Travelling with kids

By: Elisabeth Easther, Photography by: Sally Stockwell-Porter


With some smart prep and tips gleaned from the well-travelled, enjoying a relaxing holiday on wheels with the kids is child’s play, finds Elisabeth Easther

When Sally Stockwell-Porter and Mike Porter started their family, they also thought about the sorts of holidays they’d like to enjoy with their daughters.

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Motorhoming has opened up a whole new world to Olive and Florence

They briefly considered investing in a very large tent but, after watching their neighbours merrily set off in their campervan with kids the same ages as theirs, the seed of an idea was sown.

After months of exhaustive research, Sally and Mike are now the proud owners of Bertha, a 7.5-metre Bürstner Ixeo 728G. Their wee girls, Florence (3) and Olive (18 months) couldn’t be happier, and their parents are delighted with the world that’s opened up to them.

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The beauty of finding an isolated spot is there’s ample room to spread out

Purchasing a motorhome is a big deal; how did your journey begin?

Sally: We wanted to see more of our beautiful country but we didn’t want to fly or stay in hotels. We definitely wanted to spend time in the great outdoors, but we didn’t really love camping and, when it rains, tents are no fun.

Mainly we wanted relaxing family holidays with the freedom to go wherever we pleased. Then, when our neighbours bought a camper, we watched them go on the most amazing trips, and it really inspired us.

They kept everything packed in their holiday home, and off they’d drive for a night, a weekend, or longer – and they made it look so easy.

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The girls enjoying some travel perks...

Had you grown up with motorhomes?

Sally: I hired one years ago, to drive around the South Island for five days, but that was the sum total of my experience.

When you knew you were serious, what steps did you take?

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Quality time with dad

Sally: Our neighbours lent us theirs and Mike and I went away for the night, just the two of us, because we wanted to experience it without having to think about the children.

Then we started talking to people.There was one guy who’d had lots of campervans and his main message was, "The bigger the better.

The more storage, the better."We started looking at vehicles that were 6.5 metres long, which is pretty standard but not small.

From my previous experience, I knew I didn’t want to sleep above the cab, stuck in a little cubbyhole and, with Mike being six foot four, a big bed was essential.

What other things did you look for, bearing in mind you had kids to consider?

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Make sure your child seats fit the layout, advises Sally

Sally: Kids take up lots of space and so does their luggage so plenty of storage was vital. We considered bunks for the girls, then decided two single beds down the back was more practical. We wanted 

a good engine of course, and because they don’t depreciate much, we decided to buy new. Once we factored in our price range, that narrowed it down too.

Where did your research take you?

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Being able to park up for the  night by the sea is a huge plus 

Sally: Mike spent a lot of time trawling the internet. He read lots of reviews online and in magazines and when we had an idea of the brand, we went to a showroom and looked at different models.

There was a smaller model we liked, but when we stepped inside a bigger one with the bed we liked, we went up to 7.5 metres, which I was a bit nervous about.
What’s it like to drive?

Sally: At first, I did worry about driving such a large model. You think, ‘Oh my god; we’re driving a truck’, but you quickly adjust and become confident.

Going around corners you need to give yourself lots of space. You use the wing mirrors a lot, and you’re aware of the length. We installed a second backing camera – the cameras are great and give really wide angles.

What have you learnt, now you’ve had a year to experience Bertha?

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The 7.5-metre Bürstner Ixeo is perfect for the family of four

Sally: Mike and I have a checklist. Before setting off we make sure the gas is off, the power is off. The windows have to be closed when travelling or the blinds can be sucked out.

There are so many ways you can cause damage. We’ve learnt this the hard way, and for that reason we’re not lending it to people.

What advice do you have for people travelling with kids?

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The girls are up bright and early, ready for the day’s adventures

Sally: Make sure your child seats fit the layout, and think about whether they travel at the back or closer to you. We’re not into screens so ours have wireless headphones set up with stories and music.

Because they’re about two metres away we use one of those rubbish collector pincer things to pass back bags of snacks. When the girls get older we’ll all get bikes, but for now Mike has a foldaway bike, so he can set off and get supplies.

We also have these magnetic building tiles which are handy for rainy days. You want non-mess toys, so no crayons and felt tips.

We get them outdoors as much as we can, plus it’s easy to get out of the sun in summer, and when it rains, we stay snug.I also have a checklist for packing, so it only takes about an hour. 

How do you manage long hours on the road?

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Sally was initially nervous about driving ‘a truck’ but says you quickly adjust

Sally: Travelling at night is good for going longer distances. If we have dinner and get the girls into their pyjamas and into their car seats just before night falls, we can travel for three or four hours.

The drawback is stopping late, and it takes about half an hour to set up. This makes for a late night and the girls wake up at 6am regardless. It’s very hard to keep a sleep routine when you’re on the move.

That’s when a sleeper over the cab would be useful, because one of you could stay holed up while the other went down to give the kids breakfast, but our bed is over the table so we have to put it up before serving food. 

What sorts of places do you go?

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The family loves to travel off the beaten track

Sally: We like to get off the beaten track; we prefer DOC campsites to camping grounds. Every few days we need to use a dump station, and while we’re very conservative with water, usually by about day three we need to replenish.

We shower in campgrounds, or just lower our standards because the shower onboard uses so much water.

We have sponge baths, or use a solar bladder and the girls have a tiny inflatable birdbath that takes up very little space and is a fun way to get clean.

Any regrets?

Sally: None at all. I love being close to the sea, or in an amazing park. It’s like sleeping in nature while still being really comfortable and safe.

Sometimes we go away for just 24 hours, but when you disconnect from the stress of life, it feels like longer. Time stretches out in a campervan and we’re creating memories we’ll cherish forever. 

 

SAVVY TIPS

  • Keep a running document in your phone, checklists for packing in and out, and supplies that need to be replenished.
  • Opt for plenty of storage.
  • Flexi buckets are handy for washing up and washing kids.
  • With toys, think about things that are easily tidied away and aren’t messy. Magnetic games are ideal and choose coloured pencils over felt tips.
  • Get a ‘pick-stick’ for passing things to children while travelling.
  • Consider anchor points for car seats, check out where they are and be sure they work with the car seats you have.

 

FAVOURITE SPOTS

  • The Abel Tasman

We love Marahau in the Abel Tasman, and Old MacDonald’s Farm is our absolute favourite campground. All of Golden Bay is gorgeous too.

  • Piha and Muriwai

Living in Auckland, Piha or Muriwai are easy for us and Piha has a lovely cafe if you don’t want to cook. In Muriwai we can park really close to the sea for fabulous views. The campground there was done up recently and it’s amazing. 

  • Northland

The Kerikeri area is beautiful, as are Matapouri and Omapere. 

  • Acacia Bay 

Acacia Bay north of Taupo is stunning.

 

ESSENTIAL APPS

New Zealand Motor Caravan Association

You have to register to use their app, but it’s brilliant and tells you where you can stay all over the country. If you’re an NZMCA member, you can park at participating golf clubs in out-of-the-way places and use the facilities (which golf clubs take such pride in). It’s handy if you get stuck.

CamperMate

CamperMate tells you all the little things – like where there are tiny beaches you’ve never heard of but can stay one night for free; it’s full of gems. We only cottoned on to it over summer, and it saved our bacon as we’d not booked ahead a lot.

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