The issue of freedom camping on the Pohutakawa Coast has raised its head again this summer with fed-up locals working with council enforcement officers in an attempt to lessen the impacts of those looking to enjoy the area for free.
By definition, holiday makers can freedom camp on Department of Conservation land and local council land, legally in New Zealand, but local bylaws can prevent the practice and are often enforced locally by Auckland Council.
Coaster Robyn Rusher has been involved in the movement to monitor and aide council in removal of freedom campers from Pohutakawa Coast beaches.
Robyn says the main opposition residents have is campers leaving their rubbish behind, using grass as their toilet, living out of vans that are not self-sufficient, and intimidating locals.
“Kawakawa Bay gets a lot of tenters staying as well as small vans that are not self-sufficient. They leave behind their rubbish where they stay, not putting them in the rubbish bins provided, they sometimes don’t use the public toilets, bring big dogs and don’t pick up their dumpings” said Robyn.
Concerns for the safety of children has also been raised; “big dogs not being on leads are a concern of safety for the children who utilise the playground on the same grounds” added Robyn.
Some residents have taken the law into their own hands, approaching freedom campers directly. “Residents have spoken with FCs’ on many occasions and informed them it is illegal to camp there, but at times their safety has been compromised either by dogs or the people themselves” said Robyn.
The escalation of Covid-19 appears to have failed to reduce the numbers of campers this summer. According to Robyn, repeat offenders have been sighted and “covid has made no difference to those who consider themselves freedom campers.
The PC Times has seen emails detailing attendances by council enforcement officers in trouble spots along the coast, particularly in Umupuia, Orere Point and Magazine Bay.
The enforcement officers often are accompanied by a contractor security patrolman, and on occasion, Police.
The officers issue trespass notices for non-compliance, and often deal with campers who falsely claim to have authorisation to camp from local iwi Ngā Manaakitanga and Ngāti Paoa.
Robyn Rusher says the attendances from council agents have been few and far between and made minimal impact, and she is frustrated by communication breakdowns.
“The council only checks spasmodically, as I still see them (freedom campers) camping on the grounds” she said.
In light of the division between residents and temporary visitors, Auckland Council in 2019 undertook a review of freedom camping by-laws titled ‘managing freedom camping in Auckland.’
According to the Auckland Council website, the review aimed to show that ‘overcrowding (in non-designated camping areas) increases the risk of primary and secondary harms, and further entrenches public perceptions about the negative impacts of freedom camping’.
Findings from the review were expected to be published by October 2020 according to the council website.
The PC Times contacted Auckland Council regarding whether changes to existing had been implemented post-review, but received no reply to the inquiry by publication date.