I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Coromandel in May, enjoying beautiful late summer weather without the crowds that often overrun the Peninsula in summer.
And to make it even better, I got a chance to meet up with another female solo traveller and hear about her adventures. Jenny Galloway and I connected through Female Travel Buddies on Facebook – a group for women who travel (or live) solo in their motorhomes, buses or caravans.
The group is full of amazing women who support each other and share RVing tips, so when I had a chance to meet one of the members in person, I jumped at it. Jenny and I met for fish and chips at the wharf in Thames.
If you ever find yourself in the area looking for a beautiful place to grab a bite to eat or a coffee, I can highly recommend The Wharf Coffee House & Bar. The fish and chips were delicious and we got to enjoy it in an idyllic setting right by the water while we exchanged stories.
Turns out that even though Jenny is almost twice my age, we have a lot in common. Like me, Jenny lives permanently in her Ford Transit Campervan. Hers is the 2000 model, so only a year younger than mine.
Like me, Jenny loves living in her van but also regularly takes breaks to house- and farm-sit – especially in winter when the van can get quite cold. And while both of us live permanently in our mobile homes, we still have an area of New Zealand we consider our base.
While mine is Auckland, Jenny’s is Tairua, in the Coromandel, where she lived for a while before retiring. She regularly returns to farm-sit for a friend and, in exchange, gets to store some of her things that did not fit into her van at the farm.
But the similarities don’t end there. During our conversation, we discovered more and more experiences we have in common, like the fact we both had a bit of bad luck with our first mobile homes.
A rough start
Jenny first discovered the joys of living in a mobile home seven years ago when she bought an old 1981 Toyota Coaster. It was love at first sight. “It had long been a dream of mine, and I still remember how proud I felt the first night sitting in my bus.
” Unfortunately, the dream turned into a nightmare pretty quickly when her bus failed its COF, only three months after Jenny moved in, due to rust issues (a problem I know very well given I’m dealing with it right now).
She ended up having to sell the bus for parts, lost a lot of money and found herself back at work, saving up for a new mobile home. But when I asked her if the experience made her at all unsure whether life on the road is right for her, she says, “No, not at all.
I knew this is right for me, so I set out to save up for a new mobile home.”Not surprisingly after this experience, Jenny’s number one tip for other RVers, or those wanting to get into the lifestyle, is, “Do your due diligence before buying a mobile home.” I couldn’t agree more strongly.
Jenny and I are by no means the only ones with experiences likes this, so make sure you get a pre-purchase inspection done by someone you trust or a highly regarded brand like AA or VTNZ. And do your own research about the common issues with any motorhome, bus or caravan you look at, and then ask the right questions.
Second time lucky
It took Jenny a few years to save enough money for a new mobile home, but when she retired two years ago, she decided to finally make her dream happen – for good this time.
After a bit of searching, and a lot more due diligence than last time, she bought her Ford Transit. Since then, Jenny has made a few modifications to her van to set it up perfectly for herself.
She took out the passenger seat so she can easily get in and out through that door, and removed the table in the back to set up a permanent single bed, while still having the bench on the other side as a seating area during the day.
She also recently had a diesel heater installed to keep herself warm in winter. With all these modifications done, Jenny says, “The van is absolutely everything I need now. I’ve got my little kitchen, a bathroom, my permanent bed, and a seating area.
What more could anyone want?” And the small size also makes it easy to drive and park – but I’m sure Jenny could handle almost any vehicle, given she used to race cars for a while in her late 40s.
The only downside Jenny sees in her van is that there isn’t really enough room to have people over, “It’s not a very social space.” But she also sees the upside of that, “It means the gatherings happen at other people’s RVs, and I can leave when I’ve had enough!”
With her van perfectly set up, Jenny has spent the past two years exploring the North Island. Her favourite area so far has been the coast from Waihi Beach down to Whakatane. “It’s so beautiful, and they like motorhomers, so there are lots of parking options and a very welcoming atmosphere.”
One of her all-time favourite overnight spots is the freedom camping site at the end of Tuna Street an Waihi Beach. Having been there myself a few times, I wholeheartedly agree.
There are only limited spots, but if you’re lucky and you get the first one towards the beach, you get to enjoy beautiful views – especially at sunrise. Jenny also recommends the Holiday Park in Bowentown just down the road, which is very well set up and run by friendly people.
She also really likes Whanganui, another area known to be very motorhome-friendly. “There are nice spots to park up for free right by the river and also in the area surrounding Whanganui.”
And like several others, Jenny also mentioned the Miranda Holiday Park, making me think I really need to plan a visit soon to see for myself why it gets so many good reviews.
For next summer, Jenny is planning a longer trip to the Far North. She lived in Moerewa for many years but hasn’t been back for over 40 years, so she is looking forward to rediscovering the area.
Alone but never lonely
Even though Jenny has only been living in her mobile home for two years, she is by no means new to the nomadic lifestyle. I tried to keep count of all the places she has lived, but I gave up after a while.
Jenny loves it that way. “It keeps your life simple. You don’t have a lot of stuff when you move a lot, and you get very good at meeting new people.”
Her ability to make new friends certainly comes in handy when living alone in a motorhome; “I never feel lonely. I’ve met so many amazing people in the RV community and made many good friends.
If I want company, there is usually someone nearby I could meet up with.” This has also been my own experience. Many people, especially women, seem to shy away from the idea of living or travelling alone in their mobile homes.
But with the RVing community in New Zealand being extremely welcoming, and with there now being so many easy ways to connect and stay in touch (the various Facebook groups and NZMCA events are especially useful for this), it’s usually easy to meet others.
But Jenny also really enjoys her own company and the complete freedom and independence to do whatever she wants – something I can relate to very much.
Jenny doesn’t really have much planned for the future other than visiting the Far North next summer. She says that at her age (or any age for that matter), you never really know how much longer you’ve got, so she wants to make the most of every moment. “I think life is full of opportunities – some taken and others not taken. I want to take as many as possible.” And I have no doubt that’s what she will do.