OPINION: One peaceful morning last summer, I woke up to see the inside of our camper van bathed in brilliant red and orange light. I pulled back the curtain to see the most incredible sunrise I had seen in all my many months on the road.
Not wanting to miss another second, I jumped out of the van, camera in hand so I could record the glorious moment for posterity.
The campground was quiet as I stood there, watching the spectacular sky show unfold. All of a sudden, I heard water running and looked behind me to where the tap was.
Confused, I saw there was nobody there and the tap wasn't on. Then I realised where the sound was coming from.
A chap in the van next to me had also got out, but instead of taking photos like I was, he was urinating right next to an expensive fifth wheel motorhome and made no attempt to be discreet or hide himself. I know what you're thinking â€“ bloody freedom campers, right?
On the contrary, this was in a paid campground and the toilets were less than 20 metres away. Was I annoyed? You bet. Who wants to see that out in the open? Especially so needlessly, in a campground full of people, with more than a dozen toilets available.
I was disgusted and angry at his disrespectful behaviour, but as the only witness, what could I do about it?
I was tempted to go over to him and give him a piece of my mind, but what was the point, it was already too late. I decided the best option was to talk to the manager and let him deal with it, but the phantom wizzer didn't hang about and took off shortly after.
In almost three years of living on the road and travelling all over New Zealand, I have been fortunate in that my negative experiences have been next to none. The only other 'eww' moment I have had was at a freedom camp near Kingston, right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
I was fairly new to camping back then, and could not believe how lucky I was to be able to stay in such an incredible place; to sleep there, and for free! Can you imagine how much it would cost to stay in a motel with a view like that, and so close to the water's edge? I honestly felt as though I was the luckiest person in the world; what a privilege to be able to experience our country this way.
The next morning I got up and went to explore the campground before I left. There were all kinds of camping vehicles there, from buses and motorhomes to camper vans and cars. While there were plenty of rubbish bins at the site, there were no toilets, and it was pleasing to see how tidy the area was, with no rubbish to be seen anywhere at all.
Until I reached the back of the campground and came across a large bushy area which was full of toilet paper. That kind of put a tarnish on an otherwise idyllic place, I can tell you. Even so, I didn't feel compelled to get my camera out.
As the many of us who travel around the country full-time, or at least much of the time will vouch, there are far more 'good' campers than bad.
As a member of camping and motorhoming groups all over the world, I find NZ groups are different to all the others. The US, UK and Australian groups are full of interesting tips and hacks to make life easier, or mostly just sharing in the general joy a mobile lifestyle is supposed to bring.
In stark contrast, the New Zealand groups tend to be full of complaints and exposing what people are doing wrong. There are two ways you can take this.
Maybe we're just a bunch of whingebags. But to me it raises the question of why? What are we doing wrong as a country that we are constantly having to raise and deal with these negative issues regarding campers and public places, time and time again?
It's got to the stage that every time I see a negative story about someone getting caught dropping rubbish or other nasties, I instantly want to switch off. Do we really have to resort to following people now to try and catch them in the act?
But with freedom camping horror stories all over the news once again, it's made me think. What would I have done if that bloke parked next to me last summer had been doing a number two instead? What would I do if I witnessed someone doing it now? What should anyone do?
Obviously anyone caught not behaving like a decent and respectful human being needs to be held accountable. Even so, naming and shaming people every five minutes isn't the way to go. We've all had enough of seeing this kind of stuff clogging up our newsfeeds, and long term it only serves to escalate the problem and results in all campers and travellers being tarred with the same brush.
I applaud the woman whose actions caused a disrespectful camper in the Coromandel to pay a $400 fine. That was an excellent result, and one which would not have happened if she had not taken such action, but taking the evidence to the camping officer would have sufficed and the result would have been the same, without sharing it with the rest of the world.
By all means take whatever evidence you need, just refrain from posting it online.
With issues such as privacy and legality now being brought into question, the last thing anyone wants to do is have what is supposed to be a good deed come back to bite them.
Do I think people should be allowed to foul public places? No. Do I think they should get away with it? No. Does the whole world need to see it? No.
An internet mob isn't going to help clean it up. Let the authorities see it, and deal with it and leave it at that.
Jackie Norman is a travel writer for Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations magazine and lives on the road permanently after selling her house in 2016 to go in search of a simpler life. You can follow her travels and account of life on the road through her Facebook page, Riches Have Wheels.