Coes Ford and Chamberlains Ford are both free campsites situated beside the Selwyn River, around a thirty-minute drive from New Zealand’s third largest city, Christchurch.
Being the largest city and airport in the South Island, Christchurch is commonly visited by tourists. However, many find the cost of accommodation in Christchurch less than affordable and look elsewhere for a place to spend the night. This has led to an increase of campers at both Coes Ford and Chamberlains Ford.
Seasonally, large groups of these travellers–mostly tourists, but also itinerant locals–camp at these sites alongside the Selwyn River. The headwaters of the Selwyn flow fresh and clean from the Southern Alps, however by the time it passes Coes Ford and Chamberlains Ford, eventually reaching the catchment at Lake Ellesmere, the water is riddled with high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and E-coli. This has a huge impact on river dwelling animals and is also making many people sick. Most staying at Coes Ford and Chamberlains Ford seem unconcerned or unaware of this; some even seem generally disconnected to and uncaring of the site in general. However they view the site, they make the land their temporary home, whether for a night or several months–some even erecting elaborate ‘party tents’ and bringing in diesel powered electricity generators–until all of a sudden they’re gone and all that is left is vehicle tire tracks and discarded rubbish.
These photos reflect Coes Ford and Chamberlains Ford in states of transition, as the sites move from being inhabited during peak season to bare of people, but full of those peoples remnants. This is until nature comes full circle, with floods reclaiming the land and any objects within its floodplain.
In years to come it will be interesting to see the effects of the rivers reputation for ill health in combination with forecasted warmer temperatures and a higher demand for housing and accommodation. While these images don’t address these impending issues directly, they were at the forefront of my mind when I was out photographing and exploring the area. What they do address is the here and now, and it is obvious to all who care to look that action must be taken if we are to preserve our biggest national asset and international reputation as having a clean and healthy environment.
– Emma Neal
This project was undertaken as part of Emma's fourth year of study within the photography programme at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts.