Local residents and iwi have expressed concerns to the Council relating to pollution and health and safety at the Waitapu Bridge freedom camping site. The holiday season brings very high demand and has seen numbers at extreme levels of 150 vehicles in a night.
Council agrees that this number of campers is not appropriate and have been working through options, said Mayor Tim King. “We take the concerns from the residents and iwi very seriously, but with vehicles coming and going and numbers lower during the day it is extremely difficult to manage. Closing the site entirely is not seen as a viable option as the reality is that those campers will go elsewhere and create different issues.”
Creating temporary additional sites was considered by Council but discounted on the basis that they are typically problematic and adding new locations requires significant planning and consultation first. The Tasman District makes good provision for freedom campers compared to some other districts. “We welcome visitors but we can’t provide unlimited facilities,” Mayor King said.
A range of measures to manage overcrowding been taken including:
- Rock barriers have been put in place to prevent camping over the whole area, especially where flood risk is most extreme.
- Campers found on the riverbank or in other prohibited areas have been moved on and/or fined or directed to paid accommodation at the campgrounds.
- Enforcement officers have been patrolling daily since early December and have issued 36 infringement notices in Golden Bay, with the highest number being issued at Waitapu Bridge.
- Freedom Camping ambassadors have been employed using central government funding to educate the campers and have been visiting Waitapu Bridge several times a week.
- A sanitary survey was conducted on the site by an Environmental Health Officer on Monday. The findings were that no significant health risks were present. The Officer felt that the current number of toilets is adequate, however, an additional toilet at peak times would be beneficial. The report has been shared with the Medical Officer of Health.
- An additional permanent toilet is being installed at Waitapu Bridge using central government funding.
In addition, camping websites Campermate and Rankers have been asked to advise of the overloaded sites in Golden Bay and that these sites may be closed to late arrivals. New signage showing when the site is closed to additional vehicles and reinforcing no parking areas will be erected.
Council acknowledges that addressing one area may create a “knock-on” effect in other freedom camping sites and will do what they can to stay ahead of that.
“There are limitations on what we can do, both legally and financially. Although we want to protect the rights of our ratepayers, we are required to give reasonable support to tourists and other visitors to the District and to allow them to freedom camp,” Mayor King says.
Public submissions to the Responsible Camping Strategy have been considered and the draft strategy will be finalised and put to Council early this year. Once adopted, the Strategy is likely to result in a review of the Freedom Camping Bylaw.