As the Dunedin City Council looks at opening up new areas for freedom camping, to ease the pressure on Warrington Domain, some local residents are begging for relief.
Warrington Domain and Ocean View Recreation Reserve are the only two Dunedin sites which accept non-self-contained vehicles.
Consequently, the number of freedom campers is high, particularly at Warrington, where an average of 75 to 80 vehicles camped each night during February and March.
Recently, The Star was approached by a group of Warrington residents concerned by the volume of freedom campers arriving nightly in the small settlement.
While not fundamentally opposed to freedom camping, the residents have called for numbers to be restricted.
Dunedin City Council recreation, planning and facilities manager Jendi Paterson, who is leading a review of freedom camping, is well aware of the issues for Warrington people.
‘Warrington, I think everyone would agree, has been inundated with freedom campers,” Ms Paterson said.
When the city’s Camping Control Bylaw was introduced in 2015, no-one had foreseen the demand that would be placed on Warrington Domain, she said.
Warrington resident Paul Hersey said, despite the cool summer, numbers of freedom campers had “really picked up” since Waitangi Weekend.
“There have been truckloads of them – sometimes hundreds of people in a night,” Mr Hersey said.
At times, the reserve’s facilities struggled to cope with demand, and it was difficult for locals to use Warrington Reserve for recreation.
FREEDOM CAMPING – COMMUNITY BOARD RESPONSE
Freedom camping is a topic of great interest for the city’s community boards.
The Star reporters spoke with board chairmen and women about the past summer season, and what impact freedom campers have had in their communities.
Changes to freedom camping bylaws have improved the situation on Otago Peninsula, but work remains to be done, Otago Peninsula Community Board chairman Paul Pope says.
While there were still a few “hot spots” at Tomahawk Beach and other parts of the peninsula, the situation had “changed quite [a] bit” with the new bylaws.
“We have the odd problem .. but there’s been a marked improvement.”
By the end of the two-year Macandrew Bay trial the number of freedom campers in the peninsula area had dropped.
However, as there was still no designated freedom camping area with facilities on the peninsula, the problem with non-self-contained vehicles continued.
“There’s always room for improvement.”
Saddle Hill Community Board chairman Scott Weatherall there had been minimal infringements by freedom campers over the summer and few concerns raised by the Brighton and Ocean View communities.
The use of the Brighton Domain – which is restricted to self-contained camper vans which can process their own waste – had taken the pressure off the Ocean View site, he said.
Positive feedback from members of the community now exceeded concerns.
“They kind of see the benefit of freedom campers – that they provide quite a cool culture within the community.”
Council staff and contractors were managing well in terms of waste disposal, and the council was working with the community to ensure freedom camping did not have a negative impact, Mr Weatherall said.
“What we would ask of the freedom campers visiting our community is that they treat our community with respect.”
Mosgiel Taieri Community Board chairwoman Sarah Nitis more freedom campers had been spotted at several sites around Mosgiel over the summer.
Freedom campers had recently been seen in the Seddon Park car park and the accompanying reserve in Wickliffe St, as well as in the Taieri Rugby Football Club and Wingatui racecourse car parks.
There were “about eight” camper vans in the Seddon Park car park a “couple of weekends ago”, she said.
While that was “event specific”, it did highlight a growing load on existing infrastructure in Mosgiel, she said.
She had “mixed” feelings about freedom campers and the “change in emphasis” from private-sector campgrounds towards freedom camping sites, which were now a council and ratepayer responsibility.
West Harbour Community Board chairman Steve Walker freedom camping was “not an issue” in the West Harbour area – probably because it was not on a main route for travellers.
“We occasionally have a few people who stay overnight, but there have been no problems,” he said.
He sympathised with Warrington residents and those in other areas where freedom camping was popular.
“It can sometimes be difficult to find a balance between encouraging tourism and safeguarding residents’ right to enjoy their surroundings,” he said.