Meeting Bruce & Gail and their 50+ year RV history

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Supplied


Over 50 years, Gail and Bruce Hudson have owned and enjoyed 15 RVs. Jill Malcolm traces their history.

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Holden flat back ute with motorhome body attached

In 1969, when Gail and Bruce Hudson were travelling in their first campervan, they took a break from driving at Puketona Junction. Another van pulled up next to them, and John and Lucielle Moffit introduced themselves. "You better join this new club," said John. "It’s called the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. We’re founder members and on the executive committee." Their membership number was 11.

When the Hudsons joined that year, the number was 492. Today the association has more than 90,000 memberships, and because couples are counted as one member, the headcount is much greater.

The Hudsons were in their early 20s at the time. Fifty years on, they have owned 15 motorhomes and are still committed RVers. When I last spoke to them, they were travelling through Gore on their way to Stewart Island in their newest acquisition. "It’s an Autosleeper," says Bruce, "and it’s going to be our last." He stated this firmly, but it’s hard to believe given the couple’s long history of motorhoming and their love of a nomadic lifestyle.

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The Hudsons’ NZMCA membership number - almost a collector’s item

Here's a look at their 15 RV's over the years.

1. The Commer

The Hudsons’ earliest campervan was a Commer. It was 1968, and the couple were living in Palmerston North. Bruce was managing his own flooring business and one day, delivering supplies to Waiōuru, he came across a Commer campervan driven by a young English couple who were travelling the country. Bruce had just bought a badly beaten-up Commer van 1500, intending to repair it for a work vehicle but that fortuitous encounter gave him a much better idea. He had the body replaced by a horse-float builder and set to fitting out the interior.

"I’d been a draftsman," he says. "So, I could think three-dimensionally and draw plans. But my first attempt was rudimentary – just four bunks, a sink filled by way of a water bottle and hand pump, and a two-burner cooker."

None the less, their first excursions gave the couple a love of RV travel that has never left them. "I think they saved my life," said Bruce. "The stress of the business was taking its toll and weekends in the camper gave me the breaks I needed. There were no cell phones in those days, so getting away was really getting away."

The couple found their wings in more ways than one, and in 1971, they sold the business, and, with two tiny children in tow, loaded the Commer on to the roll-on ship, Maheno, and with open minds headed for Australia. "We intended to stay," said Gail, "and in Queensland, we tried to buy a camping ground. It didn’t work out, instead, we toured the country for six months and then came home."

2. An even better Commer

In 1972 they bought a Commer with a walk-through cab and a Valiant AP6 motor. "Some chap had ordered it to build a pie cart but reneged on the deal," said Bruce. "All it comprised was the chassis, a bonnet, and a windscreen. It had no doors or roof. I needed a permit to drive it from Levin back to Palmy sitting on a nail box and dressed in a beanie and a heavy coat."

This time, it was a fire-engine manufacturer who built the body, and once again Bruce fitted out the interior. "It was a major step up from the first Commer; self-contained this time with electricity, a 12-volt fridge, onboard water tanks, shower and toilet and even a tiny TV. We kept that van for 14 years."

3. The Holden flat-back

By 1988 the kids had flown the nest and Bruce and Gail lived in Whāngārei. That year they headed across the ditch again and in Sydney bought a Holden flat-back ute, with a motorhome body attached, in which they circumvented the Australian continent for 12 months. They had no toilet or shower, which was only one of the challenges of the outback.

4. The CI Munro

On their return to New Zealand in 1989 they bought a 5m CI Munro motorhome on a Toyota Dyna. "This was an interim solution," says Gail. "We’d sold our house before we left for Australia and so we lived in the van while Bruce worked at the Marsden Point Refinery. All the time, we were planning to buy something that would suit us for an extended tour of the South Island."

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The BMC Austin school bus that Bruce fitted out himself

5. The school bus

Two years later they found an old 7-metre, wide-bodied, BMC Austin, school bus. It was a bit battered and had a million miles on the clock, but Bruce reckoned it had good bones. He pulled it to bits, re-panelled the body, fitted new windows and then set about building the furniture and fittings. Twelve months later, the old girl was ready to hit the road again. "There was a lot of satisfaction in planning and creating it ourselves," he says. "We ended up with everything we wanted – comfortable twin beds, good bench space, a combination bathroom and swivel seats at the front."

A year after they’d bought it, they set off on a working tour around the South Island, and, 18 months later returned north to live in Pukekohe. "Then we started having trouble getting COFs because she was such an old vehicle," says Bruce, "and so, regretfully, in 2002 we sold her on."

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Snow time in the Dodge Tiago on their circuit around America

6. The American Dodge

Meanwhile, the turn of the century had seen them heading for the United States where they bought a Dodge Tioga from a dealer for US$5000 and stocked it from op shops. For the next five months, they lapped the US, sticking to the coast and freedom camping where they could. "We drove about 20,000 miles and sold the vehicle back to the same dealer for $2500," said Bruce. "The only trouble we had was replacing the water pump. Those old V8 engines just kept going and going. It was a pretty cheap way to have a holiday."

7. The Nissan Civilian

Back in New Zealand, they bought a do-up Nissan Civilian. But a third of the way through its renovation, tragedy struck. Bruce and Gail’s beautiful 36-year-old daughter, Sandra, died from cancer. Both parents were so devastated, they simply had no heart to continue the project. It was the last hammer blow for their DIY endeavours; they sold the Nissan as it was.

8. The TrailLite

In 2002, on a friend’s recommendation, they approached TrailLite and ordered a flat roof, 6.5m motorhome on an Izuzu truck with twin beds, combined shower toilet, and a three-way fridge and TV.

They began travelling around New Zealand again.

9. The Chevvy

Then in 2004, they flew to Vancouver, and for US$10,000 acquired a 5m Luton Chevrolet from a Hamilton couple and travelled up the west side of Canada into Alaska and across the Arctic Circle. They also ferried the vehicle to Vancouver Island. After they’d used it for five months, they sold the motorhome to another New Zealand couple.

10. The Winnebago

Even though they were getting older, there was no clipping the wings of this couple who, in Brisbane in 2005, bought a small Winnebago 4.5m Freeway. They found somewhere to store it, and for the next 12 months, they intermittently travelled back and forth to Australia using the van as a ‘holiday house on wheels’ to explore the eastern seaboard.

11. Another TrailLite

The year 2006 saw Bruce and Gail in their second TrailLite. That one was built on a four-cylinder Mercedes Sprinter and was an easier vehicle to drive and manipulate. It was also a walk-through which they found more convenient.

12. TrailLite #3

Four years later they traded up to a TrailLite Matakana on a Mercedes-Benz V6. "It was a beautiful machine to drive," says Bruce. "For me, it was the comfort of the east-west, queen-size bed," says Gail.

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The 14 motorhomes Gail and Bruce have owned, minus the one they never finished

13. The Ford Gulfstream 

In 2012 the couple set off for foreign fields once more, this time to San Francisco where they took ownership of a Ford Ultra Gulfstream from a New Zealand couple who had just finished a two-year tour. The Hudsons stored it through winter and then in the spring travelled for four months through California and Nevada before selling it on to another New Zealand couple.

14. TrailLite #4 

In 2014, Bruce and Gail upgraded their TrailLite yet again; this time for an 8-metre Karapiro 300 series on VW Crafter. "That move might have been a bit ego-driven," said Bruce. "It was our perfect RV – luxurious and functional with all the things we need to travel for long stretches in great comfort. We would have kept it forever had it not been for another change in our circumstances."

15. Downsizing to an Auto-sleeper

In 2018, the couple moved to a retirement village, and the driveway of their new home was not big enough to accommodate the TrailLite. Reluctantly they decided to downsize. They chose a 6.5-metre Bourton Auto-sleeper on a rear-wheel-drive Mercedes Sprinter 316a. The size was right, and it contained all the must-have features. Emblazoned on its bodywork are the words ‘Going Places’, a name they have used on all their campervans and motorhomes for almost 50 years. It sums up the couple’s nomadic history perfectly.

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