The Darker Side of New Zealand

 

No parking….. why on Earth not?! It’s a minor public road. No one and nothing is being negatively impacted by us being there. So why is it illegal?

 

It would be so easy to write light-hearted, happy blogs all the time. Palm trees and beaches. Or in the case of New Zealand mountains and rivers. But I think it’s important for us to take off the smile once in a while and write about some of the less savoury things. After all, life is about the bad as well as the good.

New Zealand is a spectacularly beautiful place. Some of the anchorages we have visited over the last year and a half have been very beautiful too, but none have been grand. That’s what New Zealand offers. But, when we envisaged what this place would be like (based largely on the reports of those who had come before us) we had also naively imagined a first-world country whose citizens were free.

Perhaps the most stifling aspect of so-called ‘developed’ countries that I struggle with is the lack of what I would call basic freedoms. At the top of this list is the freedom to take responsibility for oneself. To make decisions and live by the consequences, good or bad. That is how we learn, and how we grow as people. But most of us live in a world where we are denied this freedom, even in cases where our actions and decisions would have no impact on anyone else one way or the other. In my view, this is severely detrimental to the personal development of individuals and by extension society itself. Our world is moving day by day towards a situation where no-one is willing to accept responsibility for anything, especially themselves and especially where personal safety can be construed to be at risk. We even make big business out of buying and selling other people’s ‘risk’! For me the ability to get away from this is a major attraction of offshore sailing.

We had hoped that New Zealand would be a rare example of a first-world country whose citizens still had these basic freedoms. Where victimless crimes are not considered crimes at all. Alas, such is not the case. Unfortunately, like so many other countries, New Zealand is slowly suffocating itself with bureaucracy. It’s nowhere near as bad as the U.K. yet, but every day new laws and bylaws are being written restricting the freedoms of minorities while none are being rescinded and no laws guaranteeing freedoms are being written. The problem is that everyone belongs to some minority or other, so everyone gets hit in the end. Everywhere we go we see signs banning one thing or another and threatening huge fines for non-compliance. No parking. No dogs. No smoking. No camping. No access. No swimming. No walking. Trail closed. No boating. The list could go on for a very long time. No camping. Now that is one that we see many, many times a day and it’s such a shame because it’s going to destroy the freedom to do trips like the one we’re doing. With it will go a whole chunk of the tourism industry and whole communities will suffer. One inconsiderate camper leaves a bag of trash lying around and the next thing you know a ‘no camping’ sign appears. The result? More and more camper vans crammed into smaller and smaller spaces, looking unsightly and undesirable. One more bag of trash and whoops, there goes another camping site. But it all stems back to legislation.

New Zealand waste management really sucks, largely as a result of legislation. I had to drive 40km to drop off one gallon of waste oil at an ‘approved facility’ because nowhere else had the appropriate licenses for handling ‘hazardous materials’. Tell me – if a petrol station is not licensed to handle hazardous materials who is?! The result? People don’t bother. They dump it on the ground. No license required for that so long as nobody catches you. The same goes for batteries. In fact, the same goes for all trash. The reason that that inconsiderate camper dumped that bag of trash in the first place is because everything you buy in the shops is over-packaged and there is literally no-where else to put it. We routinely carry trash around for more than a week before we can find somewhere to dispose of it properly. There are very, very few public bins (none outside the three largest supermarkets in the town we were in yesterday) and the ones that are there have a deliberately tiny opening and a sign threatening a $400 fine for anyone caught using it for disposing of domestic waste.

Unfortunately all is not well in the land of camper vans. Especially in the South Island there is widespread and growing animosity towards people in camper vans not dissimilar to the way that gypsies in the U.K. are viewed, except that a good 30% of the vans here are flash motor homes with six-figure price tags and 40% are shiny rentals whose occupants are paying at least $150 per day for the privilege. We’ve had a man ride a scooter up and down the road past the camper vans screaming obscene abuse at us. People routinely honk their horns aggressively to wake us up if they spot us by the side of a road as they are driving to work, or go out of their way to visit the approved camping spots just so that they can abuse and harass the campers. As I write this we’re sitting in the van on the outskirts of Christchurch with 26 other vans because this is the only legal place to camp within 30 kilometres. It’s half past midnight and there’s been a local car treating the area as a racetrack and doing doughnuts for the last two hours. No-one will say anything because the last time someone confronted the angry locals here they had beer bottles hurled at them. One van even had fireworks lit underneath it as a not-very-gentle message that they were not welcome here. But we have no choice. We’re not allowed to camp anywhere else.

We had initially hoped to perhaps seek work here for a year before sailing on. Maybe we’d even fall in love with the place. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened. The South Pacific Cyclone Season is ending now. We have at least a month of work to do on Bob before she’ll be ready to sail and a long way to go next year. I’m antsy to get back up North and start work. Of course, that also means confronting the residents of Kerikeri once again, none of whom likes our campervan. We park it outside one person’s house until they complain and then park it outside someone else’s, trying to remain polite, compliant, sympathetic and friendly throughout in spite of the way that we are approached about it. The problem is there’s just nowhere to park that isn’t outside someone’s house (well, outside their wall/hedge really. All of them are bordered by impenetrable privacy barriers and the only time they need to see our van is when they turn in or out of their driveways). I’ve even thought of selling the van once we get up north and buying a car instead, just so that people would hate us a little less.

Good night.

Update the following morning: sure enough we received our wake-up call bright and early as a local motorist went out of their way to visit the camping area and thoroughly test their horn. At least we have the luxury of moving somewhere else when we’re not welcome. The town of Lyttleton will not be benefitting from our custom, nor, I suspect, the considerable custom of the occupants of all the other campers that are here.

9 Responses to The Darker Side of New Zealand

  1. I did warn you about the NZ bureaucracy! Nz is worth it though, you just have to go with the flow and not fight it. Unless you want to built a jetty. Then fight fight fight until you win 🙂 Unfortunately the last few years there’s been an explosion in the number of camper vans and facilities have not expanded fast enough. A minority of the van dwellers do cause a real nuisance and give the rest a bad name which is currently a very hot topic in the news. Bad timing for you. A lot of them don’t have toilets and too many people have found drunken backpackers relieving themselves in gardens lately. Not just a pee either! Kerikeri is full of retired people who like to “keep an eye on things” and have nothing else to do with their time, but they are mostly very nice once you get talking. The upside of that is your van is highly unlikely to get stolen and Bob is very safe too because of all the twitching net curtains. A note in the window saying “Just parked, not sleeping here, any questions phone this number…” might keep them happy. Or next time someone approaches you about it just make friends and then ask if you can park in their drive, you’d be amazed how accomodating Kiwis are about that sort of thing. Anyway, I think you’d love just living on Bob in the bay of islands and that’s a different kettle of fish! Life on the river is much more relaxed (but there is a nice old lady overlooking who will time your dinghy with a stopwatch as you pass two piles and meet you at the jetty if you are exceeding the speed limit). Very little danger of you meeting her unless you have upgraded your dinghy significantly 😉

    • Ha ha! Yes you did indeed warn us about the bureaucracy! And yes, we have heard stories about campers doing some unsavoury things (though yours is the worst!), as there are idiots and inconsiderate people among any other group. Don’t get me wrong – I love New Zealand and have found the vast majority of the people I’ve met to be wonderfully accommodating and reasonable people, but the fact remains that in the two months we have been travelling by camper van we have never, not once witnessed behaviour from any camper that could be considered inconsiderate or disrespectful yet we have been subjected personally to hatred directed at us at least 40 times, usually in the relatively benign form of horn honking or aggressive looks. Nevertheless we have been made to feel very unwelcome in some places – in particular the East Coast of the South Island.

      One of the reasons I wanted to post this blog was purely to release some pent-up frustration as I was lying there trying to get to sleep in a hostile neighbourhood while being prevented from doing so by a hooligan. I hadn’t actually intended to post it as a blog initially because I thought it was too negative and not the sort of thing that people would want to read about. It is also (and this is important!) not representative of my general view of New Zealand and New Zealanders. However, Sarah did a bit of googling one morning by typing in ‘camper van hate New Zealand’ and lots of articles popped up showing pictures of campers doing things that the photographer considered to be inappropriate or disrespectful (personally I think a photograph of a guy changing their trousers with the door open says more about the tendencies of the photographer than it does of the guy changing his trousers, but there you are) but relatively few giving another side of the story. So, I decided to post it after all and hopefully some good may come of it.

      Kerikeri is a lovely place. There was a lovely lady who came running after us one day to tell us that a contractor had hit our van while he was parking his truck and asked us if we wanted the license plate number. She did seem a little bewildered when I refused her kind offer (with thanks) and said I couldn’t tell which one of the dents he had made anyway so might as well not worry about it. If only we could park it outside her house I think she’d be fine with it, but she lives on the inside bit of the bend so alas it wouldn’t be practical. Maybe now that Tony has re-located to Tauranga we can shove it away enough into the bushes where his car used to be that people won’t mind. Speaking of which, we might see him in a few days. Apparently his sail down South was eventful. He made it but his crew bailed on him half way. I’m looking forward to the story!

      Cheers!

  2. That’s a shame. Why not put a big sign on the back of the van:- ‘we are on holiday and spending a lot of money in your country-so stop treating us like parasites’. Might not make much difference, but it makes a point!

  3. How about a van sign –
    ‘Just married, on a budget and LOVE your Island. Will be gone tomorrow – promise no foul stuff’.’

  4. Join couchsurfing.com. Contact people hosting where you want to go and ask if you can stay at theirs but explain that you don’t need a bed and would just like to park on their driveway. I stayed with a few folk like this, primarily so I wasn’t just driving around by myself for months and would guarantee meeting folk to talk to etc.

    • That’s a great idea Lucy! I’ve been couch surfing for years and I still didn’t think of it. It’s a shame we’re coming to end of our camper van trip!

  5. I think it’s partly that the vans are starting to outnumber the locals in some places and don’t spend much money in the local community compared to other tourists, but mostly that the tabloid press have made a big thing about a small number of incidents and NZ has too many rednecks who read the sensationalist tabloid press (there’s really no intelligent news media in NZ except perhaps radioNZ). Lucy’s couchsurf idea is a really good one. You could also ask on the forum at crew.org.nz and park in the driveway of someone off there – it’s a very friendly community of NZ sailing people (“yachties” in kiwi).

    I’d love to hear what happened with Tony. When you say half way, I hope that was in a port!

    I wouldn’t worry about getting a car when you get back – if your outboard is working you can just dinghy up to stone store (or even take bob) and it’s a ten minute walk to town from there. No need for a car in the bay of islands, all better by sea. Easy to hitch hike if you need to go further. Being the end of the summer season it’s hard to sell a camper for a good price so don’t leave it to the last minute. If all else fails some of the backpacker hostels buy them (at a reduced price) to hold and sell to next year’s arrivals.

    I think the jetty is vacant so you’re welcome to use it for Bob when you get back. Someone is paying for it (at a reduced rate based on being willing to share) but they are not using it, so you’d have to move if they ever actually turn up but that’s unlikely. Let me know if you do use it and enjoy the rest of the road trip.

  6. I think it’s partly that the vans are starting to outnumber the locals in some places and don’t spend much money in the local community compared to other tourists, but mostly that the tabloid press have made a big thing about a small number of incidents and NZ has too many rednecks who read the sensationalist tabloid press (there’s really no intelligent news media in NZ except perhaps radioNZ).

    Lucy’s couchsurf idea is a really good one. You could also ask on the forum at crew.org.nz and park in the driveway of someone off there – it’s a very friendly community of NZ sailing people (“yachties” in kiwi).

    I’d love to hear what happened with Tony. When you say half way, I hope that was in a port not at sea!

    I wouldn’t worry about getting a car when you get back – if your outboard is working you can just dinghy up to stone store (or even take bob) and it’s a ten minute walk to town from there. No need for a car in the bay of islands, all better by sea. Easy to hitch hike if you need to go further. Being the end of the summer season it’s hard to sell a camper for a good price so don’t leave it to the last minute. If all else fails some of the backpacker hostels buy them (at a reduced price) to hold and sell to next year’s arrivals. Ask around at Kericentral backpackers or HoneHeke lodge, maybe someone there just finished the fruit picking season and wants a van now. Both are good places to meet people to hang out with in Kerikeri too.

    I think the jetty is vacant so you’re welcome to use it for Bob when you get back. Someone is paying for it (at a reduced rate based on being willing to share) but they are not using it, so you’d have to move if they ever actually turn up but that’s unlikely. Let me know if you do use it and enjoy the rest of the road trip.

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