Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Coastal camping grounds fade away

The days of lazy afternoons at a seaside camping ground may be numbered. File photo / Sarah Ivey
The days of lazy afternoons at a seaside camping ground may be numbered. File photo / Sarah Ivey

Kiwi families may have their last chance to camp at treasured seaside spots this summer, with a number of coastal camping grounds up for sale - and developers likely to be interested.

Some of the properties on the market are in sought-after beach holiday destinations, including the Whitianga Campground in Coromandel, the Whangaruru Motor Camp in the Bay of Islands and the Tatapouri Motor Camp near Gisborne.

Bayleys managing director Mike Bayley said it was sad to see traditional Kiwi seaside camping grounds disappearing in the face of changing social and economic times.

But the stark reality was land values now far outweighed the returns from hosting campers - and many coastal sites overlooked coveted beaches, headlands and fishing spots.

"It's easy to see why the land is sought after by high-end developers or private owners wanting their own secluded piece of paradise on which to build a luxury residence."

Whitianga Campground owner Grant Jonas said his business was profitable and occupancy had been good in recent years, but after eight years in the business, it was time to move on.

He was selling up to spend more time with his partner in Auckland, and running the business on his own was too much work.

"You really need a couple - you really need somebody running the office and somebody outside the office, and I've been doing both," he said.

"It was too much work over the busy season. I haven't had a day off since the end of November, really, and every day comes at you, every day is the same."

Mr Jonas said the popularity of online holiday home bookings had not dented the business, but freedom camping and council costs had.

The value of coastal land also meant it was difficult to justify the return on investment.

When Mr Jonas first started coming to Whitianga in the 1960s, there were six camping grounds. Now only three remained - and the largest former campsite was now a beachside townhouse development.

Mr Jonas said a developer had previously expressed interest in buying his property, but the deal fell through after the council would not approve the proposed subdivision plan.

It would be sad to lose a lot of camping grounds, but Mr Jonas said his business could still appeal to a couple looking to retire.

Holiday Parks Association chief executive Fergus Brown said a lot of privately owned coastal camping grounds were sold for redevelopment before the global financial crisis - but sales had since slowed and the number of holiday parks was increasing.

"And when people sell parks, it's more likely that they're selling them as a going concern. Run properly, they are good, profitable businesses."

The disappearance of coastal camping grounds was "a bit of an urban myth" and they remained an attractive holiday option for families, he said.

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COASTAL CAMP SITES FOR SALE

* Whangaruru Motor Camp, Bay of Islands: A mortgagee sale, the beachside camping ground includes 80 campsites, both powered and un-powered, four bach units, five individual cabins, a shop, a communal kitchen, a laundry, hot showers and kayak hire.

* Barrons Beach, Whananaki, Northland: A 2.1ha coastal section of the family owned Motutara Farm camping ground is on the market. The sale will affect about eight campsites, but about 140 sites will still be available for camping.

* Whitianga Campground, Coromandel: On the market since before Christmas, the ground is a short walk from the beach and has 50 campsites, both powered and un-powered, six cabins, four tourist flats, a communal kitchen, barbecues and token-operated showers.

* Tatapouri Motor Camp, Gisborne: A 15 minutes drive from Gisborne and near a boat ramp and surf beaches, the ground includes four cabins, powered and un-powered campsites, a kitchen, ablution block and playground. A two-storey house, and five additional cabins, are available separately.

* Forest View Motor Camp, Kawhia, Otorohanga: The camping ground, not directly on the beach, has 29 permanent sites, nine cabins and an ablution block.

- APNZ

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