Local iwi Ngāti Tūwharetoa, unhappy with the number of freedom campers regularly parked at Five Mile Bay, has put a rāhui on the reserve banishing all vehicle access to the area.
Walking and cycling along the lakefront pathway through the area is still permitted.
Since June 12, all vehicles have been banned from the former freedom camping area of Five Mile Bay, known as Awaroa. It was previously a popular freedom camping spot and attracted up to 100 vehicles per night at peak times.
Now access to the camping area has been blocked and a barrier gate will be installed soon.
Tents have been set up and a cheerful group representing hapū have stayed at the site.
People who arrive have been informed that vehicle access is no longer allowed and the area is not available for camping.
Freedom camping was prohibited from all but three Taupō District Council reserves and a domain in the Freedom Camping Bylaw 2017. However self-contained freedom camping was allowed at some public reserves administered by the Department of Conservation.
As a consequence of the council bylaw, freedom camping became concentrated at the council reserve at Hipapatua/Reid's Farm and at DoC-managed Five Mile Bay Recreation Reserve, with up to 100 vehicles per night parking at Five Mile Bay.
The Five Mile Bay camping area was closed at the start of the Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown and the rāhui is expected to remain in place indefinitely.
A large chunk of Five Mile Bay Recreation Reserve was given back to the iwi as part of the cultural redress in the Ngāti Tūwharetoa Claims Settlement Act 2018. Shown in red on the map, these areas of land are going through the process of being transferred from recreation reserve or scenic reserve land to fee simple land.
Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa spokesman Te Ngaehe Wanikau said Covid-19 was a time for the hapū and iwi to step back and re-evaluate how to protect the things of most importance to all.
"Covid-19 allowed us time to step back and take a breath. A rāhui will remain indefinitely on the Awaroa site at Five Mile Bay and access or use of this site by vehicles or campervans is prohibited.
"The rāhui is to protect the environmental integrity of this site and the waters of Taupō Moana from further degradation," said Te Ngaehe.
In a letter to DoC dated June 12, Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa, acting on behalf of the hapū of Awaroa notified DoC that as proprietor they were withdrawing access to the site, as they are legally entitled to at any time under the Freedom Camping Act 2011.
Te Ngaehe said the philosophy behind what was happening at Five Mile Bay was to allow hapū and whānau to focus on measures and strategies that would ensure lessons learned were not in vain.
"To ensure that we have the resilience, the commitment and focus to contribute to the well-being of people and the environment and ensure our legacy to future generations is one that they will thank us for."
He said the council's Freedom Camping Bylaw coming into effect just one year before settlement was not helpful in Ngāti Tūwharetoa going forward in a post-settlement environment.
Te Ngaehe says future land use at Five Mile Bay will be about building positive relationships to benefit everyone, with the red area on the map still available for walking access and the rāhui not having an impact on the ability to use the water ski lane.
Department of Conservation operations manager central plateau Dave Lumley confirmed DoC no longer manages the Five Mile Bay Recreation Reserve.
"However, DoC has been working with Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa Trust to ensure that public walking and cycling access to and through the reserve to the lakeshore is provided for," said Dave.
Taupō District Council chief executive Gareth Green said at this point in time the council was not going to seek out a replacement freedom camping site.
The council's freedom camping bylaw is due for review in December 2022.
Te Ngaehe says a secondary reason for ending camping at the reserve was so the self-contained campervans could relocate nearer Taupō businesses that offer camping facilities, to benefit the local economy.
This is a sentiment echoed by New Zealand Motor Caravan Association chief executive Bruce Lochore, who says small towns around New Zealand should take the opportunity now to create more freedom camping places that are nearer to town where campers spend their money.
"Councils need to take up the slack now and get ready for summer.
"With THL (Tourism Holdings Ltd) renting campers out for $29 a day, they are playing their part in getting Kiwis out exploring the country."