The future of an ambassador programme which has helped manage surging numbers of freedom campers around Whangārei this summer is uncertain.
Whangārei District Council's freedom camping ambassador programme was funded by a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise grant made available last year to districts experiencing enormous strain on their infrastructure and resources from the huge increase in freedom campers in the recent years.
Responsible camping co-ordinator Sue Halliwell said the council has no certainty of government funding to continue the ambassador programme next year although the "council will certainly be seeking it if it is available".
Under the programme, ambassadors carried out 520 site visits and handed out nearly 3000 information packs between December 20 last year and February 10.
The ambassadors monitored 10 spots around Whangārei - Sandy Bay, Woolleys Bay, Matapouri, Kowharewa Bay, Ocean Beach, Mt Manaia, Reotahi, Parua Bay, Tamaterau and Ruakaka Reserve - which historically were the most popular sites and had received the most complaints.
Mayor Sheryl Mai said the volunteer ambassadors comprised a significant part of the council's multi-faceted approach to freedom camping management this summer and appeared to have made a big difference.
Complaints to the council from those 10 sites while the ambassadors were monitoring dropped from 55 last summer to seven this summer.
The ambassadors visited the sites every evening during the 52-day operation to hand out information packs, answer questions, collect data and guide freedom campers on appropriate behaviour and places to camp.
"They also fielded questions from locals and were often able to address their concerns in person and immediately, likely contributing to the low number of complaints reaching council," Mai said.
Overall, from December 1 to February 10, the council received 39 freedom camping complaints from all sites, significantly less than the 119 complaints from all sites in the same period last summer.
Enforcement officers also called by the freedom camping spots in late evening or early morning with their ticket books this summer.
They dished out 29 fines between December 1 and February 10, all over the district.
Halliwell said the fines were predominantly for camping in a prohibited area, or overstaying the specified number of nights at the particular camping area.
Kowharewa Bay resident Mal Egginton said numbers of freedom campers in the area had "certainly picked up in the last five or six years".
He said there was seldom any unruly behaviour from the freedom campers in the bay.
Egginton, who owns Tutukaka Surf, also sees the freedom campers at Sandy Bay while taking groups for the surf school.
He had seen enforcement officers "giving them a rev up" when they parked or pitched in the wrong place.
Egginton thought the ambassador programme had helped, particularly with raising awareness among campers.
His concern was whether the infrastructure, like toilets, could handle the numbers of campers.
While the ambassador programme has ended this summer the enforcement officers will continue to issue infringements and hand out information packs at freedom camping sites around the district for the next two months.