Meeting Clint & Shelley and their VW LT46

By: Elisabeth Easther , Photography by: Elisabeth Easther


When Clint Drabble is not working at Friendlypak — an Auckland company selling compostable packaging alternatives — he and his partner Shelley can be found exploring the country in a motorhome named Maurice. Elisabeth Easther catches up with them.

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Clint and Shelley

What ignited the campervan spark for you?

My previous neighbours were very keen on motorhomes and had been so for the past 30-odd years. Because they were so into it, they were always trying to get us to give it a try. Eventually, my ex-wife and I hired one in the South Island for a couple of weeks, and we enjoyed it so much, we decided we wanted the lifestyle too, and started looking for one to buy.

What sort of things did you look for?

We knew we wanted to be self-contained. We needed to have our own toilet and shower, decent-sized water tanks and gas. With the one we hired, we had to take the bed apart every morning and make it up every night, so we knew we wanted to have one full-time bed. We also required quite a bit of space.

What advice would you offer others wanting to buy?

Be sure to look at many vehicles, as there are so many different types with different layouts. Do you want front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive? Both have advantages
and disadvantages. 

Where did you focus your search?

There was plenty of information online, so we mainly looked there, and the one we chose was an ex-rental from Apollo. It was in Christchurch, so once we’d settled on it, we went down to pick it up then drove it home. That was 10 years ago. And while my wife and I have since parted, I was lucky to meet Shelley, who also enjoys the motorhome experience.

What type of vehicle is it?

It’s a VW LT46. It’s a six-berth, although if you did try and sleep six people, it would be horrendous. But it is quite large - about 6.5m - and it’s a 5-speed manual that runs on diesel. But if we were ever to replace it, I’d downsize a bit, as it’s enormous and we would like something a bit smaller and less wind-sensitive.

What sorts of locations appeal?

There’s a place we go to quite regularly, up near Ruakākā, called Uretiti. It’s about 30km south of Whāngārei in the Bream Bay area. It’s a great spot on a sandy surf beach, and the camping is right behind the dunes. It’s a DOC camping ground, so it has coin-operated showers, and there’s no power or anything like that. But, because it’s right on the beach, it’s ideal for swimming, sunbathing and walking.

And in second place?

We also love Mangakino. It’s on the banks of the Waikato River in the Taupō district, 85km southeast of Hamilton. There’s a big lake there - Lake Maraetai - and because we have the room, we throw our bikes on the back so we can enjoy the great cycling around there.

We often bike to the hydroelectric power plant, which is impressive, and sometimes we go hiking. Not too far from there is Lake Ohakuri, near Taupō, and there you’ll find streams with thermal vents so you can swim in natural hot pools, which is exceptional.

What have you discovered to make life easier on the road?

We like to take our food with us, so we don’t have to worry about finding shops. Because we have a shower, we don’t always have to use shared facilities, although, in a motorhome, you have to have very brief showers to conserve water. So it is handy to park at campgrounds with facilities for longer showers.

How much does the weather affect your choices?

We were going to an event in Opononi in the Hokianga, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. Because we were already on the road, up in Russell, we chose to head back to Auckland via the Kauri Coast on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway.

The weather was pretty wild, and big winds were forecast so we decided we’d be more sheltered on that road. Plus we got to stop at Tāne Mahuta, the giant kauri tree. We also went to another kauri forest called Trounson Kauri Park, 40km north of Dargaville.

It’s a little off the beaten track and, because it’s partly on a metal road, I think that discourages some people from making the detour. It almost discouraged me, but I’m happy we did go, as it was just amazing, and so well looked after, with boardwalks and information signs.

What has been your most memorable motorhome adventure?

There’s a company in Britain called Just Go Motorhomes and every year it buys about 200 brand new motorhomes from Italy. Because they have to be relocated, people are offered a 50 per cent discount on the rental to drive them from about an hour south of Pisa to just above London, and you have 30 days to do it. Just Go pays for the ferry from Calais to Dover, and there’s no mileage charge. We did that in 2018, and because you do it in May - late spring - it’s not too hot.

I bet it was hard to pick a route. which way did you go?

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Fun in France with a motorhome from Just Go

We took 27 days, and there were so many highlights. We started in San Gimignano in Siena, where we picked up the vehicle. It is a beautiful medieval walled city. We went to Pisa, although sometimes it was a bit complicated finding parking, so we often parked a bit further out and did a lot of walking.

We went on to Florence, then down the South of France. You’re pretty free to go anywhere. Google Maps says you could drive it end-to-end in 26 hours, so there is a lot of time to explore.

Surely you didn’t drive in cities like paris?

We did go there, and it was terrific, but we left the motorhome at Versailles and caught the train into Paris and spent a few days in an apartment. We also found a beautiful little town in France in the middle of nowhere called Saint-Saturnin. There was a small village with a castle and a tiny little chapel, which could only hold about eight people. That stood out.

Any tips for anyone else thinking of doing it?

We mainly stayed at European campgrounds, which are pretty similar to ours. I’d probably suggest people travel longer distances during the day, then stop at places for longer to look around, as we were very much ‘stop one night then carry on’. I think we tried to cram too much in. We would love to go back, but I think we’d need to win Lotto first. 

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