Stinking bags of household waste. Mountains of used nappies. Empty bottles and cans by the thousands. Broken-down fridges, furniture, mattresses and the odd dead animal.
All that and much, much more can be found along a kilometre-long stretch of Whangae Rd, a short drive from State Highway 1 near Kawakawa.
Some of the waste is tipped off the road edge into a stream which flows into the Kawakawa River and then into the Bay of Islands.
The dozen or so dump sites make a mockery of New Zealand's clean, green motto, and the wider illegal dumping problem in the Far North costs already struggling ratepayers more than $200,000 a year.
Much of the waste could have been taken to a recycling centre free of charge so excuses about high dump fees don't cut it.
Kawakawa man David Passey brought the problem along Whangae Rd to the Advocate's attention. The keen mountainbiker first noticed the illegal dump sites while riding last spring.
''I reported the mess to the Far North District Council — they eventually got back to me and said they'd had a look and it was too difficult to retrieve so regrettably they'd have to leave it,'' he said.
''At that point I accepted they weren't going to do anything but it was disappointing. I felt some of it could have been cleaned up.''
When Passey started riding again last month he was shocked to discover the problem had become much worse in the meantime.
''There's a whole stretch that's pretty much a tip. In the space of a kilometre or so there'd be a dozen or so dump sites in what would have been lovely, pristine, bush-clad gullies.
''Everything's there — lots of cans and bottles to major items such as fridge, a rusted out car frame, a dead animal, and bags of household waste right on the side of the road. It's not just an eyesore, it stinks to high heaven.''
Passey said the dumping appeared to have been going on for years, and possibly generations.
"I'd like to see council take the problem seriously. I would hope they'll do what's needed to clean it up and take steps to stop it happening again. Maybe they need cameras. And I'd hope the people doing the dumping will think again,'' he said.
Other measures could include no-dumping signs, though he was not convinced they would be effective, and public education.
The council could also consider reducing its refuse station fees and offering weekly ''free'' rubbish and recycling collections paid for by rates, as was done in places like Auckland and Sydney.
''I love the native bush up this road. It's a tragedy that some people really just don't give a hoot. They're happy to despoil and desecrate it.''
Far North District Council infrastructure operations manager Glenn Rainham said 413 complaints had been received about illegal rubbish dumping and 67 fines had been issued in the year to June 2021.
The cost of cleaning up illegal rubbish during the same period was $202,802.03.
The number of complaints received per week about illegal dumping has doubled during the last lockdown.
Rainham said Whangae Rd did not stand out as an area regularly reported for illegal rubbish dumping.
''That may not reflect how often dumping occurs along this road, but how often dumping is reported. We rely on residents and visitors to inform us about cases of illegal rubbish, especially in remote areas where council staff and contractors may not visit regularly.''
Rainham said the council shared residents' frustration about the effect of illegally dumped rubbish on the environment, and would prosecute the culprits whenever possible.
He urged people to report illegal dumping by calling 0800 920 029 as soon as possible so the council could investigate, identify those responsible and arrange for disposal.
Illegal dumping is an ongoing problem across Northland.
In 2018 Kaipara ratepayers had to stump up $30,000 to remove 60 tonnes of household rubbish dumped in a tomo south of Te Kopuru.
The cost was more than half the $50,000 the council had set aside for cleaning up illegal dump sites during the entire year. Nine people were identified from evidence found among the waste.
Bledisloe Lookout, in Waitangi Forest, is another problem spot.
In 2019 a Haruru Falls man was identified from mail in a truckload of rubbish dumped off the lookout onto a trail in Waitangi Mountain Bike Park.
His $972 fine was waived, however, when he claimed someone else at the address had dumped the rubbish without his knowledge.
In 2017-18 Whangārei ratepayers forked out about $300,000 to clean up illegal dump sites.
That included an estimated 30cu m of household rubbish dumped into bush off the side of Puhipuhi Rd and an even bigger site, totalling about 45cu m, near Parakao.
Cost no excuse for dumping recyclables
The cost of dumping rubbish properly is often given as an excuse for illegal dumping.
While there's no denying it's expensive — and possibly out of reach for some Northland families — much of the rubbish along Whangae Rd could have been taken to any of the Far North's 28 transfer stations or community recycling centres free of charge.
Similar options exist in the Whangārei District.
Waste that can be dropped off without charge includes cans, glass bottles and jars, cardboard, paper, and some plastics (types 1 and 2, which include milk and soft drink bottles).
Most transfer stations will also take waste oil, batteries and scrap steel (including whiteware such as old fridges and washing machines) without charge. A small fee is charged for e-waste such as old TVs and computers.
In Kaipara a $2 fee ($5 for commercial quantities) is charged for dropping off recycling at the district's transfer stations in Dargaville and Hakaru.
Organic waste such as kitchen scraps can be turned into compost at home. It doesn't cost anything and you end up with a useful product.
The closest recycling centre to Whanage Rd is at Whangae Transfer Station, which is open daily on SH11 between Kawakawa and Ōpua.