Man flees Freedom Campground in Marlborough for fear for his safety

While there is CCTV at the Renwick Estate Sports Pavilion, it does not cover the parking lot where Freedom Campers stay.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

While there is CCTV at the Renwick Estate Sports Pavilion, it does not cover the parking lot where Freedom Campers stay.

A man camped at a Marlborough Freedom Campground was stranded by other vehicles, while at least three people began to shake and slap his van.

The Auckland man, who did not want to be named out of fear for his safety, said he forgot the “golden rule” of not choosing parking lots – like the one at Renwick Estate – on nights when drunk people could present themselves.

The incident happened on a Saturday night at the end of last month. This was about eight months after the man began his trip to New Zealand, where he had stayed at a mix of freedom campsites, paid campsites, and Department of Conservation sites.

“I had been driving all day so I was exhausted. It was around 11 pm, ”he said.

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DEBBIE JAMIESON / STUFF

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash announces details of proposed rules for free camping, alongside Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult in Queenstown.

“I had watched Netflix, then I looked out the window and realized there was a car parked very close to me.

“I thought it was quite strange, because it’s a huge parking lot with a lot of space, and it was pretty empty. There was only one other Freedom RV there.

It was then that he realized that he was surrounded by two other vehicles. It was then that his “alarm bells” started ringing.

Freedom Campground is one of five in Marlborough, managed by the Marlborough District Council.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

Freedom Campground is one of five in Marlborough, managed by the Marlborough District Council.

“I thought I should go and then someone loaded the right rear of the van. Then there was a slap to the left of the van.

“Then they kicked my ATV pretty hard in the back of my van. At that point, I thought it’s not just people laughing, they’re trying to damage my van or they’re trying to get me out.

He said at that point he panicked. He was able to climb up to the driver’s seat and dial 111 at the same time.

If he didn't have a van that could climb to the driver's seat, like the one pictured on Friday, he might have had

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

If he didn’t have a van that could be climbed into the driver’s seat, like the one pictured on Friday, he could have been in “a lot of trouble,” the man said.

“They started to shake the van as I climbed through. Fortunately, they hadn’t blocked my path straight ahead. So I left, with things falling off the bench.

“There was something really threatening about it. Normally when you get this behavior at Freedom campsites, people come and make donuts and then they leave.

“It’s slightly different because there is usually a fun element of drunkenness. But with that, there was something pretty deliberate about the way they parked. For me, it was something more than drunk people having fun.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, along with Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime, explains the changes he would like to see made to free-range camping. (Video first published in April 2021.)

“I was guessing why I ran away, and it’s boring that I had to. But I think for a woman traveling alone, or a van where you can’t get in the seat from the living room, you might have a lot of problems.

After being followed by one of the cars for a while, the man made it to a side street in Renwick, where he managed to pick up whatever had fallen, and make his way to Momorangi Bay, in Marlborough.

Marlborough District Council’s free-range campsites, such as the Renwick Estate, were guarded by rangers from December until the end of March.

A council spokesperson said they were aware of the incident and noted that this type of behavior was rare in Marlborough.

“Council rangers are experienced in conflict resolution and take an educational approach to any violation of the responsible camping bylaw,” the spokesperson said.

He said police take an active role in situations like this and forest rangers are supported when needed.

Although there was video surveillance in the area, it did not cover the parking lot where Freedom Campers were allowed to stay, the spokesperson said.

A police spokesperson confirmed receiving a phone call regarding a report of suspicious behavior in Renwick at 11 p.m. on November 27.

Police intervened and searched the area, but could not locate anyone, the spokesperson said.


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