Jackie's Journey: RV winter road trip tips

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: Images by Gareth Scurr and Getty Images


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NZMCD writer Jackie Norman shares a few tips from fellow travellers to help you make the most of your RV winter road trip

Motorhoming in summer is all very idyllic, but the thought of spending winter on the road fills many people with dread. We once felt the same way, too, but not anymore.

In fact, winter is one of our favourite times of year. Here are a few tips from others we’ve met along the way to help you make the most of your motorhome over winter.

Enjoy the positives

Tucked -away ,-Brent -enjoys -camping -off -the -beaten -track

After three years on the road, Brent Little is unfazed about wintering in his seven-metre motorhome. He says that fewer people around makes it easier to find those quiet, neat spots to park.

"I always freedom camp or use DoC sites and have had the place to myself on occasion," he says. The extreme weather conditions in winter can also have an amazing effect on the countryside.

"The flooded river and waterfalls at Wentworth Valley DoC ground in Whangamata were an amazing sight. By choosing to camp in remote places, I get to witness amazing changes in scenery that most people miss out on."

Brent 's -simple -but -effective -rain -water -catcher

Brent also discovered the rain can prove useful. "I have my own system of collecting rainwater to fill the fresh water tanks and use the wet weather to wash my motorhome."

While the cold, wet months have their challenges, most of them are relatively easy to fix. "I don’t have too much trouble staying warm," he says.

"It can be cold, but it used to be cold in a house,r too! It pays to ensure you have the best insulation possible. Simple things such as adding extra curtain hooks to the top of your curtains so they stay closer to the windows can help. Covering roof vents in late afternoon also keeps available heat in (most roof vents, even if shut, have an air gap around them).

A definite must-have for winter is micro-fleece bed sheets. I wouldn’t be without them. The odd bourbon at night helps to keep you warm, too!"

To date, Brent has spent winters in the North Island but is looking forward to his first South Island winter next year and encourages others to get out and explore.

"Go and admire the awesome scenery that winter causes: the flooded rivers and snow, the iced-up ponds, even cars stuck in the mud you need to help, and sitting by fires under starry nights. Winter can be a great thing if you just look around."

It's all part of the adventure

It -may -be -cold -outside ,-but -it 's -easy -to -keep -warm -in -a -motorhome

With almost 12 years on the road under her belt, and faithful dog Emma at her side, Dianna Stallinger takes winter in her stride. In her 7.4-metre TrailLite ‘Largo’, Dianna is opting for the Bay of Plenty this year but has spent many winters in the Far North.

"With more campgrounds offering discounts in winter, it’s good to spend a few nights occasionally at a powered site to charge the batteries, dry the washing, use a dehumidifier, and enjoy being able to watch TV without caring about battery levels. Not many camps, POPs, or CAPs seem to allow long-term parking, which makes it hard for many people.

"Fortunately, campers are happy to share information about places to stay online, so we mostly know where we can go and I prefer to freedom camp wherever possible."

Like most motorhomers, Dianna finds it easier to keep her motorhome toasty than a regular house. "It’s the best thing about living on the road in winter. Plus, you can follow the better weather or have an adventure in the snow (with good lagging and chains, etc.).

Dianna -puts -her -feet -up -in -her -cosy -motorhome

There’s nothing more cosy than hearing the rain on the roof when you are cocooned inside! I love my $2 disposable dehumidifiers, which I keep in cupboards to prevent damp. My Bessemer oven is also great, and a big pot for soup and stews for feeding groups of people." Winter is also the perfect time of the year for Dianna to enjoy her many hobbies.

The biggest challenge, she says, "is keeping the batteries topped up in a run of bad weather; especially in the South Island. I use a ducted gas heater (diesel is better) and can leave the thermostat on at night and angle the van for the sun".

One regular gripe during winter for some campers is noisy generators, or in the case of fires, smoking chimneys. Dianna agrees, however, she has a simple solution: "If it bothers you that much, you can simply move away!"

Escape the NZ winter and head overseas

Stewart -and -Aileen -with -their -Hymer -motorhome

One of the great things about being mobile is that you can go anywhere you like, including overseas. Stewart and Aileen Oliver are currently house- and dog-sitting in sunny Brisbane and enjoying every minute. Not that they haven’t had their fair share of New Zealand winters in both the North and South Islands.

"There are a lot of opportunities to try different lifestyles during New Zealand winters," Aileen says. "Housesitting, renting a house, or vanning in another country provides a welcome couple of months in the sun."

Indeed, house-sitting is a popular choice for many motorhomers in winter. "There are several different sites you can join who offer various options, both local and overseas. We have previously housesat in England and Australia, as well as New Zealand. However, if you want to ensure a winter getaway, you do need to organise things earlier, rather than later."

Aileen -and -Stewart -enjoying -the -Brisbane -sunshine

Back at home, the Olivers live full-time in their Hymer 544 European motorhome. "Although 10 years old, our van is well insulated, has a double floor, and the gas heating is blown through multiple vents." If condensation is a problem in winter, Aileen and Stewart recommend the Karcher Window Vac as the best buy.

Other tips from the couple include leaving the hot water on at night, so the pipes don’t freeze in heavy frosts. "Woollens are hard to dry in winter, too, so wearing non-woollen garments, which are easier to dry is a good idea," Aileen says.

And let’s not forget the one thing everyone agreed none of us would be without: the trusty hot water bottles!

Winter RV travel tips

Often the simplest things can make life much easier when travelling or parked up in winter. Here are some of our favourite ‘been there, done that’ tips:

  • Lack of sunshine can be a frequent problem, especially in the South Island. If you rely on solar panels for your power, be aware you may have to resort to buying a generator.
  • Be aware of where you’re parking, even on a sunny day, because if it starts raining, you may not get out again.
  • Familiarise yourself with your battery monitoring system, so you never allow the batteries to discharge too much.
  • Park with your ‘nose’ into the wind.
  • Put your TV dish down in strong winds.
  • Put screens on windows at night to prevent heat loss.
  • Use stabiliser legs in bad weather only if you won’t need to make a hasty departure.
  • Avoid having too many wet clothes by having something you can wear in the rain that keeps everything else dry. 
  • Need to wipe snow off your TV dome? Be like Dianna and carry a long duster. Just reach through the skylight and brush it off.

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