NEW PERKS OF PARKS
The modest family holiday has evolved, with comfort, innovation and entertainment now part of the deal
When someone mentions a caravan park, what do you imagine? In the 1970s, when my husband was growing up, his family often stayed at a beachside park in northern NSW. He remembers a modest place, with tent/caravan sites, a couple of amenities blocks, a small reception office, and an onsite fish and chip shop. Today, while still relatively low-key compared to some parks, it also has luxury cabins, villas and safari tents, fully accessible amenities, a playground and Wi-Fi.
With so many caravan parks in Australia (1638, according to 2010 ABS census data), you can still find parks that resemble the one of my husband’s youth. (We recently stayed in one that was even more basic – which had its pros and cons.) However, those possessing a broader and more sophisticated range of amenities and accommodation are increasingly common.
TRADITIONAL TO CUTTING EDGE
Discovery Parks, for example, has parks in more than 60 locations around the country. Most have a camp kitchen, laundry, swimming pool and cabins/villas, and some also boast a restaurant, water park, playground, bouncing pillow, mini golf, tennis court, pedal cart hire, Wi-Fi, and activities during school holidays.
A few of its parks retain a more traditional structure. But even these have amenities designed to make the experience more comfortable. Discovery Parks – Balmoral, Karratha, for example, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, has no on-site cabins – just tent and caravan sites. But some of these sites come with their own ensuite, plus there’s a camp kitchen, laundry, TV/games room, Wi-Fi and a refurbished swimming pool.
“We’re constantly putting new facilities, cabins and upgraded camping areas into many of our parks,” says Jane Ford, Discovery Parks’ public relations and content manager. Some that have recently undergone (or are undergoing) a refurb include Robe (South Australia), which has a new naturebased adventure playground, with new cabins on the way; the Barossa Valley (SA), which has a new lagoon pool and five new cabins; and Gerroa (NSW) which has an upgraded camp kitchen and 10 new superior cabins.
“We’re always working on developing cutting-edge holiday parks, while delivering the oldfashioned customer service that has made our caravan parks the product/ location of choice,” Jane says.
Sustainability investments in some parks have included solar power, rainwater harvesting, and pool filtration technology that reduces water and chemical consumption. Planned water park enhancements include wave riders, illumination for evening use, and indoor water parks. And the company hopes to introduce technology in cabins where guests can control airconditioning via an app, adjust lights and curtains with their voices, use/link their own Netflix account, and monitor their power and water usage.
SAFARI AND BELL TENTS, VINTAGE CARAVANS
Other Australian parks have intriguing features too. According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s research team, one trend is an increase in alternative on-site “glamping” stays, such as safari tents and bell tents, and vintage caravans.
Safari tents, which often have canvas sides and wooden floors, can give a luxury experience – especially when they include an ensuite. Deluxe safari tents at Discovery Parks – Byron Bay, for example, have a queen bed, kitchenette with a full-size fridge, ensuite bathrooms, reverse-cycle airconditioning/heating, 40-inch TV with Blue Ray, and a deck with a private barbecue.
A number of BIG4 parks have safari tents, too, with similar features. These are, of course, more expensive than a tent or caravan site (the ones at Discovery Parks – Byron Bay start at $158 a night), but you’ll be more comfortable – and for a price that’s typically cheaper than a hotel.
Bell tents are made of cotton canvas and have a central metal pole. Those in caravan parks don’t typically have an ensuite, but the design often allows for a decent amount of floor space and they’re sometimes stylishly appointed. Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park (Vic), for example, has four themed bell tents (such as Aussie Mediterranean Isles, French Riviera) which come with a queen bed, small fridge, microwave and deck with a barbecue and Ozpig woodfire.
Finally, some parks offer vintage caravans, which are exactly what they sound like: older caravans, sometimes with a small kitchen, TV, airconditioning and outdoor seating. They often lack an ensuite and can feel either cute or dated, depending on their condition but, when thoughtfully refurbished, the retro ambience is endearing. For a few fetching examples, check out Kanasta Caravan Park on the Mornington Peninsula (Vic), where the lovingly restored 1950s-1980s glampers have names (Peggy Sue, Mary Jane), as well as Tathra Beachside (NSW), which has vintage Franklin vans dating from the ’60s-’80s. DISCOVERYHOLIDAYPARKS.COM.AU/NSW/ NORTH_COAST/BYRON_BAY HALLSGAPLAKESIDE.COM TATHRABEACHSIDE.COM.AU KANASTACARAVANPARK.COM.AU
FINDING THE PERFECT PARK
While some parks are increasingly elaborate, the Caravan Industry Association research team reports that the most important features for park users are straightforward. In order of importance, users look at location (whether it’s a good place to visit), outdoor space, amenities such as bathrooms and washing facilities, site size (large is preferred), price, and park security. The three main motivations for caravanning and camping, the team says, are lifestyle, spending time with family and friends, and escaping the daily grind – which you can pursue in any park, whether basic or full of amenities.
“The great thing about caravanning and camping is the diversity of product available – whether this be a great facility to base yourself in to explore the surrounding countryside, or to stay in and immerse yourself in the activities available within the park …. or a combination of both,” says Stuart Lamont, Caravan Industry Association CEO. “In selecting the best type of caravan park for your family, decide what sort of holiday experience you’re seeking and you’ll find a product to suit your needs.”
Choose from a broad range of caravan park amenities and accommodation. There are on-site bouncing pillows (main picture) at Discovery Parks Pambula, NSW; lakeside cabins at Byron Bay, NSW, and a water park at Tanunda, SA.