Freedom camping facilities boosted

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by Greta Yeoman

The Mackenzie and Waitaki District Councils are gearing up for another busy tourist season with new infrastructure in place to deal with the ever-increasing number of freedom campers.

Twizel Community Board member Paul Hannagan said the infrastructure upgrades had been funded by the Government after the council had put “a lot of pressure” on it to help out.

“I hope we’re prepared.”

While only 3% of visitors to New Zealand chose to freedom camp last year – about 110,000 people – this was up from 60,000 in 2015, government data showed.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment tourism policy manager Richard Davies said freedom campers tended to spend more, stay longer and visit more regions than other visitors.

“Camping is a great way to experience New Zealand.”

However, freedom camping was continuing to put pressure on facilities across the Mackenzie district, prompting the Government to fund upgrades to infrastructure across the region.

“They can come and visit but they’ve got to camp.”

This included $548,000 of funding for more permanent and portable toilets at Edwards Stream near Tekapo, Hayman Road/State Highway 8 at Pukaki and Bendrose Station near Twizel. Lake Poaka, Pattersons Ponds and Lake Wardell campgrounds had all been funded for upgrades, while compacting rubbish bins in Omarama and a new payWave compacting rubbish bin in Twizel had also been installed.

An education, monitoring and compliance officer role had also been established and would be tasked with addressing camping issues across the two districts.

Mackenzie Mayor Graham Smith

Tekapo Community Board chairwoman Stella Sweney said the board had been “very active” about banning freedom camping in almost all of the lakeside town’s urban area.

“They can come and visit but they’ve got to camp.”

However, she had been contacted by farmers on the outskirts of Tekapo who had raised concerns about vehicles parking near farms, on driveways and on roadsides.

“We’re just feeling the pressure.”

Mackenzie District Council mayor Graham Smith said one concern council members had about freedom campers was the cost of improving camping sites.

“Ratepayers cannot be expected to fund this cost.”

Council community facilities manager Garth Nixon said the council was looking at installing donation boxes on some of the council-managed campsites.

“[This] will hopefully offset some of the costs.”