Some much needed restraint will be placed on freedom campers will new laws and policy to better manage freedom camping announced by Environment Minister Nick Smith and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson:
“Freedom camping is an important part of our tourism industry and great Kiwi lifestyle but we cannot tolerate irresponsible campers spoiling our most iconic areas with human waste and litter,” Dr Smith said.
“The number of freedom campers has doubled over the past decade to 110,000 international visitors and more than 40,000 New Zealanders. The existing system where each of our 67 districts has its own bylaws is not working for the responsible freedom camper wanting to do the right thing or for councils wanting to protect their local environment.”
A new Freedom Camping Bill will be introduced to Parliament this month that will enable councils to determine where camping is allowed, where it is restricted to campervans with self-containment, and where it is prohibited. The Department of Conservation will be able to make similar rules on the reserves it manages. There will be nationally consistent signage and practical enforcement provisions. A website will be provided outlining where people can and cannot camp nationally.
“We need some national consistency because most freedom campers are unaware of what district they are in one day to the next, but we also want to protect the rights of local communities to decide where freedom camping is to be allowed. We also want to encourage self-contained campervans by having restricted areas that don’t have toilets, as the most serious problems arise from freedom camping without sanitary facilities,” Dr Smith said.
Irresponsible freedom campers are no longer only a problem in remote country areas. Wayside stops on main roads and urban streets are also being used by people without self-contained loos.
The new law will provide for a $200 instant fine for illegal camping that may be imposed on the camper or the vehicle. New regulations will require campervan hire companies to record and disclose details so fines can be enforced. Fines up to $10,000 may be imposed by courts on a successful prosecution for illegally discharging a campervan’s sewage.
Instant fines for relatively minor breaches are far better than charges which lead to court, especially for people from overseas. Being able to impose the fine on a vehicle will put more onus on companies which hire them to educate visitors about where they may and may not camp.
Restrictions will add to costs for visitors but user-pays is better than having the costs of irresponsible freedom campers fall on us and our environment.