Local authorities across the country are cracking down on travellers who park their campervans in a residential street or car park and then surreptitiously stay the night.
In an era of higher van park fees and surging fuel prices, the rise of the so-called ‘stealth camper’ has been a dramatic one.
Recent interest rate cuts have further hit self-funded retirees, making the prospect of paying $30-plus for a van park site even less attractive. While the vast majority of stealth campers are overseas backpackers, a growing sub-category of grey nomads are jumping on board.
“While grey nomads are a minority, we do regularly move them on from our beachside car parks,” said Port Macquarie Council Chief Ranger, Ian Chetcuti. “Grey nomads are generally pretty well behaved though, and really it’s only when people park illegally, make a mess, litter or urinate that we get really upset.”
High-profile anti-social behaviour in places like Darwin and Cairns has meant local authorities there have taken a hard line against stealth campers.
Sydney’s Randwick Council is the latest to lose patience and start dawn patrols.
“In the past few years we’ve witnessed an increase in the number of backpackers setting up makeshift camp sites in our beachside car parks, leaving rubbish and toilet paper behind and partying late into the night,” said Randwick Mayor Tony Bowen. “It’s not fair that ratepayers should have to pay to clean up their mess.”
While their younger counterparts regularly raise the ire of locals, grey nomad stealth campers generally prefer to fly under the radar, not wishing to attract the attention of police, rangers, or any passing ‘troublemakers’. They tend not to set up campchairs or use lights that can be seen from the outside. While bush camping is clearly the solution for budgeteers travelling in remote areas, it is free parking in towns and cities which is causing the angst.
The current policy in Port Macquarie – as in many coastal towns – is to allow unobtrusive campers to stay one night and then ask them to move on. However, Mr Chetcuti warns this ‘tread lightly’ policy may need to be toughened up as the ‘problem’ grows. Nonetheless, authorities are keenly aware that, rather than solving the problem, this risks simply pushing car park campers out into suburban streets.