Decline of small campsites
During the summer of 2012 Fiordland National Park ranger Ken Bradley noted the decline in the use of campsites during his 40-year career. In the 1960s, he remembered, ‘towns were basically ghost towns’ during holiday periods. ‘Now everybody has to work through.’ 1 Government-run campsites in remote areas such as the Eglinton Valley, once full to capacity every summer, were now barely used.
The last resort
Camping’s decline in popularity since the late 20th century was due to a combination of social and economic changes. The increasing age of marriage has made camping’s discomforts less bearable for some families. Many holidaymakers seem to prefer more comfort than camping offers, and greater prosperity means they are willing to pay more for services and facilities. Cheap airfares have meant that in the 21st century New Zealanders are as likely to take an all-inclusive holiday in Rarotonga as in the Coromandel. Across the country, once-popular campgrounds in spectacular settings such as the Māhia Peninsula have been closed and, in many cases, sold for property development.
Department of Conservation campsites
Camping trips remain popular among groups such as budget tourists, young people and outdoor enthusiasts. These are now the main users of the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) campsites and holiday campgrounds, ranging from tenting Meccas like Waikato’s Waikawau Bay to tiny and barely used sites such as Kumeti in the Ruahine Forest Park near Dannevirke. DoC campsites are rated as informal (no kitchens or hot showers), standard or serviced (with showers, lighting and rubbish collection). Campers wishing to be self-sufficient are now able to rely on lightweight tents, self-inflating airbeds and sophisticated cooking and other high-tech equipment.
Local authority and private campsites
Most local authorities run campgrounds, sometimes jointly managed with DoC. They usually provide communal kitchens, hot showers and bathroom and laundry facilities. The Auckland Regional Council runs the largest network, with almost 40 parks and campsites.
Black and grey water
The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association encourages people to use equipment to contain waste products when camping in areas without toilet facilities, so they can be transported to a suitable disposal point. More than 600 approved dumping stations have been created to dispose of black water (from portable toilets and holding tanks) and grey water (from sinks and showers).
Campers can also find privately owned camping grounds in many areas. The best-equipped campsites are likely to be found in holiday parks at popular tourist destinations such as Queenstown and Mt Maunganui. These provide a range of facilities, often including swimming and spa pools, children’s play areas and shops. Wireless internet access is an especially popular facility. Campervans (motorhomes), rather than caravans and tents, appear to be the most popular option for 21st-century New Zealand campers.
‘Freedom camping’ (siting a tent or campervan in a place not designated for that purpose) is legal in much of New Zealand, but is increasingly regulated. Freedom campers cannot usually access facilities such as clean drinking water, toilets and waste disposal. As a result, they have caused public concerns about litter, waste and sewage disposal and other harmful environmental impacts. In the 1990s giardia, an intestinal parasite causing diarrhoea, became widespread in New Zealand through poor disposal of toilet waste near waterways. Local by-laws were introduced to restrict free camping to certain areas. Under the Freedom Camping Act 2011 campers are liable for a $200 instant fine for camping illegally and a fine of up to $10,000 for incorrectly dumping sewage.
Responsible Camping Forum
Since 2008 the New Zealand Responsible Camping Forum has provided information to campers and worked with the tourism industry to better manage camping. The Forum runs the ‘Where can I camp?’ campaign and the ‘Camping Our Way’ website, to provide information to travellers hiring campervans or wanting to camp in New Zealand.