Freedom campers have negative impact – report

PROBLEMS: Large amounts of litter were found at Chamberlains Ford, particularly behind the toilet facilities.

Litter, defecating, overcrowding, fire lighting and anti-social behaviour are key issues identified as negative impacts freedom camping are having on the district.

The issues have been identified as part of a report exposing the impacts freedom camping has on the district.

Observations into the environmental impacts of freedom camping were carried out at Chamberlains Ford and Whitecliffs Domain.

It found high amounts of litter, especially at Chamberlains Ford with rubbish varying from supermarket bags to toilet paper with plastic being the most common type of litter.

Large amounts were found behind the Chamberlains Ford’s toilet block.

But research findings suggested freedom campers were either not aware of the litter issues and it was identified it needed to be addressed.

High volumes of freedom camping can be attributed to the excessive amounts of litter.

Mayor Sam Broughton said the issues identified in the report were the reason freedom camping was getting a bad

But he said these problems were generally caused by a minority of campers.

Mr Broughton said the district council had done a lot to support freedom camping and there are signs and infrastructure in place so people can dispose responsibly.

He said the district council recently asked for further funding to improve toilet facilities in Selwyn.

The report showed high numbers with records of visitor numbers between November and March showing 4504 vehicles parked at Chamberlains Ford equating to about 125 vehicles a night.

At Coes Ford 2327 were recorded over the same period.

The report stated freedom camping is no longer a seasonal activity but occurs throughout the year.

Other findings were incidents of fires lit at Lakeside Domain and Coes Ford, freedom campers defecating in grass reserves and campsites and reports of anti-social behaviour from police and residents.

Noticeable amounts of tissue and toilet paper were found at Chamberlains Ford and Whitecliffs Domain, particularly in areas furthest away from toilet facilities.

The report said visitors said there are frequent quests to the toilets.

Anti-social behaviour is most common at Chamberlains Ford and Coes Ford.

Examples include assaults, dogs not on leads, drunken behaviour, excessive noise and inappropriate use of motor-cycles, four-wheel-drive vehicles and quad-bikes.

Concern was also raised in the report from visitors interviewed about the state of the Selwyn’s rivers.

About 15 per cent of visitors at Chamberlains Ford, Coes Ford and Whitecliffs commented on the state of the rivers without being asked.

The report was compiled over last year’s Christmas holiday period and released to the public by the district council last week.

It was first presented to the district council as part of an internal briefing to its councillors.

Selwyn Times reported it would not be released because district council staff were discussing the results with neighbouring councils.

Key findings  from the report:

•84 per cent of sample were international visitors from 26 different counties.

•Most were German (47 per cent) and French (14 per cent).

•Most under 30. Majority of age was 18-21 years.

•Chamberlains Ford and Coes Ford were the most popular destinations.

Freedom campers were attracted to Selwyn by:

•The proximity to Christchurch (Selwyn closest alternative).

•Excellent reviews of facilities.

•Influenced by apps, for example CamperMate (71 per cent).

Other reasons for staying in the district:

•Trying to avoid ‘hassle’ of booking accommodation.

•Dislike rules associated with hostels and paid campgrounds.

•Enjoy spending time in nature/rural environments.

•Highly cost conscious.

•Conserve money for attractions.

Other insights:

•Many knew little about Selwyn and the tourist experiences on offer.

•Christchurch and Banks Peninsula are more popular tourist destinations.

Main interests are:

•Natural attractions, independent tramps and wildlife encounters.

Freedom camper self-perceptions:

•They were familiar with the term ‘freedom camper’.

•They knew the term had negative connotations.

•They mainly associated with other international visitors, and ‘grey nomads’ (older independent campers).

•Grey nomads are unhappy about negative association/connotations.

•HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you think of freedom camping in Selwyn? Email your views to

Other findings:

 •Observations at Chamberlains Ford and Whitecliffs yielded a high incidence of litter, especially plastics, and especially at Chamberlains Ford; the campsite with the heaviest concentration of visitors and the highest proportion of international visitors.

•Chamberlains Ford was also rated highly by visitors for cleanliness/tidiness. These insights either suggest that visitors are not noticing the amount of litter or feel ambivalent towards it.

•Two per cent of respondents who completed the visitor survey said they used nature/waterways as a toilet – this figure might have been under reported by the respondents;

•The term ‘freedom camper’ has been hijacked, and is synonymous with young international (not domestic) visitors who typically tour the country in a non-self-contained van that they use to sleep in.

•Ratepayers have a tendency to negatively stereotype the young international tourists who travel the country in non-self-contained vehicles, and view them as bludgers.

•Ratepayers view the district council as proactively managing the situation locally by largely keeping freedom campers contained to the designated areas. Interestingly, ratepayers were largely unaware of the large amounts of litter currently at Chamberlains Ford.

•Strong concerns were raised about the Te Araroa walkers defecating in the wild due to a lack of toilet facilities, the loss of traditional rights for fishermen to freedom camp at Lake Coleridge, Lake Selfe and Ryton Bay, and road safety issues at Chamberlains Ford.


  1. I visited Chamberlain and Coes Ford in February. Probably a thousand people between the sites. Just ridiculous the council isn’t seeking at least cost recovery ($10 per person per night). No bungy jumps or jet boats in the Selwyn District for them to spend their conserved cash on.. Straight cost to the ratepayers.