Sharp campers sought to catch site-fee dodgers

South Canterbury holidaymakers can get a free week at Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park if they help track down the thousands of people who don't pay their camp fees.

Department of Conservation ranger Shirley Slatter said it needed people to help at the popular Whitehorse Hill camp site.

"It's a chance for locals to give something back, while also experiencing a world heritage site on their doorstep," she said.

The campground, at the end of the Hooker Valley road, was established in the 1970s. Mrs Slatter said its popularity had increased twofold over the past six years, particularly among European tourists.

Recent surveys indicate more than 20,000 people visit the site each year. Mrs Slatter estimated more than 2000 of those did not pay the fee.

"Those are the ones we're wanting to target. They either don't know the system or simply want to avoid paying," she said.

"Checking those who aren't displaying tickets at the campground can be tricky. It often involves waking up campers or blocking access across the ford with the warden's vehicle in order to stop them doing a runner."

The camp site funds its upkeep through "self-registration", which means people display the paid ticket either on their tents or attached to their vehicles. It costs about $5 per child and $10 per adult per night to register a site.

Mrs Slatter said DOC had used volunteer wardens at the Mueller Hut for the last 20 years.

"It will be a similar set-up at Whitehorse Hill. You'll require a self-contained vehicle, but otherwise you get free rein of the camp site," she said.

Volunteers would be on "duty" from around 4pm until 9pm. The wardens would continue their present duties.

"We feel this is a win-win proposal. Locals get to experience the national park for a week for free, and DOC gets to recover some of the fees so we can put more towards the site's upkeep," Mrs Slatter said.

Mrs Slatter said DOC wanted about a dozen volunteers to assist throughout the camping season, which officially ends at Easter.

The Timaru Herald