Camping measures paying off

Ricky Campbell approaches a camper during freedom camping checks at Lowburn. PHOTO: ADAM BURNS
Ricky Campbell approaches a camper during freedom camping checks at Lowburn. PHOTO: ADAM BURNS
Local government and Land and Information New Zealand have joined forces to tackle concerns around freedom camping over the recent holiday period. As things quieten down before winter, Central Otago reporter Adam Burns joined those behind the scenes and asks how campers are responding to the new regime.

Efforts to manage Central Otago's freedom camping appear to be paying off.

Last year Land and Information New Zealand (Linz) received between 200 and 300 complaints. This summer only five were logged.

Linz Christchurch land and property manager April Hussey says objections were raised by the local community concerned about the conduct of campers.

Linz worked with Central Otago District Council to develop a scheme to manage freedom camping in the region after "years of frustration" around freedom camping hot spots.

Ms Hussey said it proved Linz was listening.

"For the public I think [they] can see that we are trying, whereas the view before was that we weren't."

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has funded the $300,000 project.

No decision has been made about whether initiatives will be implemented beyond this season.

The bulk of the funding was absorbed through various operations: monitoring sites, educating campers and an enforcement programme around four Lake Dunstan sites.

Six portable toilets were installed at the Bendigo site and rope and wire fencing was added to the Lowburn foreshore area.

Cougar was employed to do daily checks at the camping areas.

During a nightly inspection at the Lowburn Harbour site earlier this week security guard Ricky Campbell said it was an important component of the regime.

"The first thing we do is have a look around to see if there's anyone we recognise from other nights and if they're exceeding the [maximum] three nights [stay]."

"We don't ever want to rush up to a van and have a confrontation with them. Hopefully by doing this we give them the opportunity to leave gracefully."

A New Zealand holiday-maker, who preferred not to be named, was enjoying her second night in Lowburn and said she wished they were able to have "six or seven nights" rather than the maximum three.

All campers at the Lowburn Harbour site must have a self-contained vehicle.

One trespass notice was issued at Lowburn, along with "a couple of warning letters" over the summer period.

During a check at Bendigo, a British camper who planned a fourth night at the site was sent on their way.

Ms Hussey said like other landowners, Linz could not physically enforce an eviction.

"We can issue a trespass notice as landowner whenever someone who we have asked to move on doesn't do so. At that point we don't require police support.

"It only comes to that [requiring police support] if we need help to actually remove the person after the notice has been issued."

The Lake Dunstan camping areas attracted overseas travellers and local residents, and education on the rules was a focus for staff, security guard Ty Sayer said.

"There's a lot of travellers who don't necessarily understand the rules and they're quite willing to follow them once they're made aware.

"People respond well."

False self-containment stickers were an issue staff were wary about - unlicensed companies "wanting to make a quick buck" by issuing false stickers.

Legitimate stickers are provided by the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA).

Mr Sayer spotted a false sticker during checks at the Lowburn site, even though the traveller occupant owned a self-contained vehicle.

Last month a report issued by council parks and recreation manager Gordon Bailey showed an average of 3080 vehicle movements per week at Lake Dunstan sites, compared with an average of 2175 recorded over the corresponding period last year.

Last year's vehicle counter data did not include Champagne Gully, which is averaging about 900 vehicle movements per week.

Ms Hussey said "volume" remained a critical issue in Central Otago.

"In regards to a national issue, we're only providing data for a very finite group. But we can see here what is working [for Central Otago]."

In January, 16 tonnes of rubbish was collected at the four Linz-managed freedom camping sites at Lake Dunstan.

Ms Hussey said Linz had responded accordingly to community concerns - "things that caused a lot of frustration such as the toilets not coping with the demand or the rubbish not being collected often enough".

"If this programme were to continue we would like to see more of the same - more portaloos and more rubbish collection and similar mechanism around education."

Neighbouring Queenstown Lakes District Council has also introduced measures to encourage responsible camping and has set up freedom camping hubs in Queenstown and Wanaka, which are due to close on Monday.

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