North Wollongong's Stuart Park was transformed yesterday into a sea of brightly coloured tents and happy families as visitors, mostly from parts of western Sydney, came to ring in the new year by the seaside.
A technically illegal and controversial phenomenon, the arrival of so many campers has prompted Wollongong City Council to threaten anyone caught spending the night with a $110 fine.
Council rangers were spotted as early as 9am, but any warning they were issuing to campers was falling on deaf ears, with many visitors unaware what they were doing was illegal.
Amanda Mamo, from Wetherill Park, said any attempt by authorities to clamp down on people camping was "stupid".
"It's wrong, the beach is for free," she said.
"We like to camp here because we like the family atmosphere, it's nice to camp and watch the fireworks.
"Who are they to say we're not allowed to come here?"
Salwa Abdulahd, who has camped at Stuart Park for the past two years, said New Year's Eve in Wollongong was a way she and husband Lateef Yousif could keep their five children happy.
"It's nice, we have fun," she said.
Originally from Iraq, Ms Abdulahd said their beachside set-up was a world away from celebrations in their home country.
She said as Christians, enjoying the holiday season in Iraq was difficult, and limited to indoor celebrations.
But many Wollongong residents have expressed disdain for the visitors, accusing them of leaving rubbish for Wollongong City Council workers to clear up at the expense of local ratepayers.
Among them is Peter Gilbert, a North Wollongong resident who walks around Stuart Park every morning.
He said the $110 fine for campers was too low.
"I think the fine has to be much greater, at least $1000 for a tent," he said.
"You've got all the cost of the council workers trying to clean up the mess - it's a big job for them and a very nasty one if they're picking up people's defecation.
"I'm a bit upset, it's been an ongoing issue for council for a while ... I thought they were doing something about it this year but a $110 fine is not appropriate."
While canvassing visitors yesterday morning, the Mercury spotted at least one camper who had brought their own toilet.