Life on the road: Sue & Pete

I had to put my travels on hold this winter to focus on work in Auckland. While it’s been nice to be close to friends, I’ve been missing life on the road and can’t wait to get out there again. One thing that has helped me get through these few months is meeting up with other travellers as they pass through and hearing of their adventures.

Stewart Island

I caught up with Sue and Pete Davies, who have been on the road full-time for almost two years now, living in their Bailey caravan. They’ve covered the entire length of the country, including Stewart Island, so have a few stories and valuable tips to share.

Swapping property for a home on wheels

Sue and Pete are what I’ve come to consider the typical recently retired RV couple: super friendly, full of life stories and wisdom and determined to make the most of their retirement. But maybe unlike most, these two are all in when it comes to living on the road, having sold up all their property and now calling the caravan their full-time and only home.

“We didn’t want to be tied down with the responsibilities that come with owning property. We wanted the freedom to go and enjoy life, so we sold up. It was an easy decision for us.” Sue and Pete lived Tauranga for most of their marriage, with stints in Auckland and some time spent living on a sailing boat.

As retirement loomed a few years ago, they started to look for new adventures and goals. Camping and caravanning were a big part of Sue’s childhood, and she has fond memories of caravan holidays with her family. It was probably those memories that sparked the idea of using their retirement to travel the country in a caravan.

Finding the right RV

The couple inside their caravan

So they started looking for their new home on wheels. They figured out pretty quickly that they wanted a caravan and not a motorhome, mainly because they wanted to be able to leave the trailer behind and go exploring in their car.

“We were chatting to a group of motorhome owners, and we asked them what the one thing is that they don’t like about their motorhome and they all said ‘every time we want to go to the shops for a bottle of milk, we have to pack up the house’. That settled it for us.”

Initially, Sue and Pete went looking for a used caravan but given it would be their permanent home, they had high expectations and, understandably, weren’t willing to compromise on much. “We wanted a full-size queen bed and a bathroom with a separate shower – that was important to us.”

After looking at many different options – both new and used – they eventually found their Australian-built Bailey Rangefinder, and it was love at first sight. The caravan is just under 9m long and very modern, with an elegant and minimalist interior that perfectly suits Sue and Pete’s style. It’s spacious and equipped with all the modern appliances and features, like motor-movers that make getting into tight spots much easier.

Part of the caravan slides out and creates extra space inside

And the push-out side in the sleeping area means they get a full-size queen bed accessible from both sides when parked up but a manageable sized caravan when driving. “We wanted something big enough to live in but not so big that you end up being restricted in where you can get to.”

Pete and Sue took their time finding the right caravan and did a lot of research to make sure they got it correct. And they highly recommend others who are looking at investing in a home on wheels do the same – especially if they are planning to live in it.

“Think about your must-haves, what you will be using it for, and what your budget is. Talk to a lot of people. Visit a campground and chat with people there. Most will be happy to tell you about their RVs, and some might even give you a tour. Make sure you figure out what you want and then don’t compromise on your must-haves.”

Cape Reinga to Stewart Island

Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Once they had found their home on wheels, Sue and Pete packed up and sold their house and hit the road. Since leaving Tauranga almost two years ago, the couple has travelled the entire length of New Zealand – and are now about to do it again. Being able to totally explore the country was one of the reasons why they chose this lifestyle, and they are making the most of it. Both love exploring new places on foot.

Cape Reinga

The local iSite is often one of their first stops, a place to get tips on where to go and what to see. But they also love to wander around and let themselves be surprised by what they discover. “Just recently, we spent a day walking around Te Aroha, and we discovered different steampunk street art all over the town.

Sue and Pete at Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan

Another time in Raglan, we found this street with lots of really creative letterboxes, and in Paeroa, we found these rocks from the gorge with carvings on them. We love discovering those little hidden gems in the places we’re visiting.” 

As so often when I ask travellers about their favourite destinations in New Zealand, I was initially met with silence, followed by, “it’s hard to have a favourite place because they are all so good”. But Sue liked Geraldine in the South Island and Pete has especially fond memories of Central Otago. “I loved driving through the area and just admiring the scenery.”

Steward Island was another highlight for both, and they also love the Bay of Islands region, particularly its scenic walks. But sometimes it’s the most unexpected places that turn into favourites. “We recently went to Paeroa for two days and ended up staying for 12 and, at some point, even thought we might like to live there. That was a bit surprising,” says Sue.

Favourite overnight spots

Both are big fans of the many Park Over Properties (POPs), free and paid, around the country (many are only available to NZMCA members). Sue says they can be a bit picky about where they stay. The size of the caravan means not all spots are suitable and safety is also a big concern, often making them feel a bit reluctant about freedom camping.

The POPs are usually safe, well looked after and much more affordable then campgrounds. And they are also great places to meet new people. Often the owners are RVers themselves, and one of the reasons why they are opening up their properties to others is because they enjoy meeting new people and exchanging stories.

So it’s not surprising that two of Sue and Pete’s favourite overnight spots are POPs. One of Sue’s is Peski’s, near Geraldine. “The owners are so friendly, and it is such a nice, well-maintained property.” Another POP they highly recommend is Comfort Zone 4, close to Whakatāne.

“It’s a big grass paddock, and there is nothing there. But the owners are amazing people and make us feel so welcome every time, so we love visiting.”Mātauri Bay in the Far North is another highlight. They also recently enjoyed a couple of nights at Auckland’s Pine Harbour Marina, parked right at the water’s edge within walking distance of their son’s home.

Living the dream

After nearly two years on the road, there is no sign of boredom and no desire to settle down anytime soon. “We often get asked, ‘What do you do all day? You must get bored.’ But we don’t have time to get bored. There is still so much to see and explore.”

A visit to Taranaki is high on their list, and they also want to spend time on the West Coast of the South Island. When I met up with Sue and Pete, they were on their way north with plans to explore the Far North for a couple of months before heading to the South Island in early December.

Talking to them, it’s clear how much they love the lifestyle, and I don’t think we will see these two living in a house anytime soon. “We just love it,” says Sue. “We meet amazing people, we get to see our country, and we have the freedom to do whatever we want. “For us, it’s living the dream.”

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