Saturday, 15 April 2017

Sleeping with strangers

Happy Easter!  It's a grey day in Gore and I'm cosy and warm with Minnie snoring next to me and Gareth peacefully painting in the kitchen.  By this I mean the WHOLE kitchen as his work takes up the entire bench space and the fold-up camping chair he sits on for comfort takes up every available inch of the kitchen floor.  Think I might be stuck here for a while as I can't get out unless he does! But I don't mind, it's a nice cruisey way to spend a Sunday.

 Gareth (well, the back of him!) in his kitchen 'studio'

I can't imagine how different our old home town of Whangamata must be this weekend compared to where we are.  Even with the recent horrendous weather up there, it doesn't usually stop the tourists venturing over the hill for one last hurrah before winter.  In comparison it's blissfully silent where we are; only a couple of buses and one motor home in the whole campground.  Mind you, it's to be expected from now on, not too many people are brave enough to camp out in a tent at this time of year!

Today's camping spot.

It occurred to me the other day how truly different it is, this life we lead.  Never knowing where you're sleeping from one day to the next a lot of the time, or who with.  By that of course I mean, you never know who your neighbours in camping are going to be!  Last night we had a chap in a tent next to us, biking from place to place.  The night before we had an older couple in a bus and before that there was a family of six - six! - all crammed into a rented motor home.  You don't see too many families on the road and I realised when talking to a friend yesterday how different most people's perceptions of camping are from the reality.  Not that it's surprising, I guess mine used to be pretty different too.  I think people have this notion of campgrounds only being for families, with kids always running around and everyone in permanent holiday mode.  Sure, there's an element of that, especially over summer of course but I certainly haven't found it to be the norm, in fact it's always a surprise to see a motor home pull up with little ones in tow and when you do, they're almost always from overseas.

The campground we are at now is a pretty good example of the usual type of neighbours we come across.  There are a surprising number of people who live in their cars.  They're usually males on their own but there's a couple living in one where we are at the moment; they've been staying here almost as long as we have.  I don't know why or what brought them to be doing so, I'd love to ask but they usually keep very much to themselves, you don't really see them.  I don't know how the heck they do it, living in a van the size of Ken is small enough!  I know in some cases they simply don't have a home, but it's not unusual to see them going to and from work each day and to see their work clothes hanging up neatly in their vehicle.  I admire anyone who lives in a car to be quite honest.  If they are there because it's the only home they have, I admire them for doing the best they can and if they are there by choice, I admire them for choosing to live on so little and taking up such a small space in the world.

Typical examples of 'vomit wagons'.  Perfectly suitable as cars, but houses?! 

Then there are the vomit wagons, which are extremely prolific.  Excuse the term, I didn't make it up but it kind of stuck after a lady working for the Department of Conservation in the Catlins referred to them that way and to be honest it's pretty accurate!  These usually range from station wagon type vehicles to what are broadly known as space savers.  A lot of them are hired from rental companies but more commonly they are purchased by young overseas tourists as a cheap way to travel the country.  They are usually packed from floor to ceiling with everything they need to get around for a few weeks or months and are mostly driven either by two females travelling together or two or more males.  They either sleep in their cars or if room doesn't allow, in a tent.  They are not self contained and have no toilet or washing facilities, hence they are the ones most likely to get up people's noses at freedom camping sites for leaving rubbish around and going to the toilet in bushes, or in the case of this campground, leaving without paying and using all the hot water meant for everyone by using it to do things like wash their dishes and clothing in the shower. I could go on but I won't!  Fortunately you only really see them in the summer months.  I admire anyone trying to see the world on a budget but not by stealing or taking advantage of others, no matter where you come from!  Forgive me for sounding judgmental, just telling it how it is.

From there we progress to the larger motor homes, caravans and buses.  You get a few people from overseas who hire motor homes but on the whole they are all New Zealanders, which is great because it shows how many of us are out there living and travelling around our beautiful country.  Seriously, you would not believe how many of us there are, I wonder if any other country in the world has such a high ratio?  I believe the NZMCA (the national motorhome and caravan association) has over 70,000 members now and there are plenty of other travellers out there who aren't members as well.  I like it; it's a nice thing to be part of.  A lot of motor home owners are retired but I like that too, especially when they come over and have a chat to us.  It doesn't matter where you're from or how old you are, everyone has something of value to share: tips to make things easier, great places to visit or must-do things to check out at the next place you're going.  There are a few of us younger ones around too and I think the number is growing as people realise what a low cost and enjoyable way it is to live.

Taieri Mouth Holiday Park.  Just a 30 second walk from all this!

Invercargill.  Average campground, amazing birdlife!

Hokitika - will always remember it for the best sunset and the
worst campground!

For most of us, a campground is just a place to sleep; a stepping stone between one place and the next.  A lot of them are far more special than that though; they all have their own points of difference which make them special, whether it be purely aesthetic or the owners and facilities that make a place what it is.  I always thought that campgrounds would be full of hippies and free spirits all sitting around the campfire playing guitar and singing but I haven't come across any campfires yet although I've definitely seen a few hippies!  The closest I've come to anything like it was at a freedom camp in Kingston, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu a little while ago.  The scenery was already stunning but as the sun began to go down, everybody gathered at the water's edge to watch what we all just knew was going to be spectacular.  Some of us stood, some watched from their vehicles, some were still swimming in the water and others sat on the beach, watching in awe as the sun sank lower and lower. One chap sat there the whole time, just quietly strumming his guitar and it just added to the whole relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  We were all essentially nothing more than a bunch of strangers but we were all sharing this moment, in this special place.  Everyone from teenagers to pensioners, families with toddlers, motor homes, vomit wagons, even a tiny Toyota starlet; we all made that sunset what it was.  It's one of my favourite memories and I think it always will be.

One of my favourite memories - sunset at Kingston

Everyone you come across on the road is different.  Some campers love to chat; others keep very much to themselves.  I guess we're in the middle, we like our own space and just go about our business quietly but at the same time we'll talk to anyone.  I didn't realise how much I had actually learned until last weekend when I met a man from Tauranga travelling solo in his motor home.  He asked where I was from and we got talking as you do.  Forty minutes later he had a bunch of notes on places to go and things to see and two new camping apps installed on his phone!  It felt really good to be able to share all this stuff that he would otherwise probably never have known existed, just as so many have done with us.  That's what it's all about!

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