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Queenstown braced for freedom campers as Auckland eyes curbs

Service hubs for campervan travellers will be back in Queenstown and Wanaka this visitor season – but only during the daytime.

Queentown Lakes District Council has allotted $788,000, part of the government’s $8 million fund to ease freedom camping issues, to creating two daytime hubs which will provide showers, toilets, travel information, wifi access and rubbish facilities.

But campers will only be given a two-hour window to use the daytime pit stops, in a departure from the 2018 experiment which permitted a number to stay overnight.

The council’s general manager for community services, Thunes Cloete, said lessons learned last season helped formulate the plan after feedback from tourism operators, campers, 2018 service hub ‘ambassadors’ and the community.

More than 14,600 self-contained vehicles visited service hubs last year between November and March according to council, and ambassadors surveyed more than 30,000 people across the district.

“We were always clear the 2018 initiatives were trials, and that we wanted to remain flexible enough to alter our approach if required,” said Cloete.

“Some felt that allowing campers to stay in service hubs overnight last year provided unnecessary competition for our district’s existing campgrounds.”

The plan involves an increase in the number of ambassadors, a widely praised aspect of 2018’s experiment, who will be employed to help monitor, educate and direct visitors to camp in appropriate areas and dispose of rubbish responsibly.

Parks service delivery manager, Clare Tomkins, said: “Simply put, we’ll have more boots on the ground helping to support responsible camping, covering a greater area than we’ve been able to previously. This summer, we’ll be able to assist with Department of Conservation land – sites like the Crown Range.

“We know that most campers want to do the right thing, and by providing more ambassadors and better education, we’re positive our community will continue to see a greater level of people camping responsibly.”

Auckland meanwhile, is not falling over itself to welcome freedom campers in 2019, with city councillors putting off creating a bylaw to control the industry until after October’s local elections but voting unanimously for talks with government to increase restrictions on freedom camping.

Mayor Phil Goff said the council has to comply with 2011 legislation which takes a “very permissive” approach to freedom camping, despite community concerns about issues around the behaviour of campers and the infrastructure needed to accommodate them.

“With rapid growth in freedom camping and an irresponsible approach by a minority of campers, Aucklanders have expressed concern around the need to exercise control over freedom camping – I share their concern,” he said.

“Council and commercial camping grounds are quite cheap to stay at and offer proper facilities, and that’s where we would want most campervans to stay overnight.”

Reaction to Queenstown Lakes District Council’s decision not to implement overnight camping hubs for this summer has been mixed, with some saying it could herald a return to vans parked in the streets.

One volunteer freedom camper warden, Diana Turnbull-Anderson, told the Otago Daily Times the overnight hubs in 2018 meant she had only issued infringement tickets to a handful of campers, whereas she normally would ticket up to 100.

“It will be interesting to see what happens with this new scheme if we have more people back on our streets and beaches again,” she said.

A local holiday park owner told the newspaper the hubs would likely stop the spectre of “shower stealers” but commented: “The real question is having gone to the hub, had their shower, dumped all their waste and rubbish, are they then going to stay in the region and spend some money, and where are they going to camp?”

QLDC will commit funds to employing more freedom camper officers to ensure compliance and will install signage detailing approved locations at hot spots deemed inappropriate for camping.

The hubs will be open every day through the peak season from 8am to 8pm, staffed by a minimum of two people.

Up to 12 ambassadors will be employed from November to April, with another four rostered over the peak season from mid-December through to March.

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Kate Jackson

Kate Jackson is the editor of Accomnews. You can reach her at any time with questions or submissions: editorial@accomnews.co.nz

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