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Kaikōura: the freedom camping Wild West

Miriam Richardson

Why stick to the law if you can get away with whatever takes your fancy?

In Kaikōura, the council states on their website that “Fines can be issued for” “not allowing an enforcement officer’s inspection” †.

Kaikōura District Council, Responsible Camping Accessed 5/3/24

The Freedom Camping Act 2011 does not have an offence called “not allowing an enforcement officer’s inspection” and the council cannot make up a new offence and then impose a fine for it.

The Freedom Camping Act 2011 requires that a warrant card is displayed which is the prima facie evidence that the vehicle is compliant. An enforcement officer has no legal power to search or inspect a vehicle for any reason. Even the police can only inspect a vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to believe it contains evidence of a crime punishable by a prison term of 14 years.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, section 21 states very clearly “ Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search…*

But, hey, this is the freedom camping Wild West.

I wonder what appears on the documentation of the enforcement officers in Kaikōura?

Every enforcement officer must show, when asked, evidence of their appointment, which must show “the responsibilities and powers that the person has under the Act” and “the infringement and other offences in relation to which the person is appointed” (Section 34). Has the Kaikōura District Council added to this documentation their new offence, the one not included in the Act, “not allowing an enforcement officer’s inspection”?

Why are they doing this? The Kaikōura District Council has created a bylaw§ with a variation on the definition of self-containment, such that inspecting the warrant and the self-containment certificate does not satisfy them. Only by conducting an illegal search can the Kaikoura District Council enforcement officers ascertain if their bylaw variation on the concept of self-containment is satisfied.

In NZ law, evidence gathered during an un-consented search cannot (or only rarely) be used. But in Kaikōura they believe they can use both what they find in an illegal search and a refusal to consent to an illegal search as evidence to fine people $400.

Do the freedom campers consent to the search? It seems both the Council and the enforcement officer are asserting a legal power to search any freedom camper in their district. When the Council says ‘I will fine you if you don’t allow it,’ it is better described as ‘coercion’, rather than ‘consent.’ This likely makes all resulting fines illegal.

Is the cost of a fine less than talking to a lawyer? Probably. The Council is targeting smaller vehicles and poorer citizens, those less able to access legal support, so they probably feel pretty comfortable that they will not be challenged in Court.

Who polices the enforcers? If you keep your aim on just poor people: nobody.

It’s the Wild West on the beautiful east coast of the South Island.


 Kaikōura District Council, Responsible Camping Accessed 5/3/24§ Kaikōura Responsible Freedom Camping Bylaw 2019, amended Dec 2023 the PDF* Bill of Rights Act 1990 Freedom Camping Act 2011


Articles in this issue on the freedom camping law changes:

targeting smaller vehicles and poorer citizens

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