The empty caravans in Whangamata's last campground tell the story of a disappearing way of life at the beach town.
Among the big pohutukawa trees and towering Norfolk pines at Whangamata Campground are empty lots and sold signs on caravans, while the Coromandel's average real estate prices rose 39.7 per cent to $1,115,951 in the year to August 2021.
The 1.66ha campground site at Barbara Ave, within walking distance to the beach, was sold last January and settled on August 31 to purchaser Triumph Nominees Ltd.
The current campground will remain open for two years, although some of the sites must be vacated this week as an area from the ablution block on the site towards the beach is cleared for development.
It's giving time for local civic leaders to set their sights on potential replacements.
"When the average price for real estate in Whangamata is more than $1 million, as an investment it's probably good. But in terms of the town and its character, it changes it," says South East ward councillor Terry Walker. "And 65 per cent of [owners] don't even live here.
"These are the dynamics of small coastal towns."
Whangamatā Community Board member Kay Baker says unlike in her day, tents seem to be a thing of the past.
"We had the best of it because when you didn't have much money, you camped. Our way of life is being eaten up."
Kay has received several phone calls from residents who have friends and family with caravans or motorhomes, concerned that there's nowhere to camp in Whangamatā.
"I'm concerned for Whangamatā because it really is becoming like a Surfer's Paradise to make its money.
"I don't think people have come to grips with the consequences of that yet for our commercial businesses," says Baker.
She said Whangamatā was "a town of holiday-home owners".
"Look how many are shut up at the moment and yet they're stopping people in a fancy motorhome. I'm trying to do something about that here but I'm getting frustrated."
Our way of life is being eaten up.
Real Estate New Zealand reports that the Kiwi love affair with property remains strong.
Vanessa Williams, spokesperson for realestate.co.nz, says with this lockdown those who were browsing seemed to be seriously searching.
"It's too early to say if the Delta lockdown will have any impact on the national average asking price, but if the last year of data tells us anything it seems unlikely," said Vanessa.
The average Auckland home is now priced at $1,164,225. The Coromandel is $1,115,951.
Whangamata's local politicians are on the hunt for a piece of suitable land that could be turned into a campground for holidaymakers, believing there's still time to beat housing investors.
Councillor Walker says there are potential private land options on the outskirts of town, though he admits it's unlikely there'll ever be a tent pitched within walking distance to the surf beach from now on.
"We could do everything - short-term accommodation, cabins, the whole lot - but we'd have to develop a relationship with an owner."
He said the council could look at Parakiwai Valley, farmland and Crown land that will be coming under Treaty settlement on the northern entrance to the town.
"Maybe a philanthropic community person could provide a piece of land which would become a campground along with cabins for short-term accommodation and freedom camping? Of course it would be named after the person of the family that donated the land."
Walker said the eventual loss of the campground left a big problem to fix.
"Short-term accommodation is urgently needed now, with many retailers having good people apply for the summer period but unable to employ due to a lack of accommodation."
A community working group has looked at 101 Lindsay Rd, a council-owned site, to put in removable cabins, connecting to utilities and renting to summer workers, as town retailers would pay this rental just to have workers.
"The council made this too hard to do."
He lamented the loss of simple camping holidays.
"Whitianga sold its campground that was right on the harbour front. Whakatane sold one in the town too. It was just the thing that councils did - took the money and bought the campground as a camping ground and then sold them. It was never a locked-in thing to stay as a campground, so a lot of them are just gone now."
Communities like Hahei and Tairua fought to hold on to campgrounds in their town.
Tairua Campground Paradise Coast is a TCDC-owned campground that has been leased since September 2019 to locals Ruby Woodruffe and Joe Ferguson.
The couple said it has been a good winter.
"Especially with Covid. We have been affected because we had a first summer on our lease and then Covid hit. But this has been a better winter than last, which has been a saviour.
"The fact that people can't travel yet, people have been coming away for weekends in the winter in RVs," says Woodruffe.
"It's 100 per cent good for the town," she said. "Tairua would be an almost impossible place to come and stay, especially over summer and especially for larger families. All the houses are so expensive, and this offers some people a place to live.
"It's helped businesses in town as we have people working locally and renting here, so it's good for local businesses from that point of view as well."
One of the concerns of many Coromandel communities is freedom camping, particularly prior to the country's closed borders.
In April, Thames-Coromandel District Council consulted on its freedom camping by-law.
Communities around the Hauraki and Coromandel have differing viewpoints about camping in their settlements, with some quite concerned about freedom camping, and others welcoming self-contained vehicles.
Through TCDC's by-law review this year, a petition with 25 pages of signatures was received against the establishment of a freedom camping area at Pleasant Point in Pauanui.
Onemana Ratepayers Association has also voiced strongly its opposition to freedom camping in car parks on its beach reserve. Their concerns were raised by Whangamata Community Board member Dave Ryan at the September meeting.
Baker believed the country's closed borders had driven an increase in motorhome ownership and Whangamata was missing out on the potential benefits of that.