RV adventures in NZ

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Louise Chicken


NZMCD caught up with the Chickens, a young English family who recently toured New Zealand in a motorhome

I met the Chicken family in Auckland at the end of what they called "their big adventure" and became curious as to why they would come from halfway across the world to explore a strange country with two rumbustious little boys in tow. Even more curious was how they could leave a London summer to come here in the middle of winter and travel in a motorhome when they had never been in one before. It sounded courageous, if not barking mad.

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Jamie, Louise, five-year-old Wilfred, and three-year-old Archie, arrived here in mid-June just as Antarctic winds and the first winter snow was whipping the South Island. It turned out they were seizing the day. The ill-timed venture had come about because Jamie had gardening leave (an English term that means paid leave after finishing one job and before beginning another in a competing company).

"I’d never been to New Zealand, but Jamie had, and his parents grew up here," Louise says. "The family had always talked about it with such passion it sounded as if it would be worth the jet lag. Now that we have done it, I can’t tell you strongly enough what a great decision that was."

Ups and downs

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The family landed in Christchurch, picked up their rented motorhome and, undaunted by the deteriorating weather, headed to Rakaia to stock up and settle in for the first night. Wilfred and Archie were thrilled with "the driving house". Their parents were not quite so thrilled, having worked out the ins and outs and ups and downs of motorhome travel.

But by the time I met them, they were, of course, old hands.

"In hindsight, there was no other way we would have done it." Jamie says. "Without the motorhome, we would have been packing and unpacking every day, which now does not bear thinking about. It was far more comfortable than either of us had expected although the mattress on the top bed wasn’t the best. We just needed to get over the loo process!"

The first big ‘down’ was missing the keenly anticipated night sky over Lake Tekapo. As the family arrived in the village, all they saw was fog and driving rain. They drove on to Lake Pukaki in the dark and under cloud cover. Still no stars.

And then came the ‘up’. Next morning, they woke up to clear blue skies and great stretching views, including Mount Cook in all its splendour. At Pukaki, they had lunch, which comprised "the best salmon imaginable" caught close by and cooked at the Alpine Salmon shop. That night the stars came out in their full glory.

"After the boys were asleep, we sat gazing at that astonishing show in the canopy of heaven and were stunned into silence," Louise says.

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A few days later in Wanaka, there was another hitch when Wilfred woke up with a toothache. They found a sympathetic dentist who removed the offending toothy peg without too much drama. To Wilfred’s relief and delight, the tooth fairy managed to find their parking spot by the lake that night and rewarded him handsomely.

"That was the very best day," he says when his mother now asks him to tell her the best bits. "And I love the driving house, Chocolate Fish and Pineapple Lumps, and the bouncing pillows and, ummm, the orca whales. Goody Goody Gum Drops ice cream is my very very favourite and catching crabs on the beach." Archie’s favourites were less effusive: Goody Goody Gum Drops, the driving house, and playgrounds.

"I was impressed by how many playgrounds there were," Louise says. "They were everywhere and so varied, exciting, and well-maintained compared to what we are used to.

"In hindsight, I think the boys were too little to fully appreciate all the things we did and saw but we’ve made a video and we hope it will jog their memories so that the trip, or some parts of it, will stay with them for their lifetimes.

An unforgettable experience

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"For us, the whole trip was life-affirming and unforgettable," Louise says. "One standout highlight was flying on a picture-perfect day from Wanaka to Milford Sound. We flew with Southern Alps Air. Looking down on that incredible expanse of mountain scenery swirled with snow was breathtaking—out of this world.

"And at the village, we took the boat ride, cruising along the deep green water past soaring peaks streaked with tumultuous waterfalls. The boys’ attention was riveted by the seals basking on the rocks. On the flight back over Aspiring National Park, we hit terrible turbulence and complete whiteout. Jamie and I thought our days were numbered, but our pilot, Bailey, was terrific. She navigated out over the sea and landed us safely back in Wanaka. I don’t know how she kept so calm."

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The couple were enchanted by Kaikoura—the environment, the whales, dolphins and seals, and large, cooked crayfish at a roadside cafe.

"We had fun on the beaches, investigating infinite rock pools, and at Peketa Beach Holiday Park there was even a flying fox," Louise says.

Other high points were foraging for mussels at Okiwi Bay in Marlborough Sounds. Jamie fished from the pier and caught a gurnard and so they had a great fish feast for dinner.

Up North

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Louise says, "In the North Island, we went to Tamaki Maori Experience in Rotorua. Daddy was the chief and the boys were mesmerised by the dancing. They are still practising the haka and they had several goes at the huge hangi. In Taupo, the hot pools at the Lake Taupo Holiday Resort were a big hit and so was eating breakfast at the swim-up bar/restaurant.

"Although Wilfred well remembers the appearance of seven orcas in the Bay of Islands on our fishing trip, it probably didn’t have the impact that it had on Jamie and me. The sight of those great sea mammals breaching and cavorting around so very close to our boat was a life-changing event.

"Throughout our New Zealand odyssey, the camping was incredible, and we think the timing was perfect. Although cold in places, the weather didn’t hold us up much at all, and we had the pick of parking spots. It was flexible, easy, and peaceful—a proper family adventure with just us and nature. Compared to other means of touring, I think renting a motorhome was probably less expensive. And as for the friendly, ever-helpful, generous Kiwis, they were faultless."

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At Pauanui, after three weeks on the road, the family resorted to an Airbnb. We were feeling claustrophobic, and the boys were playing up," Louise says. "But two nights out of the motorhome was enough and then it was like the adventure starting all over again.

"Coming into Auckland at the end of the trip was a shock. Proper multi-lane highways, traffic, queues, hustle-bustle; we’d forgotten all those things existed!

"The whole trip was just one big incredible adventure. We’d not just been to the other side of the globe but to a world and a lifestyle very different from our own. I can’t imagine ever forgetting a minute of it."

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