Campers lament decision to close Fraser Domain

Jenny and Ron Paterson, of Dunedin, enjoy some quiet time at the Fraser Domain camp site in late December 2010. Photo from the ODT files
Jenny and Ron Paterson, of Dunedin, enjoy some quiet time at the Fraser Domain camp site in late December 2010. Photo from the ODT files
Christmas holidays will not be the same again for Ron Paterson. The 79-year-old Dunedin man will have to find a new holiday spot, after camping regularly at the Fraser Domain for about 60 years.

Mr Paterson is lamenting the loss of the camp site after the Vincent Community Board voted this week to close it for camping, from September 1.

The ''no frills'' facility is at Earnscleugh, off Strode Rd, next to the Fraser River and at the height of summer, it is home to about 100 orchard workers and 50 holidaymakers every night.

''I'm not impressed at all. It was a good place for families to camp and for fruitpickers to stay and I'll be very sad to see it close,'' Mr Paterson said.

His connection to the place began when he was a teenager. His parents were the first generation of his family to discover the domain and in the early days Mr Paterson's father used to take the family to Earnscleugh by car and get all the camping gear sent up on the train, delivered to the Clyde station.

Later on, Mr Paterson, his wife Jenny and their family spent Christmas holidays at the site.

The death earlier this year of the camp site's honorary caretaker, Gordon Pearce, forced the board to consider options for the future management of the domain.

Mr Pearce and his wife Hazel had been the caretakers for about 20 years, and relocated from their Tapanui home to a caravan in the domain from December through to April.

In his report to the board, Central Otago District Council parks team leader Ian Mann said the domain did not meet national camp site service standards.

The camping facilities comprised an ablution block containing six long-drop toilets and there was no potable water on site, he said.

A basic upgrade of the facilities to meet camping standards, would cost between $300,000 and $400,000 and the upgraded facility would then ''compete'' with existing camping grounds in Clyde and Alexandra.

Other options considered by the board included employing a caretaker, establishing a self-contained freedom camp site, handing the reserve back to the Department of Conservation, establishing a management agreement for an orchard to manage the site, or establishing a ''Friends of Fraser Domain'' group to oversee the reserve.

It decided the only feasible option was to close the site for camping but retain it as a recreation reserve.

Mrs Pearce pleaded to the board for the retention of the camp site, saying it would be ''sacrilege'' to close it.

The domain might have ''rough and ready'' facilities but that was one of its attractions for campers, she said.

Mr Paterson said campers had no need of ''high-falutin' bits and pieces of modern living'' and the camp site was adequate for the needs of those who used it.

His son and grandson were the third and fourth generation of his family to camp at the domain and the Patersons left their caravan parked at the site.

''It's still relevant in every way as a camp site. If it's closed to campers, the domain's more likely to be used by people getting up to mischief, like some of the local larrikins,'' he said.

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz