QLDC adopts hard line on freedom camping

jim boult press conference freedom camping
Jan 25, 2018

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult has today outlined a programme from the Council to tackle the significant growth in freedom campers in the district.

The increase in freedom camper volumes in Queenstown Lakes District this summer, and the behaviour of a minority of those campers, risks degrading the unique experience on offer for both locals and holiday-makers, and damaging the wider New Zealand reputation as a holiday destination. The district has capacity for campers in a number of affordable and well-managed, commercially-operated campgrounds, but many holiday-makers are choosing other well-known reserves such as Lakes Hayes, Shotover Delta and Wanaka Lakefront.

Mayor Boult acknowledged these pressure points are seeing over-crowding, risks to public health due to human waste, and potential damage to our environment with people bathing and washing dishes or clothes in the lakes and rivers. “Tourism is the lifeblood of Queenstown Lakes and we continue to welcome the many campers that choose to come here and enjoy our unique environment respectfully and responsibly,” said Mayor Boult.

“Freedom campers are a diverse group including everyone from private vehicles through to retirees enjoying their kiwi dream travelling the country. Many choose the well-appointed local commercial campsites, and others are sufficiently low-impact by having truly self-contained vehicles. For all others our enforcement officers are out patrolling with a focus on education in the evenings as people are settling in for the night. They’re also patrolling in the early hours of the morning to identify and address any non-compliance. We’re already doing a lot but I agree we can do more.”

Notably QLDC freedom camping enforcement resulted in a 23% increase on the previous year with in excess of 3,000 tickets issued.

Enforcement alone was not resolving the challenges and Council had resolved to take a harder stand.

Mayor Boult confirmed QLDC is also moving to close Lake Hayes and Lower Shotover to overnight freedom campers.

“These are reserve areas that should be clean and accessible for everyone to enjoy, so for Lake Hayes and Shotover Delta we’re exploring opening up and extending a less prominent location near the Shotover Bridge as an alternative location. Despite what some locals have asked for we’re not able to put a blanket ban on freedom camping in the district, nor would we want to. But we can aim to manage it better,” added Mayor Boult.

QLDC is also considering measures for Wanaka Lakefront in areas where freedom camping is not permitted such as increased clamping of non-compliant vehicles and turning off the free wifi overnight.

Human waste has been a highly visible issue amongst unhappy residents, and QLDC is continuing to work with government agencies such as the Department of Conservation and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to provide more remote sites in the district with appropriate resources to accommodate freedom campers, such as quickly supplying more roadside toilets. Council will also be completing an application to Government’s Tourism Infrastructure Fund aligned with a new toilet strategy for the district.

QLDCs programme of activities would also include education to the camping community through social media and by working more closely with rental companies to provide materials encouraging better behaviour.

In mid-2018 Council will undertake formal consultation with the community to review the Freedom Camping Control Bylaw, which will include appropriate amendments to Reserve Management Plans. Prior to this Council will seek public feedback and suggestions during February.

“I have to reiterate that there are a lot of well-behaved campers coming to enjoy our district and we don’t want to affect their experience or make them feel any less welcome.  But we have to listen to our residents and they’re telling us that ‘enough is enough’,” said Mayor Boult.

“That’s why, in addition to the actions already outlined we’ve initiated the development of a Camping Strategy for the district with the support of partner agencies DoC, NZTA, LINZ and MBIE.  This is a long-term project with the aim of delivering an improved experience for all forms of camping across the district. Alongside that we will continue to advocate for fundamental change to national legislation, in order to ensure it addresses the requirements of the current freedom camping culture and the pressures experienced within the district.”

Details of the Freedom Camping Control Bylaw review will be available via the QLDC website in February.