Camping Holiday

A century of camping at Narrabeen’s Lakeside Holiday Park | Northern Beaches Review

The caravan and camping industry has been the fastest growing tourism sector in Australia for more than a decade, as grey nomads and young families alike seek out natural, budget friendly experiences and hit the road. As a result, caravan parks have become a lot more sophisticated.

But Narrabeen’s Lakeside Holiday Park isn’t one of those roaming resort-style places with coffee carts and jumping pillows. It has retained much of its rustic heritage and has been attracting some of the same holiday-making groups over summer for generations.

And NSW’s oldest council-owned caravan park has a great history.

In 1815, the first land grants in the area – part of an extensive wetland known as Narrabeen Swamp – were made but it wasn’t until 1880, when a bridge across Narrabeen Lagoon was built, that residential development and tourism began in earnest.

A formal camping area was established on the northern side of the lagoon in 1913, the same time that an extension of the tram to Narrabeen resulted in the site of Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park becoming a popular location for picnics, holidays and camping.

NOW: Narrabeen's Lakeside Holiday Park with few tourists, in August 2021.

NOW: Narrabeen’s Lakeside Holiday Park with few tourists, in August 2021.

By 1923, the then-Warringah Council resolved to provide “sanitary accommodation” for a fee.

The busy site became known as “Tent City”, perhaps a reference to its use for housing during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It expanded in the subsequent years, including with one purchase of land from the Salvation Army in 1941 – a 2010 council report mentioned this small parcel contained a covenant prohibiting the sale or consumption of liquor, “but that the Salvation Army has resolved to not enforce it” – and another in 1953.

In the 1950s, post-World War II immigrants – as many as 60 Dutch families, it has been reported – lived in caravans, tents and other temporary accommodation in the “Tenten Kamp” at the Park. Rent was about 10 shillings a week, in comparison to the working wage of about 168 shillings a week.

By the end of last millennium, the Pelican Path linked the Park with North Narrabeen Beach and the Coastal Walkway and the Park was well on its way to becoming a commercial enterprise.

In 2008, they won a prestigious environmental Gold Gumnut Award; followed by various industry excellence awards.

A 2010 Pittwater council vision statement reads: “Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park will be regarded as the best coastal holiday park in New South Wales.”

They also had a goal to decrease the number of complaints about the park, though it’s unclear what these had been.

The caravan park is today NRMA-run.

Pre-Covid, it was a good little earner for the council, although fees are kept reasonable in line with the family friendly feel. The thousands of guests from Australia and around the world contributed to an annual income of up to $7.575 million in 2016-2017, and in the high $5-millions for the next two years, though this has since decreased substantially due to lockdowns and border bans.

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