A man and his dog

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: Bill Mcmurray and Lisa Jansen

Meet Bill McMurray and his dog Abbie. Together, they are forging a life on the road.

Since I’ve been living on the road, I’ve met many other solo female travellers - but not many men. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or because there are more female single travellers. But when Bill McMurray, who has been living solo in his motorhome for four years, put up his hand to be interviewed, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Bill and Abbie

Originally from Gisborne but based in Hamilton for many years, Bill spent most of his life working hard in his television-aerial installation business, escaping to his brother-in-law’s bach in Whangamatā for the occasional break with his wife.

The idea to get a motorhome was born when Bill’s brother sold the bach, and Bill and his wife needed to find a new place to enjoy their days off. "We loved the idea that with a campervan, we would be able to spend time in lots of different places and not just one."

Initially, they bought a small 1984 CI Munro campervan in which they explored New Zealand on weekends and for shorter holidays. Loving the campervan lifestyle, Bill had the idea to sell their house in Hamilton, invest in a large motorhome and live on the road full-time while leaving the business in the capable hands of his daughter and son-in-law.

That was six years ago now and, although his marriage unfortunately fell apart a couple of years into the motorhome life, Bill kept going on his own - with dog Abbie, of course. "There were issues in our marriage long before we decided to move into a motorhome. Unfortunately, it just got to a point where we decided it’s better to go separate ways," he says. 

A few years later, Bill also decided to part ways with his business and sold it in exchange for more freedom. Since then, he has managed to see much of the country. Recent health issues have only slowed him down a little. Bill has been struggling with severe pain in his legs, and while surgery has addressed the problem, recovery has been slow and challenging.

"It’s been tough. After I had surgery, I spent some time at my daughters’ houses, who both took great care of me. It was hard not being able to walk on my own. But I’m glad to be back on the road now, even if I still need crutches to get around."

Bill likes to spend winter in the Far North, where I met him on the Karikari Peninsula. "It’s warmer up here, especially at night." With family in Whāngārei, Whangaparoa, Auckland, Hamilton, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, come springtime, he usually starts to make his way south and visits all of them along the way.

Mavora Lakes, the South Island

In January, he likes to head over to the South Island for a few months. Having seen so much of the country, I wasn’t surprised that he has a number of favourite spots. They include the Mavora Lakes, the Catlins and Central Otago, the East Cape and the Far North, especially Mātauri Bay and Rangiputa, in the North Island.

"We live in such a beautiful country, and I feel fortunate that I get to see it all. But if you asked Abbie, she would say she loves Central Otago most because of all the rabbits she can chase there. She loves that."

The Blue Lake at St Bathans in Central Otago

Bill says travelling with a dog has its pros and cons. I don’t think he could imagine life on the road without Abbie, but he does point out that it holds him back at times. "There are a lot of campgrounds and other places where you are not allowed to take dogs. That’s something to consider before taking a dog on the road with you."

But the companionship she offers far outweigh those drawbacks, and it is undeniable that the two have a special bond. Abbie is a friendly dog, so if you ever run into these two on the road, chances are she will be the first to say hello.

On his travels, Bill tends to use freedom-camping sites as much as possible but is also a regular at NZMCA parks, what he calls "low-cost campgrounds", and the occasional holiday park - usually when it’s time to do some laundry. "I particularly recommend the Island View campground in Ōpōtiki, and also the campground in Balclutha in the Catlins.

Both are nice parks managed by very friendly people. The one in Balclutha even has a set-up where you can wash your motorhome." He also recommends the campground at Bland Bay at Whangaruru (north of Whāngārei) where he recently helped out as a camp manager, and the holiday parks at Tauranga Bay and Mātauri Bay - all three with fantastic beachfront parking, and dog-friendly in winter. 

Bill’s motorhome is a rare Kea Inspiration on a Mercedes chassis, which he named The Rainbow Connection. "I chose the name and the rainbow decoration to represent my Christian beliefs. Many people don’t know this, but the rainbow has been a Christian symbol for more than 4000 years."

Kea made about 14 of these motorhomes and Bill feels lucky he got one of them. "It’s perfect for me. I wanted a big seating area in the back with windows to enjoy the views." Other handy features include an outdoor barbecue, an outdoor shower, the option for two lounges, and the fact that the bathroom can turn into a drying room.

"The only thing I can think of that would make it even better is one of those drop-down beds at the back. With my recent health issues, I can’t get up in the bed over the cabin anymore, so having a full drop-down bed in the back would be awesome."

The motorhome Bill calls home

Bill admits that life on the road as a solo traveller can get lonely. "Sometimes you see an amazing sunset or something else that’s special, and you want to share that with someone. Luckily, I have Abbie to share it with." However, he also points out that there are many ways to connect with other travellers - events and meet-ups and several Facebook groups, including some specifically for solo travellers.

"That would be my recommendation for others travelling on their own and looking for company. Join those groups and reach out to others." Bill has also started a new Facebook group called Movan Buddies, which is about connecting travellers to park up together for safety - and company.

Life on the road has not been without its challenges for Bill - especially with his recent health issues. But, on the whole, he loves it. "Most of my life, my time was controlled by customers. Now I have freedom. I can sleep in if I want to. I can go wherever I want and stay as long as I want, and I can get around and see all my family regularly. I can’t think of a better lifestyle." 

Bill keeps track of his travels in a notebook

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