Christmas camping: Hahei Beach

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach

There’s a certain nostalgia to continuing a family tradition of Christmas camping. Like many others around New Zealand, the Edgecombe family will return to their favourite spot (in this case, Hahei Beach) continuing a tradition that spans decades and has become a highlight of the festive season. Peta Stavelli finds out why this location holds such special memories.

When Penny Edgecombe first began camping at Hahei Beach, it was just her and then eight-year-old son Levi camping in a two-room canvas tent they had recently bought out of a paddock in Paeroa.

This year, Penny, her husband, Rick, together with daughters Kyra and Eden, both with their husbands and families, will all enjoy Christmas at the Hahei for what has become a long-standing tradition for this close-knit family.

Levi (35) and his partner, Rose, have a brand-new son, Fox, and they’re going to have a gap year from family celebrations at the beach, although, they are already planning to be back again next Christmas.

A lengthy legacy

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach
Penny Edgecombe and her family at Hahei Beach

It’s now more than 25 years since the family began their association with the Coromandel beach, and there have been many notable changes during that time. One of the most significant changes – apart from the birth of baby Fox – has been the loss of the rope swing in the mature pines that dot the sand dunes of Hahei Beach. These trees were recently felled and replaced with plantings of native trees.

Penny admits she’ll miss the rope swing that was made by her husband Rick when the original swing broke. The swing has always proved to be a magnet for her grandchildren and a host of other young campers. Penny and Rick’s chosen campsite is close to the path leading through the sand to the trees, and she’s loved seeing kids from all around the camp slam down their bikes on the grass beside the beach track and race to the rope swing. Over the years, she’s watched budding romances form at the swing and seen parents enjoy their sundown drinks while they watched their children play out the last of their energy reserves in the fading light.

“I’m usually quite introverted, and I don’t like too many people around, but I’ve loved that,” she reflects. “The swing has been a huge magnet. Everyone knew where their kids were going to be.”

Penny began the family’s long-standing tradition of holidays at the beach when Levi was eight and his older sisters – by then already independent teenagers staying with their own friends at family baches – had decided that camping wasn’t cool.

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach
A tangle of abandoned bikes was a staple as kids raced to to the old rope swing

“I had a little Honda Civic and I bought the second-hand tent from where it was advertised at a paddock in Paeroa. We had an airbed and a two-burner gas cooker with a set of three triangular pots to cook in. It was very basic.”

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Initially, she drove around the Coromandel Peninsula looking for the perfect place to pitch the tent, eventually settling on Hahei because of the proximity to the beach.

“There were no roads to cross because the beach backs on to the camp, and there are lovely walks to enjoy around there. It felt nice and safe, so we pitched the tent down on the flat where the cabins are now.”

Some years Penny’s friends and their families joined them. Later, Levi, by then a teenager, brought along his own friends from Mount Albert Grammar. Sometimes he reconnected with other schoolmates whose families also camped there during the holidays.

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach
The swing was always popular with the camp children

Back then, the campground, which is now Hahei Beach Resort, was more basic.

“Initially there was nothing much there in the way of infrastructure except for showers and a laundry. There was a shop a short walk away in the village and a travelling fair, which travelled around Coromandel offering rides and stalls for the kids.”

There were some years when changes in the family dynamics meant they stopped going to the beach. For a time, Kyra and Eden both lived overseas, eventually returning to begin their own families. Levi travelled extensively before settling down with Rosie.

Through the years

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach
Kyra, Eden, baby Jean, and Penny

As the family have all grown, so, too, has Hahei Beach Resort, which now offers a range of accommodation from basic to luxury. There are pop-up places where a range of takeaway food is sold, and there’s also regular entertainment at the central stage area.

Yet Penny says despite the changes, the campground is still very family-orientated, and they’ve formed many friendships with others who are also regular visitors. In many ways, the resort has kept pace with the changing needs of her family, but one thing hasn’t changed: for them, the beach still represents family time.

Penny and Rick say they were lucky enough to secure their current campsite when it became vacant after many years of being allocated to the same family. The couple are now on their second motorhome. Their first, ‘Dora the Explorer’, in which they travelled all over New Zealand, has been replaced with an older-style TrailLite, which as yet has no name. The campsite to which they return each year is non-powered, so they rely on gas for cooking.

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach
The track that leads to the beach

“We’ve got everything we need. We have provisions on hand for a few days at a time and cook on either the BBQ or oven, and we eat just like we would at home.”

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They shop at nearby Whitianga, travelling either via Cooks Beach and The Landing on the small ferry or driving around the longer way. Penny likes the change of scenery, although, she notes – as yet another sign of the times – her daughters now have their groceries delivered.

The grandchildren always have breakfast with Penny and Rick.

“We have a range of breakfast cereals in the small packets. Of course, the Coco Pops always go first. The children arrive in dribs and drabs, sometimes still in their pyjamas; other times, they’ll be dressed. The second-oldest grandchild Mayla (12) brings Rick an early-morning coffee she’s made on her parent’s coffee machine. Rick pays her a dollar for it.”

At the end of the day, the family gathers for sundown drinks.

“Our campsites are close, but not so close that we live in each other’s pockets,” Penny says.

Christmas camping: Hahei Beach
The Deck is a central gathering place at the beach

Eden, her husband Jason, their children Jude (11) and Jean (4) and Kyra, her husband Mez, with their three daughters Lola (14) Mayla (12) and Iris (7) have bought caravans. Eden and Jason book in to Hahei Beach Resort every year and their youngest child, Jean, has been going there since she was six weeks old. Kyra and Mez have a large annexe, which gets plenty of use, both for sleeping and lounging. If anyone needs time out, they’ll pop over to see their grandparents and cheer up over a slice of Christmas cake and a board game.

Over the years the family has weathered many storms. When Levi was young a dramatic weather event took out the tent completely and Penny had to move him into the car to sleep.

“When we awoke, shredded tents and abandoned gas bottles littered the campground. The roads were all flooded. Last year the storm was again wicked, but we stayed right until the end, and we’re not deterred – we’ll be back again this year.”

A few years ago, Penny and Rick bought a bach on the Awhitu Peninsula. They love it there and it’s a regular getaway for the whole family, but Penny says they will continue to enjoy extended family holidays at Hahei Beach.

“We enjoy the bach, but we’re already looking forward to all being together again this year at the beach. It’s a wonderful place for everyone to recharge. We just love it.”

We love to hear and share reader stories about special places in New Zealand. Share your favourite spots around the country, particularly where you love to celebrate the festive season and summer. Email

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