The New Zealand Motorcaravan Association says Punakaiki should be telling tourists they were welcome, at a time when Kaikoura is "screaming" to get visitors back.

Two weeks ago the Buller District Council received a 105-name petition from Punakaiki residents asking for a freedom camping ban to be imposed north and south of the township after local residents said they were fed-up with cleaning up piles of human faeces left by freedom campers in non-self-contained campers. Only a handful of residents did not join the petition.

Recently the fire brigade had to ask campervans to move away from the Punakaiki River after they were hampering access to water to fight a fire in a nearby motel.
However, the Buller council deferred making a decision until a national policy was drawn up, noting that it could be challenged in court.

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association has previously filed court action against the Westland and Queenstown councils over their attempts to bring in a freedom camping ban.

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Chief executive Bruce Lochore said in a statement today the publicity a proposed Punakaiki ban attracted was "not a good message to be sending to tourists".

"The council understands that legally they can't impose a complete freedom camping ban just because a group of residents call for it," Mr Lochore said.

"They actually have to conduct an assessment to ascertain if there is a problem and quantify its extent. Then they need to consult with the affected parties if there are proposed changes - that's just a fact of law."

The motor caravan association would be supportive of any "credible process", rather than an "over-reaction to a complaint that's clearly been driven by vested interests", Mr Lochore said.

At a time when employment in coal and forestry had been adversely affected, tourism was more vital than ever, he said.

The West Coast and Waikato enjoyed the largest percentage increase in international tourism spending over the past three years.

Residents needed to understand that responsible visitors - such as those travelling in certified self-contained motorhomes - should be welcomed and "not have the door slammed in their face".

"That's an inappropriate and irresponsible message to send out; especially at a time when you only have to look at the other side of the South Island where a community has been devastated because tourists are no longer there," Mr Lochore said.

"There's a community screaming to get the tourists back; and here's Punakaiki telling them they are not welcome.

"Prime Minister John Key said just this week that Kaikoura is '100 per cent a tourist town' and I suggest that Punakaiki is exactly the same. It's high time tourists were appreciated in the area instead of being branded as criminals."

- Greymouth Star