Nestled among the trees just off Son-In-Law Road in Bonifay sits a unique RV resort that’s managed to mashup the casual, downhome feel of the Australian outback with Southern charm.
Pete Swales and his wife, Julie Stanley, didn’t know exactly what they were getting into when they left Melbourne, Australia in search of a new life adventure across the pond.
“I think it’s a different experience than most American RV parks. There’s not as many rules and regulations, and it’s just a bit of fun,” Swales said.
Swales retired from the building industry in Australia. The couple saw a ripe opportunity to invest in American real estate when the housing market crashed causing home prices to plummet in 2008, so they started life stateside in Texas.
The couple’s first try at procuring an RV park in Texas didn’t work out in the Houston area, so they eventually cast a wider net on their search for a suitable park and the winds of change brought them to Florida.
“We started looking and going in bigger and bigger circles and eventually got here to Bonifay,” Swales said. “We loved the environment of the park.”
The couple purchased the park in 2017 about a year before Hurricane Michael plucked a few trees off the landscape. The park was originally erected in the 70s. Today, the 8-and-a-half acre park has 76 total hookup sites, spaces for tent camping, a clubhouse, pool and bathhouse with private, single occupancy bathrooms, playground, doggy park, koi pond and a convenience store.
“Part of the attraction here is that it’s near I-10 so that we get overnight visitors,” Stanley said.
The park is close enough to the interstate for those passing through on their way to theme parks in Central Florida. It’s an ideal place for guests to access the beaches and springs during the day and gives the option to escape congested beach traffic for a quieter retreat at night.
“We have a lot of repeat business,” Swales said. “We get people from Panama City and Enterprise. It’s a good place to get a campfire going and have a beer.”
The pandemic ushered in a new era for RV living as not only an affordable alternative during the current housing crisis but also a new avenue of freedom for those who work remotely.
“We’ve got quite a number of people here who are either looking for land or a house to buy, and some stay with us for a few months while they are building a house,” Stanley said.
Swales said it’s a more social and inviting atmosphere than a hotel for those who travel frequently. The guests develop friendships over potlucks, a glass of wine by the fire or a good old fashioned Australian “barbie.”
“With camping, people sit outside, so they get to know people walking past to the dog park,” Stanley said.
Speaking of pets, the RV park has a resident cat, Digger, that wandered up to the park and never left.
“The vet is a lot richer,” Swales joked.
Digger was hit by a car on Son-In-Law Road and lost a leg. He has since adapted to life as a tripod kitty that can still catch birds and squirrels and still wanders wherever he pleases.
Swales and Stanley said they entered the RV world without a solid vision. They owned an RV in Australia but did not really travel with it. Since purchasing the park, they have strived to create an environment that feels like a warm welcome from Down Under.
“The city has been very cooperative in what we’ve been trying to do as local business people,” Swales said.
They have enjoyed living in the Bonifay community.
“I think we found the perfect spot,” Stanley said.
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