Glendhu Bay's new Aussie boss fronts campers, promising 'business as usual'

by Kim Bowden - May 17, 2024

A long-term camper at Glendhu Bay says it's good to have the new Australian owners of the campground business "on the record" as promising it will be "business as usual" at the iconic Kiwi holiday spot, with only "incremental" changes flagged.

The chief executive of Hampshire Holiday Parks Frank Sharkey fronted more than 100 campers in the standing-room only lounge setting at the lakeside park Friday morning, and he likened the reception to turning up at the pub as a visiting Aussie in Wallabies' colours before a big trans-Tasman test match.

But, like he'd hope for at the pub, he managed to keep the atmosphere light, and mate-like, despite the passion with which the locals view their relationship to 'their' camp.

'We want to tweak and make improvements where we can': Hampshire Holiday Parks boss Frank Sharkey.

Doug Fraser - who has been holidaying at Glendhu Bay since he was four months old, so 70-odd years - was in the audience. He's the chair of the newly incorporated Glendhu Bay Campers Association, which has 200 members and counting.

"That's a reflection of the disquiet around maintaining the camp," Mr Fraser told Crux after the meeting.

Like many others in the room, he was pushing for confirmation from the camp's new bosses that the Kiwi holiday his family had enjoyed for generations wasn't going to change too much in the years ahead.

Mr Sharkey told the room the regular and repeat peak season campers were "the backbone of the business" and not something he intended messing with.

"It would be mad to try and do anything that was going to be upsetting long-term campers," he said.

Most appeared to leave satisfied with Mr Sharkey's assurances, although the chief executive refused to be pushed by some of Mr Fraser's demands for specifics during a question and answer session.

"I'm really conscious of not wedging myself into a position of making a promise or a representation today that might not fit next week, next year, five years, based on what people who camp in this place want in phase one," Mr Sharkey said in response to questioning from Mr Fraser on his vision for the park in a decade's time.

It was a similar tone when asked by another camper about potential changes to maximum occupancies on camping sites, and another, on the rates for local families leaving a campsite occupied weekend to weekend later in the summer season.

"I recognise that people have been coming here for generations," Mr Sharkey said at the conclusion of the hour-long meeting.

"A lot of people don't want to see any change; they're happy with it exactly how it is and want it to stay that way.

"But I'm pretty positive there'll be other people who would like to see some changes."

He said any changes will be "incremental".

"They will not change the character of the place."

While he publicly committed to any site fee increases reflecting inflation, he was straightforward, however, about the fact his job is to run a business, and he made no apologies for doing just that.

"We are a business operator and business is about making money. Will I look for opportunities to make money? Absolutely. But I hope it's what people want, because otherwise I'm not going to be making much money.

"Am I going to screw up the prices astronomically? No. Am I going to tweak things here and there in terms of the service offerings or facilities? We already have - you can get a decent coffee, you can get a pizza et cetera."

Mr Sharkey was referring to a new coffee machine installed at the park for guests, and an onsite pizza caravan operating during peak times. He says a survey - that will remain live for the next 14 days - will gauge public appetite for more such "tweaks".

Tiny homes on wheels will be one of the most noticeable additions to the iconic Glendhu Bay camp.

He said the children's playground by the park's main entrance was gone, and that was a health and safety decision based on the traffic flows at that location. Something fun is set too replace it - whether that be a inflatable bouncing mat or another playground, and people could comment on the survey with their preferences.

He told people to expect other ongoing upgrades to cabins and communal camp facilities - but this would look more like fresh paint, installation of insect screens and new furniture or carpet, rather than bowling of existing amenities or a "concrete jungle" or "hotel".

Mr Sharkey did announce plans to invest in some tiny homes on wheels in a bid to grow business during the shoulder seasons. 

The company is working with local Wānaka tiny homes specialists on the design, which will intentionally not be self-contained.

"This is not about people coming and staying in the park (longer term); they're specifically designed so no one wants to live in them," Mr Sharkey said.

"(But) people generally don't want to stay in a tent in winter."

Wānaka resident Nick Brown, who has holidayed at Glendhu Bay for ten years, thanked Mr Sharkey for turning up and addressing people's questions.

"What you have been able to do is alleviate a lot of the concerns people like me, and others have had."

Doug Fraser represents 200 campers and counting, and he'll be holding Mr Sharkey to his words.

One cause for concern, however, is outside Hampshire Holiday Parks' control. A neighbouring landowner and farmer provides space for caravans to be parked up and left behind by campers not keen to tow them home between stays, and there was talk in the room of the land coming up for sale.

While he couldn't speak for any potential future landowner, Mr Sharkey said his business would always seek to negotiate a deal to offer such a service, but it would always be space dependent.

The meeting with campers was a requirement of the Overseas Investment Office's approval for Hampshire Holiday Parks to buy the lease for the holiday park, reflecting the land being gifted by a local family to the community in perpetuity as an affordable camping location.

The lease is one of five in the Queenstown Lakes District the Australian campground operator bought.

Addressing the confidential deal at the meeting, Mr Sharkey told campers the Queenstown Lakes District Council, which owns the reserve land the holiday spots resides on, had "driven a hard bargain and is getting a return".

"The rent terms for these QLDC assets are the toughest rent terms anywhere...the terms of the leases in Australia are nothing when you compare it."

A community survey requesting input on the camping operation at Glendhu Bay will run until the end of May. Hampshire Property Group's New Zealand manager Ben Bayliss says he wants to hear from long term guests as well as general members of the Wānaka community.

The survey can be found online here.

Main image: Attendees at a meeting at the Glendhu Bay campground spill out of the guest lounge on Friday, May 17, turning up to hear Australian-based chief executive of Hampshire Holiday Parks Frank Sharkey speak about his plans for the future. 

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