Wild NZ: Gypsy life

Wild NZ: Gypsy life

We had heaps to organise – like completing some renovations, sorting the kids schooling, and finding a tenant for our house – but we figured we had plenty of time. Which we would’ve, if it wasn’t for my uncanny ability to procrastinate. Let’s just say that the last month before departure was crazy.

(Six months in a leaky caravan)

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  • by Mike Cooney

    According to those in my extended family who have a penchant for studying ancestral lines, I’m part Gypsy. Romani Gypsy to be exact. What that actually means I have no idea, but it sounds pretty cool. And when my wife first mentioned that she’d love to travel around New Zealand in a caravan, it must have struck a piece of ancient gypsy DNA. Because here I am, near the end of February 2018, travelling around New Zealand in a caravan. With my wife and four children. For six months.

    So (do I hear you ask), what brought about this radical change in lifestyle? Why did we give up our spacious home and acreage in the Coromandel to cram ourselves into a 23-foot-caravan? How will we ensure that our children, ages 10 through to 15, who were doing very well at school, won’t go backwards with their education and end up dole-bludging social-misfits as adults? 

    And, most importantly, what will we, the parents, do to remain sane? Especially during those long, wet, winter days New Zealand is famous for?

    These questions, and more, will be answered sooner if not later …

    As I mentioned earlier, travelling around New Zealand, and particularly the South Island, was something my lovely wife has had on her bucket-list for ages. And unlike most couples, who choose to wander the countryside during their latter years, she wanted us to do it with our kids – which, as I’m sure you can imagine, has its own set of challenges. 

    Anyway, after many late-night chats about whether or not we could handle the gypsy life, we one day found ourselves in Auckland, walking around a rather large Caravan & Motorhome Show.

    A couple of things stood out for us, as we perused the plethora of vehicles set out to entice potential buyers. The first was: we were fair bit younger than most of the punters (and we’re not that young!) – and the second: there was an awfully nice caravan for sale that, unlike most, could accommodate our entire family … just!

    Now, let me pause for a moment to say that, what happened next, goes against the advice most budget experts, financial consultants, economics teachers and cautious parents would give you …

    We were sitting at a table with an Australian salesman (perhaps that was our first mistake?) who was doing a pretty good job of telling us how wonderful his made-across-the-ditch caravan was, when I spontaneously turned to my wife and said, “Enough chitter-chatter – let’s DO this!” Upon which my wife went pale, realising I was serious. She gave me a nervous-yet-trusting nod, so I leant over the table, shook the man’s hand and bought a caravan. 

    Well, to be precise, I bought a caravan that was still yet to be built …

    (Without getting into a discussion about appropriate financial management, let me reassure you: I wasn’t completely reckless. I did put in the Sale & Purchase Agreement that this had to be ‘okayed’ by our accountant. We did, after all, have to take out another mortgage … gulp!)

    Anyway, on with the story …

    We now had a caravan sorted. And, with less than a year before it arrived in the country, we also had a timeframe to work with. We’d decided to head for Te Waipounamu (The South Island) at the end of January, returning to the north and home sometime in August, just in time for the bee season. The idea was we’d then get a good mix of seasons in the south – summer for fly-fishing and chasing the surf, autumn for the beautiful colours and hunting, and winter to test our down jackets in the snow!

    We had heaps to organise – like completing some renovations, sorting the kids schooling, and finding a tenant for our house – but we figured we had plenty of time. Which we would’ve, if it wasn’t for my uncanny ability to procrastinate. Let’s just say that the last month before departure was crazy.

    Somehow, the big day finally arrived, and it was quite the surreal moment as we set off down our driveway, caravan in tow. Given our dawn-to-dusk busyness through those last few weeks, the whole six-months-in-a-caravan thing didn’t seem real – and wouldn’t for a few days yet.

    We gave ourselves a week to get down to Wellington and our scheduled ferry crossing, and had a loose plan of the route we wanted to take. The idea was to spend as much time as possible along the Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa coastline while there was good surf, and then enjoy a full day in the capital, checking out Te Papa and other city sights. One of the best pieces of advice we were given was to join the NZMCA (New Zealand Motorhome & Caravan Association), which has properties throughout the country where you can stay for a nominal fee. Membership also provides discounts at other camp grounds – and they have a great app showing accommodation options throughout NZ, which was to prove invaluable.

    Our short Te Ika-a-Māui (North Island) sojourn was good fun – and a great test for our big Land Cruiser and even bigger caravan before we crossed the Strait into more unchartered and remote territory. Highlight for me (apart from the incredible hot chips at Waimarama!) had to be the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa. It is quite simply outstanding. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. It really should be compulsory viewing for all Kiwis.

    The kids loved the crossing. And the sight of dolphins playing in our wake as we motored into the Sounds seemed like an appropriate way to start our journey proper. That sense of freedom was something I wanted for my family … although, as we drove off the ferry in Picton, I still didn’t know what to expect – or even where we were going! 

    All I knew was, adventure awaited ...


    Why are you doing this now and not waiting until retirement? 

    Because my wife and I want to share this experience with our kids. They’re growing up quick, and we want to have as many adventures with them as we can before they’re off doing their own thing.

    How are you supporting yourselves doing this? 

    I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from nearly anywhere with my writing and editing. And I’ll probably pick up other work while we’re away. We’ve rented our house out, we’ve worked hard, we’ve saved – plus, we’ve borrowed some extra from the bank! But we reckon it’s a good investment.

    What if your children get behind in schoolwork? 

    This experience will hopefully change our kids for the better and create a life-long curiosity about the world they live in. You can’t get a better education than that! We’ll also be doing correspondence school with them – but not when the surf is good!

    How will you avoid cabin-fever living in such small confines – especially when it’s raining? 

    To do something like this, you already have to be a little bit crazy – so we’ll be fine! Seriously, what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger – right?

    You’re so lucky – I wish I could do this … 

    Then DO it! Make your own luck! Think outside the box … make a plan … put a timeframe in place … and then DO it! It’ll take courage though … so don’t be a wuss!

    I can guarantee that, when you’re old and your time is nearly up, you won’t be saying, “Gosh, I really wish I didn’t take my family on that incredible adventure when we were younger. It would’ve been so much better to have a flasher house …”