Grand failure of a few filthy freedom campers


French businessman M. Le Gendre coined the phrase ‘laissez-faire’ – non-interference from the state. 

Asked by an eager finance minister what the state could do to help merchants, he basically told him where to shove it. 

“Laissez-nous faire (leave us be)”, he said, I’m imagining quite pompously in a thick French accent. 

No one wants a nanny state feverishly meddling in people’s lives, of course. 

But I doubt Le Gendre ever experienced the stomach-churning realisation that, ‘yes, that backpacker is actually taking a dump on the side of the road’. 

Just brazenly squeezing one out outside a park/library/church/primary school/leisure centre in full view. 

More than 600 people were slapped with $200 freedom camping fines in Queenstown during the holidays, twice as many as last year. 

The majority were in private vehicles – so New Zealand-registered cars and vans – rather than rentals. 

Now, this probably wasn’t what the bylaw was intended for (at least superficially) – to deal with the swarm of youngsters who arrive en masse in beat-up cars and axel-strained beer-laden vans for a fun night out. 

Unfortunately when you see the mess many leave behind, along with tourist freedom campers, it’s hard to argue we don’t need some intervention and regulation. 

It’s a lot like the Glastonbury Festival in the UK. It used to be an epic, four-day, sun-drenched, music-fuelled, good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll binge. 

But by the year 2000, more than 150,000 people were gate-crashing the festival on top of the 100,000 tickets sold. 

The site couldn’t cope – there were thefts and robberies, and running battles between the police and ‘crusties’ (a type of hippy, but without the peace and love). 

So they built a bloody big fence – a $2 million, 3.5m-high aluminium beast which forms a reasonably impenetrable ring around the 240-hectare site. 

And with it, they sort of ruined what the festival was all about. 

Ok, so now you can enjoy the music in safety, get cell phone reception and you don’t need post-traumatic stress counselling after using the loos. It’s just lost a lot of its spirit though. 

That’s what Queenstown and NZ has to be careful not to do, to throw out the baby with the bathwater – especially as the great Kiwi road trip has for the last few years been a key, and hugely successful, element of Tourism NZ’s overseas marketing campaigns. 

Interviewing former Motel Association president Alan Brown last year, he reminisced on VW campers and Beetles lining Queenstown streets in the 1970s during the peak visitor seasons in both summer and winter. 

That’s an evocative image for many – the idea of living a wilder gypsy life, free from mortgages, with free love, smoking cigarettes with someone who looks like a young Bridget Bardot. 

And it’s partially that idea of freedom that is being marketed by rental companies and Tourism NZ. 

Times have changed though. There are now hundreds of campervans and converted vans and mini-vans on South Island roads (and often off the roads in ditches). 

So the bylaw is needed and is fairly permissive – you can freedom camp in many places as long as you’re in a self-contained vehicle and outside obvious residential and CBD zones. 

It also provided a much-needed boost for Queenstown Lakes District Council holiday parks over the holidays – but I’m sure that was an unintentional benefit. 

It’s a shame it has had to come to this though and that previously enjoyed freedoms are restricted by law. 

If all those lazy knobs who parked up for the night had spent just five minutes putting their rubbish in a bin and finding a public toilet rather than leaving a Code Brown for someone to retch over it wouldn’t have been necessary.