Freedom camping is "out of control" at Mount Maunganui, with one beachfront overnight park-up spot crowded with 17 vehicles when only one was permitted.
Omanu Beach Surf Life Saving Club member Dennis Mundy described freedom camping as a failed idea in which the city council had dropped the ball.
He said it was a real pain when vans and cars that overnighted in the carpark next to the clubhouse did not move on next morning, hogging parks needed by the club for members, including volunteer lifeguards and the hundreds that arrived on Sunday mornings for junior surf sessions. Parking congestion in the area was already bad enough.
Mr Mundy said not only were freedom campers ignoring the rule that restricted the carpark to one van per night, many of the small vans did not have self-contained toilets. And more and more people sleeping in cars, arriving just as night was falling.
He believed freedom campers did not spend a lot of money in Tauranga because they were so frugal, he said. "It is about trying to get around New Zealand as cheaply as they can."
The issue came to a head over the two long weekends, when an early morning dog walker counted 17 vehicles in the carpark on the Sunday of Auckland Anniversary Weekend and 11 vehicles a week later on Waitangi Weekend. Of the 11 vehicles, only two looked to be self-contained.
"It is out of control. It is time the council got off its butt and did something," she said. The woman asked not to be named.
Council's bylaws and parking team leader Stuart Goodman responded in a statement that the council's current approach to freedom camping was to be proactive and educational.
''We conduct regular morning patrols where our officers engage and provide campers with information around Tauranga's freedom camping bylaw.''
Mr Goodman said they mainly focused on hot spots. ''It seems that Omanu is becoming a hotspot. This carpark has free all-day parking, which adds to the overall pressure on parking availability.''
The council has received 137 freedom camping complaints over the last three months. The majority were about the number of campers at a location and vehicles that were not self-contained.
Asked whether anyone had been fined, he said: ''Council may consider taking enforcement action in the future.''
Marine Parade resident Dawn Marshall said the ban on overnight parking along the dunes side of Marine Parade was routinely ignored, despite warning signs.
"I can't be bothered ringing the council every time there is a problem ... you kind of accept it."
Mrs Marshall said she complained from time to time, usually when a vehicle was parked up for more than one night across from their house. "I will give them one night's grace."
Everyone spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times said that freedom campers were generally well behaved.
Mrs Marshall said most Marine Parade residents did not complain. The ban had hugely improved the situation from the days when it was common to see up to 30 vans parked overnight. Now the culprits were mostly in cars or small vans that were not self-contained.
She said Tay St was a hot spot for freedom campers, along with other areas where there were public toilets and free barbecues. People were also sleeping in their cars along the Mt Drury side of Pacific Ave.
"It's a cheap holiday. Unless the council polices it, freedom campers will push things to the limit."
A resident with views across the Omanu carpark, Denis McMahon, said he was seeing an average of four or five camper vans each night over the December-January holiday period. The smaller vans were definitely not self-contained.
"Over Christmas-New Year there are times when there are 10 or a dozen vans, but no one is enforcing it and no one seems to care ... it makes a mockery of the council policy of one camper van per night."
Most people were middle-aged and did not party up. "We have not complained."
Omanu Surf Club member Allan Mundy said that at times there were so many people parked up that there was a queue outside the toilets in the morning.
"When you get these numbers, it is not fair on the camping grounds who have businesses to run."
He lived behind the carpark last summer and saw people parked up for four or five days, with one guy in a sad situation living there for a long time in his car. "They are not all tidy Kiwis."
Club general manager Michelle Smith said there had been a problem with food scraps from freedom campers clogging up the pipes in the toilet block. ''There is a steady flow of people using the loos coming from the carpark.''
They did not get a lot of big fancy vans and it was generally converted vans used by quite young people. ''We were all young once, I have a bit of sympathy ... with or without them, you would still have a parking problem.''