I was playing with my grandchildren on the beach outside our bach at Kaiaua the other day when an ancient campervan pulled up and the driver came over to ask if I knew whether it was okay to stop there overnight.
As it happens I did know, because I've written a couple of articles about the problems caused by the boom in freedom camping and a minority of campers who abuse the privilege of freedom.
In the old Franklin District, which we used to be part of, freedom camping is permitted only at the Ray's Rest coastal site a few kilometres further south (and then subject to several conditions, including the need to be self-contained). Everywhere else, including on the reserve opposite our place, it is forbidden.
I explained this to the driver who thanked me politely, went back to his van ... and spent the night there anyway.
What intrigued me about this was that the driver was doing exactly what the Freedom Camping Forum - set up by the tourist industry, rental vehicle operators and local government to try to deal with the issues posed by the growth of freedom camping - advises: "Assume nothing, always ask a local"...
except that having asked he then ignored the information provided.
Fortunately, the van's presence didn't cause the slightest trouble and, though it didn't look to be self-contained, afterwards there was no sign it had been there.
But the incident did serve to demonstrate that just because a council passes a bylaw it doesn't necessarily achieve anything. Despite the Franklin council's tough stance, vans like this one have continued to stop overnight all down the Seabird Coast.
Kaiaua is now part of the Hauraki District, so out of interest I asked them what I could have done about my illegal camper. Peter Thom, the planning manager, confirmed that for the time being the restrictive Franklin bylaw still holds sway in the Kaiaua area, though Hauraki's own rules allow freedom camping in any public place, except a beach, subject to a maximum stay of 12 hours and the removal of any waste. If I had any concerns about freedom camping, he said, I could ring the council's action line where "your call will be noted as a service request and responded to appropriately".
That's good as far as it goes. But I have difficulty believing that if I had rung up at 8pm on a Saturday night the council would actually send someone out to move on my freedom camper ... any more than they strictly enforce the rules at Ray's Rest or clean up the rubbish some freedom campers leave behind.
I also have sympathy for campers who can cross a local authority boundary - in this case one that isn't even marked - and find themselves facing a totally different set of regulations.
Much as I hate to join the traditional chorus that breaks out any time a problem arises, demanding the Government pass a law, I am starting to think that in this case we do need a national policy on freedom camping, so campers and locals know exactly what the rules are - and there might be more chance of them being followed and, where necessary, enforced.By Jim Eagles Email Jim