Tony and Sandra Gavin: Grey nomads can be big help for smaller centres

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Freedom campers have much to offer, write Tony and Sandra Gavin, freedom campers from Wellington.

Self-contained and not disturbing anyone, freedom campers ask only to be treated reasonably. Photo / Tony Gavin
Self-contained and not disturbing anyone, freedom campers ask only to be treated reasonably. Photo / Tony Gavin

From the headlines and comments by the mayor and campground owners in Thames-Coromandel, freedom camping is perceived as being the equivalent of environmental vandalism. Freedom campers are a blot on the landscape, are bludgers and should be banned.

Is this the true picture of freedom campers generally? Or is it representative of the irresponsible few?

We are freedom campers. In the past 18 months we have not stayed in a campground while touring in the North Island. Our fifth-wheel caravan is fully self-contained, generates its own power and we can camp independently for up to 10 days. It's our "mobile apartment". The campground has little to offer us.

We are members of the Motor Caravan Association, which has a network of low-cost parkovers that supplement freedom camp locations.

I might add we don't park in "no camping" areas, we don't light fires, don't crap in the bushes and as far as we are aware haven't parked in front of million-dollar houses.

We are law-abiding, responsible freedom campers and, to quote our Aussie cousins, "members of the grey nomads iwi".

We are representative of the baby boomer generation, active and independent, wishing to do our own thing our way.

For us, motorhoming was a deliberate choice. We decided that the holiday home was restrictive and not a good investment. Over the past four years we have had the opportunity to explore much of our beautiful country. We haven't as yet visited the Thames-Coromandel area.

Freedom camping is about choice and responsibility. This was emphasised by ministers and members of the select committee when considering the Freedom Camping Act. The act provided councils with the power to make bylaws, issue instant fines to transgressors, and in return to respect the legitimacy of freedom camping by those who are self-contained and camp responsibly.

The test is whether councils strike a reasonable balance between community interests and those of responsible freedom campers in crafting bylaws under the act. The Motor Caravan Association contends that the Thames-Coromandel Council has weighted the bylaw in favour of unreasonable restriction of the right to freedom camp.

What are the positives? I would argue we have twin assets that are important to tourist areas such as Thames-Coromandel - time and discretionary income.

It is reported that the high dollar and economic uncertainty in Europe and the US will see a likely decline in overseas tourist numbers.

Tourists who come will stay for shorter periods and focus on the prime tourist destinations. The domestic tourist will become increasingly more important to the economy of secondary tourist destinations such as the Thames-Coromandel district.

Freedom campers are a mobile lot. We generally travel outside the peak holiday periods and are prepared to spend an extended time on travel. The overnight stop before rushing off to the next destination is not our style.

We spend money. The cafe, tourist activities, the petrol station, laundrette, supermarket and other shops are all beneficiaries of our disposable income.

Our contribution to local economies shouldn't be underestimated. A rough estimate is that we spend $70 per day when travelling.

We are definitely not bludgers. We simply like to choose what we want to spend our money on.

Indeed, I suspect we spend more than the holidaymaker who comes for a week, stays in a campground or motel and then disappears back to the city.

We resist the view that the campground is our only option. We respect the local environment and seek reasonable access to camping areas. Our mobility provides us with choice and we will exercise it.

The Western Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Hauraki and other places of interest welcome us and provide reasonable access to free or low-cost camping.

Who is the loser?

I would recommend that the Thames-Coromandel Council and local retailers investigate the RV Friendly Town scheme that operates throughout Australia.

In a one-month trip through Queensland we learned that the freedom camper had become an economic saviour for many small towns.

The freedom camper is encouraged to stop over, with towns providing parking and facilities within town boundaries.

Hopefully, one day we will find a reason to visit Thames-Coromandel and receive a welcome as legitimate travellers.

- NZ Herald

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