A potential law change to freedom camping could be the result of an action group formed by New Zealand mayors, including from Tauranga and the Western Bay.
The group of 33 mayors gathered at Parliament yesterday to speak with Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and share horror stories of tourists using bushes and rivers to toilet and shower and overrunning parks so locals could not use them any more.
From December 11 to January 21, a total of 104 complaints made to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council and the Tauranga City Council. A total of 156 infringement notices were issued.
Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber said local ratepayers were too often left to foot the bill for all freedom camping-related costs. He said this was unfair and the Government should help pay.
His argument was bolstered by Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless who, despite not being one of the original mayors invited to the meeting, wrote a letter expressing his concern to Davis.
Webber said the Western Bay offered some of the most desirable destinations for visitors.
"When visitors come to New Zealand, they don't come here to walk down Queen St. They come for the beaches and the forests," Webber said.
"Waihi Beach normally has a residential population of 4000 people but because it's such a great holiday destination, it swells to 25,000 to 30,000.
"We have to provide all of the water, roads, footpaths etc for that visiting population. So the ratepayers are funding these sorts of things."
Webber said freedom campers were a big reason the district's rates were so high and he hoped to change this. Freedom campers brought plenty of money into the area but plenty was also spent on managing them, he said.
"Look at what we've got in the Western Bay - Athenree, Maketu, Katikati, Tanner's Point ... all these little villages where freedom camping is so popular.
"We really have to state our case because of the requirements freedom camping puts on us for all sorts of things, such as disposing of their waste.
"Central government gets the revenue from all this, and we are going there to bid for our little area to make sure we get a fair lick of the cherry alongside the rest of the others."
Brownless said the whole issue of problematic freedom camping arose from an act of Parliament.
"Initially Tauranga tried a softer, more educational approach to the problems that arose. It didn't work, and last year we began enforcing what rules the act allowed us to.
"While not perfect, the situation for us here is a lot better now."
Davis said the problems would not be a quick fix and there were issues around the Freedom Camping Act and whether it was still fit for purpose.
"The sheer volume of freedom campers is putting a lot of strain on the environment and on the financial resources of ratepayers. We clearly want visitors to our country, but we've got to manage the volume," Davis said.
- additional reporting New Zealand Herald
Just how bad is freedom camping in the Western Bay and Tauranga?
From December 11 to January 21 there were 66 complaints about freedom campers at 35 Tauranga locations. The complaints resulted in 136 fines. In the Western Bay, 48 complaints were received and 20 fines were issued.
The top locations for offending freedom campers in Tauranga were at Papamoa Beach Rd, Marine Parade, Oropi Rd and Pacific Ave.
Western Bay locations where the fines were issued included Anzac Bay, Tuna Ave, Bowentown Domain, Seaforth Road Reserve, Island View Reserve, The Esplanade, and Waihi Beach Surf Club.