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Lake Ferry Holiday Park: The impasse is building

What will become of a landmark campground in South Wairarapa now that a potential sale has fallen through?

The paperwork was all but signed, but the seemingly imminent sale of the Lake Ferry Holiday Park is dead in the water.
In early October, tech-savvy company KiwiCamp had signalled interest in buying the camp, with founder Chris Wagner indicating all that remained was to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.
However, he recently confirmed that the sale, which appeared to be a foregone conclusion, had stumbled at the final hurdle.
“From our point of view, we put in an offer and it was accepted, but legally we can’t operate.
“There is no licence to operate and it has been in breach of the lease for the last three years.”
The iconic campsite on the shore of Lake Onoke [Ferry] in South Wairarapa has been on the market since April this year.
Despite plenty of interest, business owner Mary Tipoki said she had struggled to sell the holiday park located on 2.9 hectares of council-owned reserve land.
Since 2019, the South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has not granted the camp an operating licence, citing a variety of non-compliance issues with the Camping Grounds Regulations Act 1985.
The council said the most notable breach was the proximity of a dozen static caravans or Temporary Living Spaces that presented a fire risk and threat to health and safety.
Wagner said the end result was a huge disappointment, but unfortunately it was impossible to finalise the sale without a campground licence.
He said the campground regulations were clear, and that it was the district council’s responsibility to enforce them.
“Rules are rules, they’re there for safety and you have to have a pretty good reason to have an exemption.
“If there is a fire and someone was hurt, from a legal point of view the council is liable.
“It could go seriously pear-shaped if, god-forbid, something happened.”
Tipoki said there was conflict over what constituted a Temporary Living Space, and maintained the distance breaches existed before she bought the camp lease in 2002.
“Maurice and I inherited a camping ground that breached the legislation. We did not create this. We did what we were required to do, we were given compliance, and now they’ve changed the rules.”
She said successive councils had no issue with the spacing until recent years, and she was drowning in incomprehensible paperwork regarding the breaches.
According to the 1985 regulations, a Temporary Living Space [TLS] is defined as a “cabin, caravan, vehicle, tent, or other building or structure intended for human habitation for periods not exceeding 50 days in any continuous term of occupancy”.
The regulations further stipulate that no TLS can be erected or placed on any campsite within three metres of any other TLS or within 1.5 metres of any campsite boundary.
Tipoki said she was willing to rectify the issues, within reason, but was “not willing to rip down people’s decks and awnings” for the sake of “regulatory nonsense”.
South Wairarapa District Council said council officers progressed the annual regulatory campground inspection last month in light of the potential sale to “further outline what areas of the holiday park were non-compliant with the regulations”.
Group manager of partnerships and operations Stefan Corbett said while he was sympathetic to the complexity of the situation it was in everyone’s interest to resolve what had become a prolonged affair.
The 1985 Act provides for local authorities to grant exemptions if compliance were to result in “undue hardship”. However, the council said an exemption was not an option for the Lake Ferry Holiday Park.
It said the campground had been given sufficient time over the past three years to rectify the issues.
“The central problem is that the Temporary Living Places on the campground are too close to one another, which is a threat to public health and safety, for example, in the case of a fire breaking out.
“Council directed the park operator to remove decks, awnings, lean-tos, and sheds that breached the boundary proximity requirements.”
In response to questions about why the council had not enforced its regulations, SWDC said it had undertaken an informal process with Tipoki, and some progress had been made.
“We have been working collaboratively with Mary [Tipoki] in an attempt to avoid a more formal process, potentially including legal proceedings.”
Tipoki said if she were to be evicted, it would leave the council in a tricky position.
“Our lease requires us to remove all our property from the camp and leave it in the condition in which we found it if the lessor terminates that lease.
“This means there will be no infrastructure to operate a camp that is 100 years old. We are at an impasse that is building.”
She said it was “a real shame” that the sale with Wagner had fallen through as he would have brought “something modern” to the region.
Wagner said his biggest concern was that campsites like Lake Ferry Holiday Park were disappearing.
“If they closed it down that would be absolutely terrible.
“It is such an awesome site, and I really enjoyed my time there. But we can’t buy a business knowing we need to remedy something that wasn’t our doing.”
The council said it would continue to support the current owners to meet their legal obligations.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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