Government asks public to discuss tougher penalties for freedom camper rule breakers

NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 01: Stuart Nash, Labour Party MP for Napier, poses for a photograph in front of the Veronica Sunbay on October 01, 2020 in Napier, New Zealand. The 2020 New Zealand General Election will be held on Saturday 17 October. It was originally due to be held on Saturday 19 September but was delayed due to the re-emergence of COVID-19 in the community. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)
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The Government is asking for public feedback on possible changes to rules and restrictions relating to freedom campers.

Amongst the proposed changes are tighter rules around camping vehicles and locations, and an increase in fines and penalties - including vehicle confiscation.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has released a 'discussion document' with ideas to better manage freedom camping and reduce the negative impacts on local councils, communities, and our 100% Pure brand. 

"The most consistent complaints I hear about the tourism sector relate to abuse of the freedom camping rules," Nash said. 

"A sub-group of visitors are spoiling the experience for more responsible campers and for locals who are left to clean up the mess."

Nash said growing pressure from a surge in freedom camping saw Whangārei ban the practice at coastal sites over summer. 

In Marlborough, the district council found 500 vehicles trying to illegally camp over summer, while in Golden Bay locals say bird nesting sites are constantly threatened by campers. 

Despite the push for changes to restrictions on camping, Nash says the consultation isn't about closing the borders to budget travellers.

Late last year, Nash caused controversy by suggesting Aotearoa should market itself "to those who add significant value to our country".

"Gone are the days as far as I'm concerned where you hire a cheap van that is not self-contained," Nash said at the November travel summit.

"What we're looking at at the moment is a unique opportunity for a re-set. We haven't got tourists here at the moment, so we have an opportunity to re-define our global value proposition and market to those who add significant value to our country."

That was in November, now his message is more refined.

"Backpackers and budget travellers are welcome. Responsible campers in motorhomes, caravans or budget vehicles in campgrounds are welcome. But it must be 'right vehicle, right place'," Nash said.  

"Freedom camping in self-contained vehicles has a place for Kiwis and international visitors. However change is needed where vehicles are not self-contained, so communities have more confidence in the system."

Main points: 

  • A rule change so all vehicle-based freedom camping is limited to certified, self-contained vehicles only, or vehicle-based freedom campers be required to either stay at a site with toilet facilities, or stay in a vehicle that is certified as self-contained
  • Introduction of stronger powers to enforce the rules including a regulatory system for certifying self-contained vehicles
  • Tougher penalties and fines including confiscation of vehicles that breach freedom camping requirements
  • Requiring vehicle rental companies to collect fines on the Government's behalf.