Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Crackdown on freedom camping coming

Designated freedom camping area near Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland
Designated freedom camping area near Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland

The tourism industry, local government and other groups have agreed to tackle problems caused by freedom campers this summer.

Campervan companies are working with local bodies to collect fines and a campaign to better educate freedom companies is likely.

The industry wants to know more about how an estimated 12,000 freedom campers behave. Local groups are especially angry at those without toilets in their vehicles fouling popular spots.

At a meeting of the New Zealand Responsible Camping Forum, convened by Tourism Industry Aotearoa, attendees agreed to continue with a range of measures to tackle issues associated with freedom camping.

TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said most campers - both New Zealanders and international visitors - obeyed the rules and acted responsibly.

''The Forum does not tolerate the minority of travellers who cause problems," he said.

"There is no single fix to the management of freedom camping. A strong regional focus, providing good information and adequate infrastructure, backed by enforcement measures, remains the best approach."

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said tourism infrastructure was a key piece of the puzzle but how it is funded was an issue for councils in tourist destinations, many of which are funded by a small ratepayer base.

In May, the Government announced a contestable $12m fund for the regions to build small tourism facilities such as car parks and toilets but Yule said other ways of funding the infrastructure need to be investigated.

"For both the industry and communities, tourism needs to be well funded and managed, and a concerted approach through the groups like the Forum to tackle these issues is necessary," he said.

The New Zealand Responsible Camping Forum was established in 2007 and brings together representatives from the tourism industry, rental vehicle operators, and central and local government.

The forum agreed to commission research to better understand the extent of freedom camping.

The government estimates that around 12,000 international visitors a year (0.4% of all international arrivals) use freedom camping as their main form of accommodation.

Roberts said the forum needed to know more about where they were staying, for how long, and why they choose to freedom camp.

"With better information, we can better understand their motivations and manage how campers behave."

A particular target group this summer will be people travelling in privately-owned vehicles. While the major rental vehicle operators provide freedom camping information to their clients, the forum wants to find ways of educating private vehicle owners in the behaviour expected of them.

The forum was keen to implement a social media campaign over the summer, Mr Roberts says.

"The central message to freedom campers continues to be 'Assume nothing - always ask' before deciding to freedom camp. Two apps - Camping NZ or Campermate - offer excellent information, while i-SITE Visitor Information Centres and Department of Conservation Visitor Centres can also help," Roberts said.

Meanwhile, two campervan rental companies, THL and Jucy, are working with the Thames-Coromandel and Queenstown-Lakes District Councils to improve collection of freedom camping fines.

Under the three-month trial, the councils notify the campervan companies of fines within 24 hours.

The companies can then remind their customers of the fine when they return the vehicles, and encourage them to pay promptly to avoid a possible administration fee.

It was possible the scheme could be rolled out further.

- NZ Herald

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