Subject: Campervan Crazy
Place: Auckland, New Zealand
Falling in love again
It took me five minutes to fall in love with our mini motel on wheels. I was King of the Road, high above the other traffic; we could stop and brew coffee whenever we fancied, have a nap whenever we wanted, and a pee whenever we needed. Within an hour of collecting our campervan I caught myself wondering why anyone would ever cycle tour; it seemed such a ludicrous idea to pedal up and down all those hills.
While travelling by bicycle I’d developed a snobbish contempt for campervanners, driving around in their tin boxes, polluting the environment, shielded from the elements, sightseeing through a windscreen. I never imagined we would end our tour of New Zealand in one, but the off-season hire deal was too good to ignore. And it solved a couple of problems for us; how to get around with ten panniers, a tent and two toddlers now the bikes and buggies had shipped home, and how to spend the ten days before our flight to Samoa.
Love at first sight
Right from the moment I first started the engine the kids loved our tiny home on wheels. No more enforced isolation in their buggies. No more tent. No more smelly sleeping bags. Now they could sit together and play while we motored, fight out of our reach at the back of the van, and sleep with a duvet in their own cosy little bedroom over the driver’s cab. I liked it too; so compact and convenient with no need for the daily packing and unpacking that was so much a part of our cycling routine. And as we headed back onto State Highway 1, I smiled as the miles passed so effortlessly and savoured the freedom of the open road once more. But my love affair was short lived.
“What about here?” I asked Kirstie as we pulled into another scenic layby after three hours searching for a place to park up. The headlights played on a sign which answered the question. NO OVERNIGHT PARKING. So much for freedom camping. On the bikes we’d have probably pitched our tent behind a bush and made off in the early morning, but it’s hard to be as inconspicuous in a huge white tin box with fluorescent lights and a diesel engine. We motored on for another hour until we reached a motor camp where for $40 we were allowed to park on a pretty piece of grass with beautiful views of another twenty large white light boxes.
The romance wears off
“What’s the matter Dada?” asked Matthew as he trod on my toes.
“Nothing Matt,” I winced climbing over him to try and get to the cooker to make dinner.
“Can you wipe my bum Daddy?” said Cameron opening the bathroom door onto me and filling the cab with a whiff of toilet.
“Can someone let me out of this bloody bus,” I shouted.
The boys started to cry. Three days of eating, sleeping and driving in the van was doing my head in. As we motored south from the Bay of Islands to Auckland I was sure the van was shrinking. My eyes ached from driving, my head ached from hitting the roof, my back ached from sleeping on a sofa and my nerves jangled from over confinement with two toddlers. And I wasn’t alone in my discomfort; poor Matt had broken out in strange body sores which I argued must have arisen from living in such close quarters. The three or four hours of day release was proving insufficient to relieve my claustrophobia or his symptoms. I needed a change of scene but it wasn’t really an option. We’d spent our budget on the van and the sentence was for ten days. No money back for early return and no money left for hotels, motels or eating out, especially once we’d forked out for a doctor’s consultation.
“Look, you go for a walk and I’ll make the meal,” said Kirstie trying to make the best of it, “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more once we get out of the city.” I was not convinced.
By day seven we were half way around the Coromandel and I had lost any sense of where we where. We’d toured this area by bike and I remembered a rich collage of wild picnic spots, crashing surf beaches and pine scented forests. But somehow the experience now was sterile and samey. The drama of surf beach and forest, mountain and coast were somehow reduced to dull impressions from within our travelling prison. Insulated from the outside world, we stopped feeling the terrain and weather, and stopped meeting people too.
“Do you guys miss the bikes and buggies?” I asked as I teetered on a ladder to tuck the boys into bed.
“A little bit,” said Matthew thoughtfully “but I like this campervan because it’s like a buggy for the whole family.”
“What about you Cameron?” I asked.
“No,” he squeaked in his cute mousie voice, “I love the campervan. Eek eek”
“So you really like campervanning?”
Two big thumbs up said it all.
“I’m glad you’re having a good time,” I said graciously as I banged my head on the roof while kissing them both goodnight.
Time to say goodbye
Day ten and I woke with a growing sense of euphoria. I got up from the sofa bed and bumped my head on the roof again but even this could not dent my mood. “Wake up everyone, today we will be free. Today it’s goodbye campervan, goodbye New Zealand and hello Samoa.” No-one else seemed as excited as me to be leaving. We packed up before breakfast, luggage tumbling impatiently out of overhead lockers and piling up on the floor. We tripped over each other for one last hour then put away the dishes, swept the tiny floor, emptied out the chemical potty and filled up with gas and fuel.
“Well, it’s time to say goodbye to the campervan guys,” I said cheerily as I dropped the rest of the family at the airport to check in.
“Eek, eek. Love the campervan Daddy,” said Cameron sadly.
“Don’t worry you’ll love backpacking too,” I replied.
Kirstie headed off to get a trolley while I unloaded the van. When I’d finished, a small mountain of bags sat untidily on the concourse; two large drybags, two large rucksacks, a laptop computer, two little rucksacks full of toys and two pieces of hand-luggage. As I drove off to finally get rid of the van I watched a pregnant Kirstie struggling to push two toddlers pushing a trolley laden with bags and wondered how practical it was to be a family of backpackers. And for a moment I thought that perhaps the campervan wasn’t as bad as it had seemed.