We need to spread the word, NZ is not the land of the al fresco crap, says Nick Stanley.
The first ones I saw were in a rest stop in the Arthur's Pass. It was a grim May day, the sky grey and dull. Admittedly, the reason we stopped was to heed the call of nature — I'd been holding on since Darfield — but despite the weather and because of the coffee, we needed to pee.
We pulled off into the small gravel pull-out and I found a path through the wet bramble.
Luckily, I was looking where I was going and didn't set foot on a pile at the edge of the bushes. It was barely covered by some sheets of toilet paper and I guessed the person who'd left it was in a hurry and unable to go further into the scrub. However, it wasn't the lone mound; there were a few more around the rest stop. One stood proudly without a shroud of paper.
I was a little taken aback, but assumed these must be desperate times. We were a decent way from civilisation and it did look like the middle of nowhere.
The beach carpark at Blaketown proved it was no fluke. Piles littered the area. It was hard to find a place to change into my wetsuit without putting foot on an excremental land mine. Again, little work had been put into concealing the business. The best blankets were the baby wipes, which last much longer in the weather than paper.
Rogue poo in New Zealand is not a new issue. Only a couple of months before my trip, a woman had been caught on film, taking her morning constitutional on a Dunedin street.
She was travelling in a non-self-contained van and the finger gets routinely pointed at these freedom campers, cruising the countryside, leaving a lot more than footprints.
Back in 2010, Aoraki Mount Cook DoC staff — who must have been seeing more than a few spontaneous brown mountains — came up with the idea of poo pots, described as the "the human version of a doggy-bag". They obviously haven't caught on.
I brought up the matter with a Greymouth local that evening in the pub. He worked in the adventure tourism industry. "Mate," he said, "We don't have the facilities for the number of people we are bringing in. And the money just isn't going where it's needed." More people equals more toilets. His message was simple.
I never saw anyone actually doing the deed. Several campervans were in the Blaketown car park the next morning. No one was hanging their backside out the door. Perhaps they did it at night? Or before dawn?
We left town late that day, travelling through the rugged Lewis Pass on our way to the other coast. We made only one unscheduled stop and couldn't really see much in the fading light. I was very careful where I put my feet.
Kaikoura, by comparison, was positively poo-free. I'm not sure if this was because the earthquake had diverted a lot of tourist traffic away from the town, the area has more dunnies, or whether some greater respect was being shown. I hoped it was the latter.
It's easy to get fired up about people using the landscape as a latrine. Given humans have been devising ways to capture and dispose of our own waste for thousands of years, it seems a great leap backwards to have people crapping all over the countryside.
Now, as a man, I'm well acquainted with peeing discreetly in the shrubbery. On a few rare instances I've even had to go bush for emergency No 2s, but I've been mindful to go well away from where anyone might walk and always done my best to bury it.
Which makes me wonder: do other countries share the same problem? I've travelled a fair bit and can't recall having seen such a profligacy in other parts.
Perhaps online message boards and social media pages all promote Aotearoa as the land of the al fresco crap? Do they say: "In New Zealand, if you can't find a toilet, she'll be right. There's plenty of space and the cows won't tell"?
Or maybe we should be doing a better job of spreading the advice on freedomcamping.org: "In the spirit of Kaitiakitanga we ask that you ... plan a holiday committed to leaving no trace of your trip for the collective benefit of current and future generations. 'Camping Responsibly' is not using the side of the road or the bush as a toilet."