Freedom Camper or Freedom Crapper?

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orange toilet on wheels

The great Kiwi migration occurs every year. With warm weather, long evenings, summer and Christmas, all over New Zealand we pack up our gear and hit the road. We sit in traffic jams leaving cities and towns and contend with other harried drivers to head to relatives and/or a favourite beach or riverside camping spot.
But as we stop along the journey, amongst all the beauty that is our landscape, we’ll discover one of New Zealand’s dirty little secrets. Almost every lay-by, rest area, picnic spot or beach is littered with the filth and waste of previous passers-by. Very few rest areas have public toilets, but most have toilet waste in the bushes or grass. Very few have rubbish bins, but all are littered with rubbish. How did we ever get a ‘clean green’ reputation when our public spaces are so filled with trash? Why do councils scrimp on this ancillary transport infrastructure that’s so important to the country’s amenity, travellers’ needs and basic hygiene?

Why do travellers shit in the bush?

The issue has challenged local councils, and freedom campers got the blame. The Government imposed, and the Councils applied, rules prohibiting freedom camping in many spots. We’ve heard stories about campers defecating on peoples’ lawns, of visitors sleeping in car parks and using public spaces as toilets. But the freedom camping rules were always going to be fraught – unenforceable, unmanageable, and ill-targeted. To avoid the problem of polluted rest areas, we’d need to prevent all travellers stopping at lay-bys, not just freedom campers. But people do need to stop for a rest, a leg stretch, sometimes to spend the night, and when nature calls that ‘you’ve got to go’; you’ve got to go – and anyone travelling with children knows this can be a pressing imperative, whether there are adequate facilities or not.

It doesn’t justify the rubbish, waste and toilet paper littering those lovely (and sometimes unlovely) spots, but does put the onus back on Councils and roading authorities and us all. Travelling holiday makers can contribute significantly to the economies of towns and villages they pass, so there’s a good return for Councils and local businesses when facilities are provided that encourage these visitors to stop. But it’s also in everybody’s best interests that there are adequate toilets and rubbish bins along the way. At present that’s not the case.

Instead of punishing freedom campers, Councils, communities and Transport Agencies should invest in decent basic toilet services and rubbish collection at roadside spots. Keeping these areas clean will also help prevent them being trashed. There will always be those who flout the rules and disregard basic decency, so rest areas will need maintenance, but most travellers should only appreciate the beauty of our country, and hygienic, tidy lay-bys would help. With decent roadside facilities we can all do our bit to Keep New Zealand Beautiful.