A popular Kawerau campground has been closed after campers were intimidated and threatened by Mob members on dirt bikes, allegedly led by the camp manager himself.
The Department of Conservation managed Lake Tarawera Outlet campsite has been closed until further notice following claims it had been taken over, and campers forced out, by Mongrel Mob members.
Department of Conservation operations director Central North Island, Damian Coutts, says DOC has been made aware of the allegations and are supporting police in their enquiries and are also doing their own investigations given the seriousness of the incidents described.
"Because of the nature of the allegations, the campground has been closed. It is inappropriate for us to comment further while enquiries continue," says Damian.
A Kawerau man, who wanted to stay anonymous due to fears for his family's safety, said his teenage son stayed at the campground over New Year's and was terrified after a "riot" broke out.
The man said during the riot the campground manager presented a knife at the rioters and police attended the scene however nobody was charged in relation to the incident.
"My son said the campground manager was wearing a Mongrel Mob patch underneath his DOC vest," says the man.
"Red shirt wearing people were driving around in DOC vehicles on site, and I've been told by other people camping there that they have also been harassed and intimidated by Mongrel Mob there. The Mob is basically running the place and apparently there is more methamphetamine up there than anything else.
"It's a bloody shambles for a DOC campground."
The man said his son and those he was camping with wanted to leave the campsite after the riot but were unable to due to the gate being locked.
"It's a very bad situation, I had contacted DOC about it, and they said they were completely unaware of the issues and obviously their own investigations have now led to them shutting the camp," he says.
The man said it was unfortunate the Mob had infiltrated the campground as it was a big drawcard for visitors to the Kawerau region and it was a bad look for the town. It is understood the manager of the campsite has now been removed.
"This should never have come to be, it should be a nice family campground where people can go and feel safe," the man says.
"There are so many things that need to be done, that aren't being done. The department need to sort it out and change things they do in the future. What is going on and how can the Mongrel Mob be running a campground?"
Kawerau mayor Malcolm Campbell says he knows DOC has been told the same story from the public and are now investigating the reports.
"We are going to get together next week to see how we can support DOC in getting a decent manager up there, because the last thing we would want is for it to be closed to the public completely," says Malcolm.
"It's been our playground for the last 65 years. I have heard all the stories, and that's what they are, stories. There are always two sides to each story and some of them are conflicting. Some have said there were gangs and others have said there weren't."
Malcolm says the good reputation of the DOC rangers should not be ruined over "an unfortunate incident at New Year's".
The campground is not in the Kawerau District, but the only access route is through Kawerau. The campground and the Tarawera waterfall draw large numbers of visitors to the town each year, making it a significant tourist attraction.
Last year, the Kawerau i-SITE recorded 40,000 visitors at the campsite.
"We don't want anyone to be kicked out of there, there has to be respect form the public and if they don't respect it, they will lose it, simple as," says Malcolm. "This is not just for Kawerau, this is for all of us."
Malcolm says DOC is the correct organisation to be running the camp but may need some assistance in hiring the right staff.
A notice on DOC’s website states that DOC has been advised by the police that the campsite needed to close because of safety concerns.
It states the safety concerns are due to a serious incident that is currently being investigated.
Kawerau senior sergeant Yvonne Parker says it is not her place to comment on the issue and that questions should be directed to DOC.
The campground is notoriously hard to police, as it has no cellphone coverage and by the time Police make it out there, a half hour drive on dirt roads, the perpetrators have already left.
The Department of Conservation has been approached for comment.