Some locals are frustrated there is no space for them to park. Photo: John Borren/Sun Media.
A Pāpāmoa resident is frustrated by freedom campers overstaying in a beachside reserve carpark.
The campers are taking up most of the available parking space at the Taylor Reserve carpark in Pāpāmoa East, according to resident Jayne Darby.
Darby said the campers leave their belongings around, which included car tyres, timber and bongs for drug smoking.
Darby regularly uses the carpark when walking her dog and said on her last visit eight vehicles were using the carpark for camping.
One was a large bus-style campervan taking up two spaces, which left little space for other people, she said.
“They took over the majority of the car park that day. It just makes it hard for everybody else,” said Darby.
“It is a public carpark that has designated spots for freedom camping and I respect that.
“But for some people whether they’re living on the road or whether they are homeless, to be parked there permanently, I don’t think it should be in the community’s faces,” she said.
“I understand there is homelessness, I understand they’re doing their best living in vehicles.”
Darby’s biggest concern was access to parking spaces for beach users and people parking trailers after launching boats. This would be worse in summer.
“If that was there in the summer months, I think the council would have a lot more complaints.”
Darby said some of the vehicles have been there permanently for at least three weeks, with the large camper there for around two months.
She contacted the council about her concerns.
There are two designated freedom camper spaces at Taylor Reserve and a vehicle can stay in one spot for two nights per calendar month. People who breach this could face a $200 fine.
On the day Local Democracy Reporting visited, nine vehicles were in the camping carpark.
Vinny Wilkinson owns the large bus and told Local Democracy Reporting he has stayed in the carpark for around a month because he had work in the area.
Wilkinson also had issues with the battery in his bus dying so he has been unable to move it. He was hoping to move today.
He thinks around four vans will follow him to his new spot.
The size of his bus makes it hard to find a suitable space to park. He doesn’t use the designated freedom camper spots because he likes to leave them for other campers.
He said his bus does draw a lot of attention from people and is an “easy target”, but he keeps his spot clean and picks up rubbish in the surrounding area.
“It draws attention from the locals no matter where I go,” said Wilkinson.
A community of four or five other vehicles has formed around him, he said.
“There’s some people living in their vehicles that don’t really have much space for cooking and stuff, so I let them use my kitchen,” he said.
It also provides people with safety, especially some of the young women.
“They feel a lot safer parking up around the bus, it’s like the mothership.”
Wilkinson said they encourage all the campers to keep their areas clean and try to protect the area from trouble and “crack heads”.
“We openly protect the area, so people know not to cause s***.
“We don’t want troublemakers.”
The campers have also formed relationships with some of the nearby residents.
“We get along with quite a lot of the locals.”
“The people that are actually haters, if they give us the time of day to come and say hi, they are usually quite pleasantly surprised.”
Wilkinson has been living in his bus for the past two years and noticed an increase in people living in cars and vans since the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
Fellow camper Shea, who did not want his last name used, told Local Democracy Reporting he works but was unable to keep up with the pressure of rent and the increased cost of living, so bought a van to live in.
He wants everyone to know the campers are just people.
“We’re actually really nice people and we care about each other,” said Shea.
“We lend each other money, we give each other food. If someone’s in need, we’ll always help one another.
“We’re trying to find a way of living that is accommodating in an expensive world and it’s not easy.”
Shea said if there was a place specifically for freedom campers with facilities, then most of them would go there and would be happy to pay to use showers and a small weekly rent if needed.
Darby suggested the council could provide a designated area for freedom campers as well.
Tauranga City Council maintains and monitors Taylor Reserve and the other freedom camping spots throughout the city.
Regulation monitoring team leader Stuart Goodman said the council was aware of several people sleeping in their vehicle at Taylor Reserve who claim to be experiencing homelessness.
“[The] council ensures that people experiencing homelessness are given information on what support services are available to them,” said Goodman.
“We do not generally use the bylaw or enforcement to manage homelessness.
“We ensure that people are connected with the appropriate social services and given time to seek suitable emergency accommodation.”
Asked if the council would consider creating a designated area for people sleeping in vehicles, Goodman said: “[The] council would not support designated areas for rough sleepers on our road reserves or traffic network due to traffic safety concerns”.
He said the council was monitoring Taylor Reserve and issuing infringements for any bylaw breaches unless people were not able to comply due to their homelessness.
Despite this, Wilkinson said he had received four fines in the past week and has fines totalling thousands since summer.
Wilkinson said he normally moves weekly because he cannot afford the fuel to move every two nights.
– Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.