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Manage the lake, educate — don’t ban

Opinion Piece
by Kim Pittar

Re: Campers asked to leave lake site.

Since the mid-1950s our family have been camping at Waikaremoana, mostly freedom camping in “Bodles”. This was the nickname which became commonly used, after a fisherman who always caught his trout in this part of the lake — one of the few non-Maori names everyone seemed to use.

Around 25 years ago the Department of Conservation (DoC) banned all long drops. Every camping family had to bring chemical toilets. DoC established at least six dump stations placed at intervals so campers could empty their toilets when needed. DoC used to regularly come into our camps to ensure we had a chemical toilet, not a long drop, and checked fishing licences, the use of camp fires and spent lots of time chatting with campers, so we were all aware of the rules. DoC also monitored the camping areas to ensure they were left clean and tidy.

Last April we camped in “Bodles” and were astonished to find that the dump stations hadn't been emptied by the new management. If there is no place to empty chemical toilets, this has probably prompted the return to long drops.

It is a real shame the new management of Waikaremoana are using knee-jerk reactions and banning families from enjoying this jewel of North Island lakes. Instead of banning, why not educate? Have clear written rules about the use of these “freedom camping” spots. Manage the place. Why should those of us who are responsible people not be able to have a glass of wine or a few beers at the end of a fantastic day on the lake — just because some drunken idiots built a bottle wall? Regularly monitor the sites, tell people to use chemical toilets only, keep the dump stations cleared for use.

As regular campers, we ensured our spot in the bush beside the lake was spotless when we left. We always took a possum trap and caught a possum a night too.

Although Ms Luke is saying they would never deny access to the lake for New Zealanders, the reality is that no one who regularly holidayed at the lake knows what the rules are any more. In mid-January our family arrived for a short visit. The Waikaremoana motor camp was empty, the boat trailer park was empty, we barely saw a boat on the lake. Mokau DoC campsite was empty. We've never seen the place so vacant in the height of the summer in all the 55 years we have been holidaying there. The visitor book at the DoC hut at Waiharuru was full of comments on how bad the possums are. We talked to two trampers who had been at Waikareiti Hut who said they could barely sleep because of possums all over the roof and deck of the hut. What is being done about pest control now that DoC don't seem to feature? These pests are going to destroy far more of the environment than freedom campers.

Compared to the 2127 square kilometres of bush in Te Urewera, the tiny spots that New Zealand families enjoy around Waikaremoana is miniscule. If we all respect and keep our campsites clean, the freedom campers would not harm the environment.

What about the Waikaremoana Great Walk. Is it still a “Great Walk”? Is there any maintenance being carried out on the track? A small bridge over a culvert has been broken for over a year now. What will happen when a hiker hurts themselves because the culverts and bridges are not being updated and fixed? When will the walk be fixed so hikers can complete the whole track? At the moment it is shortened by over 18km and has been for months. I have been told that walker numbers have dropped by several thousand per year since the new management came in.

The whole place seems to be poorly managed. You can't have websites encouraging visitors to hike, camp, boat, kayak, swim and fish, and then not provide facilities that they need. Visitors, particularly overseas visitors, expect high-quality places that provide toilets and rubbish collection spots. There should be more than one ferry boat to take people on to the lake to experience a bit of the track, or the Korokoro falls, and guided fishing tours to go fishing in the best spots — like there used to be, servicing visitors for many, many years.

The whole place used to work beautifully under DoC. Everyone knew the rules and abided by them. Everyone loved and respected the lake. Only since this new management has been in place has there been problems. We never saw permanent structures in the freedom camping spots until recent years. DoC would never have allowed it. Rubbish bins at the DoC camps were emptied, toilet dump stations were emptied and, on the whole, campers left their camps in immaculate condition.

Social media and The Gisborne Herald have never been so full of negative chit-chat and angst about this most beautiful and loved place. Come on Te Urewera management, get your act together and formulate a proper plan so all New Zealanders can enjoy the lake and protect this pristine environment. We lifelong campers also have a deep connection to Waikaremoana, and this is something very strong that we have in common and can build on.

Kim Pittar

  1. Jeany says:

    Yes, come on, what has the new management got to say? Why when there is a change of hands does everything that worked well go to custard? Why try to fix something that wasn’t broken?
    It’s annoying when new management don’t educate themselves on how things work!