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Most of us can relate to the fun we had canoeing at summer camp when we were young. But that was nothing compared to the experience of whitewater kayaking that came next for me. I have always loved canoeing, though it always seemed difficult to participate. It has only been in the last decade that the development of inflatable canoes has made a big difference. You can more easily access rivers, you can store a canoe in your car, you can even take them on a plane. They are very light, very cheap, with little loss of functionality. Perfect for weekends away or campervan holidays. Social networking was the other big change. You can now use Facebook, etc to join canoeing adventures in your local region or abroad.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Freedom camping - Are tourists the problem?

NZ is having a big debate at the moment - the issue is freedom camping. Freedom camping is the practice of camping in undesignated public or private areas where no provisioning is made for toilets. This compels tourists staying in campervans (without toilet amenities) to desiccate on the roadside. The consequence is a 'minefield of turds' and spent toilet paper shrewd across private or public land.
The people is that backpacking is such a big industry these days, and there is pressure building to regulate behaviour to diminish the impact. The impact is bigger in NZ, because it is a smaller country, though it seems at this point, the greatest sensitivity is in areas which do not really embrace the tourism. Lake Hawea is a very beautiful lake on the South Island, and the key issue is that this place has a very small commercial precinct, and I think locals are quite proud of their 'low key' living, and thus self-righteously proud of that. Rather than placing up toilet facilities, they would prefer to exclude tourists altogether. Why? Because they are not in business, so they have nothing to gain from tourists. So why not exclude others. This is why these people are sensitive.
Queenstown has a more visible and severe issue. It is a hotspot for tourism. There are a lot of bars and activities, so you can imagine that it would be a hub, and that people would simply want to spend a lot of time here. One of the problems for campervans staying here is the lack of parking in the area.
Elsewhere, I just think it is less of a problem. There are always inconsiderate people, and it would be wrong to assume that they are all foreigners. At any time there are only about 400,000 foreigners in the country, and probably 300,000 of them are staying in backpackers designated camping areas and hotels. Young Kiwis are just as likely to desiccate in the bush. I tend to find a lot of NZ'ers have little respect for their environment (as compared to Australia).
I might add that:
1. Faeces and toilet paper are biodegradable, so its mostly a visual concern, though obviously its a threat to water quality in areas, like waterways.
2. People are doing this because there are few public amenities. All it takes is to erect a pump-out toilet in those areas with a problem. I can imagine that these facilities only need to be emptied about every month. Perhaps the solution is to require consumers without a fitted toilet to pay a fee to use those facilities, and then you give them a map to find them. This means you can reasonably prosecute them for not using them. The licence can be sold by the dealerships, much as if you were selling fishing licenses. At $20 per person for 6 months, it would more than offset the cost of these services.
In this video, we have local residents taking action to remove 'freedom campers'. Unreasonable impositions on freedom campers is destined to push them further into the bush. That means these people are driving more and spending less money in NZ, going to NZ, but rather there money going to Saudi Arabia in the form of petroleum imports.
I have been to camping grounds where people have liberally shit in inappropriate places. It is not just the lack of concealment, they dump near watercourses. This practice is best handled with a license sticker on vehicles, displayed when they are at the site between certain hours, i.e. If you are in an undesignated site after 6pm or before 7am, then you pay the fine if you don't have a sticker. The question is how do you fine a transient like a tourist? Maybe the NZ government has to collect a bond, otherwise the police will start having to take credit card payments :)
Andrew Sheldon

Booking fees are illegal

I am reminded of a legal case in Victoria where a woman was obliged to pay a booking fee when she arrived at the pick-up site. No mention had previously been made of the booking fee when she made the booking. The lady protested and ended up taking the matter to court, where she won. If you are in the same position, you ought to know all charges upfront. i.e. Otherwise its bait advertising. This is common. I have been stung for this fee when I have rented a camper as a 'return' for $5/day. I thought I was getting a good deal though.
I'm just glad there are some people who still believe in justice. I wouldn't have gone to the trouble. I'd be psychologically scarred if the decision was wrong....contrary to my good reasons.
Andrew Sheldon

The risks and rewards of campervanning

One of the problems with campervans is that they have a bad reputation in several respects:
1. Tourist transporters - locals in many rural locations hate tourists, and tripping into town in a campervan very much identifies you as a tourist.
2. Turd dumpers - some campervans don't have toilets, and users are inclined to dump a turd where there is no toilets, to the dismay of locals and other tourists. More so for governments who don't want to clean t up.
3. View blockers - some campervans are inclined to park in the best locations with the best views, to the dismay of locals who paid a million plus for their property, only to have a $50K-odd campervan park in front, and possibly dump a turd in their garden...or a beer bottle.

In truth, most campervanners are discrete, whether to avoid attention or to catch the scrutiny of police, who might be dismayed by the loitering of outside 'transients'. The attraction of mobile living gets more appealing by the day for several reasons:
1. Niche lifestyle vehicles - they are being made by more manufacturers and thus are getting cheaper. There are also the second hand campervans and the converts from delivery vans.
2. Lower cost batteries are making it easier to run appliances as well as lowering the operating cost. Expect more developments here with flow batteries.
3. More efficient appliances - The spectre of ever-improving energy efficiency is making it more appealing to function from a mobile home.
4. The high cost of housing - The cost of buying a home in Australia is enough to compel people to live on the road.

The big counter-arguments against the trend is probably:
1. The lack of comfort
2. The growing prospect of restrictions on where you can stay - the impossible implication of costs.

The simple solution is to hide your lifestyle - to live a life under the radar - to live life not in a 'campervan' but a simple delivery van. You will not get hassled out by aborigines as you cross the desert; you will not get your tires deflated by disgruntled landowners, and you will not get noticed by the police...unless you are surrounded by other campers, or otherwise parking in places where no other person would park at night, like in a national park or shopping mall carpark, etc.
If you want to know how seriously some people object to campervans; read this story about a 59yo Christchurch (NZ) man who attempted to set fire to a campervan who parked outside his home. My guess is that he wanted to give a message to all concerned that campers are not wanted outside their homes. The man was arrested for attempted murder. The worst experience for me was an aboriginal throwing a bottle at my vehicle as he drove past. It was footy night, and he must have won or lost....or just been pissed. All normal living conditions I'm sure in central Australia.

Andrew Sheldon

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