Free camp fury

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Queenstown Mayor Clive Geddes has had a gutsful of rule-breaking freedom campers like these – he’s calling for a total ban.

Police were called in to move this lot on from Frankton Beach last Sunday. Prior to that they’d spent a month dossing around the Wakatipu for free.

It’s the tip of the iceberg for local authorities sick of picking up after freedom campers showing little regard for the environment.

Rubbish and human waste is regularly found around free camping no-go zones at Frankton Beach and Lake Hayes – despite adequate toilets and nearby rubbish bins.

Photos given to Mountain Scene even show one group spending the night in the women’s changing rooms at Frankton Beach a month ago when it rained.

Geddes believes the only solution is to ban freedom camping altogether.

“There’s a ton of information [about freedom camping] but it’s only of so much value,” he says. 

“The people who freedom camp without [onboard] facilities and use the outdoors as a toilet space, and the rivers and creeks to wash in are doing so in full knowledge that what they are doing is wrong.

“For some reason they believe as a visitor they can denigrate our countryside,” Geddes fumes.

Queenstowner Lyall Smillie, who photographed the vanload of Frankton freeloaders, says locals are fed up with all the “crap” left behind.

“We were talking about it in the smoko room and everyone had a different story about the rubbish and waste left around,” he says. “No one is very happy about it and it’s getting worse.”

Queenstown Lakes District Council community services boss Paul Wilson wants to replace the existing “friendly patrol-type approach” to issuing instant fines to those who flout the rules.

At the moment QLDC contracts Southern Monitoring to rouse illegal campers from their slumber and issue warnings to move. On average they tell 15-20 people off each morning.

“We’re trying to encourage people to camp responsibly and we are lucky most of our facilities are good,” Wilson says. 

“There should be no reason for people to crap in the woods. If people are then they should be done for it.”
Wilson hopes by next summer parking wardens will be able to issue instant fines.

Once news of the fines spreads it should help deter visitors from sleeping around the Wakatipu for free, he says.
It’s illegal to freedom camp within 10 kilometres of the residential areas in Queenstown.

Basic camp sites are available at 12-Mile Delta and Moke Lake – both off Glenorchy Road – for a minimal fee.
Wilson is part of a national group initiated by the Tourism Industry Association to manage growing concerns about freedom camping.

The group’s message is “assume nothing – always ask a local”. It provides brochures for regional I-Sites, Department of Conservation centres and holiday parks.

TIA advocacy manager Geoff Ensor says information for visitors was lacking when they formed the group in 2007.

Now a freedom camping website launched in December 2008 is attracting solid traffic from all over the world, he says.

“We want to make the big differences through educating people.

“However, we do realise this potentially isn’t enough and councils may need to introduce an enforcement element to manage freedom camping. We haven’t cracked it yet but we’re getting there,” Ensor says.