Free camping: stricter rules and proposed penalties

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A crackdown on irresponsible freedom camping is proposed with plans to increase penalties for those who break the rules.

Figures from the MBIE show that there were around 245,000 freedom campers in 2019, with international visitors accounting for over 60%.
Photo: Unsplash / Rosan Harmens

The proposals include limiting free camping in vehicles to those certified as autonomous, tougher penalties and fines, strengthening the standard for autonomous vehicles, and additional grounds for confiscating vehicles breaking the rules. Penalties include fines of $ 1,000 or forfeiture of vehicles.

The burden of collecting fines from campers who rent vehicles may fall on the rental companies.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash released a discussion paper to solicit public comment on the proposals.

Research from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment shows that there were around 245,000 freedom campers in 2019, with international visitors accounting for more than 60%.

Nash said the proposed rules are aimed at improving free-range camping, protecting the environment and removing unfair burdens on locals.

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“The most frequent complaints I hear about the tourism industry relate to the abuse of freedom camping rules. A subgroup of visitors spoils the experience for more responsible campers and for locals who have to clean up the mess, ”Nash said.

“In Northland, growing pressure from a push for freedom camping saw Whangārei ban the practice on coastal sites this summer.

“Marlborough District Council found that 500 vehicles attempted to camp illegally during the summer. Residents of Golden Bay say bird nesting sites are threatened by campers. In Queenstown, loose camping is prohibited within the city limits.

The rules were not meant to stamp out freedom camping, but to ensure that there were clear rules and expectations, he said.

“Backpackers and budget travelers are welcome. Responsible campers in RVs, caravans or budget vehicles in campgrounds are welcome. But it has to be“ the right vehicle, the right one location. “This document asks for the public’s opinion on the future of vehicles that are not autonomous.

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The rules of loose camping do not apply to camping in remote or wild areas more than 200 meters from places you can drive, hiking trails or coastlines.

They have never been applied when people leave the road to take a rest from driving and are not intended to allow local authorities to target the homeless.

“Improving freedom camping regulations will go a long way in changing camper behavior and protecting Brand New Zealand. Abuse of the system threatens the unique and valuable qualities that make us such a desirable tourist destination in the first place,” did he declare.

“The changes will also help small business owners who run campgrounds or backpacker inns, who have lost business. Private campgrounds offer sites starting at around $ 20 a night. DOC has hundreds. of campsites, many of which are free or as low as six dollars a night. “

Government funding has been provided over the past three years to invest in council facilities and programs to help run free-range camping and ensure communities with high numbers of visitors but small taxpayer bases can afford tourist infrastructure.

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Main proposals:

  • Potential limitation of vehicle-based freedom camping to those who are certified autonomous, or requiring non-autonomous freedom campers equipped with a vehicle to stay on a site with a toilet. This would not apply to freedom campers on public conservation lands and regional parks.
  • Strengthened powers to enforce the rules, including ensuring that there is a regulatory system for the certification of autonomous vehicles that involves the verification of plumbing works and the centralized vehicle register, more severe penalties and fines, requiring vehicle rental companies levy additional fines and grounds for forfeiture of vehicles for breaking the rules.
  • Strengthen the standard for autonomous vehicles, which could include testing whether toilets should be mandatory permanently installed in autonomous vehicles rather than just portable.

Submissions can be made online, by email or by mail until May 16, with government tourism officials holding public briefings and webinars around Aotearoa.

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