Fewer vehicles on beaches under bylaw

A car sits next to a sea lion advisory sign in the Pūrākaunui Beach car park in the Catlins...
A car sits next to a sea lion advisory sign in the Pūrākaunui Beach car park in the Catlins yesterday afternoon, as officials take stock of the first week of a new bylaw governing vehicles on beaches in the district. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
Officials say the response to a new bylaw governing vehicles on beaches has been broadly positive, after it came into effect on New Year’s Day.

However, some beach users talked to by the Otago Daily Times yesterday remained unaware any bylaw existed, saying self-regulation was just as effective.

The Clutha District Council courted controversy last year after it proposed banning vehicles from eight beaches — most in the popular summer holidaymaker area of the Catlins — and imposing a 30kmh speed limit on all others.

The proposal garnered 800 unique submissions during consultation, and led to heated exchanges at community outreach sessions.

The council approved a watered-down version of the bylaw proposals on September 15, which came into force on January 1.

The new bylaw leaves all beaches open to vehicles, while providing broad guidelines for safe and respectful driver behaviour.

Yesterday, council chief executive Steve Hill said, overall, the response to the changes had been positive.

"[Our] freedom camping officer has been busy monitoring Clutha beaches, especially Papatōwai where council has had reports of a pregnant sea lion.

"There has been a marked decrease in vehicles on beaches. There have just been a few vehicles here and there but they have mostly been stationary and being used in family beach barbecues, which is absolutely fine."

He said there had only been a "handful" of instances involving speeding, and vehicles entering sand dunes.

Holidaymakers at Pūrākaunui Bay yesterday said they were unaware any bylaw existed, but welcomed a light regulatory touch.

Retirees Jane and Glenn McDonald, of Twizel, caravaning at the Doc-run Pūrākaunui Bay Campsite for the fourth time in seven years this year, said a ban on beach driving would give them pause before returning.

The couple used their ute to drive Mrs McDonald on to the beach to bathe, as she had limited mobility.

"We didn’t know there was a bylaw, no," Mr McDonald said.

"When you drive on to the beach you go slow and take extra care around people and wildlife anyway, because everyone’s there to enjoy the peace and nature. We don’t go more than 20 or 30kmh, I’d say, park up, go for a swim," Mr McDonald said.

"If there were a ban in place, that would definitely affect our enjoyment of the place. But it’s so beautiful we’d probably come anyway, and find some way to get Jane down there."

A Doc official at the beach said she, too, was unaware a new bylaw was in place, but did not wish to comment further.

The council has indicated it will improve signage at beaches this year, to increase awareness of the regulations.

Mr Hill said the council would continue to adopt a "monitor and educate" approach to enforcing the bylaw.