Freedom Camping

February 4, 2007


This is a group of vehicles enjoying a spot of freedom camping. Down the front are a couple of tourist vans, ours is the biggest vehicle to the right, behind us was a middle aged surfer dude from the US, and behind him a couple who had been freedom camping all round Northland and had been at this spot the previous night. There was also a European guy who was working in the café at nearby Hot Water Beach and a family who camped under a tarpaulin that they hung off the side of their high-trailer.

  There was a sign that said no camping but we figured we weren’t camping since we had no tents (the sign actually had a picture of a tent with a red line across it). Apparently there had been a similar number of vehicles the night before and no problems but this happy scene was disturbed at 7:45 am by the arrival of the Thames-Coromandel District Council ENFORCEMENT OFFICER.  Dressed in semi-military clothing (his choice) and wielding a very large note pad he proceeded to wake up our fellow campers and tell them it was time to move on. Fortunately I was already awake taking photos so I grabbed the upper hand by approaching his vehicle and asking him what he was doing. 

He was happy to do his good cop routine and say that he was going to turn a blind eye to everyone staying overnight but he wanted us to all move on now.  I think there was a new council initiative or something – it didn’t really make any sense because we weren’t in danger of filling the carpark up and taking spaces from day visitors. I’m not sure if our details were taken down for future reference or not, maybe I should ring the council and find out.

  Interestingly the middle aged surfer dude (van behind ours) was not awoken by the enforcement officer. A veteran of avoiding ‘citations’ from the stricter enforcement officers on the Oregon coast he had left his van open and empty-looking with no curtains and the officer had been fooled into thinking there was no one sleeping there. 

Our bus is equipped with a ‘self containment’ certificate which is supposed to be an assurance that we won’t make a mess where ever we stay but the officer said that that was irrelevant as far as he was concerned. The whole district had been bristling with signs saying no camping and later that day when we had just got back from an evening walk on the beach (in a popular holiday town further down the coast) a different enforcement officer approached us again to ask us to not camp where we were currently parked. We were polite but kind of fed-up with it as well.

  The problem is that the area we have just been in is a popular holiday area for wealthy people from Auckland and itinerants, even relatively rich ones with $200,000 buses (not us) are not welcome. This was made clear to us a couple of days earlier when we were having dinner in another pretty spot by the ocean when a women from a nearby house drove down to make sure we had seen the sign prohibiting overnight camping. 

We plan to visit poorer more remote areas shortly but these tend to have the opposite problem that white visitors displaying their conspicuous wealth are not that welcome either – and we have heard that their ‘enforcement’ is not nearly so polite. Our bus doesn’t look especially flash and New Zealand is not like the US in terms of racial problems but we will be careful where we park.

  Postscript: A few days later and we entered a new council area that had  specifically set aside areas for motor homes with self-containment certificates so it’s not all bad. 

Postscript 2: It’s been a week since I wrote the main post and we’re finally found an internet café in Gisborne. Things continue to vary, the latest council has a kind of instituted freedom camping system where there are designated sites by the beach. It costs $10 for 10 days and the cost is mostly to cover rubbish disposal.


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