Call to ban non-self-contained freedom camping vehicles in Whangārei

Whangārei should be banning all freedom camping vehicles that are not self contained, a local residents’ group leader says.

Whangārei Heads Citizens Association chair Jan Boyes made comments after new Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said he wanted the vehicles banned from New Zealand.

Nash would not comment specifically on Whangārei District Council (WDC)’s current Camping in Public Places Bylaw review.

However, he strongly signalled his intentions around freedom camping vehicles without working onboard toilets.

“I have asked my tourism officials to explore what’s possible about tighter regulations for camping vehicles that are not equipped to deal with their own waste,” Nash said.

“I certainly want tighter controls on this industry. I want to know what’s possible and how we can ensure our long-suffering ratepayers and residents in the most idyllic parts of the country aren’t left cleaning up human waste.”

There has been a 160 percent increase in freedom campers into the district in the last five years. There were 13,000 freedom camping vehicles in Whangārei last summer – up from 5000 in 2017/2018.

Whangārei’s huge freedom camping increase has forced the early first-time bylaw review to deal with what WDC councillors have been told will be a polarising issue about which hard decisions would need to be made.

WDC strategic planner (bylaws) Vita Strohush said the council was seeing a high level of interest in freedom camping matters.

The proposed new bylaw outlines management for each of more than 60 Whangārei freedom camping spots, mostly along the district’s coastline from its roughly Langs Beach southern boundary to Bland Bay in the north.

A four-week public consultation on the bylaw review closes on Friday at 2pm.

WDC said it had so far received 93 bylaw review submissions. The council would also be holding an 8 December hearing for those who wanted to speak about their submission.

Boyes said WDC should be moving towards banning non self-contained freedom campers.

“The time has long gone for these to be part of our Whangārei tourism mix. A ban on non self-contained vehicles should gradually be brought in,” Boyes said.

“We don’t want any liberalisation anywhere of what we already have now. In fact lots of places need further restrictions,” Boyes said of her association’s review submission, based on surveying 150 Whangārei Heads locals.

Strohush had previously said the bylaw was operated under New Zealand’s Freedom Camping Act. This considers only three categories in assessing the camping’s impacts – health and safety, access and environmental impact.

However, Whananaki Beach Association president Bruce Barron said councils used the Act to hide behind when saying they were not allowed to oppose freedom camping on the basis of running a business.

His submission would be based around freedom camping’s impact on four local campgrounds that missed out on business as a result.

His group opposed wholesale freedom camping on the roughly tennis court-sized Whananaki North beach reserve.

“I don’t think part of our beautiful reserve should be taken up by campervans who spend very little,” Barron said.

New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) manager for property and policy James Imlach said his group was also putting in a bylaw review submission saying WDC was leading New Zealand with its approach to freedom camping management.

Among the reasons for this was that it was being true to the intent of the act, in contrast to some councils, which included representation about business impacts in their bylaw decision making.

Imlach said freedom camping was part of New Zealand’s culture.

Thousands of freedom campers travelled around the country without creating problems.

The association accepted a small minority did create problems, but this was not the case for all.

Freedom camping overload has become a problem along the Tutukaka Coast, Imlach said, and WDC was proposing banning camping from its most under-pressure sites for about two months over the peak season.

“We would much rather see seasonal prohibition than prohibiting camping year round,” Imlach said.

Big changes to Ruakaka’s freedom camping management are proposed under the bylaw review too.

Eric Woodward, Ruakaka Residents and Ratepayers Association member, said he would be making a submission on the bylaw review.

Illegal freedom camping in the Ruakaka Beach backdunes – about 700m north of the NIWA Northland marine research centre – had recently become a problem that needed addressing, he said.

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers’ Association and NZ On Air.