Home, sweet home

Brook residents face fight for campground

Last updated 11:08 10/03/2014
Mark Manson
SAFE AND SECURE: Bob Lynch is living in two caravans at the Brook Valley Holiday Park. His garden is his hobby and passion.

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With the Nelson City Council seeking submissions on its bombshell proposal to close the Brook Valley Holiday Park and force the 50 or so permanent residents to move out, reporter Bill Moore and photographer Marion van Dijk called on four of them in their homes.

Bob Lynch has been places and done things, and now he's content to live in his green corner of the Brook Valley Holiday Park.

Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 12 years ago, he moved to Nelson to "do something different", and lived for several years on the Todd Valley property of the late Dick Roberts before shifting into an old caravan in the Brook campground five years ago.

He bought a second one through an advertisement. Together, they're worth no more than a few thousand dollars, he says.

One serves as his kitchen and living room, and the other as his office and bedroom. Between and around them is a luxuriant flower garden, his hobby and passion.

All the plants are in pots, so he can move them in sequence.

"It starts in late winter with the tulips, then it goes on to the sweet peas, then I bring the lilies in, then the gladioli, then it's the dahlias - now they're all dying down for winter."

Mr Lynch, 66, was born in Palmerston North but spent much of his life in Auckland.

He also managed laboratories in Canada, and when the stress of that started to tell on him, he became a beekeeper on the Coromandel Peninsula, where he "got a taste for living in caravans".

His first wife was Canadian, his second a Kiwi. He inherited five stepchildren when he married her, and they had a son together, now in his 20s.

Mr Lynch says his illness means he won't be able to stay in the campground forever, but he is keeping well and feels "quite fortunate" that his symptoms are still relatively mild.

One neighbour listens to make sure he's up every morning. Another calls in often to check on him.

"It's worked very well for me, living here. I feel quite safe and secure. It seems that there's three things - exercise, take the pills and no stress. I've been following those.

"I feel very comfortable here, and I suspect that most people living here have trouble fitting into suburbia."

He says the council's insistence that it wants to close the campground because it is losing money "just doesn't ring true". Like others, he believes the future development around the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary is a big factor.

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"Some of the sanctuary people probably think that the camp looks a bit unsavoury or isn't elegant enough, but they can easily put in a nice hedgerow and that would hide it nicely."



Seventy-year-old Dave Heap has lived at the Brook Valley Holiday Park for almost all of the past 20 years, making him the longest resident, he says. And he has no intention of going until he's forced to.

A "10-pound Pom" immigrant to Australia, after five years he moved to New Zealand. He has been here for 47 years.

He says he's had three wives, five kids and six houses. He calls himself a jack of all trades, and did a lot of construction work before retiring.

He used to live in a caravan, but now lives alone in a 1988 Isuzu bus that he has lovingly fitted out and lined with warm-hued natural timber.

Beautifully presented inside, it's valued at $98,000 but hasn't moved for years. Mr Heap reckons it would cost $2000 to $3000 to make it roadworthy.

Outside, he's got a woodshed (the bus has a wood burner for winter), patio, vegetable garden, landscaped paths and seating. Steps lead down to the Brook Stream, and the bus has a special ladder for his "mate", a three-legged cat. It's a tidy, attractive setup, and Mr Heap takes pride in it.

"People say it looks like a bit of a shantytown in parts further up [the campground], but some [residents] haven't got the money to do anything at all to improve their sites."

The council wants the Brook residents out so that it can develop the area, he says.

He doesn't want to go to the Maitai Valley campground, which the council is proposing as an alternative, because it is "cold and depressing" and would cost him an extra $30 to $40 a week, which he can't afford.

"I've tried to buy land, but I just can't afford it. And you can't just go out and buy a piece of land, put your bus on it and live there - there's resource consent, this that and the other - it's financially impossible for me.

"I don't want to move. If it came to the crunch and we lost, I'd stay here until the bitter end, until they come up with the heavies to physically remove us."

It's inaccurate to call Patricia Horlemann's home a caravan with an addition. In fact, the two rooms added on are far bigger than the 44-year-old caravan. Together, they're like a small house.

Ms Horlemann bought it as an unfinished project two years ago, and has completed it. She's got a kitchen, bathroom, living room and separate bedroom.

The 45-year-old podiatrist and reflexologist says she was looking at buying a house but couldn't see herself with a 30-year-mortgage in an unpredictable economy. But she still had to borrow to buy the Brook property.

"I've got a mortgage, I pay site rental and power, and I've got premises in town for my job. I'm paying about $250 a week just to have a roof over my head, really. If I left now, I would have to rent and basically have nothing left from my wages to live on."

She says she feels safe and has good neighbours, and was planning on staying for at least another four years, until her loan is paid off.

"If I had known this was going to happen, I would have really thought harder about buying a place."

Ms Horlemann arrived in Nelson from Switzerland as a 10-year-old. Her father was Jack Horlemann, who established a successful Nelson salami manufacturing business.

She qualified as a podiatrist in 1994, and as a reflexologist last year. She's also worked at picking, grading and packing apples, and at Sealord during the hoki season and in its former mussel factory.

Now that the news of the planned closure has sunk in, she's been thinking about what she can do. Her caravan hasn't been shifted since 1986. "If it's moved, it would fall apart."

She's uncertain about how the whole structure could be dismantled and put back together somewhere else. "I'm really stuck. It would probably cost thousands to break it down and move it, and there's no guarantee when you put it back together that it's going to be as good as it is now."

The council is "making out they don't know anything", Ms Horlemann says.

"I think this has been on the cards for a number of years."

She plans to fight. "If I have to take time off work to attend meetings and things like that, then I will. And I will be the voice of the people if they need me to be."


No stranger to the caravan park lifestyle, Alistair Corner says the Brook campground is ideal for him.

An Invercargill boy, he spent 20 years in Western Australia with his wife and two children, 12 of them in camps. But when they moved into a house, "I got itchy feet and wanted to come back here".

He still keeps in touch with his family but likes his present arrangement, living alone in a camper-trailer that he brought back from Australia.

He's 66 and has been at the Brook campground for 5 years, a move he chose after a mountainbike accident badly damaged his shoulder. The injury also forced him to give up sailing with a friend - the reason he moved to Nelson.

Mr Corner has done a range of jobs, most recently as senior parking officer in Queenstown. "I know it's not a very popular job, but I got to know a lot of people."

After several operations on his shoulder and arm, he remains keen on mountainbiking and fitness.

"I like to get out as much as possible. In the mornings, I like to go for a walk for an hour or two. In the afternoon, I might shoot downtown or go for a bike ride out to Richmond or the end of the Boulder Bank."

He says the caravan life means "you can come and go as you like".

"Especially being single, you don't have to worry about buying a whole lot of furniture and moving into a house."

The Maitai campground is too shaded, he says. "[The council] couldn't even pay me to be up there.

"Here, the sun comes up over the ridge in the morning and you get it most of the day. You're in the country but you're close to the town."

There have been one or two "different" people in the campground during his time, he says, but overall it has been really good.

Mr Corner has been quietly co-ordinating the residents' efforts to get their story told. He says fighting the proposed closure has "pulled a lot of us together - and it's going to make a big difference if we all stick together".

If they fail to win over the council, he has two options: sell everything, or pack it all into a container and ship it back to Australia.

"There's some very nice parks there."

- Nelson


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