A camping hot spot has become so popular, summer holidaymakers are having to lock in their stay more than eight months in advance this year.
And for some, it was the most stressful year yet of securing a site at the Department of Conservation’s Tōtaranui Campground in the Abel Tasman National Park.
Camp sites for the 2022/2023 summer break were snapped up in lightening quick time on Thursday, April 14 – the first day of online bookings.
DOC booking services manager Ross Shearer said within two hours of opening, the campground was fully booked from December 30 to January 6.
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He said “700 to 800 people were on our online booking system at any given moment to make bookings for Tōtaranui during the first hour and a quarter after bookings opened”.
The Tasman beachfront campground is a sought-after destination for people all over the country, DOC Golden Bay operations manager Dave Winterburn said, and DOC figures show since 2017, an extra 10,000 campers have chosen to stay in the idyllic Golden Bay spot between December 1 and February 28.
More than 56,349 campers stayed between December 2020 and February 2021, up from 46,311 during the same period in 2016 to 2017. That number dropped to 46,896 for last summer, possibly due to wet weather, Winterburn said.
Since the online booking system began in June 2020, bookings have opened a month earlier each year, he added.
Tania Evamy has been making the trip from Christchurch to Tōtaranui most years since she was five. Now with children of her own, Evamy said she headed to the campground to get “back to basics” with a number of other families.
But she said booking online this year was “the most stressful part of the whole holiday”.
As more than a dozen friends and family logged on to book their sites, she said they all had issues securing dates on their computers.
“People were being able to book on their phones, but not on the computer desktop.”
And it brought back feelings of securing tickets for a concert, Evamy said, knowing there was just a limited number of sites available.
“It was really frustrating; and you know if you can’t book in, you can’t have your holiday.”
Nicole Ritchie was also frustrated with the booking system after taking a day off work to ensure she could dedicate an hour to securing a site, she said.
It was “very glitchy”, continually not working while Ritchie and her husband sat side by side trying to select dates for their trip, she said.
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She said booking nine months in advance and having to pay the full amount up front was also problematic.
“You don’t know what’s happening in nine months, but you have to book it now otherwise you’re not getting in.”
Evamy agreed that April was very early to book and pay in full.
“It’s crazy. Most people don’t even know if they can apply for leave.”
Both women were able to secure 14 days at the campground, despite having to move the holiday out a few days.
In comparison, another popular Tasman camping ground, Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve, opens for bookings on May 3.
At Tōtaranui Campground, Winterburn said there was traditionally a high demand for camp sites over the summer holidays, “with some people missing out, and it isn’t new”.
The 280 sites at the campground were capable of accommodating a maximum of 850 people, he said.
“Because of this, we have put in place a maximum stay of 14 days between 26 December and 8 February to give people opportunity to stay at the campground.”
He said the online booking system was intended “to be fair to all and operates on a first in, first served basis with everyone having the same chance to book sites when online bookings open”.
Evamy breathed a sigh of relief after securing a family site, she said.
“We love it, we’d be devastated if we didn’t get to go up there.”