The explosion in the popularity of freedom camping has meant groups of motorhomes and other vehicles — many not self-contained — parking up at the DOC reserve at the Omori Stream at the south-western corner of Lake Taupō every evening. Often up to 17 or more vehicles occupy an area that can comfortably hold only eight or nine.
The other two sites that are to be closed to freedom campers are the Oruatua picnic area on the eastern lakeshore and the Taupo Landing Reserve, where the Waikato River exits Lake Taupo. All three sites were formerly restricted to self-contained campers but the rule was often flouted.
Freedom camping on Taupo District Council reserves is already prohibited under the Reserves Act unless they are specifically set aside for camping.
During recent freedom camping bylaw hearings residents of Omori and Kuratau turned out to ask the Taupō District Council to ensure that all freedom camping, whether self-contained or not, remains off-limits on all council reserves in the lakeshore settlements at that end of the lake. Residents are worried that with the closure of Omori Stream to camping, freedom campers will instead migrate to council reserves.
Resident Russell Shaw told councillors that freedom camping at Omori Stream was causing “a very real problem”. He says two years ago an influx of campers began and people started to abuse the area.
“I have a trap line down there which I do once a week, and initially we had the compliant campervans that came down there and I was honestly surprised at just how well they treated the place. Then we had the influx of the ones with the blue stickers that get a refund if it [the toilet] is wrapped in plastic when they go home.
“At the stream we have people regularly washing, washing clothes, themselves … human excrement that I pick up in underpants, in paper on the ground is a regular occurrence, used tampons. It just gets worse and worse.”
Mr Shaw said DOC had told him it was unable to police the reserve adequately because it did not have the resources.
Mr Shaw said the problems were being caused by the non self-contained ‘sliding door’ vans, not NZ Motor Caravan Association members who generally took good care of the reserve.
Omori Kuratau Residents Association chairman Mike Bowie said for the preceding 15 nights he done a count at the reserve. In total, there were 102 vehicles parking overnight. Only 19 were fully self-contained, the rest had blue stickers but were non-compliant, and the remaining 10 or so were a car with a tent.
DOC central plateau manager Dave Lumley says from December 1 the Omori and Oruatua reserves and the Landing Reserve in the Taupo Boat Harbour will be closed permanently to freedom camping.
Since the Freedom Camping Act came into effect in 2011, tourism growth and particularly the rise in non-self-contained freedom campers has meant some sites initially open to campers now had to be reconsidered due to the increase in pressure.
The sites being changed did not have the facilities to support both the high number of day visitors and the influx of campers.
New signage will be in place at each site outlining the restrictions.
A new Taupo District Council bylaw on freedom camping comes into effect today.