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Kate Hawkesby: Freedom campers don't show NZ enough respect

Author
Kate Hawkesby ,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Monday, 18 February 2019, 7:03a.m.
I feel sorry for locals who feel like they're having their space invaded, because that's essentially what it is for them. Photo / Getty Images

COMMENT:

The continually contentious issue of whether freedom campers should be allowed to roam 'free' has reared its head again.

This time in a small West Coast town, southwest of Hokitika.
It has a small campground available for just 15 cars, it was set up as a freedom camping option by the Westland District Council.

But lo and behold look what's happened? Freedom campers are turning up in their droves, as many as 50 cars at a time according to locals, who're so over it they're now policing the area themselves.

According to one report, they've painted signs, take turns watching the site, block bridge access to it, and are even turning cars away.

But is it their responsibility to do so? Why is the local council not policing it?

How is it you can develop a site for freedom campers, cap it at 15 cars, then wander off into the sunset without so much as a backward glance to check how many cars are turning up?

This raises the wider issue of how much this 'turn a blind eye' behaviour is in fact part of our problem with freedom camping in this country.

If sites were properly policed and monitored, would we have all the issues we do? 
Would we have so many upset locals? Would we have people taking matters into their own hands?

It's not like this is new. We've seen similar stories out of Wanaka, Queenstown and Kaikoura over the years (to name a few). Locals getting fed up and taking charge of their patch.

Sometimes they're covering vast areas and clearly can't be everywhere at once. There are ambassador programmes in some places - volunteers raising awareness by visiting sites with information packs - that's supposed to help councils manage the issue.

But it still doesn't seem enough or get to enough places.

I feel sorry for locals who feel like they're having their space invaded, because that's essentially what it is for them.

And it's even worse when freedom campers abuse the privilege, and push it too far. Like driving onto beaches they're not supposed to, going places they shouldn't, making a mess, dumping rubbish.

But in the end, even with all the signs, the info packs and the monitoring, can we really fix the issue if the basic respect between campers and communities isn't there?

Respect is earned, and I feel like so far, not enough freedom campers have earned it.

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