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Freedom campers cause frustration

Freedom campers making the most of the south Wairarapa coast last summer. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

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A coastal South Wairarapa business owner has spoken out in frustration about freedom campers.
After years of planning, John Priest opened Ngawi’s Waimeha Camping Village in June.
He told South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) at its Wednesday meeting last week the business had cost him “about five-times more” than originally thought, but he was happy it was finally off the ground.
One element bothering him was that campers regularly parked vans directly in front of his gateway and hung around there for days, free of charge.
He estimated that the space outside his property could fit about 100 camper vans, and he anticipated that this area would be packed-out at Christmas with campers seeing little reason to pay to stay somewhere next to a spot they were entitled to camp in for free.
Mr Priest said the public toilet located outside his property was probably what attracted campers to the spot.
More and more people were visiting the popular coastal stretch, with the Cape Palliser lighthouse an attraction.
As well as a financial hit on his business, freedom campers were having a negative effect on the coastline.
Mr Priest told the council to look at Abel Tasman as an example.
“We don’t just freedom camp there, do we?”
He wanted to work in partnership with SWDC to ensure the coastline was treated with respect and remained beautiful.
He said if council promoted the camping sites in South Wairarapa, it would be boosting the local economy while reducing its workload.
Cleaning up litter left behind by freedom campers and servicing the coast’s public toilets would be jobs minimised for council, as registered camping sites had the necessary facilities.
SWDC Maori Standing Committee chairman Reuben Tipoki sympathised with Mr Priest, whose family has owned the land on which the camping village sits since 1971.
Mr Tipoki said he was happy Mr Priest had raised freedom camping and associated issues, which he also faces at his family business, Lake Ferry Holiday Park.
Some travellers were simply just taking advantage of South Wairarapa.
“People are coming and not spending a cent in the district, making a mess and leaving,” Mr Tipoki said.
Councillor Colin Olds said Mr Priest had made a “big investment” in the district.
Having recently retired from running accommodation in Featherston, Mr Olds said it was “hard competing with something that costs nothing”.
SWDC chief executive Paul Crimp recently applied to the Government for funding to help towards a $202,000 coastal infrastructure upgrade.
If approved, new toilets, extended freedom camping areas and improved coastal rubbish collection would be implemented.
On Friday, Mr Crimp said this upgrade was necessary as a significant increase in visitors in recent years meant existing amenities could not cope.
“We’ve got to do something to accommodate the existing volumes,” he said.
Throughout the Long Term Plan process, the council would be looking for input from other people in the community who were affected by freedom campers.
Mr Crimp said the feedback received would then be considered by SWDC when looking to the future.
Destination Wairarapa manager David Hancock encouraged the region’s campground owners to put their views on the matter forward to SWDC.
“We will support those submissions where we can.”


  1. The view shared by Mr Tipoki and Mr Priest that “People are coming and not spending a cent in the district, making a mess and leaving,” is not true and wrong on so many levels.

    They presume that because it’s free, it’s bad. What is inherently bad about free? Does everything in life need a price tag? What sort of capitalist utopia are these guys envisioning? Such a narrow view undermines what makes NZ great.

    Sure, there are some costs associated with providing toilet and rubbish facilities at free campsites. But these are paid for by taxes and rates as are roads, the very same roads that Mr Priest uses to run errands from his house. Not to mention footpaths, parks, public toilets, libraries etc that Mr Priest also uses when visiting a nearby town.

    People visiting the area do spend money, just not at his camp ground. I have been “freedom camping” at Ngawi for 10 years, my parents also did back in the day. I always grab a feed and fill up at Featherston or Marty on the way. Also, when the surf is bad I’ll play golf or visit another local attraction. If freedom camping was banned in Southern Wairarapa there will be a huge drop in visitor numbers and other businesses will suffer. Mr Priest’s frustration reeks of self-interest and has the ultimate goal of himself obtaining a monopoly.

    I’m not sure what rubbish Mr Priest and Mr Tipoki they are referring to. Every time I’ve been to Ngawi I have seen little, if any, which is amazing considering the number of visitors. Surfers are particularly clean and tend to pick rubbish up if they see any. I doubt freedom campers are the problem – I suspect fishermen and day-trippers leave more rubbish, or maybe ol Ned from over the back fence is the culprit?! I hope the SWDC look for more evidence than Mr Priest and Mr Tipoki’s tall tales.

    Mr Priest also wants to ensure the coastline is “treated with respect and remained beautiful”. Who doesn’t? I’m sure if you talked to any freedom camper or surfer they would say the same thing. By stating this, the article is insinuating that Mr Priest thinks otherwise, and that freedom campers are out there to run-amuck. How are freedom campers disrespecting the coastline and making it less beautiful? In what way? Can’t be due to rubbish as I mentioned earlier.

    I know of surfers who have planted trees, collected rubbish and trapped pests. Are freedom campers disrespecting the coastline? I doubt they are contributing to erosion, as I suspect nearby farming would be, especially the cattle that frequently trod over the fragile coastal area, eating grass and shrubs that hold the coastline in place and perhaps destroying nesting sites for birds (I don’t actually know if that last point is true, I just made it up – see how easy it is!). Are freedom campers making the coastline less beautiful? Only to the selfish person who wants to see a coastline without other humans around. I’d argue a coastline will only be beautiful if humans are there to admire it. Campers actually add to the beauty and amenity of the coastline as they are usually friendly, up for a yarn and have a story to tell… and spend money.

    I’m sure the good folks at the SWDC have more sense than to listen to the likes of Mr Priest and Mr Tipoki and can see their issues for what they really are – self-centred and un-kiwi!

  2. Freedom means what it says. The beauty of waking up just yards from the sea at the spot we have used since the 70’s is priceless. This place is litter free thanks to the respect for nature held by the vast majority of the particular visitors/overnighters to this spot. As mentioned in other comments, visitors like myself actually pick up plastics etc which have drifted along shore.

  3. I believe Mr Priest is out of order. Why would someone want to pay to stay in his cabins, when from as long as I can remember they have stayed across the road from where he has set his business up, for free. The photo, is opposite the fire station, also another place people can stay for free.

  4. Mr Priest and other camp owners should stop trying to use councils to bolster their business. Those of us fully self contained do not need a camp ground or want to herded into one like sheep and often when I did go to a camp ground was often met by someone with a sour attitude cause I was one of them horrible Freedom campers

  5. Mr Preist needs to pull his head. He talks about rubbish being left behind at the surf break in front of his capitalistic venture. Mean while he has been observed and confronted by locals for illegal dumping of sheep body remains around the surf break. Obviously to make the area as uncomfortable for the surfers who use the area when there is swell. My dog ate some of said sheep remains and threw it up on the drive home. Thanks Mr Preist

  6. Campers at Ngawi might spend more in the area if more people set up businesses that cater for them. I don’t think Mr Priest is providing what they want. He obviously didn’t research his business and has an entitled attitude. There is however a proportion of campers who will want what he offers.

  7. What a fantastic area for New Zealanders and tourists to all enjoy. Freedom campers included.

    It’s fantastic that a commercial camp has also been set up in this area and I’m sure that if it is priced right and has facilities and features to entice the public it will do well. Huge success can be made from food and supplies ventures with an audience like this and I wish Mr Priest success.

  8. I have been camping in the area since 1980, and a number of others long before me. Surfers come for the excellent surf from all over the greater Wellington region, including Wairarapa. The toilet has been recently replaced, and the previous one has been there since the 1980’s. Thank you South Wairarapa Council!
    Visiting surfers shop at cafes, bakeries, supermarkets and petrol station in Wairarapa towns e.g. Featherston, Martinborough and Greytown. There is even a guy manufacturing surfboards and selling surfing hardware in Palliser Bay. Access to recreational pursuits is a New Zealand birthright. And I always pick up any rubbish washed in from sea or rarely left in the area by travellers.

  9. How dare Mr Priest startup a camp ground and take business away from local motels, shame on him. Yep – just another camp ground owner yet again moaning

  10. people have been camping at Ngawi for years long before Mr Priest set up his business. it would be a great shame if the spot was closed. perhaps Mr Priest might make some extra land available for the infux of campers he is expecting away from his front gate.

  11. People are coming to the area to freedom camp for the excellent surfing in the area. People have been freedom campin in this area since the 1970s. I hope the council can put the public value in recreation and leisure ahead of Mr Priests interest in making a profit.

  12. Submissions to councils from those who are clearly just pushing their commercial interest should not be accepted.

  13. At $18 per person per night & have to pay $2 for 5 min shower Just to park on a un-powered site Far too expensive.

    Why not offer shower for the freedom campers as they have to pay

    We stayed at campground in South Island $5 per person
    All amenities including kitchen were available at extra cost if you wanted them even if you didn’t stay at camp

    Mr Priest why dont you try that I’m sure you would entice a lot of the freedom campers even just for shower —more money for you

    As for the freedom campers outside your place. They were there first. You knew what it was like You have no right to complain

  14. We did 3 months travel in the South Island a few years ago in our modest motor home and we spent over $8000 in that time, sometimes at camps mostly free or low cost parking. Maybe our money didn’t go to camps but it sure went somewhere. Freedom dosent mean free!!!
    We own a home, pay rates and taxes in our area and I sure don’t mind if someone from another area wants to use our public toilets or rubbish bins.

  15. Cost him 5x more to set up, ? Business plan. Pee off all the campers, surfers, nzmca, tourist and try banning the freedom camping there from pre 1970s cos you put a camp behind the camping area? These are your customers that won’t shop or pay $90 / cabin. The toilet stops people from crapping in beach , more needed great. More spots great, go council. If he bitch moans about the people that have loved going there for years and not littering, they won’t spend at his little shop as the word will go out. Easy to buy stuff at ngawi still. He could make a killing selling food yet he’s alienating customers, great new business move cos he’s wanting freedom camping banned there so he get $.
    Seriously, freedom camping effecting his business (june) , perhaps 5x overrun and PR have.

  16. It’s sad that Mr Priest’s business expectations are not being met & that the anticipated return on his $$investment is not being realised. I wonder if he did any market research to ascertain whether freedom campers wanted a motorhome park at Ngawi? Or perhaps he should have surveyed. several hundred freedom campers – both oversea visitors & NZer’s to find out why we enjoy Freedom Camping – either of these surveys would most likely have clearly indicated no interest in a paid camping ground in that area. Many Freedom Campers are happy to pay for a hot shower & laundry facilities – maybe Mr Priest can still make a return on his investment by meeting this need.

  17. Why don’t we ban picnics in the park also, I’m sure McDonald’s would appreciate of council legislated away their competition

  18. What Mr Priest is saying is really tantamount to outlawing home-made scones so that people are forced to buy from a bakery.

  19. By in large csc Motorhomers spend around$60a day every day while traveling.. Small vanners apparently spend even more but not at camps rather saving their money for adventure attractions.. Sitting in a camp dosnt give them what they came for. Tourism in NZ is big business and council’s are seeing that now and are realising that the monies are wide spread around the districts, not just camping..

  20. So open a takeaway caravan and capitalise on the extra footfall…seen it at Long Bay Camp Coromandel. Heaps of locals hamg out there for a cheap feed coffee and walk the beach.

  21. Mr Priest is pushing his own barrow, course he knew, and freedom campers spend quite a large amount.
    If council stops all freedom camping, they still won’t go to a campground, plenty of other places.

  22. But surely Mr Priest knew that freedom campers stayed there before starting up his business?

    I’m sure the freedom campers spend in the district already – fuel, food & drink for instance.

    I’m not sure who else in the district would benefit financially other than Mr Priest, if the free camping area was closed. Certainly no additional businesses. I say leave well enough alone.

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