23 Jan 2017

Ancestral Taranaki land chained off to freedom campers

10:33 pm on 23 January 2017

Fed up with their ancestral lands being trampled and strewn with rubbish, the trustees of a Māori reserve in Taranaki have put a chain across a road at a site popular with freedom campers.

Paora Road is a popular destination for surfers and freedom campers.

Paora Road is a popular destination for surfers and freedom campers. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The reserve at the end of Paora Road on State Highway 45 contains sensitive cultural sites and the Puniho Pā Trust and other groups have been trying to restore the area.

Paora Road leads to some of Taranaki's premium surf breaks and three self-contained freedom camping vehicles are permitted to park overnight for a maximum of three nights in a row, but sometimes there are up to 30.

Puniho Pā Trust chairman Dennis Ngawhare said freedom campers were encroaching onto the reserve, which was important to the Nga Mahanga-a-Tairi hāpu.

"Back in the day there was a papa kāinga, a village, on that site and currently there's a cemetery. There's also wāhi tapu [sacred sites] including two turanga waka, which are waka launching spots at the end of that road.

"Essentially that track runs down through the reservation land to the mouth of the Matanehunehu Stream."

After discussions with the South Taranaki District Council last year, the council put up signs warning people not to camp on the reserve, but had told the trust it could not block off vehicle access, Mr Ngawhare said.

That had not worked, so frustrated trust members had now put a chain across the track.

"There are many instances of people going to the toilet in the bushes and trees, and we have our urupa, or cemetery, in the paddock there," Mr Ngawhare said.

"It's my personal opinion that it is only a matter of time before some clown goes and does something stupid there."

In December, surfers chained up the toilets at Paora Road after finding 30 vehicles parked up for the night, and asked freedom campers to move on.

Dennis Ngawhare questioned whether Paora Road was suitable for freedom camping.

Dennis Ngawhare questioned whether Paora Road was suitable for freedom camping. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Ngawhare questioned whether Paora Road was suitable for freedom camping and worried about the implications for those who had camped there for decades.

"There's various options on the table, one of them being closing down the whole area for freedom camping - which would affect locals as well."

Another option was having a "warranted officer" being able to go down and move people on, he said.

"It's very much a matter of the South Taranaki District Council investing in some infrastructure for these vehicles, for these tourists coming into Taranaki, because there is no infrastructure there now."

Dennis Ngawhare fears someone will do something stupid at the nearby urupā.

Dennis Ngawhare fears someone will do something stupid at the nearby urupā. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Latvian traveller Ivars Ivanovs said he had camped on the Māori reserve land before and it did not appear to be an issue.

"In those days there wasn't really any problem. It was a little mess around of course because not everyone takes their trash away, but what I kind of now find really upsetting that it's just so impossible to find a place to camp."

Mr Ivanovs said it was a pity a few freedom campers had made it difficult for the majority who cleaned up after themselves.

His travelling companion Ilonka Spronk of the Netherlands said she was happy to stay off the Māori reserve land.

"We still have the opportunity to freedom camp here in the front and we really respect that they have their piece of land there with their history and that we're not allowed there."

Latvian Ivars Ivanovs and his travelling companion Ilonka Spronk of the Netherlands said they were happy to stay off the Māori reserve land.

Latvian Ivars Ivanovs and his travelling companion Ilonka Spronk of the Netherlands said they were happy to stay off the Māori reserve land. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

In a statement, the South Taranaki District Council said it had engaged a security firm to monitor Paora Road and check that people complied with the freedom camping bylaw.

"Those people found to be not complying are given an information brochure on where they can and cannot freedom camp in South Taranaki are then asked to move on.

"The frequency of checking is random so those who stay longer than the three days are identified fairly quickly. While [the council does] have the ability to infringe campers with a $200 fine, we are taking the approach that education is the long-term answer to the problem."

The council said it was talking with local people and other local government authorities about the issues raised by freedom camping.

"We have also called for a meeting with all four Taranaki Councils, the Department of Conservation, and the Venture Taranaki Trust in a bid to find a comprehensive region-wide approach to freedom camping that is both effective and simple to understand for everybody."