The Covid-19 lockdown at the tail end of the summer season caught many freedom campers and tourists off guard, including those who planned to be on the road for a lot longer and quickly needed to lock down.
DOC closed all its camps along with all freedom camping sites in Hastings, Napier, Wairoa and Central HB to stop people congregating and prevent transmission of Covid-19, forcing many to hurriedly find accommodation with locals or in commercial motor camps.
Fergus Brown, chief executive of the Holiday Park Association, says parks in the Hawke’s Bay region were doing their best and those that remained open had people in self-isolation and some who are permanent residents.
Councils and HB Civil Defence and Emergency Management had arranged for about 40 freedom campers to stay at either Kennedy Park in Napier or the Top Holiday Park in Hastings.
To say that some camps are struggling financially “would be an understatement to the nth degree”.
He says the lockdown came at a premium time. “We lost the school holidays and Easter when our parks are normally extremely busy and it’s the last hurrah before winter.”
Around 3-4000 people were caught out across the country, although many Europeans later caught repatriation flights out of New Zealand.
Hastings Top 10 owner-operators Sharelle and Svarn Creswell were having a busy holiday season until the lockdown hit and had steady bookings until the end of April, which all cancelled.
The Creswells live on-site adjacent to Splash Planet in Hastings with their young family, and are received a wage subsidy to keep operating. It has long-term residents on site, four essential workers and 44 people stranded because of the lockdown.
They’re supporting Hastings Council by providing accommodation for those in need, although operating on minimal staff as some “were impacted” by Covid-19 and no longer wanted to work.
“Our cleaning procedures do take longer now with extra care taken to protect our staff and guests,” says Sharelle.
She’s kept in touch with other camping grounds in the region and says some have chosen to close. “Everyone has to do what’s right for them. We are all trying to remain positive and working hard on our businesses so when the lockdown is lifted, we are organised and our parks will be looking great.”
Hundreds of freedom campers typically park up along the Napier foreshore, at Clive at Evers-Swindell Reserve under the bridge, at Haumoana Domain, Clifton Reserve and designated locations at Waimarama, Ocean Beach and in Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa.
Those locations are mostly empty, although some campers refused or moved back in after being told to leave. There are eye-witness account of vans parked in bushes in remote areas or at beach locations.
There were five vehicles at the Haumoana Domain at the end of March despite the area being barriered with a notice prohibiting use.
Hastings District Council allowed a concession “in recognition of those sleeping in non-self contained vehicles” and serviced the public toilets there until other arrangements could be made.
There were reports of threatening behaviour and a kind of stand-off with locals who wanted them gone. Some complaints were received and the council was monitoring the situation. By Easter all campers had been relocated.
Wairoa Mayor Craig Little acknowledged some holidaymakers were stranded and was empathetic, urging locals to be kind, treat them well and where possible offer help. “Freedom campers are people and they need protecting, just like the rest of us.”
Central HB District Council CEO Monique Davidson also encourages people to remain kind to freedom campers as “some are self-isolating in freedom camping locations and are following the national guidance.”