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New Zealand: New “Freedom Camping” Laws Aim to Protect Pristine Areas

(May 20, 2011) On May 15, 2011, the New Zealand Minister for the Environment, Hon. Nick Smith, announced that a new law regulating “freedom camping” would be introduced in Parliament this month to address problems related to irresponsible campers. (Press Release, Hon. Nick Smith, New Freedom Camping Laws Announced (May 15, 2011).)

Freedom camping – people camping in public areas where there are varying levels of sanitary facilities available, rather than in commercial campgrounds – is a popular activity among tourists and locals in New Zealand. According to Smith, the number of freedom campers has doubled over the last decade to 110,000 international visitors and more than 40,000 New Zealanders. (Id.) There has been an increasing number of complaints about litter and human waste being left behind by campers, particularly in areas with high numbers of tourists, and warnings have been issued to people found camping in prohibited areas. (New Zealand Government, New Freedom Camping Law – Questions and Answers (May 2011).)

The existing laws allow each of the 67 local authorities to establish bylaws relating to freedom camping. The rules can vary from district to district, with different rules also applying between council properties and public reserves, and the boundaries between these different areas can be difficult to discern. The bylaws are also difficult and costly to enforce. (Id.) Currently, imposing a fine for illegal freedom camping requires a court prosecution, which is expensive and impractical due to visitors being difficult to track down or leaving the country; the cost of taking legal action in another country means that councils frequently do not pursue the fines. The new laws to be included in the Freedom Camping Bill are intended to provide greater consistency throughout the country and to enable a higher level of enforcement. (Id.; New Laws Target Irresponsible Freedom Campers, TVNZ (May 15, 2011).)

Under the bill, local authorities will be able to determine where camping is allowed, where it is restricted to campervans with self-contained sanitary facilities, and where it is prohibited. (Press Release, supra.) The Department of Conservation, which manages a number of public reserves around the country, will be able to make similar rules. Illegal camping or leaving litter and human waste will be subject to a NZ$200 (about US$157) instant fine, imposed on either the camper or the vehicle, and people may be prosecuted and fined up to NZ$10,000 (about US$7,840) for illegally discharging sewage from a campervan. (Id.)

In addition, rental car and campervan rental companies will be required to record and disclose the contact information for customers so that fines can be enforced. Where an infringement notice is issued against a vehicle, it will be possible for fines to be recovered from the owner of the vehicle, including rental companies. (Questions and Answers, supra.) Campers will be assisted to follow the rules by consistent signage throughout the country that shows where they can and cannot camp and by a website that will outline legal camping areas. (Press Release, supra.)

The government hopes to have the new measures in place this year prior to the start of the Rugby World Cup, during which 85,000 people are expected to visit the country. “Freedom camping is an important part of our tourism industry and great Kiwi lifestyle but we cannot tolerate irresponsible campers spoiling our most iconic areas with human waste and litter,” Smith said. (Press Release, supra.)