Life on the road: Two adults, three kids, a dog and a house truck

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: Lisa Jansen

The family and their truck The family and their truck The family and their truck
I got a warm welcomg from Charlie the dog I got a warm welcome from Charlie I got a warm welcomg from Charlie the dog
Stunning views from the roof top terrace at Parua Bay Stunning views of Parua Bay from the roof garden Stunning views from the roof top terrace at Parua Bay
The famous Pancake Rocks just south of Westport The famous Pancake Rocks just south of Westport The famous Pancake Rocks just south of Westport
Stunning Scenery on the South Islan The stunning South Island Stunning Scenery on the South Islan

Lisa Jansen meets a family of five breaking the norm, living in an impressive self built house truck

I Iove writing stories about people. I love having an excuse to ask people all sorts of questions about their lives – many of which could seem quite intrusive if I weren’t writing a story. I especially enjoy writing about people who are breaking the norm.

So when a friend told me about a family of five (plus a dog) who are living and travelling in an impressive, self-build house truck, I couldn’t wait to meet them. One sunny Saturday morning, I headed out to their current base in Patumahoe, south of Auckland.

Finding them was easy. You can’t miss the stunning blue house truck the five of them call home. The first to greet me was dog Charlie, followed by dad Jeremy, mum Serena and their three girls – Ellie (10), Steph (eight), and Suzy (five).

Life in a house truck

Not many mobile homes have a rooftop terrace

The truck is currently parked up on the farm where Serena is doing some relief work. After about three-and-a-half years of travelling around the country, the family has decided to stay put for a while.

It gives them a chance to take on longer term work and the girls get to find out what going to school is like, after years of being home-schooled by mum. But both Serena and Jeremy make it clear this is just temporary.

"We’re definitely keen to get back on the road soon. But sometimes it’s nice just being settled somewhere for a little while." Their current house truck is already their second. They bought the first one over five years ago and fixed it up themselves.

For the first year and a half, they still lived in their house in Whangarei, where Serena is from, and only used the truck for holidays and weekend trips. But eventually, they decided to make the truck their permanent home.

The girls playing in leftover snow in the mountains

"For us, it was about freedom. It was a chance to adventure and do something different and to really see New Zealand." However, once they were living in the truck permanently, they realised it was a bit too small for all five of them.

So they sold it, bought the chassis of a bigger one and started work on their second home on wheels. With both Serena and Jeremy having woodworking experience and Jeremy being knowledgeable about welding, electricity and plumbing, building the house truck themselves was a no-brainer.

I envy that, being someone who is dreaming of doing her own custom conversion but simply lacking the skills. I’ve been in many different mobile homes over the past two years. Many of them are comfortable, but there are not many that have as much character as this family’s house truck.

Serena and Suzie checking on the bonsai garden

From the wooden bookshelves on the walls to a tree painting in the lounge/dining area, a self-made little fireplace and the small bathtub, this truck is definitely like no other. And how many mobile homes do you know that have a rooftop terrace with a bonsai garden? Exactly!

Exploring New Zealand

The girls love exploring New Zealand

The five of them love exploring New Zealand in their home on wheels. When they first decided on life in a house truck, they headed straight down to the South Island to live the dream."Jeremy and I had been to the South Island before, but we wanted to go back and really have time to explore.

We wanted the kids to experience all that New Zealand has to offer." Both Serena and Jeremy are artists, enjoying photography and painting, and the beautiful scenery of the South Island offered plenty of inspiration.

Looking north from the South Island’s Knights Point

All of them particularly loved Westport and the West Coast, where they spent several months. Most people I know who have been to this remote part of the South Island either want to stay forever or get bored after a few days.

It’s rugged and raw, and life moves at a slower pace. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but Serena, Jeremy and their girls loved it. "It feels like the old New Zealand. People are really friendly and welcoming," says Jeremy.

Ellie, the eldest of the three girls, adds: "We all felt a special bond with the area. It felt like home." It’s not surprising then that the West Coast is an area where they could see themselves settling down at some stage.

A typical West Coast day

On the North Island, Waihi Beach is one of their favourite spots, as is nearby Katikati. "I think Katikati is the friendliest place in New Zealand for freedom camping. There are several really nice spots to park, and the locals are very welcoming," says Serena.

They usually stay in freedom camping sites or at the NZMCA parks. Being fully off the grid and not requiring any other facilities, it’s simply not worth them paying the cost of two adults and three kids at campgrounds and holiday parks.

But finding spots to park up isn’t always easy. "It can be a challenge. A lot of freedom camping sites are not set up for vehicles of our size, so sometimes we need to look around a bit before we find the right spot."

On the road in the South Island

Even just getting from A to B requires special attention with a truck that’s 4.2 metres high.
"You absolutely need to keep your eyes open and have your wits about you," says Serena, the designated driver.

Jeremy usually follows in their car, so they have an easy way to get around once they’ve reached their destination. Moving to a new location is definitely more of an undertaking than what I’m used to in my little van. But for the family, it’s all part of the excitement.

A little privacy, please

The lounge, eating and working area

As much as the five of them love their truck and life on the road, it’s not without its challenges. "It was quite an adjustment. You definitely have to be more patient," says Serena. Space is extremely limited.

For the girls, that means they can’t have as many toys as other kids their age would have, and Serena and Jeremy also need to be selective about what they can and can’t own. But they both say the hardest part about living this way is the lack of personal space.

Like most mobile homes, the truck is essentially one big room, which means the five of them are together 24/7. As Serena explains; "If I want to stay up and write, I’m probably keeping someone else awake. I can’t just go into my office and close the door."


The girls’ bunk beds, with the bathroom on the right

Serena and Jeremy also struggle to find time for each other. While that is something most parents can relate to, living together in a small house truck and home-schooling your children does make it especially tricky.

It’s one of the benefits of staying put for a while and of the girls going to school – it gives the couple some much-needed time for themselves and each other. But as Jeremy puts it, "everything has a downside and an upside", and on the whole, they all feel the perks outweigh the problems.

They love that their girls get to see New Zealand and its diversity. They get to experience all the different ways you can live and meet people from all walks of life, which will hopefully mean they will be curious and tolerant adults – something the world definitely needs more of.

Time to explore at Kairau park, Rotorua

I asked Serena and Jeremy if they miss having a stable environment and group of people in their life. The answer was a very confident "No, not at all." They enjoy meeting different people along the way, saying, "In a way, we’re more social now than when we were living in a house".

But they also like that their lifestyle makes it easy to put distance between themselves and people they might not get on with very well. "If you have a house and you don’t get along with your neighbours, that’s a problem. But if you live in a house truck and you struggle with the people parked next to you, you simply move on."

Never tied down

Lake Wanaka

This flexibility and freedom is what they love most. "If we hear about an interesting place, we can just start the engine and go there. That’s what it’s all about for us." They might settle down some day.

The girls would love to have cats and horses, and while their truck is big as far as mobile homes go, they will struggle to fit those in. But even if they decide to grow roots somewhere, I don’t think they will ever stop exploring the country in their house truck on weekends or during holidays.

Fox Glacier

"I definitely want to keep the truck so that when we have some time off, we can just hop in and go on our next adventure," says Serena. I’ve loved meeting Serena, Jeremy, Ellie, Steph, Suzy and Charlie.

It’s so easy to get caught up in doing what everyone else is doing, not realising we can make our own choices. I love knowing there are families out there who challenge the norm and follow their own path.

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