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Council advisory on the freedom camping issue

December 25th, 2015

With freedom camping again becoming an issue to many people over the summer season, Tasman District Council has posted an "advisory" on how it can tackle the inevitable problems.

The advisory, aimed mainly at local residents, sets out the problems and limitations that Council faces, and suggests how citizens can best help. It also clarifies what is legal and illegal camping behaviour. Here is the full advisory:

Tasman District is a destination that attracts a lot of holiday visitors. We want to be good hosts but are aware freedom camping is generating concern in some parts of the district.

Freedom camping is only allowed on Council-owned land for vehicles certified as self-contained. This means they have an installed self-contained toilet and at least three days' storage capacity for drinking water, toilet waste and grey water.

It can be difficult for our enforcement team to find the hard evidence they need to take action against non-compliant campers. You can help by providing us with as much detail as you can about offenders. Let us know the time, place, a registration number - and if at all possible take a picture.

To report a problem, you can ring any of our Council service centres. Out-of-hours calls will be automatically redirected to our 24-hour line.

The Council's approach to freedom camping is directed by our two Freedom Camping Bylaws, the Freedom Camping Act and our enforcement budget. Where freedom camping may be associated with other activities such as littering or excessive noise, the Council does have other powers to address these issues.

The ability to issue infringement fines under the Freedom Camping Act was removed by the Government as of August 2012. Councils may only now issue fines under specific provisions in their bylaws.

Because of this, in 2013 we offered communities - in particular, Ligar Bay, Pohara and Motueka - the opportunity to have the Council issue fines to non-compliant campers in areas where there was a discernible problem (a criteria required by the Act).

Only Motueka submitted in favour of fines and, as a result, the Freedom Camping Motueka Beach Reserve Bylaw 2013 gives us the ability to issue infringement notices in this area. In all other areas we would need to prosecute offenders under the Local Government Act - an expensive and protracted process. We do also have the ability to tow vehicles, but only in very specific circumstances.

Our Freedom Camping Bylaw is due for review in 2016, and this is an opportunity for people to let us know if they think the current approach needs to change. We are asking people this summer to please report any freedom camping problems, with as much detail as possible, as the frequency and nature of complaints will help inform the review.

We appreciate this is not an immediate solution to the concerns, however, there are limits, both legal and financial, which govern our approach.


From January 2014 to March 2015 we received 52 complaints regarding the Motueka Beach Reserve and 154 complaints about freedom camping in other areas of the District. We have responded to the complaints in the following ways:

  • Our contractor has visited all the sites and inspected the vans present to make sure they are self-contained as required by the bylaw.
  • Those that are not self-contained have been instructed to move on.
  • Some sites have also been revisited early on some mornings and where we have found non-compliant campers they have been issued an infringement notice. In 2014 we issued 10 infringements and so far this year we have issued 11. These visits have either been in response to specific complaints or carried out when the contractor has been in Motueka carrying out other functions i.e. dog control.
  • Council officers and contractors have visited the most popular sites at least three times a week at various times of day to assess the situation.
  • The contractor maintaining the reserve sites - Nelmac, has been asked about the presence or otherwise of excess litter and rubbish.

We appreciate that those reporting problems are experiencing a genuine nuisance. We aren't always able to obtain hard evidence in order to take enforcement action, which can be frustrating. We have found that those asked to move on always do. Nelmac and reserves staff are out and about to report issues with excess rubbish or damage to flora or fauna.

We believe vehicle access to the sensitive areas of most reserves is well controlled by fences and posts. Other reported issues, such as getting changed in public and erecting washing lines on vehicles are not matters under the Council's control.


It has become apparent that using fines alone to control unauthorised camping is not effective, because:

  • establishing the fact that someone is in fact camping is not straightforward
  • the level of enforcement that is required to make such a regime fully effective is very expensive.
  • fines imposed by infringement notices are not "instant" as we must allow an appeal period totalling at least 56 days before the fines are sent to Court for collection.
  • A large proportion of the infringement fines issued by other Councils remain unpaid, with little prospect of ever being recovered.

There have been requests for signage in some places. Currently we do not have money allocated for erecting additional signs, and we are operating under tightly-controlled budgets in order to keep rate increases across the District to a minimum.

Other considerations

  • Excessive noise and littering complaints can be made to the Council and we will take appropriate action. However, other behavioural issues such as rowdy behaviour and alcohol use should be raised with the police.
  • The use of the shower in Motueka Beach Reserve by campers has also drawn complaints. No offence is being committed unless the shower user is being lewd or offensive; if they are this is a matter for the police.
  • The vast majority of campers moved on from the reserves and other areas do not go into authorised campgrounds or backpackers, they simply relocate to another unauthorised site.
  • There is a very real safety concern for some visitors when they are moved away from populated areas. Mostly they are young, inexperienced and often they are from a foreign country and because of this can be particularly vulnerable.

Please please ring TDC 5250020, the after hours service reports everything to the relevant duty staff and the matter will be dealt with. Whatever the problem do ring this number and pass on any concerns whether freedom camping or any other matter.


Comment by Chris Salt:
[Posted 30 December 2015]

What was left off the council advisory was that the Police have powers of arrest or summons under the Litter Act for situations where people are depositing litter or dangerous objects like glass.

Also see Nelson Mail news item:
[Posted 30 December 2015]

"Freedom camping woes spark vigilante fears". There are fears of vigilante action as frustration grows over problems with freedom campers across the Tasman District.

Comment by Martine Boullir (TDC councillor for Golden Bay):
[Posted 2 January 2016]

[This was written by Martine with regard to freedom camping in Golden Bay, but applies well to Motueka]

I'm convinced we can come up with some good models that will demonstrate how to do it well without resorting to heavy handed tactics such as Queenstown is needing to take with wheel clamping etc. I don't know about you but my vision for the bay is as somewhere who can get its act together on this one and role model it in a zero-waste/zero stress way to the rest of NZ.

Someone suggested we start calling it Responsible camping rather than Freedom camping as freedom can sometimes be taken to mean - 'do whatever you want and don't consider anyone but yourself'.

For me, compliance should be the last resort - it's expensive and somewhat futile … social media and the immediacy of it means that compliance and campers will play cat and dog around the place, seeing who can outsmart who - and that 'us and them' mentality can get quite ugly. Is that what we want for a place that is known for its inclusive, relaxed vibe?

Having said that, I believe that lobbying for legislative change at a central govt level would be helpful for instant fines which could be given if anyone is littering or misbehaving. You need a few tools for those who won't follow reasonable guidelines.

The difference with local bylaws (and currently there is only one for Motueka as bylaws in themselves are very expensive processes) is that there is a 28 day fine with another 28 days to pay - and leave the country in the meantime! Fines should be attached to the vehicle and end up with the rental companies of the vans. That would change a few things quick smart.

Anyway, plenty of scope for discussion and ideas and I am always open to hearing people's helpful suggestions of what might work. We need a welcoming attitude, clearly defined and signposted areas and bottom lines around expected behaviour to ensure campers to our region are looked forward to rather than despised.

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