A popular camping ground in Horowhenua has been turned into a muddy morass by drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles, quad and dirt bikes, raising local fears of an accident waiting to happen.
The Waikawa Stream Recreational Reserve at the end of Manakau North Rd, part of the Tararua Forest Park, has had a campsite for more than 30 years. The back campsite is now almost unrecognisable as a once-pristine camping area.
Linton Menzies, a regular campsite user, has seen drivers tearing up the site and been threatened, even having a gun pointed at him when he's tried to intervene.
He said most weekends there are about six camper vans at the reserve, as the site is on the Freedom Camping app, but the problem appears to be people using the reserve for off-roading.
"Once one person tears it up doing a few laps and donuts, then others take it as free rein.
"This is a great place. There are clean toilets, plenty of walking tracks, a glow worm cave at the end of one walk and it's a kereru breeding ground.
"It's crazy busy over the summer, tents for Africa and kids running around. I love it here apart from the guys who are destroying it."
A North Manakau Rd resident who doesn't want to be named said the problem has been escalating over the past 18 months.
He has heard and seen vehicles on the reserve at all times of the day and night.
"Weekends are the worst. They seem to think they can get away with it. I've even seen them filming themselves."
He said as well as the damage to DOC land, there is also a real health and safety issue.
It's recipe for disaster with vehicles tearing around, especially when the campsite is being used by campers, he said.
There is also evidence of bollards having been pulled out to gain access to the private forestry block across the river.
DOC community ranger Lee Barry said these drivers could put campers in danger as well as rendering part of the campsite unusable.
Last year DOC erected signs and dug an extensive network of ditches to deter offenders, and a private security patrol was hired over the busy Christmas and Easter periods.
She said DOC will now place concrete barriers to restrict vehicle access to that part of the campground and will be working closely with local police, residents, neighbourhood watch and forestry managers Rayonair to repair and maintain the campsite.
It would take at least until November to regenerate the camping area, she said.
Levin Community Constable Simon Carter said police were made aware of the situation and were eager to catch the culprits.
"It's definitely illegal what they're doing. It's no different to someone ripping up a park or school field, it's a criminal act under the Boy Racer legislation," he said.
Constable Carter said if caught the vehicle will be impounded and the driver prosecuted. Convicted drivers can receive a minimum disqualification of six months, a maximum fine of $4500 and a maximum imprisonment of three months.
He said anyone who sees or hears the activity should call 111 and give a description of the vehicle, driver and registration number plate, providing it did not put them at risk in doing so.
Neighbourhood Support Horowhenua co-ordinator Deborah Campbell said it planned to get a working bee of locals and other interested parties to help DOC restore the campsite.
"We need everyone on board. It's a big task."
DOC and the community will be working together during Conservation Week in October to give the campsite grounds a makeover.