The government plans to beef up the rules around freedom camping in a bid to protect the environment and New Zealand's reputation as a clean, green destination.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash announced a series of proposals during a visit to Bay of Islands Holiday Park at Haruru today, ranging from an outright ban on freedom camping in non-self-contained vehicles to requiring vehicle-based freedom campers to stay at sites with toilet facilities or in a vehicle certified as self-contained.
Other proposals include tougher penalties for rule-breakers such as $1000 fines or vehicle confiscation, requiring rental companies to collect fines, requiring toilets in self-contained vehicles to be permanently plumbed in, and checks on the people doing the plumbing work and issuing self-contained certificates.
Nash said the current Covid-19 border closures offered a chance to fix some of the problems stemming from freedom camping while also making sure the costs weren't unfairly placed on local communities.
"The most consistent complaints I hear about the tourism sector relate to abuse of freedom camping rules. A sub-group of visitors are spoiling the experience for more responsible campers and for locals who are left to clean up the mess,'' he said.
In Northland the surge in freedom camping, and the pressure it placed on the environment, had already prompted Whangārei to ban the practice at coastal sites.
Nash said freedom camping had a place for Kiwis and international visitors but change was needed, along with clear rules and expectations, when vehicles were not self-contained.
"Improving freedom camping regulations will go a long way to changing campers' behaviour and protecting brand New Zealand. Abuse of the system threatens the unique and precious qualities that make us such a desirable tourism destination in the first place.''
The changes would also support small business owners whose campgrounds and backpackers' hostels had lost business.
Nash said the government had spent $27 million during the past three years on council facilities and programmes related to freedom camping.
A second fund, for councils with high visitor numbers but small ratepayer bases, had allocated $59m to tourism infrastructure such as carparks and toilet blocks.
Currently freedom camping is regulated by the Freedom Camping Act 2011 introduced ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
■ The Supporting Sustainable Freedom Camping discussion document is available at www.mbie.govt.nz/have-your-say. Consultation opens on April 9 and runs until May 16. Submissions can be made online, by email or post. Tourism officials will also hold public information sessions around the country.