Unwitting illegal freedom campers fill New Plymouth car parks

Freedom campers have been staying overnight in the Kawaroa car park, despite bylaws against it.
David Burroughs

Freedom campers have been staying overnight in the Kawaroa car park, despite bylaws against it.

Cost conscious campers looking to save a few bucks are illegally staying overnight in a New Plymouth public car park.

On Monday night, seven vans were counted at the Kawaroa Park car park, near the Todd Energy Aquatic Centre.

German tourist Rico Belliuaun stayed the night in the car park on a mattress in his van.

He said he found the spot from the app Camper Mate, which lists campsites, public toilets, showers and other useful spots for tourists.

"It's an app where all camp sites are listed and it's easy to find such a place," he said.

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He said he didn't see any problem with tourists staying in the carpark and he didn't think the council had a problem with it either.

"They don't have any problem with us because we are using all the bins and we are using the public toilets so we don't need to pee in the park," he said.

The decision to go to a campsite or a carpark for the night was an individual choice for tourists, he said.

"I've met a lot of backpackers who want to go to camping sites because of showers, laundry, a kitchen and stuff. So you have to find your own way," he said.

It appeared none of the vans staying in the carpark were self-contained, with the tourists saying the were using the public toilets.

The New Plymouth District Council's bylaws allow campervans and motor homes that have storage for toilet and grey water to stay for a maximum of 48 hours in public car parks, but say campers and non-self-contained vehicles must use one of the campgrounds in the district.
 
Verena Schaetzle, also from Germany, said she and her friend were looking for the cheapest campsites while travelling around New Zealand.

She said she thought it was OK to stay overnight in the carpark as she had checked before parking up.

"But we only go to places that it is OK. We are allowed to sleep and park in the night," she said.

However, the bylaws say that non-self-contained vehicles must stay at one of the six campsites in New Plymouth, because of "the need for adequate toilet and rubbish facilities, clean water supply, and safety from unruly activity".

Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park receptionist Renee Moratti said the costs for a powered site at the campground, 600 meters along the coasts from the car park, was $24 a night, while an unpowered site would cost $22 a night.

She said while the camp site usually filled up from Christmas time onwards, there were still sites available.

NPDC's acting customer and regulatory solutions manager Rowan Williams said people breaking the bylaw weren't a problem for the council.

She said if campers were breaking the bylaw, the council would talk with them which would usually fix the issue.

However, if it didn't the matter would go to court, but Williams said it had never gone that far before.

Council venues and parks manager, Ron Murray, said it was usual for people to come in and use the showers at the aquatic centre and said they had to pay the full entry price.

"We get quite a few people coming in to use the showers but they're not a problem for us," he said.

The Stratford District Council currently doesn't have a freedom camping bylaw but director of assets Sven Hanna said they were looking at creating one within the next 12 months.

He said because the district had "campervan friendly" status, they had to have a certain number of spots available for self-contained vehicles to stay over night.

"It's one of the ways of life," he said.

South Taranaki is currently developing a bylaw that would allow freedom campers with a self-contained vehicle to stay in public places except for certain areas and campers in non-self-contained vehicles and tents to stay within 100 meters of a public toilet, excluding some areas.

 - Stuff

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