With its world famous thermal attractions and the huge range of outdoor activities it offers for the energetic and adventurous, Rotorua seems the perfect destination for the young in particular who would feel at home in a log cabin or on a campsite.
There are several such sites available but Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park has long been a favourite for couples, families and parties of friends, as well as larger groups from schools, clubs or other organisations.
Until fairly recently it seemed its future was uncertain as lack of upkeep over the years had led to a worrying deterioration in the standard of accommodation and a corresponding decline in its popularity with guests. And as a leased property, another troublesome factor was uncertainty about how its ownership might be changed in the future. Investing heavily in fixed buildings could severely compromise such legal decision-making in later years.
However, an innovative approach by the parties involved is breathing new life into the park. Flexibility, science, educational experience and lateral thinking – combined with an emphasis on sustainability – is not only leading to renewed optimism at the park, but seems sure to bring advantages to the quality of New Zealand housing in general.
Long, idyllic history
The park is the oldest motor camp in Rotorua. It was established by the Rotorua Borough Council in the mid-1920s, and until the late-1950s, was located slightly further north, under a different name. It was relocated in the early 1960s to its present site, originally gifted to the Crown by the local Maori in 1880.
In the heart of Rotorua’s scenic attractions, in walking distance to geysers and closest park to excellent mountain biking trails, Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park has mature native trees around the property, which in turn attract native birds, taking campers closer to nature.
In May 2012, the park was purchased by the Waiariki Institute of Technology. The land area of nearly 13 hectares is adjacent to Waiariki’s Mokoia campus which is sited on eight hectares and is secured as a lease of recreation reserve from the Rotorua District Council until 2027. Park operations have since been separated into three business units.
1. Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park – the core business, utilising the majority of the property and presenting the main independent trading operation to the public.
2. Tangatarua Lodge – In recent years converted by the Waiariki Institute of Technology into student accommodation.
3. Sports fields – Additional green space for Waiariki students was a key factor in purchasing the park. Some of it has been converted into a rugby pitch, two netball/tennis courts and two cricket practice nets.
Featuring relaxing hot mineral pools, a year-round outdoor pool and views of the garden, Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park is in a handy position, just eight minutes’ drive from central Rotorua and 9km from the airport, with shuttle and daytime bus transport available.
Accommodation cabins come in different sizes and configurations, each sleeping from four to eight people in bunk beds with sheets, pillows and duvet provided. Some units have a dining area and/or balcony. There is also a kitchen in some of the units, fitted with an oven, a microwave, and a toaster.
A visit would not be complete without soaking in one of the recently refurbished free hot mineral pools. Guests can also book a massage or hire a mountain bike.
It is the closest holiday park to the renowned biking tracks for all levels in the Whakarewarewa Forest, and within walking distance to natural geothermal wonders and an 18 hole golf course.
“Rotorua has many magnificent sights and top tourist attractions, many offering a free on-site pick up service,” said park manager Alicia Styles. “Our park is ideal for families, mountain bikers, group bookings, school trips and sports groups.”
Decline and revival
But until recent times the facilities and services had not been upgraded for about 20 years and in urgent need of work. By 2014 an alarming drop in guest numbers was putting the park’s whole future in jeopardy. A solution had to be found quickly, but the problem was what to do when joint ownership and lease conditions made effective decision making seemingly impossible.
However, some creative thinking between the parties involved that would be mutually beneficial to the park and the students learning at Waiariki led to a clever strategy being devised. Now to put it into effect.
A start was made in 2014 when some large trees were removed from between the holiday park and Waiariki Institute of Technology.
“These trees were creating damp in the nearby buildings and a joint effort was begun to reuse this timber to build relocatable cabins, using the Waiariki Institute of Technology faculties and students as much as possible,” said Ms Styles. “In this way both businesses were supporting each other.
“It was decided the timber would be used as cladding on the cabins and was put through the Waiariki Institute of Technology mill by the tutors and students of the forestry department. The sawn timber was then sent to the carpentry students for construction.
“The wiring and electrical work is being completed by the electrical staff and students, then each finished cabin is transported to its designated place where the on-site staff complete the landscaping with the assistance of GRB Construction.
“In this era of much more emphasis on sustainability, those involved believe this needs to be taken into account with every new build and every product or service used. So each new cabin will have slight changes in building materials and be monitored by Dr Bin Su from the Unitec Institute of Technology (UNITEC) in a research project he is leading on sustainable and affordable relocatable buildings, which will be used for kaumatua and community housing in the future. This means his team will be able to design better housing for New Zealand environments, with reasonably sustainable products,” Ms Styles said.
“Due to the park being a leasehold through the RDC from Pukearoa Oruawhata Trust, all new buildings need to be relocatable as the park could eventually revert back to reserve status, requiring all buildings to be removed. This way, the buildings can be more easily sold and taken off-site.
“Last December, the first motel unit was delivered onsite, with a few remaining internal features left to do. The plan is to complete at least 4-6 cabins between now and the beginning of 2018, approximately two every year.”
Alicia Styles says the project has brought an air of optimism to those at the park.
“The upgrade will be completed 2017-2018 and it will considerably raise the quality of accommodation here. We’re excited because we believe it will breathe new life into this wonderful destination – although it can be tough to keep current customers happy when construction seems to be non-stop.
“The optimism in the staff is great and we’re receiving comments from returning customers that it’s lovely to see someone cares enough to give the park the lift it deserves.”