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by Greta Yeoman

The impact of freedom campers on the Mackenzie District is both a positive and negative, tourism and facilities spokesmen say.

Recent data released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) showed the number of tourists freedom camping in New Zealand had almost doubled in two years.

About 60,000 visitors opted to freedom camp in 2015, but this had increased to about 110,000 by the end of last year.

While regional data was not available, the number of freedom campers to the area had “definitely” increased, Department of Conservation Twizel visitor assets manager Ian Guthrie said.

The Twizel office managed six campsites around the Mackenzie.

Mr Guthrie said the facilities at these sites would have to be upgraded to meet demand. However, he did not wish to comment on the subject of freedom camping further.

Mackenzie District Council community facilities manager Garth Nixon said numbers at the Pines Campsite at Lake Pukaki had increased in recent years. Because of this, the council, along with Land Information New Zealand, which manages the site, had recently installed more toilets and put fencing in to limit where vehicles could park.

This was to limit erosion, Mr Nixon said.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, whose jurisdiction covers the Mackenzie district, said the MBIE statistics backed up what she had heard anecdotally.

She said while there had been a lot of attention on the small number of freedom campers causing problems, overall the visitors were vital to tourism in South Canterbury.

Ms Dean, who is also the small business spokeswoman for the National Party, said Mackenzie towns were now busy, even on usually quiet Sunday mornings, with visitors out for breakfast or coffee, or buying souvenirs.

“Freedom campers are providing a very welcome boost.”

However, the Government needed to do more about what kind of vehicles could camp in particular places, she said. This could be achieved by the Government adopting the member’s Bill written by her National colleague, Anne Tolley.

This Bill would prohibit freedom camping more than 200m from public toilet facilities, give more organisations the right to restrict freedom camping, and enable instant fines issued to be collected by rental vehicle companies, she said.

The Government needed to “move quickly” before the next summer tourist season rolled around.

She defended the fact that her party had not made more changes to freedom camping laws during its time in government from 2008-17, saying it “ran out of time”.

“[During] our time in government, [we] moved from no rules to bringing in the [2011] Freedom Camping Act,” she said.