Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: Gareth Scurr


Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith Reaching scary new heights on Takaka Hill Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith Hello South Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith The house we left behind Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith No shortage of birds to feed these days Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith I did it! Me on the ferry Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith Minnie and me Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith
Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith A spectacular free backyard at Anatoki River Jackie's Journey: Leap of faith

MCD follows Jackie on her travels across the country

As anyone who has ever decided to live permanently on the road knows, making that decision is the easy part. It all sounds wonderfully exciting in theory. ‘Let’s break out of the mould and go on a never-ending adventure! A new horizon every day, hurrah!’ It’s the bit after that which is the hard part; the bit where it all becomes real. Especially if it involves selling your house in order to embark on this new daring life, which was the case with me.

I would never have admitted it to another soul back then but there were plenty of times, especially in the middle of the night, when I thought, ‘What the heck am I doing? Giving up my entire house for an unpredictable life of no fixed abode?’ It’s a big thing; a scary thing. I mean, once your home is gone, there’s no going back.

However, as I soon was to learn, home is what you make it. It’s where your stuff is, where your partner is, where your pets are. Your backyard is wherever you want it to be—a beach, a lake, a glacier, we’ve had them all. I’m not sure I could ever go back to living in a normal house now even if I had the chance.

But there were certainly many things I was worried about leading up to the big departure. Some of them were so irrational, I chuckle about them now. Like birds. My house had the most wonderful garden and I loved nothing more than feeding the birds every day. What if there weren’t any birds where I was going? I needn’t have worried. From the first day we set out, I have seen and fed more birds than I ever would have if I stayed at home. I would never have caught a weka pinching our dog’s food or had a South Island robin pecking my toes in suburban Whangamata.

Obviously, I worried about far greater things than that. For starters, what if I just didn’t like it? I’d never even had so much as a weekend camping before, so what if I was rubbish at it and just couldn’t handle roughing it? What if freedom campers were all scary, noisy drunken party animals or raging hippies?

And then there was the dog. Minnie was almost 10 years old and wasn’t in the best of health. What was I thinking of dragging her off to live in a van for the rest of her days? What if it even killed her? As I sit here writing, Minnie is sitting on my feet, snoring contentedly. I don’t think she has been happier than she is these days. It took her probably two or three weeks to adjust fully. I think she wondered when we were going home, but all of a sudden, she clicked that this was home and from then on, it was a breeze. Every day is a new adventure for our girl. It has brought us all closer together and given her a new lease of life. I realise now just how little we did with her before.

I also spent a lot of time second-guessing myself and my abilities. This was another reason we chose a smaller vehicle as our new home. I didn’t have faith in myself to be able to drive anything bigger. I was accustomed to driving a Mazda Demio. I couldn’t possibly tow a caravan or handle a bus, could I? I have since learned to never say never. As for my driving abilities, well, I’ve managed to get us from Cape Reinga to Bluff without any problems. 

One of the best things about living on the road is that it has forced me to face and overcome some of my fears. Seeing as our plan was to travel the whole country, this was going to necessitate a trip on the Cook Strait ferry. It had been 25 years since my last and only voyage, and I was still traumatised, as it had been so rough. Unfortunately, there was no other way we were going to be able to get there. With fear mounting, I waited in Wellington and watched the weather for days before finally settling on what looked to be a potentially calm afternoon.

Although visibly terrified, I didn’t want to spoil the trip for Gareth, so I climbed up to the top deck and took a deep breath as we pulled away from the harbour. The sea was like glass and I loved every minute of the journey. As I gazed in wonder at the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound, I had to ask myself, ‘what have you been missing out on all these years?’

We arrived safely in the South Island and then I just had to navigate the roads. This was another worry of mine, particularly as I have a severe phobia of heights. People have always told me how scary the South Island roads are and I had been gearing myself up for it for ages. After spending years driving in Coromandel, however, I found them no problem at all. Sure, there were a few exceptions, such as Takaka Hill in Golden Bay, but we have found a simple and surprisingly effective way to manage my fear going through the more challenging roads. Gareth simply switches on Michael Buble and I instantly transform into the picture of serenity, singing along as we wend our merry way.

This may all make me sound like a bit of a basket case but what I’m trying to say is, don’t let your fears and worries hold you back from following your dreams. Just do it. You never know what you are capable of until you try. Some days I still can’t believe I gave up an actual house in exchange for a life on the road. But you know what? I haven’t given up anything, only gained.

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