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Northland councils gearing up as peak freedom camping season begins

Author
nzme,
Publish Date
Tue, 27 Dec 2022, 4:14pm
“We are expecting a significant number of visitors this summer, some of (whom) will be freedom campers", Roger Akers says. Photo / File
“We are expecting a significant number of visitors this summer, some of (whom) will be freedom campers", Roger Akers says. Photo / File

Northland councils gearing up as peak freedom camping season begins

Author
nzme,
Publish Date
Tue, 27 Dec 2022, 4:14pm

Northland councils are gearing up for Aotearoa’s peak freedom camping season as the country’s first summer in three years without international and/or domestic Covid-19 travel restrictions arrives.

And those involved are not quite sure what to expect when it comes to numbers as a result of this new back-to-future but not as we know it.

Far North District Council (FNDC) general manager strategic planning and policy Roger Akers said it was “impossible to predict” Far North freedom camping demand.

“We are expecting a significant number of visitors this summer, some of [whom] will be freedom campers,” Akers says.

November visitors at Whangarei entrance’s Tarewa i-Site were up almost 70 per cent on the same month last year. However, the increase also happened after the council’s Town Basin i-Site was closed in 2021. International visitors were part of the visitor increase, Australians topping the list, followed by Germans and other Europeans, then Americans and Canadians.

Whangārei District Council (WDC) responsible freedom camping coordinator Sue Halliwell said her service was gearing up for moderate numbers but predictions on exactly what would unfold were difficult this year as there were so many variables and the situation could evolve differently.

Kaipara District Council is expecting an increase in freedom campers this summer. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Kaipara District Council is expecting an increase in freedom campers this summer. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Internationals had returned to the north as borders opened for example, but this might not translate into more internationals returning to make up their share of Northland freedom campers, she said.

 “International travellers are coming back into the country in large numbers, although with the government now targeting high-end tourists in its advertising, those numbers may not necessarily include many freedom campers,” Halliwell said.

Kaipara District Council (KDC) monitoring and compliance services manager Dean Nuralli said his council had been keeping an eye on how freedom camping locally was going. He was expecting an increase this summer.

Nuralli said Kaipara’s location next to Auckland was a freedom camping influence.

“Kaipara district is the gateway to Northland and home to the spectacular Kauri Coast. We are on the doorstep of New Zealand’s largest domestic tourism market - Auckland - and an easy drive from New Zealand’s largest international airport. Freedom campers heading north from Auckland must pass through our district,” Nuralli said.

Northland’s freedom camping peak season is December to February and arrives as New Zealand’s school holidays start. Domestic Kiwi holidaymakers typically arrive in Northland for the school holidays from December to January.

International freedom campers usually arrive between early November and the end of March. Grey nomads follow from February until the start of April.

WDC’s Halliwell said it was more difficult this year to forecast how that typical mix played out.

Whangārei has become the most under-pressure freedom camping district in Northland.

The district’s freedom camping numbers climbed by almost 170 per cent in just two years to 13,500 during Northland’s biggest 2019/2020 season - up from 5000 in 2017/2018.

Whangārei has become the most under-pressure freedom camping district in Northland. Photo / NZME

Whangārei has become the most under-pressure freedom camping district in Northland. Photo / NZME

The peak was the last season before Covid-19; international travel bans and lockdowns started in March 2020.

Whangārei had 8124 freedom campers in 2018/19. Covid arrived and numbers declined to 5548 for 2020/2021. Figures for 2021/2022 were drastically down but no records were kept because of the absence of freedom camping ambassadors that season.

Huge demand forced the early update of WDC Camping in Public Places Bylaw. It came into force from October last year and worked to focus freedom camping across Whangārei district into 17 areas with a mix of self-contained only, or self-contained and non-self-contained.

It also overloaded Tūtūkākā coast freedom camping sites with first-time summer freedom camping bans for Whangaumu/Wellingtons Bay, Kowharewa Bay, Matapōuri (Wehiwehi Rd), Sandy Bay and Woolleys Bay West. Bans are in force again, until February 8.

Whangārei’s freedom camping ambassador education programme started on December 16 and runs to February 6 across the district’s busiest areas - Ruakākā (two sites), Marsden Bay, One Tree Pt, Tarewa i-Site, Cobham Oval carpark, Bascule Bridge carpark, Onerahi (Beach Rd), Tamaterau, Pārua Bay, Reotahi and Ocean Beach - where freedom camping is again banned on the grass overflow carkpark.

WDC health and bylaws manager Reiner Mussle said the new bylaw amendments had worked well to provide clear guidelines for a range of circumstances with different camping forms.

Mussle said community and freedom camping sector involvement in the bylaw amendment consultation process had been a big plus.

He said members of the public who wished to make complaints about freedom camping could email WDC’s [email protected] or phone (09) 4304200.

There had been an increase in the number of Whangārei district’s homeless people since the start of covid. Photo / Paul Taylor

There had been an increase in the number of Whangārei district’s homeless people since the start of covid. Photo / Paul Taylor

The bylaw update permanently banned freedom camping at Whangārei city’s Reyburn/Finlayson House Lane carpark. New sites for fully self-contained vehicles are instead available at Hātea East carpark.

Mussle said the number of homeless people and those living permanently in vehicles had increased since the start of Covid-19.

“Council continues to work with social service agencies in an aim to find long-term solutions to homelessness and working pragmatically with permanent vehicle dwellers with the aim of minimising their impact on freedom campers and the associated legislation,” Mussle said.

Nuralli said the districts new ambassadors would collect more information about freedom camping and where it is happening.

Kaipara’s major freedom camping spots are in the east around Mangawhai as well as in the west around Kai Iwi Lakes Taharoa Domain shoreline daytripping sites and at Ripiro Beach around Baylys Beach and Glinks Gully.

The FNDC has freedom camping sites at Kawakawa (Te Hononga Gillies St), Kaikohe (Lindvart Park), Ohaeawai (Te Corner), Okaihau (Two Ponga Park), Totara North (200 metres off State Highway 1), Mangonui (Lions Park, Waterfront Drive) and Awanui (village toilets playground).

FNDC ‘s Akers said kaitiaki rangers would be doing surveys around Far North tourism hotspots in preparation for updating the council’s freedom camping policy.

Responsible freedom camping – how can you do it?

  • Respect other people and the place you’re staying
  • Leave no sign of your stay when you leave
  • Be a responsible and sustainable freedom camper – contribute to the host community through, for example, shopping locally or contribute to local conservation days

Source: Whangārei District Council (WDC) responsible freedom camping coordinator Sue Halliwell

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