Reviewing bylaw: Queenstown's council banned freedom campers from areas like Lake Hayes at the beginning of 2018, but says they're currently looking for alternative suitable freedom camping sites


New Zealand’s biggest freedom camping organisation’s taking Queenstown’s council to the
High Court for effectively, in its eyes, banning freedom camping.

NZ Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) alleges the council failed to provide areas where self-contained campervans could go when it adopted its current bylaw in November 2019.

Queenstown council boss Mike Theelen, however, says it committed at the time to a further review within 18 months and is currently looking for suitable freedom camping sites.

Theelen also disagrees there’s a total campervan ban in the district.

NZMCA chief executive Bruce Lochore says it signalled it would seek a judicial review when the bylaw was adopted, and only held off last year due to Covid.

Lochore maintains the council had a statutory obligation to review the bylaw and assess sites throughout the district.

‘‘The council clearly hasn’t done that, they’ve simply rolled over their existing bylaw and made it more prohibitive, with ut considering the impact on the vast majority of responsible campers.’’

He notes the judicial review, aimed at enabling responsible motor homers to freedom-camp in Queenstown-Lakes, ironically comes at a time the resort’s crying out for more domestic tourists.

‘‘We never said [we want] a free-for-all, we’re not saying everywhere and anywhere.

‘‘If they do a site assessment, if they do what they’re supposed to do, they will identify some suitable areas — they’re there, and so it’s not a big ask.’’

Lochore claims his association’s engaged with the council 17 times over the issue over the past 10 years.

‘‘You can only talk for so long before you actually just have to pull a trigger.

‘‘At some stage you just have to go, ‘you’re not going to do what you say you’re going to do, you’re not going to do it properly, we actually have to ask the courts to help us here’.

‘‘We’re not asking for favours, we just want them to do it correctly.’’

The council had consistently shown ‘‘absolute contempt for proper process’’, he says.

Council:  ‘We’re trying to strike a balance’

Lochore admits it’s costing his association hundreds of thousands of dollars to go down the legal route, ‘‘but at the end of the day our members expect us to do this’’.

High Court action: NZ Motor Caravan Association chief executive Bruce Lochore

Ironically, he says NZCMA and the council are on the same side in not welcoming non-self-contained vehicles which don’t have onboard toilet facilities.

‘‘But their prohibition doesn’t just affect them, they’ve taken a blanket [approach] across all freedom camping and, when it’s certified, self-contained vehicles, that’s just not appropriate.’’

Theelen says NZMCA’s aware council’s doing ‘‘a further and sort of fuller review of the freedom camping bylaw’’, with work under way to identify potential sites.

‘‘But obviously they’re entitled to take proceedings in the interim if they want to.’’

Theelen says the council’s want ing to strike a balance between ‘‘accommodating people who do want to camp, and do want to use motor caravans, and the obvious community concern about one end of that motor caravan spectrum’’.

That, he adds, is the spectrum held responsible for issues like overcrowding, fouling and poor behaviour.

He stresses freedom camping hasn’t been banned.

‘‘We continually allow for freedom camping in parts of the district.’’

So too, he says, do Department of Conservation and Land Information NZ.

‘‘So we think we are making provision, and I suppose that’s where we have a difference of
opinion with the association.’’

Council wants to work with NZMCA, Theelen says.

‘‘We want to achieve an amenable outcome because we recognise people want to camp, and that’s an important part of the NZ culture.’’