Freedom campers have mostly been on good behaviour across Aotearoa this summer.

After reports in past summers of inappropriate toileting and camping in banned areas, councils in tourist hotspots said the season so far had been a success.

A new law is currently being phased in, requiring freedom campers to have completely self-contained vehicles with plumbed-in toilets.

It will not be fully in force until next year – but compliance is already on the up, councils says.

While tourist numbers had boomed in Kaikōura this summer, reports of bad behaviour had not – with help from a new compliance officer, the region’s district council senior operations manager Dave Clibbery said.

“[The officer is] informing them about what our regulations are, and if they are unable to comply, directing them to other private facilities that have toilets.

“That’s worked really well, despite being an extremely busy season, we’ve not had really too many incidents.”

Earlier issues with poor camping etiquette – particularly inappropriate toileting – had created “quite considerable concern” in the community, Clibbery said, but those had died down this summer.

“We’ve not had a lot of complaints from the community, that’s a really good indicator that things are going well.”

Further south in Queenstown, there were just “a couple of code browns” at the start of the summer. Although littering and lighting fires were the main issues, they were not major, said Queenstown Lakes District Council responsible camping programme manager Amy Galloway.

“On the whole, the behaviour from campers has been good, and the feedback we get from our responsible camping ambassadors is that people are doing their best to abide by the rules,” Galloway said.

“I don’t think we’re at the pre-Covid levels of non-compliance that we had.”

In the North Island, Gisborne and Coromandel’s councils said there was not a lot to worry about this summer.

Coromandel Mayor Len Salt said compliance officers took “a discussion and education approach”, which was paying off.

“This summer, I’d have to say it’s gone really well, it is pretty labour intensive for our people,” he said. From more than 1400 vehicle checks since Christmas Eve, there were 151 infringement notices issued and 75 warnings.

“The compliance overall has been pretty good, sometimes we’ve just got to be a little bit more firm with people, but often that’s just a matter of making them aware and working with them so that they’re parking in the right places.”

New law a blow for some caravaners

The law requiring freedom campers to have certified self-contained vehicles with plumbed-in toilets — rather than portable toilets — would be fully in force until next year.

Those with portable toilets that were certified under the old rules, have until June 2025 to comply with the new rules — but those not previously certified must abide by the new law.

“A lot of councils have got their enforcement officers out there this summer, and they are quite vigilant around compliance with the new rules,” said New Zealand Motor Caravan Association property and policy manager James Imlach.

It meant many members were heavily restricted in their choice of campsites, he said.

“I would say that most of our members with portable toilets who are affected by the reforms probably feel a bit hard-done-by.”

They had spent time and money on meeting the current standards, only to have the goalposts shift, he said.

“They’ve done all the hard to work to comply and to demonstrate to councils and the community they represent that they are responsible campers.

“But unfortunately, not everyone who freedom camps with a portable toilet in the industry is responsible, and this is what’s landed us with new legislation.”

It was still too early to tell whether the new legislation was effective in curbing illegal activity and issues with waste disposal, he said.

By Lauren Crimp of rnz.co.nz

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