Freedom campers have prompted more than 50 complaints since last month in Tauranga - but no fines have been issued in three years.

The latest figures from Tauranga City Council show a busy start to the camping season, with 58 complaints lodged since the beginning of October. This compares with 216 complaints in nine months last spring to autumn and 138 complaints over the same period the year before.

And yet, despite all these complaints, the council has issued no fines at all since 2014.

Stuart Goodman, the council's team leader of bylaws and parking, said that parking officers conducted regular patrols to educate freedom campers about the rules. This approach had proven to be effective, as "we have seen very little reoffending".

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Many recent complaints have stemmed from Fergusson Park, Kulim Park and Marine Park, where residents and legitimate campers told the Bay of Plenty Times of washing strung between powerlines, rubbish and public defecation.

Many illegal campers pack up early to avoid council staff, but one uninhabited van on Woods Ave at 10am yesterday was surrounded by rubbish including two empty cans, a crushed soft drink bottle and wrappers from fish and chips and a burger. The van did not have warrant or registration stickers.

A 71-year-old morning walker, who would not be named, complained about the number of freedom campers she had encountered at Fergusson Park recently.

"What I really object to is all those people hanging washing everywhere," she said. "The other day there were 14 freedom campers here. They're only allowed three."

The woman confronted German backpacker Franz Zumpe, 28, about the scruffy-looking van he had slept in at Fergusson Park. But her wrath was misguided, as Mr Zumpe had gone to much trouble to certify his vehicle as fully self-contained and therefore eligible to freedom camp legally without being fined $200.

"I have to be legal," he said. "Two hundred dollars is 40 pizzas."

Mr Zumpe said council signs at Fergusson Park were very confusing. A sign at the entrance to the park and another near a toilet block showed different locations for legal camping.

Paraparaumu retiree Roger Smith, a member of the NZ Motor Caravan Association, was also camping nearby. He said illegal campers were taking up all the available spots at freedom camping sites, forcing members of his association to move elsewhere.

"It's wrong," he said. "People squat behind a tree instead of going to the toilets. Our club is doing a lot of work with councils and we don't want people ruining it."

There are many locations around Tauranga where freedom camping is permitted, but several rules must be obeyed. The main one is that vehicles must be certified as self-contained, with a toilet and fresh water. There are also restrictions on the number of vehicles that can be parked at each site.