Lake View pulses with happy campers

At Labour Weekend, management of the Queenstown Lakes District Council holiday parks was taken over by a newly formed private company called Council Camps Revitalised Ltd. The company consists of two couples with long histories in the camping ground business and full of ideas about how to improve the holiday experience of those who choose to camp. On Boxing Day, Mark Price took the pulse of one of the camps - the Wanaka Lake View Holiday Park - as it began to fill up for New Year.

I arrive at the Wanaka Lake View Holiday Park, near the centre of Wanaka, on Boxing Day.

It is expected to be one of the park's busiest ''check-in'' days of the year.

But, duty first. The camp management points out the honesty box is all out of the Otago Daily Times, and I am tasked with finding more.

Across from the office a man is tossing bags of dirty sheets and pillowcases from one vehicle to another.

This is assistant manager Harry Kegel who is eight years into a ''change of lifestyle''.

He spent 27 years in the Dutch police force before deciding to come to New Zealand to get involved in the hospitality industry.

As well as laundry duties, he has an afternoon of rubbish collection, cleaning and maintenance to look forward to. And he's loving it.

''I'm still working with people, but at the positive end rather than the negative end,'' he says.

We do some calculations and figure the camp provides about 120 beds in its lodge, holiday flats and cabins.

That makes it probably the second biggest accommodation provider in Wanaka and, as Mr Kegel points out, it certainly keeps the local laundry busy.

Mitchie Maluschnig (16) of Hawea Flat and Rick Sanders, of Wanaka, are two of the park's cleaners.

Working their way down a line of 16 cabins, they have no time to stand around talking about it.

What's the best part of the job?

''Interacting with everyone,'' says Mitchie, humping a large vacuum cleaner into a cabin.

What's the worst part?

''Being busy over New Year,'' he says as he disappears inside.

Nearby, Wendy and Rob Taylor, of Mosgiel, are also busy - putting up their new tent.

But apart from a perfectly civil discussion about which way round to have the opening, there are no stereotypical tent-erection arguments going on.

These seasoned campers have a trailer-load of bikes, chilly bins and folding chairs.

On centre stage is a large gas barbecue.

They estimate they will be sitting outside, relaxing with a drink in their hands in about two hours.

The Taylors have been camping in the same spot, more or less, for the past 12 years.

What brings them back is the group of friends they camp with and the location of the park.

''It's just a nice area,'' Mrs Taylor says.

''The facilities are good, it's handy to town, everything's within walking distance.''

Other members of the group have a history stretching back more than 30 years, with 20 years at the same sites.

Alex Wilson, of Dunedin, is one of them and says each year they simply rebook.

''It's very nice, very laid back. There are bike rides, boating, good walks. Good climate.''

He also likes the park's location.

''You can walk into town, have a beer, not worry about driving, leave your car here, have a few drinks. That's one of the benefits of being so central.''

Although the sky is grey, the roses around the park's booking office look a little brighter in the afternoon and there is the hint of a shadow on the grass.

Into the honesty box outside the office go a few ODT's, while a sandfly or three hunt ankles for lunch. Jenny and Mattias Lindberg and baby Vidar are from Sweden. The parents are quite familiar with biting bugs.

Thanks to Vidar, they have 420 government-funded paid parental leave days to use - so what better than a six-week tour of New Zealand during the northern winter.

Despite wet days and a baby, living out of a car and a small tent has not presented any major issues.

As Mrs Lindberg points out, an active baby has nothing to fall off, living in a tent.

They see no major difference between New Zealand and Swedish camping grounds, although there are more opportunities for freedom camping at home.

When their next-door-neighbour, Pam Grant, of Nelson, first came to the park, she also camped in a small tent.

That was in 1956, before campers had even hot water available on tap.

Now Mrs Grant is in a fully-equipped motel unit with her three sons, her daughter and seven grandchildren in residence nearby.

Her late husband John was an enthusiastic ''boatie'', and easy access to the lake is still one of the attractions of the park for the family.

''The beach is right there. The town's right there. Everything's so handy, you could walk.

''It was great when the kids were small. We would just walk from here across to the beach.''

But, she says, it is not so much the lake or convenience that brings her back to the park.

It is family.

The same goes for Laureen Buchanan and Brian (Griff) Griffin, of Milton.

Their boys, Phoenix and Jack are 7 and 3 respectively - about the age their parents were when they were first brought to the Wanaka park.

Mrs Buchanan says in the past 45 years she has never missed a holiday at the park.

Mr Griffin: ''It's the place to be. The weather's usually nice, and the water's really nice. It's a good place for the kids.''

The slide and trampoline and swings help stop their children getting bored, he says.

Earlier in the day, assistant manager Harry Kegel emphasised the importance of such facilities by saying the park needed to keep the children happy if it was to keep the adults happy.

I notice he's returned with the truckload of clean laundry and Mr Kegel agrees, I have now seen the full washing cycle start to finish.

Popping in and out of the camp throughout the day has revealed even a busy day looks extremely laid back.

I had expected a queue of cars and caravans and boats and trailers at the gate.

But there was no queue.

I had expected at least a touch of chaos in the office.

But there was not a hint.

New manager Agerta (Aggie) Hofsteenge troubleshoots when there are issues with campers, many of whom, she acknowledges, have a far longer history with the park than she does.

During the morning, she has resolved some ''confusion'' over a corner site by allowing the campers to ''sort it out themselves''.

''If they say: 'That's how we do it', and we're OK with that, we let them do it. That's sort of how it works. And if we are not OK with it, we suggest a better way.''

She and husband Rudolf Sanders have high hopes for the park, reflected in the name of their management company: Council Camps Revitalised Ltd.

The campers encountered by the ODT on Boxing Day seemed to be fairly self-sufficient - bringing their own family and friends, their own camping hardware and software.

There is no doubt plenty of revitalisation can be done - but campers seemed quite relaxed and content with their piece of grass and an occasional hint of blue sky.

Of course, they also quite like hot water in the taps and an ODT in the honesty box.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz