It would not be unfair to say members of the Otago
Conservation Board are a group of somewhat "unhappy campers".
Their call for a national ban on the use of campervans smacks
of a cause in search of publicity.
If their initiative in voting unanimously to draft a letter
to their Department of Conservation seniors, calling on the
Government to create legislation towards such a ban, has
raised a fair old stink, they would say it is nothing
compared to what the tourists in their four-wheeled portable
tents are doing to the countryside.
Such a ban is, of course, a far-fetched proposal and is
highly unlikely to gain serious traction, but it might be
argued that the board, in promoting it, has done the country,
the rental vehicle and tourism industries, and regional and
district authorities a favour.
There is strong evidence that the problem is escalating, that
measures to date have done very little to contain it, and
that concerted and decisive action is required sooner rather
It is not a new problem.
For several years now, the issue has arisen intermittently as
the influx of visitors, primarily during the summer months,
has made itself felt often in the most anti-social of ways -
and to the cost of both the environment and local councils
charged with cleaning up the mess.
In the Dunedin environs, freedom campers are especially
evident on the Otago Peninsula and along the Brighton-Taieri
Mouth coast, leading to issues over rubbish bins, toilets and
waste disposal sites; North Otago has its problems, and
Central Otago has grappled with similar issues, too, around
The Queenstown Lakes District Council is particularly
familiar with the problem, having incorporated local rules on
freedom camping into the Traffic and Parking Bylaw 2006.
But its attempts to inculcate in visitors appropriate
behaviour through education appear to have met with limited
success, as Queenstown Mayor Clive Geddes admitted last week
following an outburst of frustration on the part of Kingston
residents infuriated by the littering of lay-bys and beaches
with detritus and "human waste".
The major problem in most areas appears to be the
proliferation at the cheaper end of the "campervan" market:
the converted people movers and pop-tops that have room for
not much more than a mattress in the back and some personal
effects, including cooking equipment.
Mostly these vehicles do not have toilet facilities, and tend
to be rented and driven by younger, budget-conscious
"freedom" campers - the mobile equivalent of the backpacker.
Some of these visitors, whether foreign or domestic, will be
entirely responsible, respectful of the environment in which
they find themselves and mindful of the common courtesies and
behavioural expectations that all societies habitually apply.