Punakaiki Beach Camp
Punakaiki Beach Camp and Paparoa Track Services manager Jed Findlay on the opening of the Paparoa Trail, the launch of a new venture, living with extreme weather and Punakaiki’s big redevelopment plans.
Our family have run the Punakaiki Beach Camp for the last six years and we love it. With the recent opening of the Paparoa Track on 1 December, we started a new business – Paparoa Track Services – offering transport for walkers and mountain bikers to Blackball where the track starts. We’ve got an 18-seat bus and a 20-bike trailer and we’ve started to see people arriving at the camp.
It’s an exciting time with the opening of New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk – the first new track in 25 years. Our camp is perfectly positioned at the end of the track and despite it not being fully open (there are slips caused by recent bad weather), we’re still getting some people through as it is possible to walk or bike about 20 kilometres at both ends of the track.
Conveniently, visitors can stay at the Punakaiki Beach Camp before and after they walk or cycle the track. We run shuttles at 8am to get visitors to the start of the track by 9.20am. From the end of the track, the campground is across the road, so it’s perfectly placed so that visitors can pick up their keys, have a shower and relax and enjoy being by the ocean.
Unfortunately, due to the section of track that is currently closed, everyone who had booked transport has cancelled. It was pretty painful cancelling all those bookings, but we’re not distraught as we’ve retained plenty of accommodation bookings and Christmas is our busiest week of the year. We also know we’re likely to get those people that cancelled back in the future.
Prior to the Paparoa Track opening, our customers were predominantly international visitors in campervans, except for Christmas and New Year, which has always been booked out by New Zealanders. We expect to see a big increase in the domestic market and we’re really excited about that because they’re more likely to be return customers and we have a Kiwi vibe to our campsite, so it’s always good having more Kiwis stay here.
The campsite has been here for many years and we lease it from the council. We’ve recently expanded the accommodation options with eight new riverside cabins. We can have up to 250 people here with 18 cabins, 3 holiday houses, 32 powered sites and 50 non-powered sites.
The business is performing at around about the same level as last year currently, but we hope that when the track is fully open, we’ll see less seasonal curves and a more balanced stream of people coming throughout the year.
With extreme weather events having become more frequent we’ve had some challenging times due to road closures, where our customers just can’t get to us.
Coastal erosion has also affected the campsite – two years ago we had to get a protective wall built, otherwise most of the campground would have been gone by now. The council built the wall but it wasn’t easy getting it done. The wall is doing the job it needs to do now but it is inevitable that it won’t always be adequate.
During a cyclone a couple of years ago, we lost part of the road at Punakaiki and that was just down the road from us. The NZ Transport Agency has since spent millions improving the roads but the bad weather events have become more frequent.
With the most recent bad weather and floods just before Christmas, we probably lost 80-90% of our business during those weeks. People don’t come if they can’t get all the way down to the glaciers. We had the same issue when the bridge was washed out earlier this year. Road closures are definitely the biggest challenge to our business.
Our business is entirely dependent on the natural beauty of the area, so sustainability is very important to us and we work with our community to try and sustain what we have as much as possible.
We run a local event called the Taiko Festival, at the beginning of May, which celebrates the return of the Westland Petrel, an endemic seabird to Punakaiki. We have a concert here at the campsite with Tiki Taane and P Digsss from Shapeshifter playing as part of the 2020 line-up. We have about 1000 people attend and with the proceeds, we’ve been able to work with Conservation Volunteers New Zealand to plant trees as part of a coastal restoration project and purchase traps to help with local pest control initiatives to protect the petrel colony.
We’re very excited about the future of tourism on the West Coast. Especially with all the new tracks opening up like the Old Ghost Road, The Wilderness Trail and there’s planning underway for the Kawatiri Coastal Trail (a $9.63m PGF project), which will be a family-friendly walking and cycle trail connecting the towns of Westport and Charleston.
There are a lot of new outdoor recreational opportunities in the region and we’re excited to be a part of the transformation that is happening with new tourism products coming online on the West Coast. We would much rather create these kinds of opportunities than have large companies ripping up the land trying to extract and sell our natural resources.
As tourism growth continues, Punakaiki is implementing a redevelopment plan (also PGF funded) intended to manage the growth and build new footpaths and cycle lanes to get around the town safely and efficiently. There is also a new information centre and carpark being developed at Dolomite Point, which is a real pressure point currently.
Within the tourism industry, if I could change one thing, it would be the rules around what constitutes a campervan as being self-contained. Self-contained should mean that the toilet must be able to be used all the time.
Recently, locals petitioned and ran a campaign to get freedom camping banned in the Punakaiki community. This happened after the council received funding from the government and a ban was put in place south of Punakaiki and up to 10km north of the town.
Designated freedom camping areas exist on the borders, with a compliance officer making sure the rules are respected, and locals are happy with the solution. But it still could be better if people were only allowed to freedom camp in those areas if they had a real toilet that they always used.
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