Sisters Shirley Bawden, Marilyn and Raewyn Catlow have a strong bond. Not only do they share interests and live close to one another, but each also has a motorhome and when possible, they travel together. Shirley was the first to buy her vehicle. Marilyn followed a few years later with a 5.5-metre Kea 2-berth. At first, she used it for accommodation rather than travel, so that she could more easily give palliative care to her ageing parents. Nonetheless she soon became a convert to RV travel.
At that stage, Raewyn had no intention of following suit. Then along came a game-changer. Many of Marilyn and Raewyn’s travels are driven by their love of golf. In 2017 they had signed up as volunteer officials for the iconic New Zealand Open Golf Tournament in Queenstown. Marilyn was taking her motorhome but it was too small to share with her sister. “Sharing was not an option,” Raewyn says, “and the cost of hiring didn’t make sense, so I thought I’d buy my own motorhome and then sell it when I got back.” She enjoyed that trip so much that now she would never give it up.
Were you an experienced camper before you bought your motorhome?
I lived for some years in Australia and I did some camping, but sailing and yacht racing were my passions. And so, I didn’t find the thought of staying in a confined space and handling a motorhome by myself at all daunting.
Did you consider a caravan?
No, handling a motorhome seemed more straightforward. I also wanted to be able to have access to remote areas, which would be more difficult with a caravan.
How did you go about researching?
Well, I took note of my sisters’ experiences to start with, and I asked a lot of questions of other owners. Other research was on the internet, and I went to a Covi show, which gave me a good overview of what was available.
What criteria did you decide must be included?
Firstly, it had to have plenty of light and be surrounded by windows in the living area. Some I looked at were so enclosed that they made me feel I was in a jail cell. I wanted something relatively new, and unlikely to have old-age problems. It had to have a low mileage for the same reason. And for ease of turning, parking and driving, I didn’t want anything over six metres long.
I was keen to have two single beds so that I could take friends with me if I wanted to, but I couldn’t find one that had single beds and still met other criteria, so I had to opt for a double bed. I also needed spacious storage for sports equipment because my trips away with Marilyn are mostly driven by golf, skiing and cycling. These can often take us to the South Island in winter and for that reason, good heating and double glazing were high on the list.
What did you end up buying?
A 5.8-metre, 2012 Elddis Suntor motorhome. It’s manual, which I don’t mind at all. It’s so easy to drive, in some situations I think it’s even easier than my car. With the short wheelbase, I have no trouble turning in small spaces. Even though there are no outside lockers, there’s a large wardrobe and an overcab where I can store sports equipment such as skis, boots and helmets. My golf clubs and trolley are strapped into the passenger seat. I call them my ‘husband’.
Who did you buy it from?
I bought it from RnRV in Silverdale, who were selling on behalf of the owner. There was no problem at all with the buying process, but I had to take it elsewhere for any alterations.
What alterations have you made?
The water capacity was only 45 litres, so I had another tank fitted. I now have a 90-litre capacity, which is very useful when freedom camping. The bike rack at the back had to be lowered so that it didn’t interfere with the view from the back window, but more importantly so that I could lift my bike onto it on my own. This was even more important when later, I bought an e-bike that weighs 30kg. The van had to be fitted with a special e-bike rack.
I had an inverter installed under the passenger seat so that I could charge my golf buggy and bike batteries. I can only run this when the motor is running so it doesn’t deplete the battery. I also replaced the home lights with LED lights throughout, to give me brighter lighting and save on power.
Now that you have had the motorhome for a while, is there anything you would change?
I would have preferred single beds. The two bench seats at the rear convert into a large double bed. I’ve devised a way of only pulling out the fill-in slats halfway, so I end up with one wider ‘single’ (east–west) rather than a full double, and that gives me more room. I had squabs made up to fit this arrangement. Even though I didn’t get the beds I wanted, I love the motorhome as it is and wouldn’t change it.
What tips can you pass on to fellow travellers?
I think keeping a diary is a good idea. In mine I record any issues I might have had and the ways I have overcome them, as well as where I camped. I also note how much battery, gas, petrol, and water I consume. I’ve found this useful and it helps me to get to know the workings of the motorhome.
I always try to get to where I’m going to stay by about four in the afternoon, so that I can settle in and appreciate my surroundings.
What are two of your favourite campsites?
Marylin and I always camp in DOC camps or freedom camping sites because we like attractive environments and foreshore reserve areas. The reserve at the end of Ramp Road (off Inland Road) at Tokerau Beach in the Far North is a favourite. It’s a large spot for freedom camping and is clean, quiet and on the foreshore of a beautiful beach. Another is Cascade Creek DOC camp on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. This popular camp is a large grassy area in the shadow of looming mountains. The scenery is breathtaking.