The roads well-travelled

Downsizing is part of the process for everyone who moves from a house into a mobile home. However, few of us probably had to downsize quite as much as Bernice and Roy Vannini, who sold the large historic Pen-y-bryn Lodge in Ōamaru to move into a 10-metre bus.

Castlepoint, one of the many beaches along the Wairarapa coast

That was almost nine years ago now, and they haven’t looked back. After living in Auckland, where Roy was working in IT, and then owning and managing the South Island lodge for 13 years, Bernice and Roy were ready for a new adventure.

Initially, the plan was to live in the motorhome for a year or so, travelling around and looking for a place to settle down. One year turned into nine, and there is no end in sight. It isn’t that they can’t find anywhere they want to live permanently.

I met Bernice (right) and Roy at the NZMCA Park at Tokerau Beach

The problem is there are too many places. “We would find a place we liked and think ‘we could live here’, but then we would find another fantastic place and think the same. There are just too many great areas. So we just kept going.” 

They spent the first two years in the South Island, taking their time exploring everything from the very south to the top of the island. Despite having seen most of the south, or maybe because of it, picking a favourite area is difficult. “We loved all of is. The Catlins are amazing, there is something special about the West Coast and we also really liked the area around Nelson and Marlborough.”

After two years discovering the south, they took the bus to the North Island and have been cruising around ever since. Initially, they were eager to get from place to place but, over the years, life on the road has slowed down.

“We now tend to spend a lot more time in one place. It’s not so much about seeing different places anymore, more about enjoying the lifestyle,” explains Bernice. Roy adds, “We’re in no rush. We don’t like driving at night or in the rain, so if the weather is no good, we wait it out.”

The couple has also settled into an annual routine. They like to spend the colder months in the winterless north, where I met them at the NZMCA park at Tokerau Beach. They like it there because of the mild weather and the great fishing.

Roy with the catch of the day

In summer, they volunteer as camp hosts at Shakespear Regional Park in Auckland and, in between, they explore other parts of New Zealand. “We had a particularly great time in the Wairarapa,” says Bernice.

“We took our time hopping from beach to beach, spending a few days at each before moving on.” Roy agrees and adds, “The East Cape was also magical. We spent six weeks going from Gisborne to the cape and met lots of lovely locals.” They still live on the same bus they bought nine years ago.

At 10 metres, and with a slide-out on one side, it is spacious and comfortable, and they want for nothing. "We made quite a few modifications when we first bought it and more over the years to set it up perfectly for us. We have a walk-around bed, a separate toilet and shower, a spacious lounge and kitchen, and even a washing machine.

We don’t want for anything.” And their little tow car makes it’s easy for them to get around towns and other places the big bus won’t go. One aspect I envy is their spacious, well equipped kitchen, which is also Bernice’s favourite part of the bus.

Bernice in her custom-designed kitchen

They had it custom-build, with extra-large drawers to make sure there would be space for everything - Bernice even has a cake-mixer. Given the opportunity, there is only one thing they would change. “Our slide-out is quite small. Having a large slide-out to make even more room in the living area would be great.”

With their home on wheels so well equipped and set up for complete off-grid living, it’s probably no surprise that Bernice and Roy don’t tend to stay at holiday parks. Instead, DOC and Auckland Regional Park sites are their preferred options.

The bus parked up at the Matata DOC campsite

Bernice says, “I like being parked on grass instead of gravel and asphalt. It just makes for a nicer environment. The DOC sites and Auckland Regional Parks all tend to be well looked after and are usually in beautiful settings. The facilities are basic, but we have everything onboard, so that doesn’t bother us.”

Bernice and Roy enjoying one of their favourite pastimes at Rarawa Beach

Among their favourite sites are the DOC parks at Rarawa Beach and Tāpotupotu in the Far North and, of course, Shakespear Park in Auckland, where they spend their summers.

While Roy still works on a small business, creating manuals for helicopter operators, most of their time nowadays is spent fishing, reading, wandering around and meeting new friends. “We often go out of our way to talk to the locals - that’s an essential part of this lifestyle for us. We enjoy meeting people from all over the country and hearing their stories.” 

Pen-y-bryn Lodge, once owned by Bernice and Roy

Engaging with the local communities, especially in remote parts of New Zealand, is important to both of them. “We always try to buy things from small local businesses. We also get our bus maintenance done in small towns, and we love to buy produce from local farmers’ markets.

It’s our way of giving back and saying thank-you for the hospitality.”After almost nine years on the road, Bernice and Roy have much wisdom to share with people considering this lifestyle. They say it is not for everyone and couples should think carefully about whether they can live together in such a small space.

Choosing the right mobile home and setting it up perfectly to ensure it works is also essential. “Try before you buy. That would be our advice. Rent a few motorhomes and see what you do and don’t like and how you get on with each other living in a small space.”

Clearly, the lifestyle and set-up work well for them. As Bernice puts it, “We have everything we want. If we won the lottery, nothing would change - except for maybe a new layer of paint on the bus.” 

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