Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Freedom campers snub fire rules

Council staff discovered illegal freedom campers had set material ready for lighting in a fire ban area. Photo / Supplied
Council staff discovered illegal freedom campers had set material ready for lighting in a fire ban area. Photo / Supplied

Freedom campers about to light a fire at their illegal campsite on the Coromandel Peninsula had to be stopped by council staff last week.

The bylaw enforcement officers came across the campers as they were preparing to set fire to vegetation they had gathered, despite the peninsula being in a restricted fire season.

The Thames-Coromandel District Council posted a photograph of the scene on its website, asking residents to report similar behaviour by freedom campers.

"Council bylaw officers are working hard, often in the early hours of the morning, to protect our environment from the problems associated with illegal freedom camping in our district," the website said.

"We would like to remind visitors that they are really welcome to our peninsula and there are wonderful campsites around the district for them to use."

A new law giving councils and the Department of Conservation the power to decide where freedom campers are allowed and to issue instant $200 fines came into effect in September last year in time for the Rugby World Cup.

Thames-Coromandel Mayor Glenn Leach said the thought of lighting a fire in a fire restriction zone annoyed him. He said designated freedom camping sites on the Coromandel were set up to comply with the legislation and the campers were destroying a pristine environment.

"We have guys in station wagons who pull up in reserves or the side of the road. They literally crap in a plastic bag and they chuck it over the bank while they're driving. It happens - we've got photos of it.

"We have massive problems with people trying to get into backpackers and camping grounds [for free] and using showers and washing machines and all the other things that go with it."

Mayor Leach said the council was trying to facilitate camps at rivers, creeks and coastal areas for fully self-contained vehicles and trying to lower the cost of doing that.

Anyone who wanted to camp in front of a million-dollar beachfront home could go elsewhere and do it and the council would fight any court action to the contrary. "We aren't going to change our stance and if the New Zealand Caravan Association wants to take us to court they can.

"They say we haven't gone far enough under the legislation."

Hahei Holiday Resort director Ian Carter said he would hate to think how much freedom campers had cost him over the years.

"Over the busy period we pay security guards and one of their jobs is to pick up people sneaking in to have showers and do their washing."

Mr Carter said "free campers" viewed the use of camping facilities for free as their right. Camping at the beachfront resort started at $14 a night.

"They come in, they park outside and wait until no one's looking and then they do it."

Campervans dumping sewage into the 7ha campground's waste system also cost Mr Carter and his family, who have owned the business for 50 years, because they had to pay for waste disposal.

However, he said it was "pretty hard to find a freedom camper on the Coromandel Peninsula at the moment because the council bylaw officers were doing a good job".

Freedom campsite information can be viewed on the Thames-Coromandel District Council website, www.tcdc.govt.nz

- NZ Herald

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