Roving campers 'leaving their poo behind'

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 30/12/2013
Katy and Phil Legget
Katy and Phil Legget

GYPSY LIFE: Phil and Katy Legget enjoy a cuppa with a view of Whangamata Bar.

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More than 1000 infringement notices and warnings have been handed out to freedom campers caught flouting council bylaws in the Coromandel Peninsula this year - with some of the worst offenders caught lighting illegal fires and defecating on public property.

The data has been released just as the Thames-Coromandel District Council is launching a major review of the rules governing freedom camping in the area.

It is also preparing for a legal challenge to its existing bylaw from the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association.

Council deputy chief executive Benjamin Day said the infringement notices were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to bad behaviour, and the council was doing its best to accommodate campers as well as protect the environment.

But the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association said the bylaw was illegal and negotiations with the council had broken down numerous times.

There were 810 infringement notices and 333 warnings issued to campers between January and November, with most notices issued over the summer months.

The worst problems were with campers lighting illegal fires, defecating outside and leaving their toilet paper and waste behind, Mr Day said.

In a recent incident, a van converted into a camper was fined for staying in a prohibited area outside the council's Whitianga office, with one of its occupants urinating in a public place.

Mr Day said a new wave of certified "self-contained" vans, which effectively had only a potty in them, were part of the problem.

"We're finding all these campervans have the sticker saying they're self- contained, but they are not. The big campervans with a lot of storage and water, they will generally use their own toilet."

The present bylaw makes it illegal to camp in a public place outside of designated areas.

Mr Day said he thought the current bylaw was working, but the council had initiated a review to get feedback on how the legislation was working two years after it was first implemented.

However, the association has set down a legal challenge of the council's current bylaw because it believes it contravenes the Freedom Camping Act and the Bill of Rights.

"If they are going to have a bylaw it has to be consistent with the act," association president Bruce Stranger said.

The freedom camping legislation pushed through Parliament in August 2011 allowed freedom camping in all local council areas, except in some restricted locations.

Mr Stranger said the act allowed for areas of special significance but did not allow a total ban.

But Mr Day said the Freedom Camping Act did not unlock land covered by other pieces of legislation, like the Resource Management Act.

"We've tried to find as many places as we can where freedom camping will be allowed.

"But the community have created reserve management plans and they have overwhelmingly said no freedom camping in our parks and reserves."

He said the act had created a "legislative nightmare" and the judicial review was a "big waste of money" for ratepayers and for caravan association members. "We've told them the bylaw is under review and we'll have a new policy in place by the time the judicial review is finished."

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Feedback on the council's freedom camping bylaw is open until February next year and the council expects to adopt new rules in June. 

CAMPERS TO COUNCIL: DON'T LOCK US DOWN

For Katy and Phil Legget, freedom camping is a luxury and an opportunity to be "like gypsies".

"I've done the tent and I love that, but when it's just the two of you, you can rock up to a campsite [in a campervan] and you're ready in a few minutes," Phil Legget said.

Katy Legget said it was a great way to get to know people and it offered them the opportunity to stop wherever they liked.

The Auckland couple, who are a few days into a nine-day holiday around the Coromandel Peninsula, were parked up near the mouth of Whangamata estuary when they spoke with the Waikato Times.

The pair had spent the previous night at a designated camping area nearby, which they found in the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association guidebook, and had left by 8am - as required.

Although the couple stayed in approved areas or campsites each night, the council's stance towards freedom camping drew a lukewarm response.

Phil Legget said he could understand restrictions, but the council had to give people access.

"If they lock it all down, then it won't help promote tourism."

He said he did not see the harm in parking in non-designated areas in a self-contained campervan and, as was usually the case, one person could spoil it for everybody.

"It's different if you're camping."

Katy Legget said educating people there were restrictions would help prevent incidents.

- Waikato Times

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