If there's $1 billion or so going spare to rid the land of the dreaded cow pox, then surely the Government's petty cash tin has enough to fund a cure for that other running sore – freedom camping.
Until now, as a selfish Jafa, I'd thought I was safe from both. With cows long banned from grazing on the city's maunga a chance encounter was unlikely, and, at any rate, humans are not affected by M. bovis. As for the freedom campers, they've tended to leap off the plane at Mangere, head to the car auctions, then beetle out of Auckland to seek the Pure New Zealand of a thousand Government-funded advertisements.
As a result, we city folk have avoided the trail of toilet paper and takeaway wrappers, which so upsets the natives of darkest Queenstown and other remote parts. But for how much longer?
The Newsroom website warns that freedom campers could be coming to a park near you as soon as next summer, all thanks to the 2011 Freedom Camping Act 2011, which was rushed through Parliament as part of the hysteria of the rugby world cup build-up. Worried that hordes of incoming fans wouldn't be able to find a room at the inn, the politicians permitted freedom camping on any conservation or council-owned land where it wasn't already prohibited by existing regulation or bylaw. Councils could not get around it by passing a blanket ban.
It was midwinter, and the rugby hordes didn't flood in looking for a tree to shelter under, but the legislation remains in place, and last August, with their eyes on what was happening elsewhere, Auckland councillors decided to catch up with a new bylaw identifying dedicated free camping spots in parks across the city.
A trial of a few spots prior to this highlighted potential problems. The Orewa Business Association, for instance, complained that the 20 plus-buses and campervans parked each night in the designated zone in the surf club carpark created "an eyesore" at the gateway to the town, adding that the majority were not "self-contained" although they were supposed to be.
Parks in every ward are being weighed up. In the Albert-Eden ward alone, 80 sites are being considered. As this is the ward where locals are currently getting restless about the prospect of a block of new State housing going up in their street, it's no surprise that board chairman Peter Haynes warns the move will invite "the problems that have been reported all over the country, only in greater numbers".
I admit I have a soft spot for the 80,000 or so young visitors – mainly German, French and British – drifting around the country under their own steam each year. Half a century ago, I was a freedom camper myself. After a year backpacking through Asia and the Middle East, I spotted a notice in the Athens Youth Hostel seeking volunteers to return a Kombi van to Britain. I was heading for mates in Stuttgart so signed up. We were an odd bunch, a Dutch guy desperate to get home for a big soccer match, a Californian Vietnam War veteran, a redneck Aussie, and a Swiss girl, who had just discovered she was pregnant and was heading home. The vehicle turned out to be "Mr Flower the Baker's" bread van, covered, appropriately enough, all over in bright floral art.
Tootling up through Yugoslavia, it was fair to say this hippymobile stood out. One night, parked alongside a forest, we were awoken by armed police and searchlights in our eyes. They missed the toilet paper, decided we were harmless, and, with smiles all round, left us be.
We should be working hard to ensure the freedom campers we entice here go away with similar warm feelings.
I cringed last week when TV news kept repeating candid shots of a camper caught in the sand dunes doing his business. Why weren't they badgering the politicians and businesses who profit from the $10.6 billion foreign tourists bring in each year, for not providing adequate infrastructure.
If we don't have enough toilets and other basics for the 3.7 million tourists who visited over the past year, imagine the queues in the dunes in 2023, when the industry is anticipating 5 million visitors.