Park Life

Post date: Wednesday, 24 June 2015 - 11:51am

Anyone who has experienced the joy of packing up, leaving the sameness of the family home to re-locate temporarily to a magical place closer to the natural world - the sound of the roaring surf, the scent of the gums, the sight of the red dust - understands the allure of holiday parks.

As small screens and timetables increasingly consume family life, the simple pleasures of a camping holiday have become more and more enticing. Today’s holidaymakers have reclaimed that simplicity, and managed to add a few of life’s little luxuries along the way. It is their expectations that have re-shaped the entire ‘camping’ experience, triggering a metamorphosis in the holiday park market. Today, over half the accommodation beds available in Australia are in the holiday park sector. Hotels and motels are facing a real challenge and it’s easy to see why.

This massive resurgence in camping and caravanning holidays worldwide has put pressure on holiday parks to deliver far more sophisticated options for their guests. In Australia the holiday park business has blossomed from a cottage industry to a highly competitive marketplace. Many parks offer holidaymakers a guarantee of excellence and quality service by joining franchises like BIG4, Top Tourist and Family Parks. The presence of these well-known and loved brands  – synonymous with family fun – now outweighs the star-rating system when guests chose their destination. They promise a consistency of quality, and an ambitious standard of holiday park.

Bigger is better

This massive resurgence in camping and caravanning holidays worldwide has put pressure on holiday parks to deliver far more sophisticated options for their guests. In Australia the holiday park business has blossomed from a cottage industry to a highly competitive marketplace. Names like Aspen, Escape 2 and NRMA are fast becoming recognised for their strength in that marketplace and their welcome investment in the holiday park sector.

Even the destinations’ names have taken on a cosmopolitan edge. It’s not a ‘caravan park’ anymore; it’s a holiday park, an eco village, even a resort. And these claims are not self-inflating; they are right on the money, with most parks offering a startling array of accommodation, taking all budgets into account. These days even the very affordable tent and van sites are so much more than a patch of flat ground. Large grassy or slab sites are shaded by mature trees, and have full power and water. Close to spotless amenities, gas barbeques and camp kitchens, pitching a tent has never been so luxurious. Some parks even offer campers private en-suites and free Wi-Fi.

The market is flooded with a plethora of accommodation options, from modern cabins to five-star condos, boasting every feature imaginable including spa baths, flat-screen TVs, private barbeques, air-conditioning and internal laundry. Modern parks acknowledge that flexibility is the key, and have adapted to happily cater for today’s blended and multi-generational families where sleeping eight or even ten is a breeze. It’s a far cry from the demountable dongas of the 70s!

But it’s not just holiday park accommodation that has enjoyed a major facelift. There’s fierce competition to extend the range of entertainment hardware available, and Big 4 North Star Holiday Resort at Hastings Point in NSW is testament to getting it right. As well as a full size tennis court and playground, North Star has a two-storey water park with over 66 interactive water features including water slides, water canons, Australia’s first water piano, and a massive bucket that dumps 600 litres of water over the whole area every six minutes!

And the excitement doesn’t stop when it rains… The huge indoor play centre offers a flying fox, ball pit and slides, and the games rooms boasts pool tables, arcade games, table tennis and pinball machines. An on-site day spa keeps the grown-ups happy with a full compliment of treatments including beauty therapies, massage, hairdressing, three spas, a twenty-five meter lap pool and a sauna. The icing on the ‘facilities’ cake is the on-site Marine Environment Museum where families can explore the wonders of the coastal environment.

Infrastructure aside, possibly the best reason to head for a holiday park instead of booking a hotel room, is the warm community atmosphere. The proximity of camping families, the can-do attitude of staff, and the organised activities mean guests mingle and re-discover the benefits of knowing their neighbours. Tathra Beach Family Park on the far south coast of NSW has cornered the market on friendly, and makes the most of its wood-fired pizza oven by holding weekly pizza nights, hands-on damper making and spud nights. Park-owner Frankie J Holden performs gigs with a little help from guests, and the park regularly rocks with the sound of a crowd enjoying trivia, bingo and big-screen outdoor movies. Families bond during sand modelling, treasure hunts and hula-hoop classes, all designed to shatter inhibitions and bring people together. Strong repeat bookings at Tathra are evidence that the communal style holiday is a winner. And the luxury safari tents are a big hit too!

These days clever parks are so much more than somewhere to stay. They connect firmly with their surroundings and promote their destinations holistically through website links, and by organising bookings to local attractions and tours. Goldmining, bushwalking, whale watching, kayaking, theme parks… the personal touch of a holiday park gives you easy and often discounted access to a raft of family activities.

The modern park is techno-savvy and employs a full range of e-networking to expose its product and inform guests of exciting changes and offers. A growing awareness of their eco-footprint has also motivated holiday parks to strive to reduce their environmental impact, with nationally recognised ratings awarded to pro-active parks.

So much about holiday parks has changed in the last few decades but there’s one thing that will always remain the same - direct access to good old Mother Nature. In a block of apartments your doorstep is often the portal to a flight of stairs or a mirrored lift and carpeted lobby. Whether it’s through the tent flap, the van door or across the cabin deck, the holiday park brings you face-to-face with nature, an encounter most families don’t experience in their day-to-day lives.

A common phenomenon revealed by park managers is the change that occurs in kids when they arrive - cramped and cranky, stretching and glued to their thumb-driven electronic paraphernalia. Within a day, the shoes are kicked off, the appetites are ramped up, and the happy pack abandons games of the re-chargeable kind. Surely this is what family holidays are made of. These memories are precious, and ground our kids in the real world, the world of nature and the remarkable diversity of our country.

To some parents the thought of packing up and heading to a caravan park brings back images of muddy campsites, cold showers and bored kids. Those days are long gone. A brilliant blend of state-of-the-art accommodation and entertainment, and the eternally enriching ingredients of friends and the great outdoors have guaranteed holiday parks a growing profile on the Aussie holiday radar. Next time you’re looking for a family holiday that ticks all the boxes, join the holiday park revolution, you’ll never look back!

Out & About With Kids, Spring Edition, 2013.