DoC ponders shrinking camp


Restricting vehicles at an overcrowded riverside freedom-camping site near Queenstown is being considered by the Department of Conservation.

Last month the Otago Daily Times reported up to 200 people a night were next to the Rum Curries camping area at Gibbston, beside the Kawarau River.

The area, accessed by Rafters Road, has just one long-drop toilet, with some campers opting to poo outside.

DoC Wakatipu boss Geoff Owen says vehicles could be halved by restricting parking to the legal road – although the idea is in its infancy.

“The other consideration I’ve got is chaining the access road through the marginal strip to the river, which would stop cars parking on the slope and potentially becoming an accident waiting to happen.”

Owen met with reps from the district and regional councils last week to discuss the overcrowded site.

In the past few weeks the situation – described by neighbouring resident Brandon O’Callaghan as being like “a Syrian refugee camp” – has not escalated further, Owen says.

“We know it’s there and it needs a solution – ideally sooner [rather] than later, but certainly before next summer.”

Owen believes this summer explosion of freedom campers up and down the country has been exacerbated by more independent travellers looking to enjoy the country on a budget.

“I think the challenge, if I understand correctly from the district council, [is] there are sufficient facilities around the Wakatipu Basin for people to camp, but I guess it’s that fundamental [issue] of wanting to do it without paying.

“I guess how we’re responding right now is a bit like squeezing a balloon – we may be effective in one area, but the balloon will bubble somewhere else; people will just move on and find that next location.”

Long-term, Owen says more investment might be needed to meet the “challenge of growth in tourism”.

“I guess the challenge is what sort of infrastructure do we need to have in place to meet that challenge and find that midpoint where yes, people can travel independently at reasonable cost versus having everything put into a paying regime.

“How do we actually keep it at a manageable level where [freedom campers] get the experience and I guess we don’t get the consequences of overcrowding, or overuse, or inadequate facilities?

“I’m just not sure how far we may be behind the eight ball so there’s a little bit of catching up to do.”

Owen says the Gibbston Community Association has invited him to an informal meeting next week to discuss the area’s issues.

Otago Daily Times