Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Jim Eagles: With freedom comes responsibility

Campervans head over the Harbour Bridge. Photo / Martin Sykes
Campervans head over the Harbour Bridge. Photo / Martin Sykes

It's interesting how a vigorous debate can focus your thinking.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column on freedom camping which concluded with the comment that I was "starting to think that ... we do need a national policy on freedom camping so campers and locals know exactly what the rules are".

This attracted 32 posts (at last count) on the Herald website, about a dozen emails and one obscene voicemail message.

Most who responded, on both sides of the debate, seemed to assume I was calling for a ban on freedom camping.

Actually all I meant was that there should be a uniform set of rules instead of, as now, open slather in places like Hauraki District and complete bans in the likes of Thames-Coromandel District, which is confusing for everyone. I hadn't given much thought to what the policy might be.

Nevertheless, the assumption that I might be advocating an end to all freedom camping got enthusiastic support from a lot of readers who have evidently been upset by campers leaving rubbish and even excrement on on their local reserves or defiantly parking themselves right beside signs proclaiming camping to be illegal.

And, on the other side of the coin, a lot of freedom campers were outraged by any suggestion they might lose the ability to stay for the night wherever they like.

Judging from their messages, some think they have an inalienable right to stop not only at any reserve, beach or lakefront but also on any attractive bit of private land that takes their fancy.

Others branded those with concerns about freedom camping as rednecks, selfish rich people or bigots who hate gypsies.

A few got hot under the collar about the lack of rubbish bins and toilets in lonely places (it's apparently mean-minded for ratepayers to object to providing facilities at isolated camping spots but not mean-minded for campers to refuse to carry a portable toilet or pay to stay at places which provide them).

Meanwhile, of course, a national debate on the same topic has gathered pace with a growing tide of protests from places like Wakatipu, Tekapo, Nelson, Westport, Cooper's Beach, Hawea and Kaikoura about disgusting behaviour by freedom campers.

After absorbing all the arguments I'd like to clarify my position.

I've done a lot of freedom camping over the years and loved it. I would be sad to see the ability to camp in lonely places lost.

But the number of people freedom camping has grown astronomically in recent years, and unfortunately there has been a corresponding increase in the usual ignorant, arrogant, irresponsible minority who acknowledge no responsibilities and care nothing for the rights of others.

The problems they are causing have clearly reached the point where something should be done.

So I still think we need a uniform national policy on freedom camping and I now believe that policy should prohibit people from stopping in public places unless they have their own toilet facilities, and breaches should carry penalties heavy enough to convince even the most arrogant that it would be cheaper to stick to the rules.

- NZ Herald

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