Wheel estate: Premio 490TK-Family

Premio 490TK-Family Paul Gittins and Alison Lawrie enjoyed nights at Mangawhai and Baylys Beach Premio 490TK-Family
Premio 490TK-Family Paul found the vehicle easy to tow Premio 490TK-Family
Premio 490TK-Family Premio 490TK-Family
Premio 490TK-Family Premio 490TK-Family
Premio 490TK-Family Premio 490TK-Family
Premio 490TK-Family The Premio 490TK offers a family room to move Premio 490TK-Family
Premio 490TK-Family Premio 490TK-Family

One of New Zealand’s most recognisable actors, Paul Gittins, is no stranger to caravanning. This time, though, he gets the show on the road…

Wheel estate: Premio 490TK-Family
Going places

Paul Gittins has a life-long appreciation of the joys of caravanning, which can be traced back to his childhood. Yet, despite Paul's familiarity with caravans, getting one on the road has so far almost completely eluded him.

Paul's first encounter with a caravan was in Melbourne during the late 1950s, when he was just six-years old as a recent immigrant to Australia from the UK.

"After arriving in Australia we'd been sent with other migrant families to a hostel, but eventually we were evicted due to my dad's scrapping for better hostel conditions, and we had to go and stay in a caravan. I thought it was really exciting — a bit of an improvement on the migrant hostel, actually. I loved it and enjoyed having regular chores to do, like filling up the water."

Fast forward to the present day and the actor has clocked up more than a decade using an original condition 12-foot Sprite caravan, permanently parked up on his Rakino Island bach section. Paul bought the blush-pink caravan in the Waikato township of Gordonton and towed it to Auckland where he packed it onto a barge bound for Rakino. From its eyrie on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, the caravan has had just one move since — to its final resting place at the bottom of the section, where it is still used regularly by friends and family.

When he's not acting, Paul spends as much time as possible on the island. "I love that I can jump on a boat and be there 40 minutes later, without having to contend with any traffic. It's so quiet and there's been so much planting on the island, the birds have started to return. I fish occasionally but a greater pleasure is having plenty of nooks and crannies to kayak around. Another thing I appreciate about the island is having to provide my own infrastructure.

"The guy I bought the caravan from gave me a really good deal. He threw in the fridge and cooker and, remarkably, they are still in use," says Paul, who has gradually added refinements like solar panels to charge batteries for lights and water.

While Paul is perhaps most recognisable for his roles as Shortland Street's head of clinic, Dr Michael McKenna, or for the frequently reprising Epitaph series he created with Greenstone Pictures, he still continues to make his living from acting and directing, as he has done for more than 35 years.

A recent role was playing David Bell in the television series Harry, starring Oscar Kightley and Sam Neill. He also narrated the currently-screening six-part documentary series on the Christchurch earthquakes. On the day MCD caught up with Paul about his on-road experience in a family-sized Burtsner Premio caravan, he is sporting a beard in preparation for a film role as a ship's captain.

Paul and his long-term partner Alison Lawrie jumped at the opportunity to take away the Premio 490PK from Smart Motorhomes.

"We thought it would be great to have an experience in a caravan that was going somewhere," Paul says with a wry smile.

The couple met up with Michael Becker, the director of Smart Motorhomes and Wilderness Rentals at Mangawhai Heads, where they elected to spend their first night at the nearby campgrounds while they became acquainted with the 'van. Setting up was easy.

"Making up the bed couldn't have been easier. The dining table lowered into place and 'Hey, presto!', we had a nice comfy double bed," Paul says.

"The campground at Mangawhai is in a lovely spot close to the tidal estuary. We saw lots of wading birds and later drove up to the lookout near the surf club. There was a coffee cart there and Alli indulged in this before we got on the road the following morning."

So far so good, although Paul, who has had plenty of experience backing a trailer but little manoeuvring a caravan, admits to some initial apprehension about getting the show on the road. Such concerns were soon allayed: the caravan towed beautifully on the next leg of the couple's journey to Baylys Beach Holiday Park and once there, Paul was surprised how easily the Premio 490PK was shunted into place. There the couple enjoyed walking along the wild west coast beach and had a great meal next door at The Funky Fish café.

"This caravan is really well designed for a family. It was easy to imagine the children enjoying the second table and the very separate spaces the interior layout offered. A slight downside of this for us was that in designing separate spaces, you lose the open plan feel. But it would be hard to have both."

Paul says they quickly became 'one' with the vehicle. "It was very simple to hook and unhook."

This was an aspect greatly appreciated by the couple, who left the caravan while they enjoyed a side trip to Kai Iwi Lakes.

"This particularly made me realise the true spirit of caravanning — the freedom to unhook the car and go off to explore an area in depth. I can certainly see why so many people embrace the lifestyle. Unfortunately, my caravan will never see the open road again. It's a pity. I'd love to do this again. "

For more information contact Smart Motorhomes on 0800 007 627.

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