CAMPERS in nature reserves facing each other across the Murray River have more than border checkpoints dividing them this summer.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has introduced a booking fee for 90 days in advance to stay in its reserves along the river as part of its COVID response plan.
The $6 charge is meant to better manage visitor numbers, with a maximum of seven nights per booking.
On the ground, it has made for a stark difference in numbers between one side of the riverbank and the other.
The Border Mail visited Quicks Beach camping grounds at Cobram and Barooga last week, before the shock order for Victorian holidaymakers to leave NSW, and there was a clear divide.
Those on the NSW side were spaced out with a sense of order, while in Victoria, where camping is free, it was more haphazard with the greater density apparent.
The difference has sparked a debate about whether Victoria should follow suit, given the packed shorelines along reserves around Cobram.
Member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy, a Cobram resident, is concerned that tourists are occupying more dangerous riverside terrain, given the higher numbers.
"I am seeing people camping on spots they normally wouldn't, they're camping on a clifftop which is not a good site," Mr McCurdy said.
"There's been a lot more campers in really dodgy spots."
The Nationals MP suggested Victoria may want to look at a permit system to cap numbers in areas, but questioned charging people if no facilities are provided.
At Quicks Beach, the Barooga campers have access to a toilet block, while those across the river in the Garden State make their own waste arrangements.
Member for Murray Helen Dalton, who represents Barooga in the NSW parliament, believes charging for campsites is "probably reasonable" but noted not everyone was online to book.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP is concerned about income not being reinvested in the affected reserves which extend from Barmah to Mulwala.
"It's got to go back in the parks to make facilities better and make sure the rangers are there," Mrs Dalton said.
"The state government promised there would be rangers out at Hay because of the national parks that they have opened there, well there's none."
For those camping there are an array of arguments for and against.
Former Barooga General Store owner Tracey Watt, speaking while staying at Quicks Beach last week, has concerns the charge will cut business over the long term.
"It's going to hurt Barooga, they aren't going to get the numbers they normally have," Mrs Watt said.
"We owned the general store for eight years and this time of year was your cream, it would set you up for winter and I can't see that's going to happen now."
Berrigan Shire mayor Matt Hannan said no-one had mentioned the booking fee as an issue to him before or after the hard border closure which he noted had left the region's tourism sector in disarray.
He has written to NSW and Victorian premiers and government ministers expressing his concerns, having seen Tocumwal's town beach camping ground left with only four caravans after hundreds of holidaymakers returned south.
"It's a destination for Victorians, our area, and we do invite and welcome them when they do come and appreciate the economic impact they have on our communities," Cr Hannan said.
Barooga resident Ron Franklin had been camping with his family alongside Mrs Watt when the Victorian government ordered their citizens home.
"There was a line of them going out, there were 20 cars and there was only four sites left occupied, there was us an our friends," Mr Franklin said.
"A lot went to the Victorian side if they were staying longer."
In their wake, a mass of rubbish was left behind with five caged trailer loads taken away by a ranger.
"It was bloody peaceful, it was what we desired," Mr Franklin said of the exodus aftermath.
"It was a very surreal feeling, one minute it is packed and next minute there's no-one there."
Mr Franklin said there had been one group of campers who had arrived to camp there not knowing you needed to have booked and obtained a permit.
Further along was Anthea Ramsay, who along with her contingent of fellow Melburnians left when the order was made to return to Victoria.
She said she was aware of the need for a permit but was concerned it did not cover a long enough period to camp.
"It's not a bad idea, it does limit the number of people you have crowded in your spot," Ms Ramsay said.
"But if they're going to do it, they need to do it properly and increases the number of days."
Their group of 30 arrived from Melbourne on December 20 and had planned to stay until January 2.
Directly across the Murray River, at Cobram's Quicks Beach things remained as hectic as they had been since the holiday season started.
Phillip Island visitor James Haslett arrived on December 14 with his family and two hours trying to find a suitable spot for his caravan and recreational gear.
Fellow group traveller Brendan Perry, also from the home of the fairy penguin parade, said the crowding was "horrible, absolutely horrible" and expressed support for a booking system.
"It would stop people being on top of each other and people leaving their things everywhere," he said, referring to those who place caravans riverside and then go to-and-fro.
Mr Haslett was more wary of a booking system, questioning site size allocations and how the scheme would be policed.
Further along, with their tents were Jenni Vanderfeen and her husband Brendan who once preferred the NSW side of the Murray River to Victoria for their annual holiday.
The Melburnians have been journeying to Cobram-Barooga for 33 years and have spent the last 15 on the southern side of the border after rules about fires and dogs were introduced in NSW.
Mrs Vanderfeen has never noticed it busier along the Cobram foreshore.
"Two Knobs is full, Scotts is full, Seppelts is full, I've not seen it like that before, it's crazy," she said.
Mrs Vanderfeen would not mind paying $5 for a dedicated camping site, but Mr Vanderfeen believes it would create an expectation for facilities to be provided.
"I'd rather the track stay as rough as guts because it slows people down," he said of the deeply rutted dirt route to Quicks Beach at Cobram.
"It's one extra obstacle for thousands to be out here."
Fellow Melburnian Denis Kell opposes fees but wants Parks Victoria to better monitor camping grounds and litter problems though like Mrs Vanderfeen he believes the fun would go if his state banned fires.
"Camping is about cooking on an open fire and sitting around having a chinwag," Mr Kell said.
Like many conversations recently that will involve discussing the fallout from COVID-19 which includes riverside camping fees.