The NZMCA (NZ Motorhome & Caravan Association) has over 50,000 members nationwide who are entitled to many benefits and perks including heavily discounted Cook Strait ferry crossings, discounts with a major appliance & electronics store and various other discounts elsewhere. The Association also has 27 NZMCA Parks located around the country in some stunning locations. For a very small fee ($3pp per night) members can stay in a safe & secure environment for anything from 3-7 nights per month depending on the park. Some parks have a dump station, laundry, most have rubbish recycling & fresh water. They are a Godsend for us and we always enjoy our stays.
I was a little worried as we followed the co-ordinates that I’d entered into TomTom for the Westport NZMCA Park. They led us through town and down towards the beach, onto a bumpy gravel road, past a swamp and rough scrub and out onto a sandy parking area that looked like an afterhours meeting place for the local hoons- in fact they used the wide expanse of beach at low tide to ‘hoon’ down. Freedom camping is allowed in this area and most nights there were half a dozen vehicles parked up.
Down to the left of the sandy carpark a gravel road led to a large enclosed area with a firmly packed gravel surface and a locked gate; the NZMCA Park. What a great spot, right on the beach and only about 3kms from town.
The caretaker is obviously having a bit of trouble with visitors arriving at the park and not being able to get in even though they have the combination- I like his humour. I would have to admit though, that unless you read the sign board (and you don’t if you’re quite familiar with the routine) then you can get pretty frustrated trying to crack the code. And I would think you’d be especially peeved off if it was pouring with rain. Most combinations line up with the centre line on the padlock, not a top one (I didn’t even know they had a top line). While we were there (4 nights) at least 80% of arriving vans had trouble getting in.
But in the end it is worth the hassle, there’s not too many places where you can park up overnight so close to sea and watch the sun set below the horizon while you’re cooking dinner (or having a glass of wine).
I do think the caretaker should put up one of these signs though, 4 or 5 very friendly weka spend their day cruising around the park, resting under vans and fighting each other if someone throws out some food. Which is often.
As you can see the Park is a pretty popular place, most people using it as a base while they explore the top end of the West Coast. Those with caravans & fifth-wheelers were able to leave their vans in place while exploring each day; the motorhomes & buses had to take pot luck and find a new position when they returned each evening.
The beach was also popular with the Kiwi Experience tour bus. On our first night I heard a whole lot of chatter and laughter and when I looked out the side window a crowd of young people carrying supermarket bags of food plus wine & beer were walking along the fence line past us and over to the beach. They gathered up some driftwood and added it to a already charred fire pit, lit a bonfire and partied on for the next couple of hours. Now that’s a real “kiwi experience”. The same thing happened the next night but they were a little later and missed the sunset. The next night it was raining heavily.
It was wonderful to see them. We had a couple of very happy ‘happy hours’ for the next two evenings and caught up on our travels, & gossip from ‘home’. It is rather strange that had I not seen Ian we could quite well have not known each of us were in the park. We often don’t see our neighbours as everyone comes and goes each night & morning.
The town of Westport is nothing to write home about, it’s your usual small provincial town (pop. 4000) with not much to offer. There’s a short main street with pretty hanging flower baskets on each side which add a bit of cheer, a number of restored historic buildings & plenty of empty shops and shops selling tacky imported junk. There are no decent clothing stores but a good number of cafes and a large i-Site that is always busy- tours leave for the coalmines & up the coast from here.
And then there is the most beautiful Municipal Chambers (former) building I have seen on our travels. It is absolutely stunning. It was built in 1946 and is coated in Motueka sand which gives it this beautiful colour- remember the sand from our time at Kaiteriteri? The Phoenix palms are the perfect accompaniment to the Art Deco style.
And what better place for a procession of tractors towing various forms of accommodation to be welcomed into the town. The convoy, 27 in all and called the Tractor Trekkers, are towing a range of pop-tops, caravans and wooden sheds around the South Island raising funds for the Westpac Chopper Appeal.
They were on their way to Karamea (at the end of the road) before returning to Southland (where they are from) via the east coast.
We passed them two days later as they were returning from Karamea, spread out like Brown’s cows along the highway. Which was just as well as some were moving along at a cow’s pace.
Sunset over Westport’s NZMCA Park.