Kakanui man Richard Savage has been busy interacting with tourists and travellers in his new role as a Waitaki District Council freedom camping ambassador. The former primary school teacher chats to Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson about the job.
Q Why did you decide to take on the role of freedom camping ambassador?
I have been actively involved with freedom camping and its related issues in the Waitaki district over the past five years. I saw this as a very good fit for myself and my personal interest in the subject. I enjoy travelling myself and know the value of easy access to relevant information from local people.
Q What area do you cover?
I predominantly cover the coastal Waitaki corridor from Palmerston to Oamaru and inland as far as Duntroon. My colleague Marcus covers the inland Waitaki area. Before most campers are out of bed, I am checking compliance with the bylaw in and around the CBD of Oamaru, before heading to the hot spots a bit later when I get the opportunity to chat with campers.
Q How have you found the role?
I am passionate about responsible freedom camping that ensures all stakeholders’ needs are met in the best possible way. I am good at talking to people (so I am told) and enjoy getting up in the morning and hitting the streets. I find it to be a positive role which is good. I have the opportunity to be proactive in problem-solving, like seeing where appropriate signage can easily solve problems that have been ongoing.
Q What is the best part of the job?
The best part of the job is working with people who are visitors to our district. Assisting them in understanding the importance of respecting our land and culture while travelling through New Zealand.
Campers feel reassured when they are affirmed they are doing the correct thing, they gain a sense of security knowing I am about and it has provided me with the opportunity to actively promote our district at the coalface.
Imagine seeing the joy on somebody’s face who lives in inland Canada or Europe who has just had the opportunity to sleep beside the sea at North Katiki. Then to be able to get up and go out for a bracing swim. Unforgettable and totally memorable!
Q Any bizarre encounters?
I am not sure about bizarre, but every day has its challenges solution.
Q You mentioned you had previous experience in a similar role, has the attitude of freedom campers changed?
During the 2015/16 season another local lady and myself actively managed in a voluntary capacity, the then `Bay Freedom Camping Area”. The community group had prepared a plan to mitigate the excessive numbers of campers along with associated issues around this that had been prevalent in previous seasons. The season was positive overall, but I spent more than 250 voluntary hours doing this which was not sustainable long term.
Q Freedom camping is something that had attracted negative headlines over the past few years, what do you think of it?
I think it is clear that we have moved on from the negative headlines of a few years ago. Undoubtedly we had issues but I think respective governments and local authorities have done a lot to address these. I am looking at sites that are clean and tidy, with tourists and locals who genuinely want to do the right thing and are respectful of the privilege to be able to freedom camp, responsibly.
I think attitude is very important. You can have a camper but does that mean you will have a responsible camper? I have been heartened to hear people saying they “only want to do the right thing”. A number of times this season I have watched tourists picking up rubbish to ensure that sites are clean and tidy for others to enjoy.