2 Feb 2021

Enjoy Northland's nature but bring less plastic - iwi leader

From Checkpoint, 5:40 pm on 2 February 2021

As thousands head to Northland for Waitangi weekend, local iwi Ngāti Kuri is urging holidaymakers at campsites to take care for the environment.  

The iwi runs several campsites in the remote Far North, including at Spirits Bay. Even with closed borders the campground has seen record numbers of visitors over summer.  

As New Zealand remains at Covid-19 alert level 1, the iwi is cautiously operating what it calls alert level 1.5. Tents are spaced further apart and payments are contactless.  

Ngāti Kuri executive trustee Sheridan Waitai told Checkpoint there was still room for more guests, but the pollution left by visitors had been discouraging.  

"In our area, we allocate up to four sites. And there seems to be a thing up here where people drive all the way up here and think that freedom camping is a thing.  

"We don't allocate areas for freedom camping, there is no freedom camping. We offer safe places within our campsites. In particular, the reason why we don't support freedom camping is some people are not self-contained.  

"So we actually have to pick up a lot of faeces and rubbish. And areas of our bush that we like to visit smell like urine. 

"What we're often presented with by people who try and camp in areas that are non-camping areas is there are no signs... Our response has always been: 'Do you see signs to say you can stay here?'" 

Pollution by visitors had not stopped since international borders closed, Waitai said.  

"They're definitely our own people in our own country.  

"We were really excited that we were going to be hosting more of our national people, people from our country that we could help educate, and they could learn things about their own country locally.  

"We saw this summer as a really great opportunity to do that. But then we did see and we have had the experiences of just small groups, small individuals with real entitlement… which isn't fair, with the amount of effort we put into hosting people. 

"Covid-19 was a big unknown. We normally get about 5000 per annum, on a normal summer pre-Covid-19. Our campsites were yet to fully finish the count, but it felt like we would triple in numbers, our overflow campsite that we set up took around 300 to 400 people a night. It was really large numbers of travellers. We didn't expect that at all." 

Waitai said the campsites were being run at Covid-19 alert level "1.5".  

"We're nice and steady now. We've got nice camping numbers, we still have people coming and there is space. We've downsized the sites, so we've got restrictions - we've got space between each kind of camping bubble.  

"And we've just got protocols in place that keep our camp managers at a safe distance. So we haven't said for one minute 'don't come', we've just said we're going to put some extra protocols in place that we feel safe, and others feel safe as well." 

The weather is expected to be good for Waitangi weekend, and there were still spaces available for campers, she said, but there were some expectations for visitors.  

"What we would like to see more of is more care for water. Often people leave the taps running while they're washing their feet, washing every individual shoe. Get a bucket… just be more conservative around water. We're a really dry spot. Water is like gold for us up here.  

"Also staying on the tracks. Don't go off the tracks… for your own safety. Because we just don't have the capacity to rescue you.  

"Definitely no fires. What people don't understand up here is our fires burn underground... It could also burn for months, and then come up. So absolutely no fires." 

Waitai said it was her aunties who had to pick up rubbish and faeces visitors leave behind.  

"That's what's heart-breaking. They go up early to clean-up and they've literally got to pick up somebody else's poo so they can start work before other people arrive. 

"That's really heart-breaking for me to see my aunties and my family having to do that.  

"One more thing I would like to say is not bringing so much plastic stuff up. Our lagoons and lakes were absolutely full of giant plastic unicorns that we know people are going to throw out in a month's time.  

"There wasn't just one or two, there were quite a significant amount of giant plastic toys. It's just unnecessary waste. We've provided a beautiful place, it's like living in a picture. Just enjoy the nature. Really try and enjoy the nature and be present in it, rather than bringing up all that plastic stuff."