For the past few weeks my family and I have been making our way around some of our favorite places in the southern regions of New Zealand's South Island. We are members of a nation wide organization that is dedicating its time and money to ensuring the future freedoms of camping in this country. There are lengthy debates, and a lot of discussions around the topic of freedom camping, and what it means to New Zealand. Sadly there seems to be a lot of resistance or ..hesitation to create limitations or barriers for 'freedom campers' due to the focus of what financial gains it provides for the economy.
All very political.
Everyone will have an opinion.
I am not writing this one to share mine... but I do have something to share.
In the last 4 years my family and I have done a reasonable amount of camping all around our beautiful country. New Zealand is a very special place. There is no skill required to take eye popping photographs of the landscape. This place really speaks for itself. No filters required.
Wherever we go, we have made a point...and are prepared... to remove what has been left behind by others. There have been instances where the debris is too great for us to be able to cart away. The first day of the trip we have just returned from we discussed the point we will possibly need to start bringing large rubbish bags and rubber gloves which would allow us to at least remove what we can carry.... in hopes it will not encourage someone else to dispose of their fleece blankets and cooking pots in the bush along the road side.
As we made our journey home we managed to stop and have lunch along the lake's edge at Lake Pukaki. One of my favorite places. The bright turquoise colour of the water is so incredibly vivid it glows when you get your first tiny glimpse as you crest a hill approaching it. We are so unfathomably lucky to have such wondrous places to visit.. and such vistas for our eyes to devour to the point where our faces are smiling simply... because.
For those who are unfamiliar with the area, Lake Pukaki is the largest lake in the Southern Lakes District, and is fed by both the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers. It is the foreground to New Zealand's highest mountain peak (Aoraki Mount Cook) along with the majestic Southern Alps. By scale alone it is impressive. For me it was love at first sight. Mind you, it was a cracking summer day with not even a sniff of wind, the surface of the lake was like glass and the mountain tops were still capped in snow. Pretty hard to beat. Every since that visit...any time we are passing near the area we do stop in to our favorite little campsite where the caravan fits just nicely to have uninterrupted views.
We were lucky enough to stay there a couple of different times last year while driving a loop of the far south. Both times we have filled multiple shopping bags full of human excrement and toilet tissue from around all of the trees. I have removed packets of opened sausages and chewed meat bones from bushes..sausages still intact. I find it hard to believe that any person could think that this is acceptable. There has been very little to no attempt to bury their evidence or carry it away. In my lifetime spent training for running races, I admit I have spent my fair share of time searching through bush and scrub for a place to urgently make waste... but always with that urgency I would do my best to ensure it was buried or well deposited away from waterways or walkways.
Our visit there last week as we made our way home was too short to employ the 'poo-collection-committee'. We were only there long enough to have lunch.. and to see a van pack up their things and continue on with their journey. This is where I had pause. You see.... there was a large tarp hanging between two trees. I thought it was belonging to the van... but it remained there after he had departed. So I went to have a better look.
Someone had nailed it to the trees. Not just a few nails. Many nails. Bent over and rusting suggested that it had been there for a reasonable length of time. It was well placed to block any of the breeze which comes off the lake. The branches in front of the tarp had been pulled from the tree and nailed back to itself. It took a bit of effort to take it down....and ages to get all the tree sap off of our hands.
It is not my intention to present this story and stand on a soap box pointing a finger. What I really want to do is simply encourage each and every one of us to put in that little bit of extra effort to Leave No Trace, regardless of where you may be.
Over the years I have spoken in great detail with tourists we have come across freedom camping in their cars and vans... explaining to them the importance of using public toilet facilities when they are available. I have explained to them the rather intricate techniques of finding large smooth leaves or long grass and folding it over to use in place of toilet tissue should the urgency deny them the luxuries of a toilet. I have stressed the need to bury the evidence. I have tried to encourage them to do their best effort to respect our home. Because, you see... This is our home.
This is not just a job for the government or the local councils. This is our home.
Adding laws and legislation to manage this vastly spreading disease of an issue will only bring limitations to those of us who live here. This is our home.
To keep New Zealand beautiful... to ensure there will always be amazing places to explore.... to maintain the freedoms that we have so our children can have a glimpse of what was known 'back in the day'.
We all need to do our bit.
This is our home.
Leave no trace.