10 May 2023

Queenstown camping grounds to be leased to Australian company

6:42 pm on 10 May 2023
Glendhu Bay Motor Camp

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp is located just outside of Wānaka. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

There are concerns the sale of leases for five Queenstown Lakes camping grounds to an Australian group may spell the end to the Kiwi camping experience at the sites.

But the Queenstown Lakes District Council says it intends to retain ownership of the land, and campers will continue to enjoy the places they love.

Doug Fraser had been camping at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp, just outside of Wānaka, with his family since the late 1940s.

It meant a lot to him and his whānau.

"It's very near and dear," Fraser told RNZ.

"The grandkids talk about coming down for six months of the year, so the parents couldn't go for a holiday anywhere else because the kids demand that they come back to Glendhu Bay."

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp

Queenstown Lakes District Council said it intended to retain ownership of the land at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

So when he heard rumours while camping there at Christmas that it was potentially going to be sold to Australian company Hampshire Property Group, he had concerns - especially in light of the council's 2021 camping strategy.

"It seemed to be more focused on what financial returns they could get out of the camps rather than maintaining the Kiwi camping experience.

"They talk about joint ventures with private capital and changing to different camping systems, so is that code for building chalets on the camp sites that we've been camping on for many years? There's a certain nervousness about that."

Those concerns were echoed by other Glendhu Bay campers, who did not want to see the ownership of the leases go offshore.

"Not necessarily just Australia, but any overseas entity. I think it will just take away the Kiwiness of camping there," one woman, who did not want to be identified, told RNZ.

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp

Some Glendhu Bay campers did not want to see the ownership of the leases go offshore. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"To see it sold off to an overseas entity wouldn't be good," a Wānaka resident said.

"It becomes more corporate and with that you've got a whole corporate structure to pay for and the only way to pay for it is to put their prices up," another camper said.

Their concerns centred around the loss of the "Kiwi camping experience", increased costs to campers, and a changes to what they had come to expect at the site.

Glendhu Bay was leased under a single arrangement alongside the Albert Town, Arrowtown, Queenstown and Wānaka holiday parks.

In nearby Cromwell, the holiday park had been sold off and turned into a subdivision filled with houses.

That was another concern of the campers.

But the five Queenstown Lakes camp sites were owned by the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

They had been leased and managed by two local couples for years, but the death of one of the owners had sparked the need for change.

The owners and prospective purchasers did not wish to comment while the application was before the Overseas Investment Office.

Bruce Miller, who had also been camping at Glendhu Bay since he was an infant, said as long as the current culture of the site was maintained, he was comfortable with new ownership.

"Really, as long as there are appropriate constraints on what new owners may or may not do - particularly as they're not New Zealanders and may not necessarily fully appreciate the New Zealand camping culture - that would be the main thing I'd be looking for," Miller said.

But he appreciated such constraints were easier said than done.

"It's not a straight-forward challenge for them because it's one thing to say 'no change' but on the other hand people do like to know there are going to be improvements and there always have been. The native planting around the camp would be an example of that."

The Overseas Investment Office said it received the application regarding the sale of the camp site leases in late October.

It would not release the application until after its decision was made and would not confirm Hampshire Property Group was the proposed purchaser.

"The application is currently being assessed," the OIO said.

"We have received 13 submissions on this application. A decision is expected on this application in May/June 2023.

"Consents granted under the benefit to New Zealand pathway are subject to standard conditions and special conditions that are specific to the investment."

The Queenstown Lakes District Council said it would not be selling the land and retained some control over how the lease operated.

"The lease in question allows the leaseholder to operate a campground on the lease's sites. Council has an approval role for any capital investment in new infrastructure by the leaseholder, and any proposed changes to the fees and charges onsite," the council said.

"QLDC does not have any input on the prospective owner. The current leaseholder is allowed to assign the lease to another company. However, council does have some ability to conduct due diligence over the new leaseholder and to ensure the company is in a financially stable position to take on the lease.

The council said it had no made a formal submission to the OIO.