30 Nov 2021

Stuart Nash backtracks on call for ban on non-self-contained campervans

7:06 pm on 30 November 2021

Harsher fines and more restrictions could be on the card for freedom campers as the government tries to flush out the badly behaving ones.

Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash look at a new camping site.

Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash look at a new camping site. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

During a trip to Queenstown today, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash announced tougher freedom camping legislation aimed at ensuring the right vehicles are in the right places.

It marked a backtrack from his early call for non-self-contained campervans to be banned, but he said the new rules were pragmatic and the result of public consultation.

The new legislation means freedom campers would need to be in a certified self-contained vehicle to stay overnight on council land, unless there are designated areas.

Vehicles would need to have a fixed toilet to be certified self-contained, which would be overseen by people authorised by the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board.

Those who do not comply will face harsher penalties with fines of up to $1000 replacing the current $200 fine.

"The thing that we really want to stop is people driving around in these vans - they call them sliders," Nash said.

"Apparently they call them sliders because you can hear the door slide open in the middle of the night as someone goes to the toilet, and close again.

"We wanted these sorts of people to be only camping in areas where there are proper facilities, not at the sides of the roads. Not on the lakefront where there are no facilities, and therefore they have no option but to do whatever they did in an area that was really not where we wanted people to do that sort of stuff.

"We are setting clear, minimum expectations for campers. Higher standards must be met before vehicles can be certified as truly self-contained with fixed toilets. Abuses in the past included campers slapping bogus blue stickers on vehicles to falsely claim compliance.

Wendekreisen, campervan, camper van

A Wendekreisen campervan. Photo: 123RF

The government has committed $10 million to support local councils through the transition, to develop local bylaws, and educate freedom campers.

"There is going to be a register so when people are going around with these new green stickers as opposed to those blue stickers - which I'm told you can buy at the back of a youth hostel," Nash said.

"They will be gone in two years' time so despite the fact we've spent about $25 million on freedom camping infrastructure since 2018, we've got a bit of a way to go."

The number of freedom campers has grown significantly since the early 2000s, peaking at 245,000 in 2019.

Tick of approval from Queenstown mayor

When Jim Boult was first elected Mayor of Queenstown Lakes in 2016, he said freedom camping was out of control.

The local council had made a lot of progress since then, he said.

"I think we probably got 60-70 percent of where we wanted to get to. This will take it to where we really want to get to."

This would not be the end of freedom camping in the Queenstown Lakes.

"Freedom campers are welcome in our district providing they obey the rules and they're in appropriate vehicles," Boult said.

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult

Jim Boult is confident planned legislation will help deal with problem freedom campers. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

Wānaka resident Debbie remembered finding unpleasant surprises around her community and its tracks.

"You find toilet paper and all sorts of stuff around, and it's not good."

She hoped the new rules would stamp that out.

"There's tonnes of places you can freedom camp. We also have to think about our commercial aspect of the people who take on campers for a living, and then we have - in the past - people being able to kind of abuse that and just park freely."

Rolleston resident and New Zealand Motor Caravan Association member David supported the rules, despite wanting to see fresh water and grey water tanks included too.

He would happily see the end of smaller vehicles that have a certificate with a toilet in a box that was used once in a blue moon.

"I'm not in favour of those people destroying it for the true freedom camper who complies with regulations and is fully self contained."

Nash was not expecting a rush of tourists once the borders reopen, saying the isolation requirement would mean only those who could afford the time and money would travel.

"That's what we've put in place. But from where we move to a point where just tourists come in and they get off the plane and they jump in a car and they travel down to Queenstown or Napier or wherever, you know, there's still a little work to do."

The Self-Contained Vehicles Bill will be introduced to Parliament next year, with the changes expected to be phased in over two years to allow owners to get their vehicles up to scratch.

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