Crowded camp a concern
Survey of freedom camping site finds no public health nuisance
A survey to determine infectious disease risk at a popular freedom camping spot in Golden Bay has given it a clean bill of health.
But Tasman District’s mayor has agreed with Bay residents that the number of people using the site during the summer peak was ‘‘not appropriate’’.
The survey of the Waitapu Bridge site on Monday morning by an environmental health officer found no evidence of any public health nuisances. A small amount of toilet paper with some faecal matter was noted under the bridge.
‘‘This is likely to have arisen from people who did not want to walk across an unlit campsite in the middle of the night,’’ the survey report says. ‘‘While it is not desirable, it was not of a level to be deemed a public health nuisance.’’
There are three toilets at the site, which is located beside the Takaka River. The environmental health officer suggested an extra toilet for the peak of the season. ‘‘This may prevent people toileting under the bridge during the night.’’
Mayor Tim King said an additional toilet was being installed using central government funding.
The report says one person was seen bathing in the river with soap, another was brushing their teeth, and two people were washing dishes.
‘‘As my visit took place late in the morning, most of the overnighters had moved on,’’ it says.
King said the survey report had been shared with the Medical Officer of Health. It was also released to Stuff on request.
It comes after concerns from Golden Bay residents and iwi about pollution and health and safety at the site, prompting calls for it to be closed to camping.
Resident Ron Eckman made one such request, saying vehicles and tents this month were ‘‘crammed tightly into almost every available space’’, with an estimated 300 people packed into the popular spot.
Photos he took showed toilet paper and faeces, including what appears to be diarrhoea, on the ground.
Eckman also said he believed it was irresponsible of the council to allow freedom camping at a site that was prone to flooding.
His push for the closure to campers comes after Nga¯ ti Tama ki Te Waipounamu Trust called for a ban on overnight camping at the site, saying it must be protected from further degradation and pollution.
The call from iwi came in a submission on the council’s draft Responsible Camping Strategy. Recommendations from the hearing panel about the draft strategy are due to go to the council in early 2020.
King said iwi had also raised concerns more recently in light of a large number of campers using the site either side of New Year.
Demand had been high, with numbers ‘‘at extreme levels of 150 vehicles’’ a night, the mayor said.
The council agreed that this number of campers was ‘‘not appropriate’’, and had been working through options.
‘‘We take the concerns from the residents and iwi very seriously, but with vehicles coming and going, and numbers lower during the day, it is extremely difficult to manage,’’ King said.
‘‘Closing the site entirely is not seen as a viable option, as the reality is that those campers will go elsewhere and create different issues.’’
The vast majority of campers used facilities such as toilets and rubbish bins if they were provided, he said.
‘‘A small percentage tend to bugger it up for everyone else.’’
King said some councils, including Nelson and Buller, had tighter bylaws governing freedom camping. Tasman District was the least restrictive in the top of the south.
However, he suspected that the Responsible Camping Strategy could lead to a review of the bylaw and a subsequent tightening of regulations.
‘‘Just saying where you can’t go doesn’t necessarily stop people going there,’’ King said. It was difficult to police the issue in a district covering almost 10,000 square kilometres.
Enforcement officers have been patrolling camping sites daily since early December, and have issued 36 infringement notices in Golden Bay, most at Waitapu Bridge.
In addition, camping websites CamperMate and Rankers have been asked to advise of the overloaded sites in Golden Bay and that they may be closed to late arrivals.
New signs showing when the site is closed to additional vehicles and reinforcing ‘‘no parking areas’’ would be erected, King said.
‘‘There are limitations on what we can do, both legally and financially.
‘‘Although we want to protect the rights of our ratepayers, we are required to give reasonable support to tourists and other visitors to the district and to allow them to freedom camp.’’
‘‘We take the concerns from the residents and iwi very seriously, but . . . closing the site entirely is not seen as a viable option.’’
Tasman District mayor
The number of people and vehicles packed into the Waitapu Bridge freedom camping site in Golden Bay is not appropriate, says Tasman District mayor Tim King. The crowding has raised concerns about pollution and potential health risks, but a survey of the site has given it a clean bill of health.
An extra toilet is to be installed at the Waitapu Bridge site, which a council environmental health officer says ‘‘may prevent people toileting under the bridge during the night’’.
Campers cooking on open fires and not using the toilets are among the problems noted at the site.