One of the questions I get asked most often is, ‘what’s it like travelling with a dog?’ Many people have fears and doubts about travelling with pets and we were no different.
However, after nine months living on the road with our cocker spaniel, I can honestly say life wouldn’t be the same without her. Minnie brings us so much joy every day. She makes an already idyllic lifestyle even better, and she loves it, too. Saying that, it has been a bit of a learning curve all round.
First travels with a dog
When we first hit the road with Minnie, we weren’t alone in wondering if we were stark raving bonkers. Neither us nor Minnie had any experience of living in a van; the extent of her travels ran no further than a two-minute drive to the beach every day.
Not only that but she was also almost 10 years old and in far from the best of health. But the van was our new home. We had no other and leaving her behind was never an option.
I’m not going to lie. The first couple of weeks were a bit of a challenge. Minnie seemed to constantly wonder when we were going home.
Every time we stopped, even if we had only gone five minutes down the road, she would try and leap out of the van excitedly, expecting to see the home she had left.
It was a tad frustrating, to say the least, and I had to remind myself what an enormous upheaval this was for her and to be more understanding.
But all of a sudden, as we reached the three-week mark, the penny dropped. ‘Ah, OK. So this is life now’, she seemed to realise. And after that, she settled happily into road life and things became a breeze.
We found it helps to have her own little bed with her. Every time we arrive at a new place, we plonk her bed outside next to the van and she flops down in it happily with a doggy chew.
This gives us time to set up at the new site, and we can then take her for a leisurely walk to explore her new surroundings.
Recently, she even watched Otago play Southland from the comfort of her bed while we watched the pre-season game and had the best seat in the house.
Know your limits and work around them
We have a bit of a mantra when travelling with Minnie: if there’s something we can’t do, we find something we can do instead.
If anything, this has worked in our favour, as our hunt for dog-friendly places often leads us to lesser-known spots we would never have taken the trouble to find otherwise.
Now that we have travelled around New Zealand for almost a year, we are familiar with locations and seasons and can tailor our travels a little more, so we can make the most of the more dog-friendly times in some areas and avoid them in others.
For example, we began our travels in the summer in Coromandel, which is a brilliant time for people to visit the area and make the most of the glorious beaches. Unfortunately, not if you’re a dog.
Most of the beaches are off limits to dogs between 9am and 6pm, and trust me, it’s no fun when you have a hot dog in a hot vehicle and you can’t take them anywhere to enjoy the sea breeze or for a nice cooling swim.
We found Taranaki to be a lot more spacious and dog-friendly at this time of year and particularly enjoyed our time with Minnie in Hawera, where there is a gorgeous pet-friendly campground and plenty of interesting walks for both dog and owner.
The most frustrating place we have found to travel with a dog is Northland. We loved the area.
The beaches are unforgettable but a huge majority of places do not allow dogs, largely because of the wildlife protection, the kiwi in particular.
While this is understandable, it did suck driving for hours to reach awe-inspiring landmarks such as Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach only to have to leave poor Minnie in the van once again while we dashed out to check out the scenery and then rushed back again before she got too hot.
One of the definite highlights, however, was a relaxing stop at the historical Mangonui Tavern, where Minnie was allowed to sit in the shade of their outdoor area and mingle with the locals while we enjoyed a nice cold bevy.
Our favourite dog-friendly part of New Zealand is without a doubt the Catlins. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy so many of the beaches and walks with our girl. It was a special time for all three of us.
Know your national parks
One thing we would definitely suggest when travelling with your dog through a national park is to research first to find out if you can stay or even stop there.
We have been caught out at Egmont, Nelson Lakes, Franz Josef, and Mount Aspiring National Parks to name a few.
To be honest, if you want to make the most of being able to see these places, you’re best to book your pet into a boarding kennel in advance.
We took Minnie to a boarding kennel called Hillside near Te Anau so we could explore Milford Sound, and it was worth every cent. Some things are priceless and the Sound is one of them.
All in all, travelling with a dog is a bit like travelling with a toddler. They like routine, they like to have things their way, and they can be a bit demanding. But we wouldn’t be without Minnie for the world. Having her on the road with us has given her a new lease of life and enriched ours at the same time.
Favourite dog-friendly campgrounds
Travelling with your dog is much less stressful when you can be sure of a warm welcome. For a list of Minnie’s (and Jackie’s) favourite dog-friendly campsites and holiday parks, click here for MCD's list.