Just how free is free­dom camp­ing?

Af­ter four weeks on the road from Cape Reinga to Bluff, the one rule Tasha Black learnt about free­dom camp­ing in New Zealand is, well, there is no one rule

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

Find­ing a nice spot to park up in a self-con­tained camper van is a con­fus­ing bat­tle. In the East Cape you can free­dom camp, but only in sum­mer and only if you have a per­mit. In the Far North you can’t. In the Clutha District you can. In Kaitaia you can park at the RSA.

‘‘As­sume noth­ing, al­ways ask a lo­cal,’’ is the free­dom camp­ing motto sung by the tourism in­dus­try.

The ques­tion is, do lo­cals re­ally know the rules? Even some in­for­ma­tion cen­tre staff I spoke to had no idea of free­dom camp­ing rules and tried to bluff it.

Some said it was not en­cour- aged, but re­fused to say if it was il­le­gal. Oth­ers sug­gested I nip down to the beach af­ter dark and park up.

Free­dom campers have a dirty name. Not only do they drive on the wrong side of the road, they leave rub­bish in parks and poo in front gar­dens.

Well, ac­tu­ally, that’s just what I’ve heard. I can’t say I saw any­thing like it.

Hor­ror sto­ries about free­dom campers sparked lo­cal and cen­tral govern­ment into hasty ac­tion.

De­spite decades of free­dom camp­ing in New Zealand some­thing had to be done be­fore hordes of tourists came for the Rugby World Cup.

I paid $100 a day for my camper van, and didn’t fancy pay­ing an additional $20 a night per per­son for hol­i­day park ameni­ties, such as a kitchen, that my camper van al­ready had.

A cou­ple trav­el­ling – es­pe­cially in the peak sea­son when campers can cost more than $200 a day to hire – would be bet­ter off rent­ing a car and stay­ing in ho­tels.

The real grind, how­ever, is be­ing squeezed in be­tween dozens of other vans, next to chil­dren’s play­grounds, games rooms, con­crete path­ways, lamp lights, swim­ming pools, and the spas many hol­i­day parks now have.

Our needs are sim­ple: flat ground and a nice view. Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion camp grounds are great, but they are of­ten a long drive away on gravel roads and many camper van com­pa­nies don’t in­sure for gravel re­lated ac­ci­dents.

Free­dom campers may sound like a bunch of free-load­ers, but ac­cord­ing to the New Zealand Mo­tor Car­a­van As­so­ci­a­tion the rental in­dus­try is worth more than $ 500 mil­lion to New Zealand’s econ­omy.

That’s a lot of money to be lost if New Zealand, which has al­ready at­tracted bad press for rip­ping off Rugby World Cup tourists, doesn’t ap­pre­ci­ate those pesky camper vans. I loved my road-trip, but I wouldn’t do it again.

Free­dom: Flat ground and a nice view is all that is needed.

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