Thursday, 12 December 2019

A different view of freedom camping

I had a request earlier this week to write about some of the 'wonderful weirdos' I've met who are on the same path as us. At first I couldn't think of any, but then Gareth reminded me of a few!  Alas, they will have to wait until I can find a way to write about them in a way which protects their privacy (not to mention their modesty!)

In the meantime however, there's been a bit of discussion this week about freedom camping. Now, I know a lot of people don't like freedom camping. Jings, I should know - every time I get asked to write an article on the subject I hold my breath and wait for the inevitable backlash. I kid you not, many people don't even bother to read the article before going off on a keyboard rant about how we should all stop using the countryside as a toilet and go and get jobs. Just to see the words 'freedom camping' in the title is enough, they're like a red rag to a bull.

Freedom camping is banned at Lake Hayes, with good reason

And I get it. If I paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a home in a nice, peaceful, scenic location, I wouldn't want it turned into a carpark full of van dwellers hanging their socks and undies out to dry and twanging away on guitars either. Last year we visited Lake Hayes in Queenstown, which had recently banned all freedom camping. It's a beautiful but very urban area, surrounded by multi-million dollar homes which directly overlook the lake. The sheer number of visitors there swimming, kayaking and having picnics was bad enough, and I shuddered to think how horrendous it must have been when camping was still permitted. Before I went there, I used to think the mayor, Jim Boult was a mean, grumpy bloke for not wanting nice people like us in his precious city. That visit however instantly changed my mind and if I met him now I'd shake his hand for protecting his district and in particular Lake Hayes, an area he has personally gone out of his way to invest in from his own pocket. That's how much he loves the place.

A secret 'village' lies beyond

When we first hit the road, I was terrified of freedom camping. Honestly, I was – which sounds really stupid for someone who was planning to do a lot of it. I thought everyone we met would be weirdos or losers and would probably be drunk and offer us drugs. And do you know what? The first one we met was indeed pissed as a newt and kept trying to give us marijuana. However, he wasn't a young European, but a Kiwi who looked to be somewhere around his forties or fifties, it was hard to tell. His name was Billy and he worked on the oyster boats. He and the rest of the crew worked hard and played harder. All day he would be out on the boat, then come in at the end of the day, get completely wasted and sleep in his car at the freedom camp before heading off again before dawn. The day before we arrived, he'd been so drunk the boat ran out of petrol and he was marooned at sea and had to go and be rescued! Still, he was harmless. Even so, it didn't do much to fill me with confidence. As yet, freedom camping was everything I had feared it would be. But there were two other vehicles there at the same camp. One belonged to Larry and Margaret, the other to Colin and Mara. Those of you who have read 'My Van, My Castle' will know they are to this day, very dear friends of ours. They restored my faith in people, and in freedom camping.

People of ALL kinds use freedom camps

I think it may have been Jim Mora who said after interviewing me, 'You guys are the real deal, aren't you? You're not like all these young people who come out here for a couple of months, blast around and go bungy jumping and then go back home to their parents and nice, comfortable houses. You're actually out there doing it, ALL the time'. From what we've seen, this sector makes up around half of the freedom campers in NZ. Hence it's hardly surprising that the general public assumes everyone who freedom camps is a foreign holiday maker. The rest however, are Kiwis and in our experience they fall into three sectors:

1. The retirees, or 'grey nomads'. Let's get one thing straight. Almost every Kiwi traveller or motorhomer uses paid campgrounds at some stage, many of us regularly. But unless you're a squillionaire nobody can afford to stay in a commercial campground all the time. When we first hit the road we used them all the time and it was a great way to get the hang of things and gain confidence. However after three or four weeks of spending between $40 and $50 a night, we soon realised we weren't going to be able to keep that up. Over a month, that worked out to only slightly less than the mortgage I'd just done away with! Retired motorhomers have worked hard all their lives and have more than paid their way. Often we meet people on the road who have had heart attacks or beaten cancer and want to make the most of every day they have left on this earth. They are a joy to meet, an absolute joy and they have earned every bit of their freedom.

2. The work/life balancers. People like Gareth and I, Colin and Mara and many more. We combine work with travel, so we can support our lifestyle. Like I said, even with the benefits of free camping options, this way of life is still far from free. Granted, the cost of living is still a heck of a lot less than most people's but it's definitely not free. A good number of us work from home, like we do, running businesses or doing freelance work. It's funny and a bit annoying that people often assume we don't do anything but it's a fair enough assumption seeing as we don't have to physically go to an office each morning and come home again each day. I mean, it's not as though we need to dress up or anything! More often though, people travel around, working in different locations, doing casual or fixed contract work for a period of weeks or months. If I was to run out of work tomorrow, I'd head to Central Otago or the Bay of Plenty and pick fruit. As long as it's not blueberries, I'm really bad at picking those. But seriously, if you see Kiwi travellers using freedom camps and they're not of obvious retirement age, it's pretty safe to assuming they are working and are paying bills and taxes just like everyone else.

3. The battlers. I think it was the late Robin Williams who said 'Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always'. Not everyone is lucky enough to be using freedom camps out of choice. There are people who live in their cars and vans because they have to. We have met a lot of them and that's why I refer to them as battlers, rather than losers, lowlifes and other judgemental and unfortunate names. Do not assume these people are living this way because they want to, or that they are lazy. I mean think about it, given the choice, would you want to live in your car? Sometimes yes, their circumstances have come about through their own poor choices. But they're trying to fix them.  It could also just as easily be the result of a relationship break-up, lack of work or lack of housing. Whatever the reason, these people are doing their best to survive each day and sort themselves out, and shouldn't be just written off.

A lot of people have to sleep in their cars when they are trying to find work in a new area, or starting a new job. You can tell them by their clothes hanging up in their cars. Not everyone can pull bond money out of the sky for a rental deposit. One example which springs to mind is a young chap who came down to the Deep South from Auckland to try and make something of himself. He was so quietly spoken, none of us knew what his actual name was, we'd all misheard it differently! Anyway, he was getting into trouble in the city, so was sent to live with family at the other end of the country. He still wasn't pulling his weight and paying his rent however, so he got told to leave. From now on, he was on his own, with nothing but his car and a tent. He got a job and was hoping to rent a place but first he needed to save enough of his pay to afford a bond, so he did what he had to. He worked long hours doing shifts, and would crawl into his tent to get some sleep just as everyone else was waking up. Of course all the other campers were oblivious and I used to feel so sorry for him, trying to sleep in his tent when everyone else was talking and banging and crashing about right outside. I didn't expect him to stick it out, I really didn't. But he did, and around 4 – 6 weeks later, he moved into a rental house of his own. One of our friends saw him just a few months ago and he's still there, still working and doing really well. Sometimes people are just doing what they need to. It's their stepping stone to a more secure future and without freedom camps to help pave the way, they would quite frankly be stuffed.

The number of homeless people sleeping in cars or vans is growing at a frightening rate because there aren't enough houses for the low income bracket to live in. Even when we lived in Whangamata, it made me so angry at the number of my friends, lovely people with young families, who were constantly being given two or three week's notice to vacate long-term rental properties to make room for higher paying holiday makers. It was so heartbreaking to see them fighting desperately to be able to find somewhere in the area so they could keep their jobs, and their children in school with their friends. They rarely succeeded. In my first home at Whangamata, there were 25 houses in our cul-de-sac, yet only five of them were lived in. The rest were all holiday homes, which sat empty for all but a few weeks of the year. Even trained and qualified people such as teachers and tradesmen had to live at campgrounds for years at a time because the waiting list for rentals to become vacant was so impossibly long. If only people realised how much their empty houses could help good people who are desperately in need, perhaps these type of 'freedom campers' wouldn't be such a blot on the landscape.

Freedom camps aren't just free, they're priceless

A lot of people who pay to live in houses feel that freedom campers are bludgers who take advantage and are a drain on the economy. Consider this, however. Would you rather a person slept in their vehicle at a freedom camp while trying to get by and find work, or would you rather Work and Income NZ paid $1250 a WEEK for someone who doesn't work and has no intention of doing so, to stay in a motel? Because this is what is happening, right now, due to the shortage of rental homes available. I know for sure, if I were ever in that position, I would much rather rough it and rely on myself. I would think that would make me far less of a bludger.

I'm not saying everyone who freedom camps is an angel. Some are indeed hideous and a prize pain in the bum.  And as I said at the start, I wouldn't want it constantly on my doorstep either. But freedom camps do have their place, a very valuable place which many Kiwis are lucky to have and can attribute their very survival to. Done properly and done well, they are a huge asset to our unique melting pot of a country. 

Monday, 21 October 2019

Treasured times, precious people

It's a beautiful morning in Titahi Bay, in Porirua.  If you haven't guessed already by all the Facebook posts lately, I LOVE the Wellington region, really love it.  Our time here has been so enriching, not just due to the seemingly never-ending amount of beautiful walks and places, but the people.  With the exception of a couple, all the amazing folk we have been spending time with lately are people we would never have met if it wasn't for our quirky way of life.  We have been shown such incredible kindness and are privileged to have made some treasured new friends.  More about them soon.

Loving the van life again!

Being back in the van has been wonderful.  I had forgotten how well I sleep, tucked up in our cosy cocoon!  It still feels strange not to have Minnie's weighty warmth alongside me and hear her comforting snores but she is very much still with us wherever we go.  Her collar with its little bandana hangs behind us as we drive, a little canvas of her paw prints is on the wall of the van and a wee pouch of her fur sits in the front with us.  Bless her heart, we still miss her so much.

The other big difference is that at the moment, the van is not really set up for living in.  All the time we have been house sitting our way up the country for work, Ken has been packed to the rafters with food, kitchen props for the cookbook, enough 'good' clothes for all our media appointments and Gareth's computer and camera gear.  We've been constantly downsizing and decluttering as we go and by the time we needed to spend a week in the van we finally got to the stage where there was just about room for us to use the bed.  Even so, many of the things we needed, such as something to cook on and things to cook with had been left down at the caravan in Gore.  I was excited at the prospect of living in the van and being off grid again but also had my reservations as to how comfortable we would actually be, and whether we would have enough of everything to get by.

We spent our first night in the Kapiti Coast with some fellow motorhoming friends of ours, who kindly gave us a place to sleep and have a much-needed shower after an all-day drive from the Waikato.  We had met Stewart and Aileen about 18 months before in Gore and had kept in touch ever since.  There's nothing more enjoyable than conversing with other travellers, sharing anecdotes and swapping stories, it's a whole different and vibrant level of conversation.  Even so, you'd be hard pressed to find a couple more interesting than these two.  They have travelled all over the world for years in vans and motorhomes and have such a wealth of experience and information.  Even though we have travelled almost the whole of NZ twice now, in comparison to them we are still newbies!  We have so much yet to see, to learn.  As we sat in the garden the following morning, enjoying breakfast in the sunshine and listening to the birds, I felt completely content and so immensely fortunate to have met these wonderful people. 

I felt so free walking along this beach!  A golden moment indeed

The next night we parked up at a freedom camping spot at Waikanae River Mouth.  We were right next to the water and I felt that familiar smile spread across my face.  Just look at where we were, for goodness sake!  We could see the ocean, the beach, the sunset all from our window.  I never, ever forget how lucky we are when staying at a free camp, it just fills me with gratitude to be able to eat, sleep and breathe in such an amazing location for no cost.  There were four vehicles there that night, with couples and families in and we all felt the same.  I hopped out of the van and went for a walk on the beach and as my feet touched the sand I had the exact same feeling I did almost three years ago, when I stood at Matauri Bay in the Far North.  I felt completely unburdened and so free!  It's hard to describe but there's no feeling like it in the world.

Peace, stunning scenery... and a musical toilet!

What I love most about van life is being so close to nature, being close to everything.  It felt so wonderful to be out here and really living the van life again. We couldn't so much as boil water for a cup of tea or heat a tin of beans!  It made life pretty interesting for a few days and everything we ate was cold, raw or both but it was still delicious and we managed to eat well.  The other campers we encountered were mainly from overseas and I found it hilarious that despite our magical surroundings, the thing they were all excited about was that the public toilet 50 metres away played music while they did their morning ablutions.  In our case however, we had heard it all before. 'I wonder, if Burt Bacharach imagined when he wrote "What the World Needs Now, Is Love Sweet Love" that his masterpiece would be played in public toilets all over New Zealand?' laughed Gareth.

Us with Anita and Mark.  Awesome hosts and treasured friends

The Kapiti Coast is so well set up and welcoming for motorhomers of all size vehicles but with the exception of one site, you can only spend a maximum of 24 hours in each spot as they are so sought after.  We were busy trying to decide where we would spend the next night when we received a message from a lovely lady called Anita, who had seen we were in the Kapiti Coast and offered us a place to stay for the night and to share a meal.  Accepting such kindness is often hard for us, I think because we feel as though we cannot offer anything in return.  It's not as though we can return the favour, there's no room for anyone else in the van!  But seeing as Anita and her partner Mark were fellow travel enthusiasts and Mark was also a photographer, we were excited at the prospect of meeting new like minded people and gratefully accepted their offer.  Immediately upon arriving the conversation was bubbling over as we swapped tales of our adventures.  When it comes to adventuring however, Mark was next level.  He loved paragliding and had ridden all over America on his motorbike.  He loved to experience everything life had to offer and we were mesmerised by his images of El Capitan and he and Anita's incredible rock climbing footage in Yosemite National Park.  His excitement about life was infectious and for the first time since being on the road, I realised that there was a far bigger world out there than the one we were currently exploring.  I wanted to get out and see it.  If you would like to see some of Mark's stunning images, you can check out his photography page here, as well as his book Taureau Global, which is his 25,000 mile photographic odyssey around America.

After dinner we walked down to Raumati beach to watch the sunset, which was lovely. We had already been talking for hours when I asked Anita how she came to hear of us and were amazed to hear that she was not a long time reader but had listened to my Radio NZ interview with Jim Mora a couple of weeks earlier and loved what we were doing.  Even more amazing however, is that this gorgeous lady is battling breast cancer and is currently waiting to start radiotherapy having already completed a course of chemotherapy.  I couldn't believe these wonderful, kind people opened up their home to us and made us so welcome despite everything they have going on in their lives.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and now count them as treasured friends.  Now, every night we can, we make sure we get down to whichever beach we are at to watch the sun sink in the sky, in a glorious display of fire. 

We've seen many Kapiti sunsets and we love them all!

We have also made some wonderful friends in some of the people we have been house sitting for, such as Liz and Brent, whose energetic dog Reggie had us walking hundreds of kilometres around Paraparaumu a couple of months earlier!  We spent several nights there, cooking and sharing meals together (after all, we already knew where everything was in the kitchen!) and stayed up late sharing stories and listening to their recent experience of Woodstock's 50th anniversary.

The Otaihanga Domain is a spacious and peaceful place to relax in

The Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve is one of many enjoyable walks

We interspersed our time with some more freedom camping, travelling around the Waikanae, Paraparaumu and Otaki areas and doing some of the many walks on offer.  The Otaihanga Domain is a lovely place to park up on a sunny day and we enjoyed many picnics and leisurely strolls along the river.  Even the council inspector who came every morning to check everyone at the freedom camping spots was self-contained in conjunction with the rules became like a friend!  She was always so happy to see us and gave us a heap of information about camping and facilities in the area.  'You will write about us, won't you?' she always asked.  'We really want to encourage more visitors to the area!'  I assured her I would, and I will. 

It was such a pleasure getting out and about and meeting so many new people again.  One couple we met, Paul and Christine were simply sitting on a bench as we were walking past.  'Whereabouts are you guys from?' Paul asked.  'Well...' we began, as we launched into the usual tale of how we came to be there.  We'd only been in conversation for 10 minutes when they asked us to join them at the pub down the road for a drink!  That's what motorhomers are like, we love to share stories and talk to other people like us.  It turned out they were from Hunterville and contemplating upsizing their motorhome to a bus.  The only thing was, the bus was in Invercargill.  'Well if it's still there in a month or so, let us know, we'll be down that way too!' we laughed.

Gaylene and Ray, with Ayla and their bus, 'Ruby'

One of our favourite encounters however was with Gaylene and Ray, who were parked up in their seven-metre bus, 'Ruby' at the Waikanae River Mouth with their gorgeous German Shepherd, Ayla.  We got talking, as you do and before we knew it, they were welcoming us into their bus.  We spent most of the morning in their company and Gareth and I both felt as though we had found kindred spirits.  It was as though we had discovered future versions of ourselves!  Everything we loved, many of the experiences we had shared, everything we wanted in life was exactly the same.  Some people you just know you are going to stay in touch with and these two free spirits are pretty special.  Already we are looking forward to visiting Hokianga next year so we can catch up with them again!

Gareth with one of his wriggly wee film subjects, 'Teapot'!

Despite being off grid a lot of the time, we have been getting a lot of work done, Gareth in particular.  His latest big project is visiting animal sanctuaries all over NZ as we travel, filming the animal rescue stories and promoting the work they do.  We spent a day at the Black Sheep Animal Sanctuary in Otaki, meeting the 200 or so rescue animals they currently care for, from Casper the cockatoo to Doris the ex-factory farm pig and Toffee, the tiny goat kid who it was feared would never walk again after he was found paralysed.  It's pretty humbling being around a group of such amazing and dedicated people and it's great to be able to do our bit to help the animals in need and the people who care for them and keep them safe.  Best of all though, at least for me, is to see Gareth in his absolute element.  It's as though he was born to do this stuff and it's a joy to see him so happy.  Living the way we do has really enabled him to find his passion, his purpose.  That's pretty cool, don't you think? :-)

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Inspirational Beings & Kindred Spirits

As you might imagine, living this life among the varied, the weird and wonderful, I get inspired a lot, both as a writer and as a human being.  A complete stranger can totally make your day, and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary. But when they turn out to be kindred spirits, well that's just marvellous!  We don't meet many 'people like us' outside of campground or motorhoming life, but the other day we had the pleasure of meeting Guy and Olive Lloyd, the new managers of Gore Motor Camp.  I was interviewing them for Stuff and felt a little bad for not confessing I was staying at a rival campground but I wanted them to see me simply as a writer, not sussing out the competition or clouding their judgement.

This big, beautiful world and its people inspire me every day!

Besides, the sole reason I was there was to raise awareness of their business and who they are.  You see, until Guy and Olive took over in April, the Motor Camp had been managed by someone who wasn't really all that well suited to the hospitality business.  As a result, Gore Motor Camp had hit the news for all the wrong reasons. Having heard of their recent replacement, I knew whoever took over the place would have a big job on their hands trying to give the place and its reputation an overhaul and wanted to help get the word out there that guests would now be assured of a warm welcome.

Guy, the new manager is larger than life in every sense of the word - in the best possible way.  Huge in stature, with an equally huge personality and laugh and an easy smile that spreads across his entire face.  You simply can't help instantly liking him and his petite wife, Olive. They are an open book and what you see is what you get.  So refreshing!  What we didn't realise, as they invited us into their lounge and we all settled into comfy chairs, was that they were just like us - except on a much bigger scale!  Originally from the UK, Guy spent 15 years as a primary school teacher in Indonesia, where he met Olive, also a teacher.  He also previously managed a camp in Iraq in 2006, looking after 250 people.  No wonder he felt more than capable of being able to run the Motor Camp! 

'I've been to 86 - no, 87 countries', he smiled.  'I'd urge everyone to travel.  You learn so much about the world, about life.  Honestly, I'm like a little boy when I go to a new place.  It makes me feel alive again'.  'You should be the one writing the books, not me!' I laughed.  'I've had a lot of amazing adventures, for sure', Guy replied.  'One of the most memorable however was when I had an encounter with a sea turtle whilst scuba diving.  That was a really beautiful experience'.  'We love scuba diving!  We do it a lot in Bali', smiles Olive.  Ah, that explained the big yellow scuba diving tank in the corner of the lounge.  

As we talked, for well over an hour, Gareth and I were in no doubt these were the perfect people to manage the Motor Camp and turn its reputation around.  'Our travel experience really helps in the hospitality industry.  You get so accustomed to communicating with all kinds of people.  We get such a huge cross section here.  You never know who's going to turn up at the reception desk.  We love having a chat and a laugh with people and take each person as we find them.  I'll admit, we do struggle with having a routine now, after living without one for so long.  And the house is too big, we only live in this one room', Guy said, pointing out the bed in the corner.  Gareth and I couldn't believe it.  Here were people just like us!  People who live in a house always laugh at us when we go house sitting and only ever end up living in one room, camped out in the lounge by the fire.  It just feels foreign and unnecessary to us to be floating around in so much space.  'We don't need it', agreed Guy.  'Right here, in this room is everything we own.  It's more than enough for us.  We've got a little plaque outside the back door which has a quote on it by Ghandi.  It says "Live simply, so that others can simply live".  I look at it every day and remember it'.

We could have happily stayed all afternoon in the Lloyd's interesting and jovial company and listen to all their tales from around the world!  But it was time to go and visit our friends who we are house and pet sitting for next week, so they could show us the ropes.  We met Mike and Irene quite by chance one day when we were still in the van.  We got talking and to my complete amazement they were not only originally from Thames, where I used to live years ago, but they actually used to live on the exact same road as I did, when I very first arrived in New Zealand!  I arrived in April and they left in October of the same year.  To our knowledge, we had never crossed paths but knew a lot of the same people.  'We're getting married in a couple of days!  Want to come?' we asked.  They did indeed and ever since we have stayed in touch.

Me with my eldest, Liam. Nothing beats special times with family!

It had been a while since we had a good catch up and the four of us were having a good chinwag around the dining table.  I'd forgotten the reason for the house sit but soon remembered it was Mike's 60th birthday and a huge crowd of them were celebrating it by enjoying a holiday together in Rarotonga.  All the family, their children, grandchildren, friends - I thought it sounded absolutely wonderful.  To be so loved and to have such a huge network of people who loved one another to celebrate with all together and enjoy such a special time. 'Life's too short', Mike said in his usual matter-of-fact way.  'We're losing friends now, at our age! You never know when your time is up. Gotta make the most of it.  I saw a mate just the other week in the supermarket who I hadn't seen for a while.  We got talking and I told him of our holiday plans.  He'd lost a couple of his friends too and by the time we'd finished the conversation he'd decided he would book an overseas holiday for him and his wife next year.  You've got to do these things while you can'.  He's so right.

Life is one big adventure, if you let it be so!

Gareth and I felt truly inspired and full of warm fuzzies after spending the day in the company of these four warm, wonderful people.  As different as chalk and cheese, yet so alike in their outlook and philosophy on life.  We can't take any of it with us when we go, but whether you go to Rarotonga or Rotorua, Bali or Balclutha, we can all experience and love as much of it as we possibly can while we're here. That's what this brilliant thing called life - this amazing gift we are given - is all about.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Meet TravellingK!

Hard to believe we're almost half way through the year already!  A few months back, we were fortunate to have the delightful Karen Nisbet - aka TravellingK - as a neighbour for a few days.  At 36, Karen is one of a growing number of young motorhomers who are taking to the road and finding creative and effective ways to support themselves in their chosen lifestyle.  Currently busy planning a trip to the UK, we managed to catch up with her for an interview recently before heading off:

Karen Nisbet - aka TravellingK

After two-and-a-half years on the road, you must be an old hand at the lifestyle!  In what ways do you support yourself?

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for over 10 years and have been freelancing since I started caravanning. Sometimes it's just a short contract in an office and sometimes it's online while I travel around New Zealand. I’ve started earning with my TravellingK brand, mainly through Patreon where people who like my YouTube videos can contribute monthly.
I’ve been earning a tiny amount through YouTube ads, selling photos on Shutterstock and selling branded merchandise.

Like us, Karen's home on wheels doubles as an office

Why motorhoming? Was it something you had experience of before?

We stayed in a stationery Kiwi caravan once for a family holiday where I was sick the whole time, but apart from that, I had no previous experience at all. I was saving for a house in Auckland and eventually realised that wasn’t going to happen. I was watching a lot of vanlife and tiny house YouTube videos and started seriously considering this as an option. The more I looked into it, the more a secondhand UK caravan seemed my best solution. It looked like a little apartment on wheels, and had a decent amount of space. I could easily stay at campgrounds or on some land and move around until I found a nice place to base myself. Except I’ve enjoyed travelling so much, I have no plans to stop.

Were you aware of the 'usual' age demographic associated with motorhoming before you started doing it?

I didn’t know a whole lot about the lifestyle before I started. It was just what I saw on YouTube and while wandering around at the Covi Supershow. I was aware that I didn’t know anyone my own age doing this in New Zealand.

Taking in the view at Milford Sound

Do you think there is a stereotype of sorts regarding motorhomers?

Yes, I think there is. It’s generally thought to be the thing you do when you retire or if you are a hippy.

Do you find because of your age that other motorhomers interact with you differently?

Sometimes, yes. I’ve had a few older members assume that I need help because I’m a younger female on my own… but I soon show my competence. There have been a few surprised faces when I first turn up for campground group drinks, but people are welcoming and soon I’m in the thick of things talking about motorhoming issues! I’m currently at a campground with a great community which never happened when I lived in a city. I’m the youngest by far, but made to feel welcomed.

Karen loves chatting with the people she meets, both in person and through her
online following

Do you wish there were more people around your age on the road?

Yes. But I’ve started a Facebook group called ‘Young RVing Kiwis’ and the numbers are growing. A lot of people are either weekend warriors or are strongly considering this lifestyle themselves. I know there is a lot of interest and as house prices increase and make it harder for people to get onto the property ladder, more will start this lifestyle.  There is a movement in America where it’s becoming more common for people my age to have a home on wheels and I’m hopefully more in New Zealand will decide to join. There is a great group of Americans sharing their permanent RVing experience on social media.

How do your family and friends view your choice to live in a) a caravan and b) a life on the move?

Most of my friends and family weren’t surprised at my choice to live in a caravan and thought it suited me better than a mortgage in Auckland. I’ve done quite a lot of overseas travelling and have lived in London and Melbourne. I think they could more easily imagine me in a caravan than with a mortgage in Auckland. My father was imagining a run down caravan that would devalue quickly like a car. He also wasn’t keen on it sitting in his driveway. But once he actually saw the caravan, he’s changed his mind and is proud of what I’m sharing on YouTube.

As for living my life on the move, I was working, saving and travelling solidly for eight years to places like Europe, Russia, India, Iran and South America, so the idea of travelling around NZ in a caravan was actually a little tamer. My parents were wanting me to settle down and buying some land or a property instead of travelling overseas and I’m not ruling that out… I just need to figure out where!

Wherever she goes, Karen has a window on the world

Would you encourage others to take up the lifestyle?

Yes.  So many New Zealanders haven’t even seen their own country. There’s still plenty for me to explore, but I feel like I know the different parts of our country now. I enjoy being at a great location and experiencing the different light and weather throughout the day from the comfort of home. It’s also a good idea if you want to lower your costs and try a new business or finally have the time to write that book.  

I’m now more aware of my water and power usage and how much stuff I actually need. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the need for a large house after living in my small caravan. A caravan is a comfortable home and is affordable. It gives me a lot of flexibility with my location and is perfect for slow travel.

Can she fix it?  Yes, she can!

What do you like best about the lifestyle?

Always doing something new and learning new skills. I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt about maintaining the caravan and giving it a go when something breaks.

Seeing our beautiful country and being more aware of my surrounds. I find when you’re in a house, you don’t experience sunrises and sunsets as much as when you’re in a caravan out in nature. You just close the curtains and turn on the TV. I find when I am living in one place, I stop noticing my surroundings, but moving locations all the time makes me more aware.

Meeting different people and the sense of community. Before this, I always lived in a city. There are some campgrounds that have a great sense of community. This current campground, people keep an eye on things and I comfortably leave my windows open. I’ve met so many different people as well, that I would not have talked to while living in a city.

Freedom to develop a business. Because my expenses have dropped, I’m able to work part-time and have the time to focus on my ‘passion project’ – TravellingK. I don’t think I would have progressed this far if I was still living in Auckland.

Where to go, what to do?  Decisions, decisions!

Are there any downsides to living this way?

I’m not a huge fan of my combination toilet / shower. The shower just isn’t the same as a house shower. And emptying the toilet is a new chore that I’d happily avoid!  I’ve also learnt that if something breaking in the caravan, it’s not always easy to fix because the parts come from the UK.

I was travelling intensely for a while and that can become tiring. The continuous decision making with finding shops and facilities in your area. But the great thing is, you have control and can decide when to stay in one place for a while.

Sometimes I’ll suddenly want a garden or wish I had a large work area with a sewing machine or an arts and craft cupboard. With a caravan, you’re always aware of the weight limit and lack of space which can be restrictive with some hobbies.

Do you have a best and worst campground which stand out from all your travels?

The best have either been the most welcoming community or the most scenic location:

Gore A&P Showgrounds with its sense of community, very relaxed atmosphere and easy facilities.

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp. I’ve already stayed twice and sure to be back. It’s a huge campground outside of Wanaka. The best views out onto the water, an easy drive into town but plenty of impressive hikes and views nearby.

And a couple of POPs (Park Over Properties) that I might keep to myself!

My two worst are both in larger towns with semi-permanent RVers.

Beach Road Holiday Park just outside on Invercargill. There were a lot of run down vehicles that had obviously been there a while and it didn’t have a friendly feel.

Also Beach Grove Holiday Park in Tauranga. Lots of permanent caravans, also with a run down feel. I felt trapped in my caravan.

Can you imagine going back to a house?

Maybe more of a tiny house rather than a traditional house. I daydream about having a little cabin next to my caravan with an amazing bathroom / laundry and an office with a bit of storage space.

It's a wonderful life

Do you have a favourite tip you've learned in your time on the road?

If something goes wrong, you can deal with it. I think I’ve personally become more self-confident.  And that we live in a beautiful country.

What advice would you give to others considering making the switch to a mobile life?

Do it. Don’t overthink it.

To follow Karen's adventures, check out her regular blog posts and videos at:

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Marjorie Jean - A Proper Introduction

As I sit here this morning, in what is fast taking shape as our new office, it's still a wonderful novelty to be sitting on a proper chair, on a proper table, looking out of the window at the sunshine.  Minnie is also content, sleeping on the cool vinyl floor.  She loves having so much room and even has a whole couch to herself to sleep on at night!  Although we have to make it into a sort of playpen for her as she's not used to having so much room and has rolled off a few times in the middle of the night.  Gives us a heck of a fright, I can tell you!  But I'm rambling as usual, let's go back to the beginning.  I can't believe it, but I haven't even told you the full story behind Marjorie Jean!

Our wee Marjorie Jean, out in the sunshine

My last operation (no point sugar coating it, was a hysterectomy) was a success, although it turned out to be a much bigger deal recovery wise than I thought it was.  As someone who was back on the farm feeding calves 10 days after my youngest was born by caesarean, I envisaged a similar scenario this time around.  Boy was I wrong!  Going back to the van was terrifying, I didn't think I was ready, or would ever be.  Whereas poor Gareth couldn't wait to get back to the van, I never wanted to leave the motel and cried a LOT.  How would we possibly cope in such a tiny space?  I really don't know how my long suffering hubby managed to get through the first week post surgery without throttling me, but as it turned out, we coped amazingly well.  It didn't take long to settle back in and it was a brilliant feeling to be able to get through something so major in our beloved van.  I felt as though if we could make it through that, we could handle anything.  So it came as a major fright to discover that once the pain from surgery had subsided, there was still something very wrong.  To say I wasn't in a good head space during that time would be the understatement of the century.  It took numerous visits to the doctors with no success until three of them put their heads together and diagnosed me with something called pudendal neuralgia.  A flash term for what basically means quite literally, a pain in the bum!  As soon as they passed me the literature I knew they had hit the nail on the head.  'That's it!  That's me!'  At last we had the final piece of the puzzle.  However the more I learned about the condition, the more I realised that we were now in a right old predicament.

Pudendal neuralgia is a condition which is most commonly suffered by cyclists, in particular spin cyclists, as they are sitting in the same position for long periods of time.  Just like I had been doing all these months in the van, because let's face it, it's all I could do.  As a writer I sat to work and because it was impossible to stand up in the van, I also did everything else from cooking to brushing my teeth in a sitting position.  And therein lay the problem.  Sitting is the worst thing you can do for pudendal neuralgia.  The more you do it, the more you aggravate it.  To my horror, I realised that all the while we continued living in the van, I wasn't going to get better.  Excuse the pun, but this really was a bummer.  I mean, we loved our van!  It was perfect for us, it was home and despite copping heaps of flack over the past two years from fellow motorhomers saying 'You'll be wanting something bigger soon, won't you?'  and failing to see how we could possibly be happy living full time in such a small vehicle, we really were ridiculously happy.  If we had had the choice, we would have continued just as we were, for as long as we could.

But now that choice was being taken away from us.  Gareth, in typical laid back style took it all in his stride.  'We'll look for something bigger then', he shrugged, and that was that.  We didn't know exactly what we wanted but were leaning towards a caravan, maybe a retro one?  Whatever it was, we wanted something with plenty of character, yet was still enough of a blank canvas that we could make our own.  The only other condition was that while we were now on the lookout for a new home, we wouldn't look too hard.  The right one would come to us, just as Batty and Ken had.  We didn't know how long it would take for that to happen, but we would wait as long as it took.

The very next evening, our friend Margaret called out as she was walking past.  'There's a caravan for sale just around the corner', she said.  'Go and have a look, it could be just what you're after!'  With a budget as tiny as ours, I very much doubted we would be able to afford it.  But after more than 22 years on the road Margaret knew her stuff, so instead of procrastinating like usual, we forced ourselves to go for a stroll and have a look.  Margaret was right, the dear little 1970's green and white caravan was exactly what we were after - and to my amazement and delight, the price was right in our bracket too!  As we peered through the window we saw that with the exception of a double bed and two couches, the interior was also just waiting for someone like us to transform it into a cosy home.  We knew we had no time to waste, so texted the owner and he arranged to meet us the next day.  As Steven, the owner gave us a tour, with his young daughter looking on, we could see how very well loved and looked after this little caravan was.  The family of five had enjoyed many summer holidays and getaways in it together, before recently upsizing to a larger, newer model to accommodate the now teenage children.  Even the original ownership papers had been kept in pristine condition, showing its very first registration in 1975.

We keep Marjorie's original papers in a little frame on the wall!

'We love it!', we told Steven.  'I knew they would!' grinned his daughter.  There was just one thing stopping us from snapping it up right on the spot.  We needed to sell Batty, our first van, before we could afford the caravan.  Luckily for us, a long weekend was just beginning and Steven and his family were going away for a few days in their new caravan.  Even so, the pressure was still on, Steven had already had other enquiries from people wanting to come and view.  While Gareth was unphased, I was panicking.  There was no way we would be able to find a buyer for Batty in just a few days!  But just as had happened for us with the caravan, everything just fell in to place, right when we needed it to.  A chap from Invercargill had been looking for a van exactly like Batty for some time, and having spotted our For Sale notice on Facebook, came and picked it up just like that.  I couldn't believe everything had happened so easily.  After so many months of disasters and dramas, I had almost stopped believing that good things happened to us any more!  But despite me still panicking and anticipating all kinds of last minute problems, everything went through without a hitch and just six days after we first saw her, Steven delivered Marjorie Jean to her new spot in our campground.

We could hardly believe Marjorie Jean was ours!

As if upsizing to a caravan wasn't enough, we also have a huge awning which is almost as big again as the caravan and divides into two rooms!

It probably sounds funny but I felt dreadfully guilty to be moving out of Ken.  After all, he wasn't just a car, he had been our home and everything we had in the world for so long.  Living in Ken had been wonderful, it wasn't his fault that we had to leave.  It's just as well everything happened so fast, as I would no doubt have found the whole moving out experience to have been far more difficult and emotional.  As it was, we had only a few hours between periods of heavy rain to transfer everything out of Ken into our new home.  Being in Marjorie Jean felt right straight away.  As I busied myself with playing house and finding the perfect place for everything, I had to chuckle when Gareth gently chided me.  'Just because we have more room now, doesn't mean we have to go and fill it with a load more stuff', he reminded me.  'Look around at all this already!'  'What do you mean?  I haven't bought any more stuff!  All this was in the van!  It's just we couldn't see it before', I laughed, looking around at our tiny array of ornaments; the bride and groom from our wedding cake, a seashell from Whangamata beach and the little jade Buddha my mum had brought me back from Asia.

Admittedly I did end up treating myself to one small folly the very next day.  I spent a whole $4 at The Warehouse on a battery operated light up cactus.  I figured everyone needs one of those.  At least, everyone needs to remember the words on it.

A little reminder, just in case we ever forget!

We lost count of new joys and differences we noticed in the caravan that day.  For starters, it was quite a sight to see Gareth get out of bed, STAND up and WALK over to the fridge to get a drink.  For the past two years all he had been able to do was roll over and perch on the edge of the bed!  Although we didn't even have a kitchen yet, it was an immediate joy to sit at the table to cook and to eat together.  When we were in the van, we could only sit facing one another at meal times when the weather was nice enough to sit outside.  When it wasn't, one of us had to sit at the back of the van on one end of the bed, while the other perched on the other end with their back to them, preparing the evening meal.  Much as we loved Ken, we quickly began to wonder, how in heaven's name had we managed to live that way for so long?!

We still love you Ken!  Even if you do smell...

Talking of Ken, I never realised how God awful he smelled all the while we had been living in him.  Upon leaving the caravan the next day to drive Ken into town, I opened the door and was immediately hit with the stench of 1000 dinners.  That, and the indescribable scent of an unwashed couple and a dog, who had occupied it almost constantly for the last 700 odd days.  Thank goodness we had never had room for visitors in there!  So many new things to delight in that almost anyone else would take for granted.  I will think of more as we go along; even now, weeks later I still smile at the simple act of turning the key in the lock and quietly opening and closing the little hinge door, rather than cringe at the earth shattering SCREEEEK Ken would make whenever we used the sliding door.  At least now we're up to date on how Marjorie came about and how we found her.  We adore our little home and have been busy bees renovating the inside so that she has the kitchen and office that we so desperately need.  I can't wait to show you some of our finds!  Gareth has been doing an awesome job of transforming objects and giving them a new purpose and lease of life.  To be honest, after such a dreadful few months, I think our Marjorie Jean has given us a new lease of life too!

Our adorable new home, with its super quiet door!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Silver Spoons

I may not be able to travel too far myself right now, but it's given me the ideal opportunity to tell you about some of the wonderful people we have met on the road.  Today's blog is well overdue!  We met Tony Hamilton back at the start of the year.  He and his wife, Beth parked next to us for several days in their adorable gypsy style house truck.  Every morning, Tony would unload boxes and boxes onto a large table and would spend most of the day working with various pieces of machinery.  I didn't like to be too nosey, he was obviously busy but one of the boxes looked as though they contained spoons.  I couldn't imagine why anyone would want so many spoons, let alone living in a mobile home but I figured there must be a good reason!

When is a spoon not a spoon?  When it's in the hands of Tony Hamilton!

The following day we got talking, as we campers do, and after the usual sort of chat he said 'Ah well, I'd better get back to work.  I've got some bracelets to make'.  Instantly my curiosity was piqued.  'Bracelets? Ooh lovely!' I said.  'Come and have a look if you like', he said, leading me over to the table.  And I learned what the spoons were for.  Pretty much anything except to eat with!  Where most people see cutlery as something purely plain and functional, Tony sees countless opportunities to turn them into something precious and beautiful.

As Tony set about his work, he was kind enough to let Gareth and I watch.  Born in Christchurch and raised in Upper Hutt, he and Beth have been living on the road for 16 years.  Before then, the couple were mortgage free with no kids.  For some that may sound the perfect scenario, but Tony hated his job.  'Why were we slogging our guts out full time, for only three weeks off a year?  We knew it was time to change'.  That change came when they purchased their first house truck, back in 1995.  'It came up on Trade Me and we bought it unseen, apart from a mechanic check', Tony says of their leap of faith.  'We knew who built it and it was his third build, so we had a pretty good idea what we were getting'.

'The best advice we were given was that the first year would be the hardest, and it was', Tony said, remembering when they first started out.  'When your dream becomes a reality, you lose the dream.  You need some sort of plan, or every beach starts to look the same'.  Fortunately Beth and Tony had no shortage of skills between them and were soon able to find plenty of work to keep them busy and support their new lifestyle.

Silver cutlery makes ornate and surprisingly effective windchimes!

One of Tony's delightfully unique oil burners

Even the coat hooks have character!

Tony's first foray into silverware art and crafts was in 2004.  'I made six windchimes', he smiled at the memory.  'I took them along to markets but wasn't having much luck selling them, so I made more while I was sitting there to pass the time.  I ended up with 74!'  From there he started making oil burners, coat hooks, cell phone stands - you wouldn't believe what this guy can make out of silver spoons!  And then there is the jewellery.  It turns out that spoons really do make beautiful bracelets!  I loved looking at the huge array and began to see the ornate knives, forks and spoons I remembered as a little girl in a completely different way.  How I wish I had kept them!  They don't make them like that any more, I frowned, thinking of the bland, mass produced stuff from Kmart or The Warehouse we all tend to eat with these days.

Just some of the huge array of hand made rings

They don't make cutlery like this any more!  

'No two pieces of anything I make are the same', Tony told me.  'I come up with new ideas all the time.  You get to know what people want'.  Honestly, you have no idea how gorgeous jewellery made from cutlery can be, you have to see it to believe it.  But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense; after all, it is silver!  While we were talking, a lady came along to pick up a ring which had caught her eye and Tony was adjusting to fit her.  I asked to see more of the rings and was instantly charmed by an adorable ring made from a fork and shaped to look like a tiny elephant.  I'd never seen anything like it!  Needless to say, it was on my finger that afternoon and I haven't taken it off since.

Tony can make anything from pendants to bangles and rings to earrings

Every piece Tony makes undergoes a painstaking and careful process to restore the silver to its former beauty

'Do you do online orders, or have a website?' I asked.  'Nope, we only sell in person or at markets.  Summer is an incredibly busy time for us, travelling around the market circuit.  You get to know where people go on holiday and which are the best ones to go to'.  Indeed, that was how Beth and Tony came to be parked next to us, in preparation for one of Gore's biggest events of the year, the annual A & P Show.  In addition to Tony's amazing silverware skills, Beth also makes a staggering range of beautiful dreamcatchers.  What struck me most about this lovely couple however, was how incredibly content they are.  And how could they not be?  What nicer way is there to live than travelling around this wonderful country of ours, making beautiful things and bringing happiness to others?   It was a pleasure getting to know this lovely couple.  Hopefully one of these days our paths will cross again!

Look out for Beth's bright and beautiful dreamcatchers at a market near you!