The couple behind one of NZ’s best holiday parks
Ian and Vicki Smith are familiar faces around Waihī Beach. The good-hearted couple has run Waihī Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort for the past 25 years, transforming it from a sleepy little campground into one of New Zealand’s highest rated family-friendly getaway locations.
The park is located just metres away from one of New Zealand’s favourite beaches and provides easy access to scenic walks in the nearby hills and along the coast to Orokawa Bay. Historically used as a camp for gold miners working in the Karangahake Gorge in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the park now attracts a more modern breed of holidaymaker seeking beachside relaxation close to the funky cafes and boutique shopping options Waihī Beach has become known for.
However, despite its fantastic location and current success, running the park hasn’t been without its challenges for the Smith family. Back in the mid-90s Ian had just left his job as a school principal in Auckland and he and Vicki had limited experience in hospitality.
Everything they purchased in the early days was second hand and they had to work tirelessly seven days a week just to make ends meet.
“I remember standing on the street at one point looking at the campervans that drove past and wondering why they didn’t stop,” says Ian. “We used to have an unsealed drive running into our park and we hadn’t done a lot of development.”
What they did have going for them was motivation, a big heart, and a love of helping people. Ian grew up on a dairy farm at Ararimu near Auckland and his family regularly hosted disadvantaged children in the school holidays. Vicki camped at Waihī Beach regularly in her 20s and recalls fantastic holidays with friends enjoying the sun and surf at the north end of the beach.
One of the first things they did at the holiday park was put a playground in, and that is still with them. They also decided to seal their driveway and put in units for guests to enjoy, alongside traditional camping and motorhome sites.
Ian and Vicki are big believers in knowing your history and they have always maintained a record of those early days, as well as the park’s origins as a gold miners’ camp, which sprung up in 1898. Ian and Vicki are proud of this tradition and display photos and pictures telling the park’s story in the park’s main block.
As time has gone on, they have developed the park into something truly amazing. It now sports dozens of picturesque camping sites and fully self- contained motel units, along with a spa, swimming pool, children’s playground and even a pizza oven. Visitors can also choose from an impressive array of hireable equipment, including surfboards, boogie boards, bikes and even quirky two-seater trikes that have become a common sight at the north end of the beach during summer.
The park’s staff has also grown and Vicki and Ian are now supported by a team of caring locals and energetic backpackers who have enjoyed their time in Waihī Beach and haven’t managed to leave. Ian and Vicki also have four adult children – two sons and two daughters – all of whom have worked at the park in some capacity over the years.
“I always say a holiday park is a microcosm of community and I’ve seen pretty much everything while I’ve been here,” Ian says. “It’s amazing to see people who met here as teenagers return to the park years later, still together and with kids in tow.”
The hard work has paid off and Waihī Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort won numerous awards over the years, including the NZ Tourism Industry Award for Hospitality, the Business of the Year at the Westpac Tauranga Business Awards and commendations at the Top 10 Holiday Parks Awards.
Ian and Vicki are community minded. Ian spent 20 years in the volunteer fire brigade during his time at the beach – including 10 years as chief fire officer. He is chair of Top 10 Holiday Parks NZ and has previously chaired the Waihī Beach Progressive Association (now Waihī Beach Events) and Tourism Bay of Plenty.
The park hosts children taking part in Canteen’s CanSurf Waihī Beach Summer Camp – an annual initiative that helps young people from the upper North Island who are living with cancer. They also host children from Waihī Beach Primary school for an annual camping experience and run an Easter egg hunt each year for guests staying at the park.
This year they are also running a competition involving a free weekend stay in June for people who have been doing it tough during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown. “We want to support our customers too – it’s not just about supporting business owners through COVID-19”.
Ian and Vicki also own the nearby Beachhaven Top 10 Holiday Park, which provides budget-friendly accommodation equally close to Waihī Beach’s glistening waters.
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