Campers on wheels say 'let us stay'

By Andre Hueber

Four or five times a year Howard Marriott and his wife, Virginia, pack up their home away from their Birkdale home - a campervan called Marriott's Motor Inn - and head to a regional park.

They've just returned from a gathering at Shakespear Park on Whangaparaoa Peninsula, with 60 other people - all members of the Motor Caravan Association's Auckland branch.

The group enjoys its regular get togethers - they play charades and Trivial Pursuit - but are disappointed about the Auckland Council rule that limits them to one night's stay in regional parks.

"You find a beautiful spot and might feel like staying, but you can't," Mr Marriott, the chairman of the the Auckland branch, says. "For some people it'll be their first time in Auckland and they'll want to explore. The longer they stay, the more money they spend ... that's a big drawcard."

He says he feels the group has been unfairly targeted.

"Our vehicles are completely self-contained - they have to be to stay in the designated hard stand areas. We don't leave rubbish and don't need water. Why not let people stay three or four nights?"

The rules limit caravans and motorhomes to one night in a car park, when there is a park campground also available; and allows a maximum of three nights when park campgrounds are closed or unavailable.

The rules changed in October 2010, and, at the time, the council had met with the caravan association about the changes. But the subject has arisen again ahead of the formation of Auckland's Long Term Plan, because the caravan association says the changes are unfair and create unnecessary expense.

Mr Marriott, 72, says the one-night rule has also been haphazard and unhelpful for campers. He has spoken to members frustrated they aren't being told about the limit when they phone to make bookings.

He says they are informed once they arrive at a park and speak to the ranger.

"The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."

On top of that, he says the cost of an annual motorised camping pass has increased markedly, from $60 to $92 - and from September 1 it will cost $123.

"It'll drive people away and they'll end up freedom camping."

Mr Marriott says having to use proper campgrounds removes some of the spontaneity of camping - sites have to be booked five days in advance, and are more expensive.

The association's resource management co-ordinator, James Imlach, says he'd like to see a review of the one-night restriction and costs. He'd also like to see an area provided for motor caravans - which encompass motor homes, campervans and caravans - in the vicinity of Auckland's CBD.

In Wellington, campervans are allowed on the waterfront where people often leave to catch the Interislander ferry.

"Visitors to Auckland want to park their vehicle safely and enjoy what the city has to offer. If there's something on at the Vector Arena, for example, parking in the outer suburbs and catching a train in becomes a hassle. If the city wants to encourage visitors it needs a simple solution."

One area suggested is the grass beside the Curran St on-ramp below the harbour bridge. "The land is suitable, it's close to the city - it's just whether people would want to park in such a busy area ... but we can't be too picky," says Mr Imlach.

Mr Marriott says 20-30 vehicles could park on the site and he suggests the installation of showers and toilets. "It's not far to walk into the Viaduct Basin - we can get over the noise."

Auckland Council says the land is owned by Waterfront Auckland on its behalf and it is looking at ways to accommodate certified self-contained campervans on the site.

Mr Imlach says another good idea would be for more dumping stations around the city, to get rid of caravan waste, such as the successful one set up at Westhaven Marina for the Rugby World Cup.

"Many of our members travel through Auckland and it's difficult for them to find areas to empty their waste. "There aren't enough facilities to dump safely so campervans and boaties end up finding the nearest bush, river or ocean."

But it's that kind of behaviour that has put motorhome users off-side.

Forest and Bird Auckland regional manager Nick Beveridge says pouring waste into the environment is never acceptable regardless of the lack of dumping stations.

Under the Government's new Freedom Camping Act, campervan owners caught illegally discharging sewage can be fined up to $10,000.

Auckland Council regional park spokesperson Mace Ward says changes to cost and length of stay happened during the development of the Auckland Regional Parks Management Plan 2010, and during consultation the public commented on the visual impact of campervans and large vehicles in car parks; the need for more hard stand campsites for self-contained campervans and changes to the annual self-contained certified camping cost.

"Following feedback on the visual impact of campervans in coastal locations, changes were made," says Mr Ward.

He says dedicated vehicle campgrounds have been created at Tapapakanga and Ambury Regional Parks, and more will be added over the next decade, increasing the number of spots for vehicles to stay overnight to around 100.

But it's not the number of parking spots, but the duration of occupants' stay that's behind Mr Marriott's gripe.

Friends of Regional Parks vice-president, Bronwen Turner, says her committee hasn't discussed the issue but in her opinion one night's stay isn't enough.

"It's a delicate balance to strike but regional parks are so lovely, people might want to go kayaking one day and tramping on another," she says.

"At the same time you want to make sure others can enjoy it and you don't want people thinking it's a semi-permanent place to live."

Responding to criticism of the price increases, Mr Ward points out the comparison of staying in a campground. "The camping pass offers very good value, as $123 is cheaper than the cost of an adult couple to stay seven nights in a campground in their campervan," he says.

But Mr Imlach says for most of the association's members there is no need to use and pay for a camping ground - their caravans and motorhomes are self-contained. "We don't need the facilities of a camping ground, we have our own, self-contained, so it seems pointless."


Auckland has 26 regional parks where campers in motorised vehicles can stay one night during summer (where a campground is also available.)

From September 1, a self-containment-certified (SCC) annual pass to stay in those carparks will cost $123. The pass is purchased for the vehicle. It is not to be confused with the cost of staying in a designated SCC parking area, which remains at $5 a night for adults and $3 a night for children.

What do you think? Have your say in the comment box below or on The Aucklander's Facebook page.

- The Aucklander

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