The economist greeted the young Scandihoovian couple at the next table. “Pooing your way around the country?” he asked. “New Zealand’s just one big toilet to you people, isn’t it?” It’s completely unlike him to be so rude (he usually leaves that to me) but he hates freedom crappers. So do I. Time for the death penalty, I think. Or, if you’re going to be all bleeding heart about it, a law change.

Unless there are signs expressly forbidding it, the Freedom Camping Act allows camping in public places, with no designated time limit − meaning those white maggots (the camper vans, not the tourists) can clutter up the shorelines and access points of our country’s most beautiful places for weeks at a time. Shitting into the sunset.

But hang on a minute my little Nimbys. Isn’t freedom camping a quintessentially Kiwi activity? Didn’t we all grow up toodling around the country in caravans with our grandparents? Yes, however, I don’t seem to remember crapping all over bushes and carparks being a part of it. ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ was the mantra, and, “here’s the shovel, make sure you bury it deep,” parental instructions. Which, incidentally, is what I’d like to do to the freedom campers. I’m not alone in coming over all vigilante. Locals in the South Taranaki surf spot of Stent Road have started moving freedom campers on, incensed by the fact that, even though there is a toilet provided, some campers are too lazy to walk to it, and simply drop a cable right next to their vans.

What is wrong with these people? Obviously their English is terrible, or they wouldn’t rent from Wicked, but where are their manners? How would they like me to rock up to the Eiffel Tower and pop a squat? Lean out over the Grand Canyon? They wouldn’t. Mind you, I wouldn’t either, because it comes down to decency, and respect for the country you are a visitor in.

Maybe there needs to be a set of guidelines drawn up. Just as we must educate Asian tourists about driving on the correct side of our roads to stop them killing us, perhaps we also need to have a little handbook made for freedom campers, with the first rule being ‘don’t leave faeces everywhere’ and the second ‘if you’re going to go 30 in the 80kph zone, for God’s sake pull over before that woman behind driving the Camry rams you in a fit of rage’. Or we could issue them a week’s worth of Imodium when they enter the country, and a laxative upon leaving. Sure, they might have sore tummies for the duration, but it’s a small price to pay, I think.

“Oh, but we need them,” people say. “They contribute to the economy.” Well I don’t call a bottle of wine and a packet of potato chips bought at Pak n Save a windfall for the national coffers. Particularly if it’s at the cost of the only thing worth preserving. Sure, they’re buying petrol, but how does that benefit me when I’m tip-toeing through the poop tulips on my way to the cockle bed? What is it about New Zealanders that we’re always so weak and fawning when it comes to tourists, prepared to sell our birth right in the hopes strangers will like us? Could we be more pathetic?

After a summer which saw large crowds overwhelm sites and stretch facilities and patience across Otago, where freedom campers: up to 100 vehicles a night − carrying more than 200 campers at a time − descended on Warrington domain and a DOC riverside site next to the Kawarau River, turning it into, as one observer put it, something akin to “a Syrian refugee camp,” freedom camping has become unsustainable, untenable and unwanted.

I say we change the law so the only vehicles allowed in non-toileted areas are those self-contained, and everyone else has to pay $10 a night to stay somewhere with toilets and showers. It wouldn’t be a dreadful hardship to factor that into your travel expenses, and (with co-operation of council) farmers or land-owners with a flat paddock prepared to offer facilities could stand to make some much-needed money, especially now their cows aren’t doing it for them.

Everybody wins, nobody dies.


AuthorLisa Scott