Meet the Woods: RV Adventures with a Family of 6

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: LAWRENCE AND MICHIAL WOOD


If you’re looking for a fun way to get your kids acquainted with the New Zealand map, you might want to drive around it... something this family of six highly recommends writes Lisa Jansen

Lawrence and Michial at Bluff
Lawrence and Michial at Bluff

Sometimes tragedy can turn out to have a silver lining. That could probably be said about the Wood family. After their home was damaged in the Christchurch earthquake, the family needed temporary accommodation while their house was getting repaired. Instead of finding a place to rent, they managed to talk their insurance company into letting them use the money to hire a motorhome – and the rest, as they say, is history.

"We lived in the hired motorhome for 10 weeks with three kids under five through the middle of a Christchurch winter. And that was it – we had caught the bug!" says Lawrence.

Lake Tekapo Lupins.jpg
Budding explorers among the lupins at Lake Tekapo – left to right, Elyjah, Aria, Callum, and Freya

A few years later, they took the plunge and invested in their own mobile home, an Abbey Aventura 330 six-berth caravan. Dad Lawrence, mum Michial, Elyjah, 14; Aria, 12; Callum, 11; Freya, six; and dog Otto have been exploring the country together ever since. The kids are in school, and Lawrence works full-time, so they mostly have to stay local, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying caravan life.

"We often rent our house out on Airbnb, and then live out of the caravan for periods of time during the school term, staying at the local beach, other freedom campsites or with nearby family."

On weekends and during school holidays, they then venture out further from their base in Snells Beach, north of Auckland. Over the past three years, they’ve travelled New Zealand top to bottom. As Lawrence puts it; "We’ve been pretty much everywhere we can get to without being 4WD."

Helping Dad change the drum brakes
Helping Dad change the drum brakes

And that is exactly what they love most about travelling in their caravan.

"We love discovering every corner of our beautiful country. It’s great to give our kids a sense that this is their land and teaching them about their Pakeha and Maori heritage. Our kids can identify so many places on a New Zealand map and remember something interesting or funny about a town, the locals or a geographical feature, historical facts and past family connections." That’s the kind of stuff kids can’t learn in school.

All smiles at Cape Reinga
All smiles at Cape Reinga

Getting used to towing the large caravan has been a bit of a learning curve, says Lawrence. "We’ve got the scratches to prove that." But after three years, there aren’t many places Lawrence wouldn’t take their Abbey Aventura 330. He loves that the caravan is lightweight and manoeuvrable, while still providing six beds and everything they need.

A pit stop at Te Kaha on the East Coast
A pit stop at Te Kaha on the East Coast

There is only one thing that could be better about their caravan.

"Off-road capability! We’re dreaming of owning a more robust option, plus a more capable vehicle to tow it. I’ve pushed our Kia Carnival pretty hard to get us to some particular spots."

Watching the sun come up at at East Cape
Watching the sun come up at at East Cape

The family also learned that you don’t always have to travel far to have a great time in the caravan. They love spending time at the freedom camping spots in Snells Beach even though they are locals and could stay at their home. Other favourite places include Central Otago, Milford Sound, Whangarei Heads, the Coromandel and Northland, as well as iwi sites around the South Island.

"We’re of Kai Tahu descent, and there are some wonderful spots around the South Island solely for iwi members."

Hang on everyone! A blustery Slope Point
Hang on everyone! A blustery Slope Point

Like many other families who live and travel together in small spaces, Michial admits it comes with challenges – but those are far outweighed by the benefits.

"Being in a small space forces us to spend lots of time together. Sometimes that leads to a bit of quarrelling, but most of the time it allows us to create, cooperate and bond in ways that we might not ever do at home."

A little light construction at Tolaga Bay
A little light construction at Tolaga Bay

However, Lawrence also points out that caravan life with a family needs a bit of extra planning. His advice is to do your research, talk to those who are doing it, join Facebook groups and ask questions every chance you get – but then take the plunge and learn what you need to know while on the road.

"We learned a lot from other travellers around the country. Everyone is always willing to lend a hand and have a yarn and share their knowledge, which is fantastic."

For the family, their caravan is all about freedom. They love being mobile, having the flexibility to stay if they like it somewhere or move on when they feel like it.

Hanging out with the grandparents in the Coromandel
Hanging out with the grandparents in the Coromandel

"We can set the pace of the day and determine where we end up – it really is freedom."

But the perks of having a caravan don’t end there. They also often take it with them when heading out for long days like children’s sports events, church picnics or family trips to the beach. It makes for an excellent base and provides facilities and shelter from the elements. And the caravan also acts as a second lounge when parked up at home and gets used for kids’ sleepover parties or a quiet cup of tea while the children are noisy in the house.

However, Lawrence says the best part about the caravan is that it allows them to travel more as a family.

"Because it’s relatively cheap to travel this way, it enables us to travel further and make more side trips. We would not be able to see this much of the country if we had to pay for motels."

Find more motorhomes for sale in NZ

Keep up to date with news by signing up to nzmcd.co.nz's free newsletter or by liking us on Facebook