OPINION: It is summertime - and the complaints about freedom camping have emerged again, as they do every summer.
In Akaroa, campervans blocking access to the boat ramp have irritated boaties wanting to launch in the morning. In Duvauchelle, as in some other parts of the country, freedom campers are allegedly parking outside campgrounds and illicitly using the campgrounds' facilities. On the West Coast, where some districts have set up designated areas for freedom campers, those not obeying the rules have been getting infringement notices at the rate of up to 10 a night.
But by far the greatest number of complaints from throughout the country have been about campers who set up in remote, beautiful spots and leave behind their waste. It is a problem that has emerged with the proliferation of campervans and the growth of self-directed tourism.
There is nothing wrong with freedom camping by itself. Campervans and the like have made many areas of the country more accessible to visitors, both local and overseas, and that by and large is a desirable thing. Tourism, after all, accounts for 9 per cent of employment in New Zealand and is one of the country's biggest export earners, and travel by such means as campervans has been a growing part of the industry for many years.
But while visitors are welcome, it is also incumbent on them to respect what attracted them in the first place. Regrettably, a proportion of them do not. Up and down the country, every summer brings a flurry of reports of campers using the spots they are visiting as outdoor toilets and dumping grounds for their rubbish before moving on.
Three years ago, after multiple complaints by local authorities, the Government enacted the Freedom Camping Act, giving councils the power to regulate the practice. The law does not allow councils to prohibit freedom camping entirely, but it does permit them to restrict it or ban it in designated areas. Councils may only impose such restrictions if it is necessary to protect the area, to protect the health and safety of those who may visit the area or to protect access to the area. Any bylaw must also be the most appropriate and proportionate way of addressing any perceived problem in the area and must not contravene the Bill of Rights Act.
Some councils have used rules made under the law to make their region more welcoming to freedom campers. Waimate District Council, for instance, has been hailed by the Motor Caravan Association as one of the country's top freedom camping spots. In the Coromandel, on the other hand, the association has threatened to challenge the local authority's attempt to restrict freedom camping.
The idea of taking to the road to enjoy the natural splendours the country has to offer is an enormously attractive one. But the countryside is not an unlimited resource and it is right that councils should be able to enforce rules to protect it. And anyone who does choose to go into our beauty spots has a responsibility to leave them as untouched as they were when they arrived.
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