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Free, Freedom, llegal Camping are vexed questions for life on road RV's

December 21, 2011
Free, Freedom, llegal Camping are vexed questions for life on road RV's

By Garth Morrison Editor and

Free camping is not free. One way or the other there is a dollar or an environmental cost. Or both. Often both hip pocket and the environment get hit. Unfortunately there are gaps in any user pays proposition.

But GoSee does not think that strategies to dragoon travellers into caravan parks are helpful despite travellers being faced with overcrowding in rest areas. Queensland and the north of Western Australia in particular face major problems. One of the things that cause most problems with councils is people parking in non-designated areas with no consideration for local residents.

In Australia councils are talking about more fines and further restricting rest areas.

In recent years the QLGA (Queensland Local Government Association) conference has included some councils talking about restricting rest areas to those vehicles accredited as being part of the Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) Leave No Trace program.

This scheme is open to all members of any RV club in Australia , providing their accommodation unit meets the necessary requirements of being a self-contained unit.

Caravan parks, Holiday Parks, Tourist Parks offer services. If these services are used then they must be paid for but whether the traveller takes up the option is and should remain a personal choice. That is every individuals right within the law. Which in GoSee's view simplistically defines both camper and industry position. Simply, if the law is not being broken there is no issue. Unfortunately it is not so simple. This leads to the question of - "What is illegal camping?"

Driven by growing road touring demand right now the answer continues to be the subject of debate at National, State and Local Government levels in Australia and New Zealand. On both sides of the Tasman Free, Freedom and Illegal Camping are vexed questions.

GoSee is concerned that the pleasures and freedoms of camping will have the life beaten out ofthem with an Illegal Camping club.

GoSee believes there is a need for Responsible Camping particularly in regard to the length of stay and the toilet and rubbish disposal habits of some travellers. At this stage they are a growing minority.

GoSee agrees with New Zealand's commitment to 'kaitiakitanga' which embraces the guardianship and sustainable management of natural, built and cultural resources for the collective benefit of current and future generations. Camping kaitiakitanga is not using the side of the road, the bush or waterways as a toilet.

Recreational Vehicle (RV) tourism is one of the most rapidly growing segments of the tourism industry on both sides of the Tasman.

Major issues include people staying in areas for lengthy periods of time, using public infrastructure facilities inappropriately, discharging grey and black water illegally and the pollution of waterways.

Fairfax NZ News Scot Mackay reports that the number of freedom campers has doubled in the past decade to about 150,000 in New Zealand and increased more than five-fold in hotspots such as Queenstown.

Jonathan Carson reports in the Waikato Times that the door will be partially opened to freedom campers on the Coromandel under new rules, but the district's mayor Glenn Leach says the holiday hot spot should not be desecrated by a few bludgers. The NZ Freedom Camping Act, introduced in August, does not allow freedom camping to be prohibited on all land managed by the council.

NZMCA sign of responsible campers
NZMCA sign of responsible campers

On December 20 the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) said it was disappointed with the Thames-Coromandel District Council's approach to managing Freedom Camping.

TCDCs bylaw, created under the Freedom Camping Act 2011, restricts freedom camping to just six individual car parks and four of these are off limits for most of summer, this despite the majority of local submissions in support of responsible freedom camping, the NZMCA said.

Legal advice obtained from New Zealand public law firm, Chen Palmer, identifies some fundamental flaws that would invalidate the draft bylaw.

Editors Note: Please read NZMCA disappointed with District Councils handling of freedom camping on

Joe Dodgshun reports in the Otago Daily Times that by October 14 Queenstown Lakes District Council had issued 102 infringement notices in under a month, with fines totalling $20,400.

Under the new regulations, freedom campers with tents or vehicles which are not equipped with a toilet can stay overnight only at licensed camping grounds or in designated camping areas.

Those in self-contained vehicles still have to camp in camping grounds or designated camping areas while inside new no freedom camping zones, but can camp anywhere outside the zones.

Both the major RV Clubs in New Zealand and Australia are committed to Responsible Camping.

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) was established more than 50 years ago and has more than 43,000 individual members.

The NZMCA says it is open to anyone with an interest in motor caravanning. In fact ownership of a motorhome or campervan is not required to be a member of the association.

The NZMCA is the biggest authority in New Zealand that can issue certification against the New Zealand Standard: Self-Containment of Motor Caravans and Caravans (NZS 5465:2001). All caravans awarded this NZMCA Standard meet the ablutionary and sanitary needs of the occupants of the motorhomes and caravans for a minimum of three days without requiring any external services or discharging waste.

Rest area rubbish near Arthurs Pass NZ South Island
Rest area rubbish near Arthurs Pass NZ South Island

New Zealand is leading the way to Responsible Camping with laws already in place and a big responsive group of camping supporters within its Recreational Vehicle (RV) and Holiday Park cultures.

Australia, through RV devotees in the CMCA , is on the case. Founded in 1986 the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) has a member vehicle fleet of more than 26,500.

The CMCA's total financial membership was more than 61,000 in October this year and in June 2010, 5000 CMCA vehicles were Leave no Trace Accredited.

A CMCA member survey on RV Spend Profiles and Travel Habits at the CMCA's Rockhampton Rally in 2009 showed that the average weekly spend of Recreational Vehicle tourists when travelling is up to $460 on average a week.

GoSee spoke to a caravan towing couple from Brisbane in a Free Camping rest area at Huntly near Bendigo, Victoria in November who said they had spent about $2000 at the Caravan Industry Association of Victoria's Bendigo RV and Camping Leisurefest which was on at the time.

They said they had pulled into the Gold Nugget Tourist Park a few kilometres away at Epsom planning to stay, but decided $36 a night was more than they wanted to spend from their travel budget to park their completely self-contained caravan.

Olwyn and Les Kitchener said they had been touring Australia for six months.

HAPNZ CEO Fergus Brown presents camping opportunities
HAPNZ CEO Fergus Brown presents camping opportunities

The small, immaculate Huntly Rest Area reflects the care of the City of Greater Bendigo Council and the Huntly-Epsom Lions Club. It is to be found in Camps 5, an Australian travellers guide which GoSee has come to respect since first evaluating the publication in 2009.

GoSee stayed three nights at Epsom's Gold Nugget Tourist Park on the Midland Highway in a basic ensuite cabin while presenting seminars at the Bendigo RV and Camping Leisurefest. GoSee paid full fare. We make a point of changing parks in areas where we make regular business visits.

During three nights at Gold Nugget there were many caravans, motorhomes, campers and 5th wheelers staying in the park who told GoSee the Tourist Parks good ammenities were their first requirement. Most of the caravans staying at Gold Nugget were not fully self-contained.

GoSee understands from CIA Victoria and the CMCA that more owners are opting to Leave No Trace and prefer to take personal responsibility for control of disposal of grey water from their caravans and Recreational Vehicle's.

Both the NZMCA and the CMCA, ANZAC attitude battles for environmentally responsible sustainable camping.

Not so an apparently confused Australian Channel 7 presentation in August this year on the What's Up Downunder program which used images from the CMCA's 24th Anniversary Rally in Carrick, Tasmania in March 2010.

GoSee attended the rally as guests of the CMCA. CMCA members paid to attend the rally and the images presented had no relevance to Free Camping. Before, during and after the CMCA Rally in Tasmania, GoSee, who was touring Tassie at that time compiling a touring towing feature, noted the Responsible Camping behaviour of CMCA members as they moved throughout the island state.

This included paying their way at caravan parks and within the local Tasmanian economy. The good word from Groovin Gran at the time was that there were 120 dogs at the CMCA rally at Carrick, Tasmania.

GoSee thinks that Tasmania is unique in many tourism respects, including being pet friendly. Ten of the 11 Tasmanian Tourist Parks GoSee visited in March 2010 make pets welcome with a pets policy.

Please look for the GoSee Pet Friendly logo when searching the free, complete list of caravan, tourist and holiday parks on and

Olwyn and Les Kitchener Huntly free campers on route  home to Brisbane  They had been touring 6 months
Olwyn and Les Kitchener Huntly free campers on route home to Brisbane They had been touring 6 months

Led by the CMCA the National representative Workshop Committee of the Australian RV Camping Forum has already had two meeting in Sydney seeking to advance commitment to Responsible Camping in Australia.

Another meeting of the Australian RV Camping Forum to confirm action and direction is scheduled for March 2012.

Throughout New Zealand and Australia there are significant variables in the realities of How?, What? Where?andWhen? of meanings when it comes to discussing Free Camping.

For example Tasmania, of all the Australian states and territories, is unique in its generally open-handed attitude. Free Camping is encouraged.

GoSee found on our caravan Around Tasmania towing tour in March 2010 that when a charge is made by some local councils on a reserve it can be lower than the nearest caravan park.

Free camping has many faces in Tassie. At Hamilton in 2010 the council undercut the nearby Wayatinah Caravan Park with a $15 for three nights charge.

GoSee was told by the caravan park the council did this after agreeing to charge at the same rates as the nearby park .

The council did not tell the Wayatinah Caravan Park operator about their lower charge, he said.

Huntly Rest Area  toilet cleaning  is backed up by the City of Greater Bendigo
Huntly Rest Area toilet cleaning is backed up by the City of Greater Bendigo

To assist reasonable discussion local circumstance should always be checked before Free Camping conclusions are reached in both Australia and New Zealand.

Take Strahan on Tasmania's West Coast for example. Last week GoSee checked and asked about the number of powered sites available in the popular Tasmanian RV touring destination's caravan parks.

There are no unpowered sites we were told. There are 22 powered sites at one park and 14 at the other.

There are plans for more sites in the future. Right now 36 available powered sites means booking ahead in peak periods.

This was the case in March 2010 when GoSee towed into town. We found a sign directing RV's to the Strahan Golf Club. Overflow RV's were being directed to $7 parking at the Strahan Golf Club by the staff of the Strahan Holiday Park at which we had booked.

The peak period at the Strahan Holiday Park is from December 12 to May 30th. From December 24 to January 3, Easter and long weekends a minimum of two night stay applies. Peak price for a powered site is $35. Off-peak $25 All extra persons are charged $15. A child under a year old is free.

Editor's Note: A byline on a GoSee story indicates opinion. and are free touring websites set up by the Canberra based website building company ContACT Internet Solutions .

Both websites are designed to provide an easy to use free national source of information for travellers and the caravanning industry to assist drive tourism in Australia and New Zealand.

Our company policy is to recommend caravan parks for the security of travellers. Our staff members include long-term caravan park owners. GoSee free camps when and where appropriate. GoSee will not free camp to the detriment of a caravan park.

When travelling GoSee pays its way. Usually this is at the commercial rack rate.

Here is a run of related Information Articles from the free GoSee library:

$7 parking for RVs near Strahan Golf Club
$7 parking for RV's near Strahan Golf Club

Free camping Huntly Rest Area near Bendigo Victoria
Free camping Huntly Rest Area near Bendigo Victoria

Free camping Tasmania
Free camping Tasmania

Gold Nugget Tourist Park sheltered  grassed sites near amenities power and water are popular
Gold Nugget Tourist Park sheltered grassed sites near amenities power and water are popular

GoSee chose a Gold Nugget ensuite cabin while working at Bendigo Leisurefest
GoSee chose a Gold Nugget ensuite cabin while working at Bendigo Leisurefest