The Gong, Duan and Wang families from Hamilton, toughing it out in tents at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Whangārei, didn’t even think about cutting their holiday short. Photo / Tania Whyte
Northland campgrounds that were packed until two days ago have taken a hammering from the first subtropical storm of 2023 — but some holidaymakers are determined to tough out the wild weather.
Heavy rain and high winds kicked in late on Tuesday night and were initially forecast to continue for 30 hours. Even after that the sun is not expected to return anytime soon.
The wild conditions have turned camps into quagmires, damaged property and prompted holidaymakers to quit some campgrounds in droves, a blow to owners hoping to catch up on business after two Covid-affected summers.
However, many of the campers the Advocate caught up with were determined to stick it out and make the most of family time together.
They included a group of 12 Chileans now living in Christchurch, who arrived at Paihia’s Top 10 Holiday Park yesterday afternoon to set up their tents during a break in the rain.
Paula Montofre admitted to having doubts about carrying on with their planned holiday.
“But then we thought, in true Kiwi spirit, she’ll be right. Two of our friends’ parents have just come over from Chile and we really want to show them some iconic parts of New Zealand.”
In any case, the families had just driven up from the South Island and weren’t about to turn around and head home.
Despite the distance, they had been travelling to the Far North every summer for many years, “because I don’t think there is any truer beauty in New Zealand”.
Antonia Montofre, 11, said she didn’t mind the wet even if she’d prefer her holidays in the sun.
She expected to spend the next few days swimming in the campground pool and “hanging out in the tent”.
Izzy Villaseca, 13, was looking forward to hot chocolate, telling scary stories, going on treasure hunts, campfires and playing games with her family.
“It’s going to be fun,” she said.
Camp boss Dusty Miller said there had been a lot of early departures but the cabins were still fully booked and caravans and frame tents had weathered the conditions well.
Some campers had cancelled their bookings, but not many, while others were opting to wait and see.
Groups were still checking in and were philosophical about the weather.
“People are treating it like Covid — it just is what it is.”
Miller was encouraging campers to go for walks, check out the movies or the Parrot Place in Kerikeri, or try the cafes in Paihia.
“Maybe you can’t go parasailing but there’s no reason you can’t put on a raincoat and ride the Twin Coast Cycle Trail instead.”
The only issue for the campground was that tent sites, already water-logged from pre-summer rain, had no chance to dry out.
Waitangi Holiday Park, which is owned by Te Tii B3 Trust, has seen about half its tent campers pack up and leave since Tuesday. Others had cancelled bookings or pushed their dates out.
However, operations manager Pania Sigley said all powered sites were booked and people staying in campervans were extending their stays.
“The timing isn’t great. At this time last year bookings were down because we were still going through the motions of Covid. There has been a bit of an exodus but those that are staying are hunkering down and waiting it out. It’s been a wet, wild, windy 24 hours,” she said.
Meanwhile, at Whangārei Top 10 Holiday Park, a 13-strong group from Hamilton is also determined to make the most of their holiday.
Sandy Duan said the Gong, Duan and Wang families — whose members range in age from 3 to 65 and include Buddy the dog — hadn’t expected to go camping in a storm when they booked their stay in September.
However, their tents had so far proved waterproof and if anything their memories would be even more special.
“We’ve never had a holiday in weather like this,” she said.
“We planned to visit Whangārei Falls and climb the mountain (Parihaka). Instead we’re playing cards and going to the museum. We’re excited to be together and we’re quite happy here because we’ve found so many activities.”
Other campgrounds have not been so fortunate, however.
Staff at Bay of Islands Holiday Park, near Haruru, said the rain had caused significant damage but were too busy remedying the situation to be interviewed, while Whangaruru Beachfront Camp reported a “heartbreaking” exodus with the campground going from total occupancy to near empty in 24 hours.
Ninety-four out of 106 campervans had left ahead of the storm’s landfall.
MetService’s orange heavy rain warning for Northland was due to be lifted at 11pm last night while the strong wind watch was set to end at 1am today.
Forecaster Aidan Pyselman said the Far North especially clocked up some impressive rainfall with Kaikohe, for example, recording 80mm just from midnight to 6pm yesterday — not far off the town’s long-term average of 109mm for the entire month.
The figures for Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Whangārei were 75mm, 65mm and 48mm, respectively.
The strongest wind gust, 125km/h, was recorded at Cape Reinga, while Okahu Island in the Bay of Islands came second with 110km/h.
More rain was expected today but with an easing trend. The northeasterly winds would also ease.
Friday would bring more showers and weaker northeasterlies while a reprieve could be in store for the weekend.
“There will still be showers but lighter winds. It’s not looking too bad, especially compared to what you’ve been having these last few days.”