Summer isn’t even officially here and we’ve already experienced our first heat wave here in the South Island. This year, it’s going to be different for all of us. For as long as we can remember, summer has been spent in Whangamata, our old home.
As one of the country’s most popular holiday spots, our little town’s population would swell from 4000 to more than 100,000 holidaymakers, all jostling for room on the beach, in the ocean, and in the shops and cafes.
It’s a crazy time of the year, and we’ve always enjoyed being part of the holiday vibe, but not this year. For this couple of former beach bums, we wanted something completely different. The problem was, where? While many would consider winter to be the most challenging time of year on the road (and with good reason), summer can also bring more than its fair share of trials for the merry wanderer.
Life on the road isn't all it's cracked up to be
Don’t get me wrong. We wouldn’t change this lifestyle for anything, but as Gareth says, “It’s not always rainbows and lollipops.” Having spent all four seasons on the road, we know exactly what we want and don’t want from a location.
Naturally, this has sometimes meant learning things the hard way. For example, last summer, we began our journey touring around the Coromandel Peninsula, Waikato, and Bay of Plenty from November through to the end of January. It was beautiful. We saw countless stunning places and enjoyed many special times, but it was also stressful at times. Why? Because it is hard trying to find a place to stay when you’re in an area that everyone else also wants to be in.
We thought we were being clever escaping the crowded Coromandel for Rotorua and Taupo. Our reasoning was, who on Earth would want to go to a place with hot pools in the height of summer when there is a big, cool ocean to swim in a couple of hours away? As it turned out, a lot of people—just as many people as we’d left behind at the beach. Our naivety backfired on us big time.
Being on holiday for a week or two is one thing. It’s all a lovely novelty, everyone’s in a good mood, and you just grin and bear it. But when this is your life, it’s different. Every day can be a never-ending rigmarole. You can drive miles out of your way trying to find a dog-friendly place to stay, every freedom camp you plan to go to is always full, and when you do finally find a campground that has room for both you and your dog, they want to charge $66 a night for an unpowered site. Yes, that all happened. But that’s how you learn, and once you learn, you don’t forget. As a result, we have learned how to make life as easy and hassle-free as possible.
Holiday destinations don't have to be stressful
The brilliant thing about having a home on wheels is you can tailor your summer to suit you. You don’t have to follow the crowd. Better still, you can change your plan at any time. There is no schedule to keep and no roster to work around.
Originally, we planned to travel back up north and spend the summer touring around, catching up with friends and family, but as the time approached, we thought about it and asked ourselves, ‘is this what we really want?’.
Did we want to spend time with our loved ones? Absolutely! But did we also want to spend a few months among the hordes, carting a hot, stressed dog around while desperately trying to find somewhere to stay? We didn’t relish the thought.
What we wanted was somewhere more quiet and spacious, with plenty of shade for Minnie, where everyone was happy. We wanted to stay right where we were, at the very bottom of the country. While it means our loved ones will have to wait a little longer to see us, we know it’s the right decision. Paid campgrounds will be cheaper, freedom camps will be quieter, and there will be more dog-friendly options available, too. For us, it’s a no-brainer.
Exploring Soutland countryside
So that’s our plan for the summer. At the busiest time of year, when everyone else is on the move, we’re staying put. We’ll still see and do plenty and we have lots of road trips around Southland and Otago planned, which we’re looking forward to, but we’ll leave the majority of our adventuring for after peak season.
It will be more comfortable for Minnie then, too, and we’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful beaches all together whenever we like, rather than be restricted to early mornings and evenings.
Besides, who says you have to spend summer at the beach? It will be a lovely change for us to spend it surrounded by mountains. Instead of sunbathing, we’ll be tramping, and dipping our toes into rivers and lakes instead of the ocean. But we’ll get there. We have the whole year ahead of us to get there.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the sunshine, surrounded by farmland at the foot of the Hokonui Hills. Just like any other campground, our neighbours are constantly changing, but there is more than enough room for everyone.
There is colour everywhere I look, from spectacular rhododendrons in every variety and hue to impressive candles of creamy-white, conical blooms on the horse chestnut tree. Spring lambs are basking peacefully with their mums and Minnie is snoring contentedly at my feet.
We’ve swapped sea life for farm life, pohutukawas for cabbage trees, and are filling the camper van with grass instead of sand. It may not be the kind of summer we’re used to but there’s no place we’d rather be.