Permanent Holiday Park Residency: The Pros and Cons

Kath Heiman — 22 September 2017
Kath Heiman faces a tough decision: set up a holiday park base and enjoy weekends by the beach, or stick with their life on the open road.

Last weekend, I was at a caravan park on the NSW South Coast checking out a few residential vans for sale.  No—our family isn’t considering filing away our Hema maps and settling down, but I did think it was worth finding out more about how parks operate for people who want to establish a base at a beach-side location, without the hassle and expense of owning real estate.  

After all, who of us hasn’t felt a pang of jealousy when we’ve lobbed into a surf-side location and watched a holiday park’s long-term residents going about their day-to-day routine surrounded by scenery that we’ve driven a long way to enjoy, just the weekend?

Is it possible, we wonder in these moments, to find somewhere that would allow us to leave work on Friday afternoon and be walking on the beach before sunset?  Could it be somewhere that our growing daughter could call her ‘beach shack’ when school holidays came around?  And what about friends and relatives—wouldn’t they love it too?  

While buying a camper trailer is one of the best lifestyle decisions we’ve ever made, there’s unavoidable time and effort associated with hitching-up and ensuring the rig is good-to-go and properly kitted out.  There’s also the costs associated with increased fuel consumption and wear-and-tear on the tow vehicle.  So, when I saw an advert for a permanent caravan at a location right next one of our favourite national parks—all for the cost of the carport we’re considering building to protect our camper trailer—it was worth a closer look.

The first few vans we viewed were quickly dismissed by our daughter as 'not suitable for girls'. But a couple of others showed potential from an adult viewpoint.  And it wasn’t long before the concept of a beach-side escape was beginning to capture my imagination.  

The reality-check came on the way home, when we started to weigh the pros and cons without the sound of the surf distracting us.  

Price was one factor. This included purchase price (from $12k - $100k) plus $5200 yearly rates.  When spread over the 150-days of permitted use of the site per year, the holiday park rates for a permanent part-time on-site caravan would be about the same per-night as parking our camper trailer in the serviced camp-ground at the national park a few hundred metres down the road, where we can choose from several campsites spread throughout the park, ensuring a different experience every time we visit—provided, of course, we book well-ahead.  

There’s another consideration too. What if the holiday park ceases to operate, or the family tires of the location? Before inspecting the on-site vans, I’d assumed it would be possible to simply move them to a different location. But those we viewed were clearly caravans in name only.  In the face of multiple structural modifications, including removal of the ‘A’-frame, mobility was a feature that had been surrendered years ago.  I’ve read estimates of around $30-50,000 to move one of these monoliths to a new site. (ABC Radio Perth, 18 July 2014).  A sobering thought indeed.

And what about the density of occupancy in a holiday park? While things seemed fairly quiet during the down-season, what would it feel like when the park filled and our neighbours all arrived? Would it still feel like a holiday escape—or would it more closely resemble a visit to the suburbs on a much smaller scale?  

An ABS census some years back indicated that 163,000 Australians have made a permanent home in a caravan park (C James, 31 Mar 2015,  But, all things considered, I don’t think our family will be joining them for the holidays any time soon.  While getting away with a camper trailer involves a bit of preparation and pre-planning, when the call of the wild strikes, we do like variation and the sound of crickets.

So, I have to admit that a spontaneous Friday night escape to the ‘beach shack’ is unlikely. Now, where did I put those plans for the camper trailer’s carport? 


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