Freedom campers make the most of 'fabulous' Nelson sites

8:55 am on 3 January 2017

Moves by the Nelson City Council to accommodate freedom campers have angered some locals, but delighted those who prefer a free-wheeling holiday.

Freedom camper Julie Maki.

Freedom camper Julie Maki. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Freedom campers mingle with noisy oyster catchers on an industrial site at the Nelson Marina.

The fenced yard is one of three sites on the city fringe that the city council has set aside especially for freedom campers, ahead of a predicted influx of visitors as a result of the road closure north of Kaikōura.

The moves to accommodate freedom campers have angered some locals.

Many are upset at the $80,000 spent installing free WiFi and setting up security and rubbish collection, while some commercial campsite managers said they could not understand why the council would set up in opposition to them, and the campsites it operated itself.

But freedom campers have welcomed the new sites.

Julie Maki of Whangarei said the council's plan was a brilliant idea.

"It's fabulous what they've done - we've got a beautiful view. They've created toilets and rubbish bins and water for people that don't have it - it's out of people's way. I don't see why people should complain about it."

Mrs Maki said it was also welcome respite from the shaking in Marlborough. She and her husband Paul have been on the road for a year and arrived in the South Island just a couple of months ago.

They were in their campervan at Ward Beach when the 14 November quake hit like a bomb.

"It was like, 'welcome to the South Island'. We were up the top (of the campervan) sleeping and we thought we were going to roll over. The camper was on blocks and it jumped off the blocks. It was pretty scary."

Freedom camper Aaron Marshall

Freedom camper Aaron Marshall Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Aaron Marshall from Virginia, just outside Washington DC, and his partner Marianna Manousos were travelling New Zealand in a car. They found out about the Nelson sites via a freedom camping app they used, and reckoned the marina was comparatively good.

"It's actually not bad. Sometimes it's just parking lots throughout the States. Sometimes you're on a river and more in nature, but hey - it's free accommodation," Mr Marshall said.

Nelson deputy mayor Paul Matheson said the council was better off taking steps to manage the expected influx, rather than let the campers have the freedom of the city. He said the site at Rutherford Park, near the Trafalgar Centre, appeared most popular, and that the sites would only be in place over summer.

Troy Tapara from Christchurch said he had planned to camp at Tahunanui Beach, but noticed the signs that said no freedom camping allowed. He said he had not noticed any hostility towards freedom campers.

Steve Edwards, the owner and operator of the Nelson and Motueka Top 10 Holiday Parks, said the availability of freedom camping sites had not impacted on business yet, but he expected it soon would.

He said the noticeable increase so far had been in the numbers of freedom campers he had caught sneaking into the commercial parks to use the facilities.

He said eight were caught in one day just after Christmas, and 12 the following day. Staff in the Nelson holiday park reported eight to 10 freedom campers each day were trying to use the facilities.

"They'd parked down the road and didn't want to pay our price. They hadn't even asked to come in - they literally came in and we caught them using our facilities."

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Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Edwards owned holiday parks in four territorial authorities in the South Island. He said the difference in approach among each was remarkable and he was eagerly awaiting a national direction on freedom camping, a draft of which was due to have been out by late 2016.

Alan Barclay normally lived in his campervan in a Picton holiday park, but was in Nelson taking a break from the quakes.

He applauded the council's efforts, but said the number still parking in city car parks showed the council probably needed to do more to promote the designated sites.

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