First fines for errant freedom campers

The first sign advising visiting freedom campers of new restrictions in the Queenstown Lakes district has gone up near Sunshine Bay in Queenstown, with the rest to follow in the next two weeks. Photo by Joe Dodgshun.Instant fines totalling more than $20,000 have been imposed on errant freedom campers in the Queenstown Lakes district less than a month after enforcement of the Freedom Camping Bill commenced.

The legislation, allowing local authorities to impose instant fines of $200, or up to $10,000 for serious offences such as emptying a campervan sewage tank in a rest area, took effect on August 30, but local enforcement did not begin until September 16.

Queenstown Lakes District Council community services general manager Paul Wilson said the lag provided time to educate freedom campers, "mindful of the fact that this is the Rugby World Cup, and people are on holiday", as well as for approving measures such as $20,000 worth of signs.

However, by yesterday 102 infringement notices, with fines totalling $20,400, had been issued, Lakes Environmental manager for regulatory and corporate Lee Webster said.

Under the new regulations, freedom campers with tents or vehicles which are not equipped with a toilet can stay overnight only at licensed camping grounds or in designated camping areas.

Those in self-contained vehicles still have to camp in camping grounds or designated camping areas while inside new "no freedom camping zones", but can camp anywhere outside the zones.

Before the Bill was passed by Parliament, the council could only impose $40 infringement fines.

Mr Wilson thought the legislation was working well so far, with most people "getting the message".

"My general impression is that there's been a reasonably significant drop in inappropriate freedom camping and I think the education campaign we have got out there is working and people are generally following the rules."

The education campaign included flyers being left under van windscreen wipers, signs being put up and an up-to-date website.

The next step would be monitoring how the initiative performed, with a review in February, Mr Wilson said.

When asked if these changes would include enforcement of the freedom camping bylaw around Lake Hawea - as sought by the Hawea Community Association - he said no.

"That's not been under the legislation. That's a matter for Linz [Land Information New Zealand], not the council."