Auckland Council is considering areas for self-contained freedom camping under a bylaw review. Come summer, campgrounds will be full, beaches will be busy and a mix of grey nomads (retiree campervanners) and flexible travellers will be on the road enjoying New Zealand’s beaches, mountains and scenery. But we all know there aren’t enough toilets, or rubbish bins, and natural values themselves are a perishable good – vulnerable to over-tourism or the pressures of too many people.
We feel the pressure of all these holidaymakers here in beautiful Rodney, and in New Zealand more widely. With the promotion of our country as a must-visit destination, in summer especially, roads get clogged, rubbish and waste gets left behind, remote places like Mount Cook throng with visitors.
Councils and government agencies are considering innovative responses. In Hahei, Mt Cook and Tongariro there are proposals to manage parking as a way of managing people. Instead of everyone driving to their destinations and parking as close as possible – on residents’ berms, at great lengths along roadsides and anywhere else they can – the plan is to get them to park further away, and for buses to shuttle people to their walking destinations. After all, national and regional parks, aren’t just car parks.
There were four million visitors to New Zealand last year – almost the same number as our resident population, so no wonder there’s pressure – especially when added to the pressure of domestic mobile holidaymakers. Places I used to visit in my van that were relatively deserted, now host between 200-400 cars a day. On the other side of the coin, there were four million departures from New Zealand, as Kiwis make the most of cheap airfares and an opening up of previously inaccessible and exotic places. This year my Facebook feed has been full of friends visiting the new frontiers of mass tourism – Vietnam and South East Asia, Croatia and the far, far north of the Scandinavian Arctic regions. Even Antarctica is a place that has become de rigueur for travellers to tick off their lists.
Sometimes we feel beset by travellers and at other times we are the travellers doing the besetting. Places on the tourist trail, like Barcelona, are heaving under the strain of up to 34 million visitors a year. Tourists fight for the best selfie spot outside Rome’s Trevi fountain. You can’t even see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre for the throng of tourists (and in trying to do so, you’re obviously part of the problem). Animals in the world’s natural spaces have adapted to the human presence and raid campsites and rubbish bins for food. This year, instead of joining the masses, I’m staying home. It’s beautiful, quiet, cheap, and does no harm.