A shot of the park from in the 80s. Photo / Supplied 011020gn08bop.JPG
Trevor Lock and Gail Currall-Lock have been visiting Papamoa Beach Resort for decades. Photo / George Novak 011020gn16bop.JPG
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Bruce and Donna Crosby. Photo / George Novak 011020gn08bop.JPG
An aerial view of the Top 10 Waihi Beach Holiday Park. Photo / George Novak 021020gn18bop.JPG
By Samantha Motion
It's the end of an era for three iconic holiday parks in the Bay of Plenty as their longtime owners sell up and move on. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Samantha Motion spoke to Bruce and Donna Crosby of Papamoa Beach Resort a place that became family.
Bruce Crosby could not help but get emotional as he spoke about the decades three generations of his family have spent living and breathing the Papamoa Beach Resort.
"As a family, we have been here for 54 years on this special piece of land," he said of the prime beachfront site in the heart of Pāpāmoa.
"It's been our life. My sister, my brothers - we grew up here, and then our children grew up here, and we have watched Pāpāmoa grow."
His parents, Gordon and Thelma Crosby, acquired the land lease for what was then the Papamoa Holiday Camp in 1966 when he was about 13.
Then, the camp was surrounded by rural farmland. They had about 16 powered sites and 13 campsites.
"There was not a lot in Pāpāmoa, there were like four baches over the road."
He and his siblings - including Stuart Crosby, who would go on to be mayor of Tauranga and is a current Bay of Plenty regional councillor - went to school in Te Puke.
Bruce met Donna when she was camping at the park with her parents.
Thirty-four years ago, the couple bought the business off his parents and began raising their own children there: Rebecca - who would go on to be a general manager of the park - Grant and Michael.
"At one stage we had three children under five and 1100 people in the park at the time over Christmas and New Year," Bruce said.
"There were no accommodation units, it was all camping. We had septic tanks, we had bore water that kept running out.
"It was an absolute nightmare, when you look back now, and we just ran," he said.
As urban Pāpāmoa grew towards them, they decided to build beachfront villas in an effort to change the business and make it profitable year-round.
"Prior to that, it was just six weeks at Christmas and a bit in February and March, and put the sheep in for the rest of the year."
People said they were "nuts" to spent that kind of money in a motor camp.
"That changed the face of our business."
Bruce said people in Tauranga used to joke about them living "way out there", and now their property fronted the city's biggest suburb with 25,000 people - and it's still growing.
"Tauranga City has finally come to meet us."
They had watched the changes in their customers with interest. People now tended to have higher expectations, be a bit more precious, arrive more stressed and bring a lot more stuff.
"We've watched New Zealand society change," Bruce said.
"Go back 30, 40 years ago, if someone had a caravan, they kept it in their backyard. Mum didn't generally work, Dad would get home Friday, load the kids and stuff in the caravan and they would come to the holiday park, then take it away on Sunday night.
"You don't have a backyard any more, Mum works, people work seven days a week. The whole society has changed and not for the better I might add."
Donna said it was lovely to watch how people would arrive stressed then relax as soon as they got settled in: "Three days later, that person is a completely different person."
Bruce said they meet people now who are their age and came to the camp as children, and have retired in Pāpāmoa.
Bruce said a recent returning visitor was "in tears" when he looked at the aerial photo of the camp from 1966.
"He said, 'my kids had their best memories here'," Bruce said, with tears of his own threatening.
"We do get a bit emotional about this place, but it's been our life."
He said they would forget about all the hard times - the Rena disaster, the compensation battle that followed, the physical exhaustion of a running 24/7 business and raising a family: "Digging soak holes and septic tanks and working eight days a week and Donna doing the GST at one o'clock in the morning.
"We know what we went through to get here."
They would miss the staff and guests, but not the "bullshit health and safety stuff", the battles with the council for every development, the industry scourges of freedom camping sites and Airbnb-type operators - things that "sucked small businesses dry".
They were proud of the business, which has 38 units and 250 sites, and 16 year-round staff - rising to 25 in summer. They believed the community should be, too.
Longtime guest Gill Currall-Lock - who hasn't missed a Christmas at the park in 37 years and even conceived a daughter there - said that to her, the park and its people were "family".
She said her first reaction to news of the sale had been "sadness".
"But then I think, god, you deserve it," she said to Bruce and Donna.
Bruce said they would still be living just a few kilometres down the road and would be happy to help the new operators in any way they needed, and visit old friends.
The pair had not settled on what to do next but had some ideas.
"We've got grandchildren, we got race cars, we've got places to go," Bruce said.
"We've travelled a bit around the world. Not interested in doing that. But there's lots of neat little places in New Zealand that we've always driven past that we want to go and see."
His wife smiled wryly: "We're looking forward to a life without any complications."