A group of three Dutch tourists who had been in the country for three days were lucky to escape with just a warning after they damaged trees and built a fire on Conservation Department recreation reserve at Whakaipo Bay last week.
The trio, who had arrived at the bay in a non self-contained vehicle, could not be given an infringement notice under the Freedom Camping Act as they were not in the area designated for freedom camping at the bay, which is for certified self-contained vehicles only.
But a dog walker who came across the three in the reserve close to the former entrance to the Great Lake Trail, was appalled to discover they had removed branches from some of the trees to make bedding for themselves and built a fire. She called DOC's security firm Armourguard to investigate.
Senior DOC ranger Murray Cleaver, who visited the bay the next day and found the men stranded with a flat battery, said they had camped in an area of mainly exotic trees and lit a fire.
While they should not have cut down branches, he said the damage done was minimal.
"I couldn't technically issue them an infringement fine but we had a chat about respecting New Zealand and what the rules and laws are," he said. "I had my hands tied from a legal point of view. There was another camper that very same day that I issued a fine to and we had him trespassed."
The rules state that freedom camping at Whakaipo Bay is allowed only for certified self-contained vehicles and for a maximum of four nights per month.
Mr Cleaver said that while the men could have technically been prosecuted under the Reserves Act for camping unlawfully, in this case he elected to give a warning and said the men were receptive to the message.