into conflict with aggressive campers, who use intimidatory tactics or drive off as wheel clamps are being set.

Christchurch has banned freedom camper vehicles without onboard toilets, for reasons easy to imagine.

Owen said DOC rangers were encountering human waste in bushes surrounding campsites, a development he termed “particularly unsavoury”.

Written by Peter Needham

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