The "growing problem" of freedom campers leaving rubbish behind, washing dishes in the lakes and sneaking into campgrounds to use facilities has holiday park owners and locals fed up.
With no bylaws in place in Rotorua, there is nothing to stop budget-conscious tourists parking up in and around the city.
However with a national review underway of the "confusing" freedom camping rules, Rotorua Lakes Council says it too is looking into the issue.
Jared Adams, owner-operator of Rotorua TOP 10 Holiday Park, has caught multiple freedom campers sneaking in to use toilet and bathroom facilities, including 10 in just one day at the end of December.
"It's worse than previous years, not just in Rotorua but around the whole country."
Mr Adams said freedom campers were "constantly" parking at the end of the park's driveway and sneaking in.
"It breaks down to theft of service and trespassing unlawfully."
The holiday park has security cameras on site and Mr Adams said the freedom campers were easy to spot.
"You can tell by body language they know they shouldn't be there."
Mr Adams said when he caught them on his property he advised them they had been seen on camera and showed them a trespassing sign.
He then charged each person $22, the cost of the cheapest site available.
"I've had mixed responses, some people do run away [without paying]."
Mr Adams said he had been in discussions with the council over the issue over the past six months.
There are currently two council-designated freedom camping car parks, opposite the Polynesian Spa and at the Lakefront.
Mr Adams does not believe more should be designated.
"Holiday Parks, alongside hotels, backpackers and motels, are not booked out all year round, there shouldn't be a need for freedom camping."
Council sport and recreation manager Rob Pitkethley said the issue of freedom camping appeared to be on the increase so was something the council was looking at.
He said staff were working on assessing the prevalence of freedom camping in the district and its positive or negative impacts.
Nationally it had been recognised that the wide range of freedom camping bylaws used by different councils had caused confusion for tourists, and there was currently a national review of these bylaws underway, he said.
"We're also looking at what other councils are doing and will be keeping an eye on the outcome of the national review, with a view to reporting to the council in the future on options for managing freedom camping in the Rotorua district," said Mr Pitkethley.
"In the meantime, we have increased signage in some areas to deter freedom campers and will be meeting with local community groups to explore ways that it could be managed by them, such as currently occurs at Boyes Beach, Okareka.
"The Lake Okareka Community Association manages the camping area on behalf of the council and generates revenue to put back into reserve improvements."
Rotorua's Jason Wright, who looks after the portfolio of freedom camping at the New Zealand Backpacker, Youth and Adventure Tourism Association, said there was a need for a national bylaw to ensure the rules were less confusing.
"For Rotorua to get stronger there also needs to be an awareness out there . . . we need to improve the infrastructure of the designated freedom camping sites and the community needs to work together, especially to reduce the environmental impact."
Mr Pitkethley said a bylaw was considered in 2010 but a policy was introduced instead.
"This has become outdated but given the work we are currently doing it won't be updated unless that's required as part of any decisions made on how we should address freedom camping."
During the high use period Mr Pitkethley said the council received five or six calls per month about freedom campers.
"Often on inspection of the areas concerned we find the campers have moved on or there is little evidence of any impact that can be related to the campers so the actual problems they cause are considered minor."
Mr Pitkethley said the council had improved some sites used by freedom campers by increasing rubbish bin capacity and cleaning toilets more frequently.
"At Trout Pool Rd we have more than doubled bin capacity and increased the toilet cleaning frequency from three to six times a week. Bin capacity has increased at Boyes Beach and we have added recycling bins there.
"More bins have also been installed at Lake Okaro and Lake Rerewhakaaitu. Cleaning of some toilets increases anywhere between three to five times a week during busy summer periods; cleaning of some toilets increases to anywhere between six to 14 times a week."
Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park owner-operators Sheryl and Brian Murray have also had problems with freedom campers.
"People are sneaking in and using our facilities, leaving rubbish or going down to wash themselves or their dishes in the lake. I know they're not all like that, but we pay a huge amount of money to rates . . . we also have to account for everyone on site in case of fire," said Mrs Murray.
If they caught freedom campers after taking showers, Mr Murray said they made them pay a night's accommodation, about $20 per person depending on the season, or he could call police. "It's their choice."
For him, said the ideal situation would be a bylaw.
Mrs Murray said the Lake Okareka community had been "working with us to visit freedom campers and move them on", including residents Mike Goodwin and Sandra Goodwin.
Mr and Mrs Goodwin are unpaid volunteers who work as open space wardens through the council; looking after the area between Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Rotokakahi (Green Lake).
"Freedom campers are a growing problem, a huge issue, " said Mrs Goodwin.
Mr Goodwin added: "If we're out and about and we see people parked in the wrong places then we tell them to move on. If they want to go to someone else's community that's fine but we do not want them here."
The quality of the water in Lake Okareka is what drives Mrs Goodwin.
"In the long run that's the issue - our lakes are too precious. The other thing it's cheapening the experience of staying in Rotorua."
However, there hasn't been so much of a problem with freedom campers at All Seasons Holiday Park in Hannah's Bay.
Manager Tracie Thornborough said staff could see people coming up their driveway.
"We've no problems with freedom camping, it's the sneaking in that's the issue."
Caraline Abbott, Department of Conservation supervisor community, said DoC committed significant resource to providing and promoting safe and affordable camping options.
Ms Abbott said DoC had received complaints of people camping at Trout Pool Rd and around Tikitapu (Blue Lake) however those areas were not administered by DoC, but managed by the council.
Freedom camping in Rotorua
- Freedom camping is allowed in the Rotorua district as the Rotorua Lakes Council has no freedom camping bylaws that prohibit it.
- There are council designated campervan parks in the Government Gardens and at the lakefront.
- Campervans can stay at Boyes Beach (Okareka), Lake Okaro, Lake Rerewhakaaitu, Broadlands and Trout Pool Road for a cost.
- DoC provides six designated camping areas within the Rotorua reserves it administers.
- Should a freedom camper cause pollution or damage within 200m of a road, then a fine of up to $10,000 can be imposed on offenders by DoC.