Freedom camping law could impact on hikers and mountaineers

By Derek Cheng

Hikers may be inadvertently affected by new freedom camping legislation. File photo / Thinkstock
Hikers may be inadvertently affected by new freedom camping legislation. File photo / Thinkstock

A law that would restrict freedom camping could threaten a Kiwi tradition by capturing hikers and mountaineers who sleep on roadsides before an early morning start to their adventures, parliament has been told.

The Local Government sub-committee heard submissions this morning on the Freedom Camping Bill, which would empower local authorities to declare certain areas off-limits to freedom camping and allow them to issue $200 fines.

Local authorities or the Department of Conservation could also take offenders to court for a maximum fine of $10,000.

The litter and human waste from freedom campers has been an issue gathering momentum in the past 18 months, and the bill is an effort to resolve it in time for the influx of tourists - and freedom campers - for the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on September 9.

But Federated Mountain Clubs president Richard Davies said trampers could be caught out and find themselves with a hefty fine.

"We'll stop [and sleep for a few hours] at the side of the road on a Friday night on the way to a weekend tramp.

"The remedy [with this bill] is to rule out a whole class of activity, which for our members includes most Friday nights on their way to a tramp ... that's an activity they've carried out for generations."

The bill's explanatory note says that the bill "does not target back country campers, or motorists who need to pull over to the side of the road to rest", but Mr Davies said these activities were all inadvertently captured by the bill.

He wanted the definition of freedom camping to be more clearly defined; the bill defines it as camping within 1km of a road or vehicle accessible area in a tent, caravan, campervan or other vehicle or temporary structure.

He also suggested the bill should have fines that match the consequences.

Under the bill it can be an offence with a $10,000 fine to "prepare to camp, yet that carries the same weight as causing the harm such as leaving toilet waste or destroying vegetation".

"Perhaps a better example is, if you park in the wrong place, it's a $40 fine, but if you happen to be sleeping in the car, it jumps to $200."

He also had concerns council officers could issue fines to recover the cost of enforcement, or even to gather revenue, and that councils would use the bill to issue blanket bans, citing the ban from Kapiti Coast District Council on vehicles that are not self-contained.

He suggested a sunset clause so the law would expire after the RWC.

Earlier the sub-committee heard from the Queenstown Lakes District Council, which said up to 30 or 40 vans could be found freedom camping in the centre of Queenstown on a nightly basis.

Council general manager of community services Paul Wilson said the bill would finally give the council some teeth for enforcement.

The bill is scheduled to be reported back to parliament in October, but it is expected to be returned by the start of August.

- NZ Herald

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