Jackie's Journey: House sitting

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: Gareth Scurr


Jackie Norman sold her home in 2016, bought a motorhome and embarked on full-time life on the road with her husband, Gareth. This issue, she shares tips on house-sitting.

When we first set out on the road, we envisaged doing it for a few months before finding a new place to settle down. We never imagined that three years on we would still be travelling the country in our wee campervan. But, as we discovered, living on the road opens up all kinds of new doors and opportunities.

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A glorious view from the top of Picton’s Tirohanga Track

By the time you read this, our first book, My Van, My Castle, will be in bookstores. I hope people enjoy reading of our adventures as much as I enjoyed writing about them. But our work is far from done.

Goodbye Marjorie – At least, for now

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We’ll be back for you, Marjorie!

As well as writing the book, we have spent the past 10 months beavering away on another major project – one we can’t divulge just yet. While we were hugely excited, it soon became apparent that a 4.5m caravan was not the ideal place to complete the mission at hand.

More room was needed. We knew plenty of other motorhomers did house- and pet-sitting and wondered, could this be the solution we needed? We put some feelers out among friends and family and, in minutes, we had our first booking.

So in June, we left our beloved caravan Marjorie Jean behind in Southland and began making our way up the country, one house-sit at a time. First, a stint in Gore, then another in Alexandra – everything was working out perfectly, and we loved caring for everyone’s precious pets. But this was just the beginning, and we still had a long way to go.

The Mackenzie Country had been at the top of my travel wish-list for a long time, and I couldn’t wait to see Lake Pukaki, Tekapo and Mount Cook. Sadly, the weather had other ideas.

The Lindis Pass was swathed in rain and fog, as were the lakes,­ and we couldn’t see Mount Cook at all. It was disappointing, but as we told one of our dear friends when we caught up with him in Christchurch, we would have to come back again, and this time for longer.

New places, and a warm welcome

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The next leg of the trip took us further north to Picton. The weather turned from bad to worse as we crawled through Kaikōura in the rain and dark, the waves crashing angrily against the side of the road. We arrived in Picton just before bed and were delighted to see the sun blazing in through the windows the next morning.

There was just enough time to fit in a short hike before the ferry crossing. With no shortage of possible options, we settled on the nearby Tirohanga Track and were treated to bird’s eye views of Picton Harbour and surrounds.

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We went hiking in the Remutakas

There is much more to Picton than a ferry-docking town, and it was lovely to meander. As our Monday afternoon voyage across the Cook Strait came around, the sea was flat the entire way, and the ferry was so quiet we had the whole top deck to ourselves.

As evening fell, we were treated to the most spectacular sunset upon arriving at Wellington docks. It had been almost three years since we had left the North Island and we couldn’t have wished for a better welcome back.

There and back again

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Some of the Hakarimata Track’s 3149 steps

With less than a week to catch up with our loved ones before our next house-sit, time was of the essence. We went from Wellington to Te Kauwhata, to Whitianga, Whangamatā and then back to Te Kauwhata again.

A farmer in my previous life, I’d lived in Te Kauwhata for 15 years without fully exploring the area. This time, I wanted to see something new, and I knew just the thing. The Hakarimata Summit Track is at the back of Ngāruawāhia and for those who are keen – or mad – enough, there are 1349 steps to the top.

Up we staggered and puffed and finally reached the top to see... absolutely nothing. The anticipated view for miles was shrouded entirely in a blanket of thick fog. Still, it was good to see some things never change in the north Waikato.

Before we knew it, we were heading south again, this time to the Kāpiti Coast, home of our next house-sit. A keen walker, I loved it there and thanks to Reggie, the energetic pup we were looking after, we spent many hours walking along the Waikanae River and Paraparaumu Beach.

One of the best things about house-sitting is that you not only get to bond with some gorgeous animals, you also get to make some wonderful new friends in their owners. It was sad to say goodbye, but we have already made plans to visit again.

Meet the Menagerie

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We get asked to look after all kinds of pets

Our next house-sit was more of a farm-sit, nestled deep in the Tararua Ranges. With dogs, cats, lambs, calves, horses, chickens, ducks and even deer to look after, it was surprising we got any of our work done at all.

But we soon eased into a nice routine and even got time to bake a cake for the owner to come home to. We could see the Tui Brewery from our front deck, but we were too busy to visit. Like many house-sits, however, once you have established that first contact, there are usually more to follow.

Considering house-sitting?

Motorhomers make terrific house-sitters. A lot of us do it, and there is no shortage of vacancies. Here are a few quick tips.

Where to start: House-sitting is hugely popular. People love to know their homes and pets are well cared for in their absence. To get started, put the word out among family and friends. Word of mouth is often all you need.

Go online: Kiwi House-Sitters is a fantastic and professional company that matches potential house-sitters with homeowners. There is a joining fee ($84/year), but we can vouch that it is well worth it. Visit kiwihousesitters.co.nz.

Is it for you? Finding house-sits is a lot easier if you don’t have pets yourself. Most don’t allow your own pets, but some do. Be aware too, that house-sitting can be a tie – you can’t just come and go as you please when you have dogs to walk or horses to feed.

And, it is a big responsibility, especially if doing stints for a couple of weeks or more. People leave their whole lives basically in your hands. But treat and care for every place as if it were your own and you’ll be just fine. 

When we arrived at our next house sit in Tauranga, with 3100km under our belts, our project was close to completion. With just one cat to look after, we were able to enjoy exploring Mount Maunganui and all the surrounding areas.

What an adventure it’s been – and it’s still not over. We are a hundred times busier now than we ever were when we lived in a house. But how blessed we are, to be living a life we love.

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