Not a Kiwi welcome

We Kiwis like to travel – a lot – and free camping is one of the weapons in our arsenal of cost reducing and trip extending techniques.

Now there is mooted legislation to ban free camping in our own country. I can understand fining campervan drivers for illegally discharging sewage – that’s disgusting. But fining people $200 for sleeping in their campervan or car in the wrong place is dangerously shortsighted.

I 100% agree with the sentiment expressed by the minister:

“Dr Smith said freedom camping was important to the tourism industry and the New Zealand lifestyle, but irresponsible campers were spoiling iconic areas with human waste and litter.”

And we should fine travellers for spoiling any areas with waste and litter. But fining travellers for free camping alone is not the right answer. Stuff’s article has better reporting – they actually talked to councils and campers. Councils need something like this as currently they have to take offenders to court, which is an expensive and time consuming process.

Independent travellers, whether free campers or not, are just the sort of people New Zealand is trying to attract. There apparently are 150000 freedom campers right now, and they will will seek to avoid the fines in the same three ways that we do when we travel and free camp overseas ourselves:

1: They’ll drive somewhere else to free camp

2: They’ll free camp but try to evade police

3: They’ll choose not to travel to NZ as it isn’t traveller friendly

1: They’ll drive somewhere else to free camp

The sad thing about this is that the free campers have probably chosen a beautiful spot to stop – it’s just that there is a stupid sign nearby. They may have just been to a Rugby World Cup game, or maybe just had dinner and a glass of wine. Now they will jump in their car and driver, perhaps drunk, somewhere else.

And where will that be? Outside your house perhaps, which in turn will lead to complaints and so a few more signs will go up. Before you know it the free campers will be condemned to Upper Hutt, Albany and other places where tourists will get a less than optimal experience.

2: They’ll free camp but try to evade police and council staff
Another lousy way to experience New Zealand is to spend the time looking out for Police and security guards rather than marvelling at the beautiful Wellington Harbour. It’s a common trick, and easier in an unmarked car, to sleep in the backseat in a place where perhaps you shouldn’t be. I’ve pitched a tent in the back of a service station, on a prayer lawn in Pakistan (I was given permission for that one – they were insistent), a farm off the Autobahn in Germany, a Blue Mountains’ picnic spot and am one of tens of thousands of Kiwis and Aussies that has free camped on Gallipoli Peninsula. Were any of these legal? Some were, some were not – but they are memories that I’ll keep and they are memories that we shouldn’t deny travellers to our shores.

Meanwhile our Police surely have greater fish to fry than scaring travellers as they otherwise seek to get a good night’s rest after a long day. Perhaps those travellers will keep an ear out for the cops, sleeping uneasily until they see the police car, and then driving away if they can. I’ve had a US cop bang on my window whilst I was asleep in the back of a driveaway car in the middle of nowhere, USA, and it’s a terrifying experience. That’s not the NZ we want tourists or locals to experience.

3: They’ll choose not to travel to NZ as it isn’t traveller friendly

Ultimately the sum of traveler experiences will result in one thing – less visitors. These days what happens on a trip is rapidly shared with friends, family and, in the case of good stories, the entire world. Having a good day on the Abel Tasman track might be the sort of good story we want to get out there, but on the internet a good story is more like the one where the polices woke you up at 2am in and took the last $200 from you, asked you to move your car and then arrested you for drunk driving. Thankfully our Police are not that stupid, but laws like this won’t make their job any easier.

The right answer
The right answer to to put the law in place, but to focus it on the actual harm – littering, blocking access to right of ways and so forth. Otherwise we should let campers park anywhere we the rest of us are allowed to park

Published by Lance Wiggs


6 replies on “Not a Kiwi welcome”

  1. Or perhaps they are not actually the type of visitors we want to attract to NZ in the first place. The millionaire that takes the helicopter to Huka Lodge, Waiheke and Wanaka does a lot more for NZ’s economy.

    Do we want to focus on value or volume?


    1. I certainly don’t want to be part of a country who welcomes only those with big wallets. I travelled on crumbs for a year overseas and it was brilliant. Why would we want to make travellers unwelcome in our back yard?


    2. I’d also like to put in my two cents and say that we should be able to cater for all markets – from those who free camp, to those who take a helicopter to Huka Lodge et al.

      Personally I think we should be focusing on the customer experience and ensure that tourists return home with a positive experience of their holiday. For those in the US and Europe, New Zealand is not a cheap destination to travel to, therefore going back home and telling friends and family how much they enjoyed it, will have positive benefits in terms of potential future customers.


  2. Pingback: Free Camping!

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