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Christmas in the park a long-time family affair

Tucked down a lane at the back of Kopua Holiday Park — with tables set beneath gazebos — more than 50 members of one big, happy family ranging in age from 10 months to 70-something met last month for Christmas dinner.

Half of them were visiting from Auckland, Whakatane and Rotorua. The others were already there, camping — in for the long haul.

It was a large gathering this year even by their standards, admit Ian and Thais Butler, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact the Auckland family’s celebrated Christmas at Kopua for 46 years now.

“Everybody comes here — this is (like) our home,” Thais told the Chronicle last week before some of their extended family packed up camp and headed home after the holiday break. She and Ian were staying on awhile, as they do.

And come Auckland Anniversary Weekend at the end of the month, they’ll be back to their caravan parked on site year-round. They’ll be there again at Easter, Labour Weekend and lots of the weekends in between, continuing the long family tradition of camping at Kopua.

Thais’s brother Doug Green and his wife Doreen — whose Christmas cake is, by unanimous decision, the family specialty — camp there too. Like those of Ian and Thais, their children and grandchildren also come and stay in caravans, tents and even a bus.

They’re squeezed in all over the large campground and get together whenever they can.

It’s not uncommon for Ian — the patriarch at 73 — to make 30-plus slices of toast for nieces and nephews, happily sent in his direction for breakfast by grateful parents.

And one thing’s for sure — he’s had plenty of practice. His daughter Shellee, who was camped in her caravan a stone’s throw from theirs and was minding her own grandchildren when the Chronicle called, remembers “when we were young” and there was no power on site.

Those were the days of four big tins of baked beans and a loaf of bread for breakfast, she says, all made over at the cookhouse by Dad for their family of five.
“And we’d go to the cookhouse to get our milk,” she remembers. “The milkman was there morning and night and brought in nice, fresh juice too.”

There were lots of families here like this though, Shellee adds. She’s grown up since babyhood with a neighbouring camper who’s also been coming to Kopua year in, year out over generations.
But the memories go back much further for Shellee’s mum Thais, who says the divvy was a dirt road when she first came to Raglan to camp with her own parents and grandparents. A grader pulled vehicles up and over the divvy when it was raining, she recalls, and haybales were brought out for beds.

Lupins had to be cleared from the chosen camping spot before the big army tent could even be erected.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes,” says Thais, remembering old photos showing tents and caravans scattered haphazardly over what is now the campground’s tarseal roads.

As her brother Doug says, six generations of them — the Green family from Frankton — have been camping at Kopua since just after the war when they progressed here from Whale Bay where longtime locals’, the late Sam Kereopa and Eva Rickard, charged a small fee for campers to set up tents on their whanau land.

“And there’s four generations here now (this year),” Doug adds proudly, remembering some great singing by the Kereopas and Rickards back in the day. “They were beautiful singers.”

He reckons the Green and Butler families will all be back again next Christmas. Ian agrees.

“It’s a proper family camp,” he says, “safe for kids and with security around.”
“It’s lovely,” adds Shellee, cherishing a lifetime of camping memories at Kopua.

Edith Symes

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