Auckland gets 29 new freedom camping spots

8:54 am on 21 February 2017

If you live in Auckland, freedom campers may be headed to a street near you.

The Auckland City Council has set up 29 new locations across the city as part of a two-month trial to try ease pressure on busy hotspots.

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

Freedom campers have been a cause of consternation across New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

As part of a two-month pilot, touring visitors will be encouraged to park up in areas ranging from Wellsford in the north, Western Springs in central Auckland or south to Orere or Awhitu.

The tourism industry said it was ironic the council was offering more free accommodation at the same time as trying to increase rates on motels and hotels.

The council estimated 320 freedom camping vehicles were on the roads or parked in public places each day over summer.

Auckland councillor and head of its regulatory committee, Linda Cooper, said that put popular places like Piha under pressure.

"There was a burgeoning problem in some areas. Some areas were experiencing pretty unpleasant, inappropriate uses of sand dunes and parks where there weren't toilets available, so we want to encourage people to go where there are those facilities.

"Overcrowding, parking and access difficulties, and increasing rubbish at popular destinations is frustrating local communities and other park users."

During the pilot the council will have a team monitoring areas not coping with demand. It will have the ability to impose conditions such as reducing the length of stay or shut down sites if freedom campers become a nuisance.

Toilets and rubbish bin monitoring would increase.

"It's not intended to be the gateway to have all these sites open on an ongoing basis." - Auckland council manager Michael Sinclair

Ms Cooper said the council was being proactive and encouraging people to spread themselves around to minimise the problem.

"I think it's worth doing it. If you ignore it the problem is only going to get worse. So it's best to actually take the bull by its horns, make sure we've got our facilities looked after properly, more frequently so that then freedom campers come but it's not causing a bad problem for locals."

The council's social policy and bylaws manager Michael Sinclair said it would work to move campers around the city.

"We'll be making good quality travel planning information more readily-available to campers, using social media and printed information about alternative paid and free camping sites," he said.

If things were not going well, sites could be shut down, he said.

"These places are being opened up specifically for the trial, we have no commitment to keeping them open at this point in time. If the local board decided they wanted to continue to keep these spaces open they could make that decision. But this is intended to be for research purposes over this two-month period and it's not intended to be the gateway to have all these sites open on an ongoing basis."

One of the new areas is at Margaret Griffen Park in Mount Roskill.

Local resident Susanne Young uses the park regularly and said in the past the presence of freedom campers deterred vandals from graffitiing local buildings.

She said parking and dropping children off for activities there became difficult.

"It'd be a good idea if it was restricted. I know people like to have somewhere in the city to stay, however if you have too many in one place it will end up causing problems for people who want to use the facilities and are local.

Each month campers bring an estimated $1.2 million into the economy during summer.

New freedom camping spots 'ironic', tourism industry says

Freedom Camping, freedom campers, Waitaki

Freedom campers at Waitaki, Otago Photo: Supplied / Waitaki Disrict Council

Tourism Industry Aotearoa said opening up more free spots could take away valuable customers.

Chief executive Chris Roberts said it was ironic more free accommodation was being encouraged at a time the council wanted to make things more expensive for motels and hotels.

The council's annual budget for 2017/2018, which will be put forward for public consultation later this month, proposes higher rates for accommodation providers - approximately 4 percent of their revenue - to cover its spending on tourism promotion which is normally covered by the general public.

It estimated visitors could pay $6 to $10 more a night on an average hotel room.

"Usually we'd be quite supportive of a council doing something like this in terms of a pilot programme and trying to sort out the issue," Mr Roberts said.

"Our members find it a little hard to stomach given that they're facing enormous rate increases from their council and at the same time the council's providing more facilities for people to come and stay for free."

Mr Roberts said while some sort of freedom camping facilities are needed, people should be encouraged to stay at existing places.

Councillor Linda Cooper disagreed.

"They're not the same tourists are they? You will have people that for example they'll come to New Zealand, they'll borrow a caravan. They were never going to stay in hotels anyway. It's that kind of tourism.

"We've don't have enough accommodation anyway so it's not, I don't think, going to take away from hotels.

The pilot began this week and will last for two months.

A report will be presented to the council in about May to help develop freedom camping policies and regulations.

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