Opinions split on freedom camping bylaw

A freedom camper seen parked at a secluded site near the Ballantyne Rd bridge across the Cardrona River in 2010. Photo ODT files.
A freedom camper seen parked at a secluded site near the Ballantyne Rd bridge across the Cardrona River in 2010. Photo ODT files.

A proposal allowing for limited freedom camping at Waterfall Creek on Lake Wanaka's western shore has been rubbished by nearby accommodation providers, among others, as inappropriate and unenforceable.

Lakes Environmental received 21 submissions on the Queenstown Lakes District Council's proposed new freedom camping bylaw - required to meet nationwide legislation introduced last August - which will be heard by a council subcommittee today.

More than half of the submitters opposed the bylaw, mostly because it was considered too lenient. However, some of those objected for the opposite reason, claiming the bylaw was draconian.

Many submitters were unhappy with a proposed exemption to the no freedom camping zone boundary extensions, which would permit four certified, self-contained vehicles to camp at Waterfall Creek, just 2km from Wanaka's town boundary and close to several commercial camping grounds.

The Wanaka Community Board is strongly against allowing non-self-contained freedom camping in the Wanaka Ward and said allowing limited freedom camping at Waterfall Creek was "totally inappropriate" given the area's popularity as a boat launching and picnic spot.

Aspiring Campervan Park owner Richard Hutchison said efforts to prevent damage from freedom camping in recent years through education and fines had been an "abject failure" and limiting the number of vans at Waterfall Creek was unenforceable.

That view was shared by Jacksons Fruit Ltd, landowner of the Top 10 Holiday Park site on Mt Aspiring Rd, which said the exemption would create a "minefield of problems", including the difficulties and costs of monitoring the site.

The Top 10 Holiday Park frequently dealt with freedom campers staying directly outside the park and using its facilities free late at night, because of a sign announcing the start of the freedom camping zone just 200m from the camping ground entrance, co-owner of the business Patrick Perkins said.

"Freedom camping needs to be pushed out at least 20km [from the town boundary] to protect the interests of residents and local businesses," he wrote.

The Hawea Community Association was disappointed with the outcome of the bylaw for the western shores of Lake Hawea, an area that has previously attracted media attention because of escalating abuse by freedom campers. However, the area is not under council control, so its no freedom camping zone could not be enforced under the Freedom Camping Act or bylaw.

"The situation now is, ironically, perhaps worse than before the bylaw, as now all maps show this is an unrestricted area, unlike the zones around the townships, and so people will home in on it," the association said.

Nicholas Moody asked the QLDC to abandon the proposed bylaw, which was "environmentally unsustainable and discriminatory", and to instead develop education strategies to "avoid infringing human rights".

Australian tourist George Samuel said he was "appalled and disgusted" with the lack of freedom in New Zealand on his recent honeymoon.

"You call the ability to park in a public area and sleep, freedom camping. In Australia, it's just called freedom.

"In Australia we aren't backward and don't fine people $200 for parking in a way which is not contrary to the parking signs. Shove your freedom camping bylaw," he wrote.

The proposed bylaw would differ from the now obsolete former bylaw by extending the no freedom camping zone west of Wanaka to Glendhu Bay, extending the zone west of Queenstown from Sunshine Bay to Moke Lake Rd, extending the Queenstown zone east of Joe O'Connell Dr to Glenda Dr, and removing the no freedom camping zone on the western shore of Lake Hawea.

Councillors Jude Battson, Cath Gilmour and Russell Mawhinney will hear submissions in Queenstown's council chambers at 1.30pm today. The amended bylaws will come into effect on December 19, subject to adoption by council.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz