RELAX AND RECHARGE IN ATHENREE
At the tranquil northern end of Tauranga Harbour, holidays are unfolding in much the same way they have for generations.
Athenree days tend to meander through simple shared meals and fishing expeditions, past board games and beach cricket and lazy hours on a towel with a book, to finish with an evening soak in the mineral hot pools.
Children gather new friends from neighbouring campsites and roam Athenree Hot Springs and Holiday Park in packs, seeking unplugged adventures involving a playground or pool, bikes or kayaks.
“We’re off the beaten track at the end of a peninsular with one road in and one road out, so it’s hard to find trouble here,” says park owner Peter Church.
“Everyone gets to relax and recharge.”
Peter and his wife Belinda Rixon-Church have raised their three teenage daughters locally for the last 10 years.
The couple stepped away from their geologist jobs to take on the park in early 2020 and have continued to upgrade and expand its offerings since then. New cabins offer motel-style accommodation options while dog owners are now welcome to bring their four-legged friends on holiday; while the animals need to remain on a leash inside the park, they can freely roam the harbourfront walkway.
During school holidays, a kids’ programme delivers more old-fashioned entertainment; sand sculpture building on the mudflats or a harbour fishing contest and colouring competitions for wet days.
It is a realm that conjures memories of Peter’s own childhood holidays.
“I will say that our guests tend to bring better gin for their sunset drinks than the stuff my parents drank and we now have access to kayaks and stand up paddleboards instead of an old dinghy. But I love seeing guests find that rhythm I remember from our camping trips in the 70’s. People realise you don’t have to be go, go, go all the time. It doesn’t matter if the phone goes flat.”
Managers Grant and Leigh Duske live in this serene spot amidst mature pūriri trees, with sheltered harbour on two sides of the doorstep. The Duskes are part of a team that strives to ensure guests enjoy their time in this slice of paradise.
“They’re committed to the same old school camping ethos as we are,” Peter says.
“Of course, if guests need the surf beach, it’s a five minute drive. We have plenty of walks, a stunning cycle trail, great cafes and some surprisingly smart little shops just up the road but when you’re in the park you can kind of forget about the outside world.”
A geothermal bore feeds the two on-site hot pools, which are rich in muscle-relaxing magnesium and constantly flushed through so there is no need for chlorine or other chemicals. The adults-only soak pool is slightly warmer than the larger main pool.
“We are offering people a genuinely warm welcome and a return to simpler times.”
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