Life on the road: Chris & Cliff Vernall

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: Lisa Jansen


Travel writer Lisa Jansen gleans some gems of wisdom from a couple who’ve spent the past 12 years gathering happy memories and a fair few lessons in their pop-top caravan

During my trip around Taranaki this March, I stopped at the Cape Egmont Boat Ramp campground, where I met the lovely Chris and Cliff Vernall and their dog Jordie. They were exploring the area in their 17.5ft Jayco Sterling pop-top caravan.

Alt TEXT HERECliff, Chris and their dog Jordie spend about three months a year travelling

Chris and Cliff have a base in Hamilton but spend about three months a year travelling in their caravan – probably a bit more since they retired a few years ago. Both in their 70s now, they still love exploring new places and making the most of every day on the road.

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Matai Bay on the  Karikari Peninsula

Having had their caravan for over 12 years, these two know a thing or two about life on the road, and there aren’t many places in New Zealand they haven’t seen. Luckily, they were happy to share some of their wisdom, advice and favourite places with me.

Favourite destination

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 Lake Wakatipu is one of Chris’s favourite spots

Cliff loves the Far North, especially the Karikari Peninsula. The Coromandel is another area that holds a special place in his heart; he loves the drive from Coromandel Town to Thames as well as the campground at Long Bay, mainly because of the excellent fishing.

Chris, who is originally from the UK, thought the whole South Island was "a real eye-opener as to how beautiful New Zealand is". She especially liked the area around Lake Wakatipu, and remembers the drive from Kingston and Glenorchy being simply spectacular.

Favourite overnight spots

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The Three Sisters

This was a difficult question to answer; both said it’s hard to pick from all the great places they’ve stayed over the years. Travelling with a dog also means they are a bit limited as to where they can go.

Both really enjoyed their recent stay at Waitara Holiday Park just east of New Plymouth, which they say was run very well and was a positive surprise, given there is not much there other than a rocky beach.

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Hihi Beach in the Far North

They also have fond memories of the NZMCA Park at Manganese Point by Whangarei, where they met some lovely people and spent the day fishing off the rocks.

Willowhaven Holiday Park by Rotorua is another favourite thanks to Cliff’s love of boating and fishing, and Chris likes that you can set up camp right by the water’s edge. Others they mentioned are the Hihi Beach Holiday Park up north and the freedom camping site at Tongaporutu by the Three Sisters in Taranaki.

Their caravan – likes and dislikes

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The couple’s Jayco Sterling van

Chris and Cliff love their Australian-made pop-top caravan because it has everything they need. The pop-top means the trailer is less sensitive to wind while driving, but Cliff also points out that, given both him and the caravan are ‘older models’ now, it can be hard to get the top up at times.

And since neither he or Chris is particularly tall, they would probably not go for a pop-top again, should they ever decide to buy a new caravan. What Chris loves most about the caravan is the amount of room and storage it offers, which makes it very comfortable for them to travel in it for extended periods.

One feature they would like is electric stabilisers. Manually winding the stabiliser legs up and down can be hard work at times, and given they usually only stay in places for a few nights, electric ones would make life easier for them.

Favourite part of being on the road

Being the good husband he is, Cliff’s first response was, "The company. For us to spend time together." Chris agreed and also loved that when they’re travelling, life is simple and there is no pressure.

They don’t need to make a lot of plans or commitments, and can just decide on the day where they want to go. They also both enjoy that there’s always something to see and places to explore.

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Chris loves the area around Glenorchy and Lake Wakatipu

They love going on short walks, and Chris says Cliff is "always up to something and always trying to harvest something from the sea", which means they often get to enjoy seafood, which they either caught or gathered.

Lessons learned

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Sunset at the Boat Ramp campground

Being people who love quiet places and self-confessed loners at times, both had to learn that patience and tolerance with other people are essential. Especially on busy campgrounds where everyone is parked close to each other, these virtues can quickly make the difference between having a great time and getting too caught up in, and annoyed with, the actions of others.

Their #1 tip for other Kiwis on the road

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The South Island holds special memories

Having spent more than 12 years travelling in their caravan, it was no surprise that these two had more than one awesome tip for the rest of us. Their biggest one is to get into the lifestyle sooner rather than later, or as Cliff puts it, "Do it. Do it now".

Both are glad they bought the van and started travelling while they were still working so that spending a big chunk of money on a caravan seemed less risky.

They are also glad they did it while still young enough to learn new things, and towing a big caravan didn’t seem as intimidating as it would if it were new today.

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Mount Taranaki from the Boat Ramp POP

Cliff says he often feels that too many people wait too long to live their dreams so that when they finally do, they find it hard to adapt – or they might never end up doing it because they are scared or because their health gets in the way.

Their other piece of advice is to "stop and smell the roses", to appreciate the small things, keep smiling, laugh at your mistakes and make the most of every day.

And for couples travelling together, they highly recommend getting a navigation system and letting it decide how to get from A to B, saying it will do wonders for keeping the peace.

Chris’ special laundry tip

Chris shared a great tip with me for doing a quick rinse of dirty clothes and other fabric. She puts the washing in a bucket with water and some laundry power, makes sure the bucket is completely sealed, then puts it in the boot of the car while driving.

The movement makes sure the powder soaks in, and the clothes are tumbled , which means everything comes out smelling fresh and clean. I will definitely give this a go.

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