The freedom to camp?

New Zealand's push for more tourists is putting the spotlight on some of our greatest scenery, but not always for the right reasons.

Freedom camping is again on the radar and the latest focus is on Central Otago, where complaints are increasing about the numbers of people still staying around Lake Dunstan and the predictable overflowing toilets and rubbish bins that eventuate. As well, concern about the health risk orchard workers staying in poorly-equipped camping areas could pose to the region's export fruit industry is very real.

It is an issue that keeps cropping up in Central and wider Otago and one that needs to be dealt with at a national level. Local authorities cannot be expected to deal with the issue when the increase in tourism is being driven by central government.

At present, there seems to be little forward and long-term thinking - the Government continues to increase tourism targets, without an accompanying focus on improving infrastructure.

As the owner of the lakeshore, Land and Information New Zealand (Linz) is responsible for the area around Lake Dunstan. It has a contractor that maintains the areas, including the picnic area at Bendigo, where more than 100 non-self-contained vehicles at a time have sometimes been staying during summer and into autumn.

The Central Otago District Council (CODC) has a freedom-camping policy and works alongside Linz and forwards any complaints it receives, but it has no powers to police areas, and this is where the issue becomes more complex and frustrating for those at the coalface.

It is often when the chain of command is unclear, and those in charge are not part of the community they are serving, that problems can arise.

The CODC seems to have acknowledged this by demanding a meeting with Linz.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan and other council representatives will meet Linz representatives in Alexandra today and it is to be hoped the council will take a strong stance.

Lakeside areas around Central Otago are being defiled and Linz - and some of those camping in designated areas - is making a mockery of the region. Enough is enough. The council needs to demand either more government resourcing to improve camping area facilities, or more policing and maintenance of camping areas, or both.

It is important to note that not all those staying in camping areas are abusing the system. Mr Cadogan has gone a step further than this, saying he dislikes the term freedom camping, which he says is too generic and ''throws everyone in the same boat''.

There are responsible and irresponsible campers, and it is the irresponsible campers that are causing the problems, he says.

The many responsible campers - such as members of the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association and those who travel in self-contained vehicles and respect the rules - are to be commended.

But what of those sleeping in cars who refuse to pay an $8 fee to stay in a Department of Conservation camping area, or $20 or $30 to stay in a formal camping ground? Should New Zealand really be encouraging those who use apps to search for camping areas that are free, and then either ignore rules that say they can only stay in an area for three nights, or skirt the rules by going somewhere else for one night and then back for another three?

Camping in a scenic spot to soak up New Zealand's great outdoors is an important rite of passage for many international travellers, and a valued experience for many New Zealanders, too.

But eventually, all travellers must shower, toilet, cook and wash dishes and clothes.

Few think the solution is to ban freedom camping. But something needs to be done.

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