15 Jul 2020

Freedom camping issues put in the past as numbers grow

5:58 pm on 15 July 2020

The Queenstown Lakes District Council is preparing for an economic boost from campervans in the area this summer.

Campervan, motorhome, RV, freedom camping.

Photo: Unsplash / Hanson Lu

The district is already experiencing a higher number of campervans than expected, as people take advantage of post-lockdown deals by rental providers.

Overall though, the number of visitors to the Queenstown Lakes District has plummeted, and the economic lifeblood they pumped through the area is barely registering a pulse these days.

The council's community services general manager, Thunes Cloete, said with no new international arrivals on the horizon, there were plans to roll out the welcome mat to those Kiwis who arrived this summer.

"We must be prepared for holiday period in December, the summer period, because we are seeing more campervans coming to our district than what we thought would happen.

"We are busy putting together a programme of what we think we'll need, and we'll also be discussing this with our commercial campground owners to see how we can get them involved."

Before the pandemic though, the endless stream of visitors in recent years was not all rosy.

Freedom campers taking up - and in some cases spoiling - the incredible landscapes that drew people to the area had locals seeing red only a few years ago.

Some locals feel freedom camping has had its day.

But Cloete said the council had turned the corner on those issues.

Part of its success last summer was responsible camping ambassadors, which would be deployed again this summer.

"They really did a fantastic job making sure that when somebody's parked in a wrong spot to go and talk to them, and just explain to them and give them some options.

"We found that worked much better [compared to a punitive approach]."

The council was also working with commercial enterprises to secure locations for freedom campers, as the council did not want to repeat its previous problems with them.

"We've been having discussions with two private entities that are really interested."

But some, such as Lake Hawea Holiday Park owner Richard Burdon, said the Covid-19 pandemic should be used to draw a line under the days of freedom camping.

"We've got freedom campers moving back into our district. One of the things we've learned from Covid is that we don't need them.

"We've got strong tourism numbers and we don't need freedom campers . . . ruining our environment. We need to take a different approach, and this is a really good opportunity."

He was not alone in his concern.

Kinloch Lodge owner Toni Glover said she had seen the return of some problematic behaviour since lockdown ended.

"There is a lot of people camping on the Glenorchy Road, also partially down the waterfront in Glenorchy and in Glacier Burn . . . in areas that are really just carparks.

"You've got a small minority that do spoil it for others, but we've certainly seen fecal waste and a degree of rubbish."

She said she wanted the Department of Conservation to step in and offer free access to camp sites to those stranded in the country, so they could use appropriate facilities.

"There's certainly a great deal of distress amongst these people who don't have anywhere else to go, they can't afford to rent a property, they don't have a job. And there's a lot of people who are travelling around because they can at the moment, but again they're travelling on a very tight budget."

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he had not heard any complaints nor seen any issues since the pandemic struck.

"I have had no complaints whatsoever. The last complaint I would have got would've been last Christmas, New Year. So, if there are people misbehaving then that is a surprise to me."

He did not want to see Department of Conservation sites used for those reeling in the post-Covid 19 economy as the back of cars and vans were not an appropriate place to sleep.

"I'm just not seeing that at all. What I am seeing is Kiwis in rental campervans and generally they seem to be behaving appropriately.

"We have been aware of some migrant workers that ended up sleeping in the backs of their cars for a short period of time. We addressed that and we've made sure those people have a place to go. What I don't want is people sleeping rough, sleeping in the backs of cars, so we are ensuring that doesn't happen.

"I've said I will not see anybody in this district without a roof over their head or a feed in their stomach and that's what we are doing."

Visitors in campervans provided a much-needed boost for Queenstown Lakes' economy and if the trans-Tasman border opened up, Boult said he hoped Australians would get in on the act as well.

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