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.
The Family on a Bike swaps bikes
for a campervan
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
"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.
You couldn't just park anywhere in our mobile motel
"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
The kids partied their way through
the whole experience
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.