Thursday, 14 November 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

A colourful journey for the Simpsons Beach farm campground

Hundreds of locals and visitors descended on the Simpsons Beach farm campground last Friday to witness the historic Tuia - Encounters 250 proceedings.

However, this unique spot has been officially hosting many of those who find their way to Wharekaho since the early 1950s, and unofficially even earlier than that.

The property at the northern end of Wharekaho has been a working farm since 1927 and hospitality and a warm welcome was already part of the landscape with the family hosting the odd camping guest. Fast forward 60 years and the summer school holidays of the 1980s when the campground would see 100 tents all lined up to face the water.   

While there are no ablution blocks and limited tank water, owner, Margaret Simpson, believes the ambience of the site is what has attracted multiple generations of families over many hot summers with some even returning to the site to marry and celebrate other special occasions.

Margaret first became part of the camping tradition when she came onto the farm in 1956, having married farmer, Peter Simpson. Son, John, has seen it all during his time growing up on the farm and joined his mum when The Informer visited to share many memories about the changing face of camping at the place he calls home.

Since the late 1990s, the campground takes only fully self-contained camping vehicles. Prior to that, each summer the site was a vibrant paddock of old canvas army surplus tents with billies, barbecues, family fun and parties. According to the Simpson family, most of the campers in the earlier days came from Auckland or the Waikato, while nowadays there is a larger cross section of national and international visitors.

John and his sister, Diana, would spend their summers playing endlessly with the visiting kids, running pranks and spending their time fishing and exploring. They grew close to the regular families who would sometimes take them back with them to the “Big Smoke” of Auckland to show them around. In those days the fish were abundant off the beach with ample flounder in the stream and crayfish in the rock pools.  

The 1980s became quite a hectic time for the campground. John describes is as “nuts.” Parts of the campsite paddocks are flat, but campers would even pitch their tents on the slant of rolling hills, just to squeeze in. Although all of the campers were very respectful of the private farm, there were still mountains of rubbish that had to be hauled out of the paddocks by tractor each day.

Every February, the family would put on a party in their woolshed for their local friends and returning families. It was an immense catering operation, including sheep on the spit carefully tended to all day with beer in hand by Margaret’s brother, Walter Russell, with mates, Allan Watson and Colin Stewart.

Music and dancing were also a feature of these parties. Starting with a record player in the early days, people later started bringing in guitars and other instruments and forming bands to entertain partygoers. John Simpson’s dancing was apparently especially notable, breaking out his own unique pre-break-dancing moves to “Go Johnny Go.” John describes the woolshed parties as “light-hearted drunkenness with some very good dancing.” 

Sporting days organised by the campers and local bach owners with activities for the kids and their parents and impromptu tent parties are among some of the other stand-out memories. The Whitianga Lions Club also held a sports day in one of the farm paddocks, featuring all sorts of activities including, calf and sheep rides, farm games and an adult run up the pretty challenging hills behind the paddock.

John and Margaret remember these days as full of good weather and good fun, but also very hectic. They reckon that most people are just too busy these days to organise similar family activities while today’s Health and Safety legislation also inhibits many of the antics of 40 years ago.

In the late 1990s, the woolshed parties came to a halt and eventually the tents went altogether. The fact that the campground only takes self-contained vehicles these days, the demographic of camper has changed - a more mature age and perhaps a little less rowdy. There are still busy times when groups from the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association come for a rally, often helping out with a working bee during their stay. School groups, forestry workers and weddings are also occasions when the site is full, at times with up to 60 vehicles.

But despite the work involved in taking bookings and looking after their visitors, the family doesn’t profit from the facility. The $10 per night paid by each camper is distributed by Margaret to a variety of local and national charities. Margaret says she is happy to do it and, after all, life is a bit simpler these days.

Pictured: Margaret Simpson, with her late husband, Peter, at their Simpsons Beach farm campground.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.