More South Westland sites closed to freedom campers

Te Kopikopiko o te waka (Glacier Peak Viewpoint) at Fox Glacier. Photo: GOOGLE MAPS
Te Kopikopiko o te waka (Glacier Peak Viewpoint) at Fox Glacier. Photo: GOOGLE MAPS
Freedom campers will be banned from two new sites in South Westland, after one too many abuses of the privilege.

The move comes as Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said tougher freedom camping laws will be introduced to Parliament in the new year which include fines or penalties of up to $1000.

The West Coast Conservation Board, at its meeting last week, backed a move by the Department of Conservation to end freedom camping at MacDonalds Creek on the eastern side of State Highway 6, and at the Te Kopikopiko o Te Waka, Glacier Peak Viewpoint at Fox Glacier.

Freedom camping is a permitted activity on conservation land, except where it is specifically prohibited.

But Doc's South Westland manager Wayne Costello told the board there was a history of 'inappropriate' freedom camping at both sites.

"Rangers have observed issues with people lighting fires, inappropriate toileting and vehicles parking in the way of roading crews on the eastern side of SH6 MacDonalds Creek."

There had also been toileting problems and vehicles blocking access to the adjoining farm beside the Clearwater River at the Te Kopikopiko o te waka (Glacier Peak Viewpoint) at Fox Glacier.

That site was also being upgraded to establish a destination for visitors to view Fox Glacier and allow mana whenua to interpret and tell their stories about the area.

"The site has limited parking and no toilets and once it is upgraded, it's expected to attract an increasing number of vehicles early morning and evening, and that is expected to create tension between freedom campers and short stop visitors," Mr Costello said.

There was no shortage of alternative campgrounds nearby, he confirmed.

"Gillespies is just up the road, and of course there are lots of places in town including the Top Ten."

Signs would be placed at the prohibited spots, so that illicit campers could be served with infringement notices and fined.

"When the Freedom Camping Act was first passed we wanted people to be able to go out and have that sort of experience, but things shifted pretty rapidly because there was so much of it, it was unmanageable and actually causing quite significant impacts to communities and the environment."

Public sentiment had shifted, and the wish now was for campers to make use of specific facilities rather than freedom camp.

"The majority of people when they go to places like South Westland understand it's been hard-hit by Covid and want to contribute."

Board members noted there was a lot of freedom camping at Lake Wahapo, and asked if it was also on the prohibited list.

Mr Costello said he was not aware there was a problem there, and it could potentially be included.

The board unanimously supported the addition of the two new sites to the banned list.

- By Lois Williams
Local democracy reporter

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