Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 6 October 2011 Contents LOCAL NEWS
6 October, 2011 | Page 21
In 1970 the United States was in
the throes of the Vietnam War.
Joelle Nicholson and her husband,
Carl, were opposed to their
country's involvement in that war.
They attended protest marches,
wrote letters to newspaper
public opinion columns and to
"I guess we just got tired of trying
to turn the tide, so we said -- let's
leave," Mrs Nicholson said.
The couple was running a
restaurant in the San Francisco
Bay area of California at that time,
but were enticed to New Zealand
after meeting somebody who had
been there and worked on the
Manapouri power project.
"It sounded like a good country
-- spoke English, had only 3
million people and about 60
million sheep. And they were not
trying to 'save' the world. They
were nowhere near the northern
hemisphere either, with all its
pollution," Mrs Nichsolson said.
And there were their three kids
to think about -- Inger, then four,
Aaron, 12, and 15-year-old Erik.
"There was a draft then and I
didn't want Erik to get drafted."
Tempted by tales of a lovely
climate, they initially planned to
buy 20 acres and settle in the
Bay of Islands, but in those days
new residents could buy a house
in New Zealand but not land until
they'd been here for two years.
With Christmas approaching they
instead decided to take a holiday
and see what the rest of New
Zealand looked like.
"We headed south in a
Volkswagen campervan, which we
still have," Mrs Nicholson said.
"That Volkswagen campervan
1966 had travelled through 14
countries in Europe, across the
United States and got shipped
over here. When we came to
Queenstown we fell in love with
those Remarkable mountains,
so we ended up buying a house
looking out on them."
But their Queenstown residency
would last only nine months as
they grappled with how they could
make a living there. Mr Nicholson
used to be a park ranger and Mrs
Nicholson a nurse, but it appeared
that Queenstown had need for
neither. They looked at businesses
for sale, but were discouraged by
the high prices.
"And then we saw this place in
Manapouri advertised in a paper,"
Mrs Nicholson said.
"We paid about $12,000 for the
business which had eight cabins
and 12 powered sites on 10 acres
of land. I think it was $100 per
year for the lease of the Crown
land. Eventually we bought the
Manapouri appeared as if it
had been just carved out of
wilderness. And this was the
appeal of it -- that it was a natural
town, surrounded by bush.
"I just loved it. The view from here
is gorgeous. And there is free
water out here. There is a water
problem in the world, so it's kind
of nice living here with all this
The Nicholsons' early clients were
mostly Southlanders who came
up for the weekend -- people from
Invercargill, Dunedin, the Gore
Boat Club, with few overseas
After her husband's death in
1977, Joelle Nicholson was
running the business on her
own for a while until, in 1984,
she met a dashing Dutchman,
Simon Vogel, who worked as a
skipper on a boat. The pair has
been together for 27 years -- their
feelings unchanged in a constantly
"It's changed quite a bit. People
became more affluent, they have
cribs now. A lot of our customers
who used to come here bought
houses in Manapouri. People have
become more materialistic. We
used to put on movies for kids
in summertime. We had games,
pinball machines, bikes. Anything
that was different they just
thought it was wonderful. But now
all these kids have computers.
They are not interested in our old
games. People used to come and
use our old dinghy. Now they have
motor boats and jet skis."
Mrs Nicholson has also witnessed
other social changes over the
years. Weekend trading introduced
in the 1980s resulted in fewer
family outings, with teenage
children often getting jobs on
Saturdays and Sundays.
"Once you get jobs, you get money,
and you don't have to be with your
parents. You can buy a car, you
can do all sorts of things. And also
the parents, they go shopping at
the weekend. It's the sales, the
materialism, the marketing. That
changed the dynamics."
Such changes had taken their
toll on the holiday park -- most
noticeably the lack of weekend
stays by Southland families.
"Now it's mainly overseas people.
I would say if it wasn't for the
overseas guests, we'd probably go
broke," she said.
It was the prudent and frugal
lifestyle that helped the family
through the hard times.
"The camp has survived, but I
can't say it's due to good business
management, because we are not
very keen business people. We
are not extravagant, we try and
do most things ourselves," Mrs
The Nicholson family still lives in
Manapouri running the holiday
park, except for Joelle's youngest
son, Wade, who was born in New
Zealand and now lives in Dunedin.
Mrs Nicholson said her children
had all contributed in different
ways to the place.
"Aaron and Erik made this camp
what it is today. They put a stamp
on it; Erik with the architecture --
he's the one who built the two-
storey motel and the two-storey
cabin which gets a lot of praise --
and Aaron with his collection of old
uniforms, cars, pinball machines,
carvings and cartoons. And he's
planted the trees. And Inger is
running the Manapouri Lakeview
Motor Inn next door."
The park today boasts 35 powered
sites, 24 cabins and nine motel
"Already it's too much. We need
less, because business has
changed. Nowadays it's mostly
campervans. There's no demand
for cabins," Mrs Nicholson said.
But she has never had regrets.
And the only thing she misses
about America is her family.
"I think Manapouri is the most
beautiful lake in New Zealand. It's
the islands and the mountains,
the inlet and the different geology.
But the tourists don't always
appreciate this. They just drive
Celebrating 40 years in the holiday trade
Aaron Nicholson's collection of old cars is a key feature and one of many
quirky talking points of the Manapouri Holiday Park which has been in his
family's hands for 40 years.
Joelle Nicholson, ready to greet many more visitors even after 40 years at the helm of the Manapouri Holiday Park.
The array of cute cottages and cabins creates interest.
The Manapouri Holiday Park
this months celebrates its
40th anniversary under the
management of the Nicholson
family, who came to New
Zealand from the United States
in November 1970.
Alina Suchanski interviewed
matriarch Joelle Nicholson about the business's
survival under changing economic conditions.
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