'We're losing roughly half a metre a year in erosion'

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

A group of freedom campers in Te Tairawhiti is opposing a proposed bylaw that, due to coastal erosion, would restrict camping from a spot they've held for over 20 years.

The proposed bylaw restricts freedom camping in certain areas around Gisborne, but allows freedom camping in areas further outside of Gisborne. The northern end of Turihaua Point has been red-flagged due to erosion.

“I've been camping here for the last 25 years,” Winton Ropiha says.

“Fair enough the moana is washing our whenua away but we just move every year. But for the council to shut it down while there is still whenua here is the issue we have at the moment.”

Ropiha has spent generations raising his whānau along the coastal escape.

“My children have grown up here, they're all adults, they have their own kids, and I take my mokos out here and they dive too," he says.

Moana provides

"So for me and my family this is iconic for us to be here. The moana still provides for us. With the council closing it, that restricts us from doing the things we do, the things my children do and now my grandchildren.”

Nearby, another camper who has also enjoyed the spot for over 20 years is Tony Evans.

Evans says, “A lot of families come down here for day camps. They come have a picnic, I make them welcome at my kai table most of the time, invite them over if they're one-nighters, tell them to come and have a feed - save them cooking.

"And so everyone loves this spot. It's not just ours, it's yours, every shareholder, if you're a New Zealander you're a shareholder in this part, we own it.

Rapid erosion

"They (Gisborne District Council) look after it for us. They haven't done a good job, not here, as far as I'm concerned."

In a statement to Te Ao Mārama, Gisborne District Council says the maintenance of the state highway and impact of erosion comes under the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Consultation is now open on the Draft Freedom Camping Bylaw 2021, a review to address issues arising from freedom and summer camping in the district.

The review would establish seasonal freedom camping from Labour weekend to April 30, and permits will be free.

Seasonal freedom camping areas and services would remain the same, with the exception of the northern end of Turihaua Point, which will close to campers due to rapid erosion in the area.

“We're losing roughly half a metre a year in erosion”, says Ropiha. “ If they close this section off the erosion is still going to happen, so our whakaaro is why wait until it hits the road to save it."

Heightened risk

The council says letters were distributed to campers at Turihaua Point outlining the heightened risk to campers due to erosion. The letter explains it is only proposing to close a small section of the site, and there will be plenty of camping capacity remaining at this and other sites.

Under the draft bylaw, freedom camping in the urban area will only be permitted in self-contained vehicles in five locations including Midway, Kaiti Beach, Bright Street, The Pines and Makorori. This is to protect the environment and ensure public access.

Outside of those locations, freedom camping on streets and in car parks in the Gisborne urban area, Wainui, Okitu and Sponge Bay would be prohibited.

Freedom camping in the Te Araroa waterfront carpark would be prohibited in all but three parking bays.

The proposed bylaw is open for public feedback online and in person at the council until April 5. A hearing will be held for submissions on June 16.