VIDEO: Eco-Tourer

You can’t beat a customer’s recommendation as Peta Stavelli finds when she meets the satisfied owners of the Aussie-made Eco-Tourer caravan.

I'm on my way to Mount Maunganui – which at the best of times is no great hardship – when Mal Brady from On the Way RV rings. He asks if I'd like to bring our appointment ahead a couple of hours to meet a couple who own an Eco-Tourer caravan – the very vehicle I'm going to test later that day. Of course I would. There is no better way to judge the merit of a vehicle than a first-hand account.

And so it happened that I met intrepid caravanners, Gavin and Pam Christoffersen, who had up until that point spent 425 nights in their four-year-old Eco-Tourer. As I write, the Papamoa couple are a few days into their third South Island sojourn, so that number is growing daily. This time the retired couple will revisit some favourite places in Central Otago and also take in some new territory around the Nelson-Takaka and Lake Brunner regions during their leisurely 'mainland' break.

"By the time we return from this trip, we will have done about six and a half months all up in the South Island," Pam tells me. Of course I'm dead envious and say so. "We haven't worked this century," she says. "People always say we're so lucky, but we've spent most of our married life working seven days a week."

Pam and Gavin sold their Rerewhakaaitu farm (about 40 kilometres south-east of Rotorua) in 1999, after 30 years of dairy farming.

During their 48 years of married life, holidays have been rare and precious. "Once retired, we thought: now we can play," says Pam.

Their first dream was to own a luxury yacht. Pam and Gavin did their research and began by learning to sail with the legendary Penny Whiting. It was while they were in Tonga with Penny that they saw the boat they would later buy — a 43-foot Taswell sloop.

For 18 months, the Christoffersens were 'living the dream'. Gavin takes up the story. "We enjoyed it very much and were lucky to be on board during the America's Cup 2000. We met a lot of wonderful people, but eventually realised that if we were to go offshore we would need crew and that was not what we really wanted.

"We're often asked how we get on living together in small spaces, but we've always worked together and travelled together and we enjoy each other's company, so having others on board the boat didn't appeal to us."

The boat was sold. What to do next? "Our son was living in Tauranga and we always enjoyed coming here, so we bought a place in Papamoa in 2000 and began camping," says Pam.

Eventually they traded their tent for the Eco-Tourer. "It took three visits to the yard to decide. At first we looked at an A-van but the Eco-Tourer appealed for two main reasons: it has a toilet and shower and it folds down to fit in the shed. Also, we can push it through our property to store it behind."

For the couple this was essential. The rules of the subdivision in which they bought require that boats and caravans are always stored behind a fence. Storage space is limited, so the low profile of the folding Eco-Tourer caravan was definitely a strong point. For touring or storing the 5.5m overall length caravan folds to a height of 1.5m in the front and 1.87m at the rear.

Gavin says the lightweight, aerodynamic van is a pleasure to tow. "We love the ease of towing. We can be out in horrendous conditions and you wouldn't know you had the Eco-Tourer behind you."

They've only experienced windage problems once: when the couple was parked at Mount Cook. "In all fairness, the wind was so extreme on that occasion that Japanese tourists were getting blown over," Gavin explains.

They say the purchase of a caravan was "a big step up" from camping. "For us, a made-up bed was important, and of course a good toilet and shower. This vehicle has everything."

Gavin and Pam love tramping and their preference is to get into out of the way places. Consequently they have really put the off-road capacity of the Eco-Tourer to the test.

Gavin says the Eco-Tourer is good to go in places you wouldn't take a conventional 'van. "We like to park in DOC grounds and domains, and we've really put it through its paces. The great thing about this is the really high ground clearance."

Other pluses are the insect screens on all windows that come standard and the fantastic fan which is an extra. "We'd certainly recommend getting a fan. If nothing else, the smell of bacon and eggs cooking is a great way to excite the neighbours."

So impressed with their purchase are the Christoffersens, they have become brand ambassadors and recently attended the Covi Show where they talked to prospective purchasers.

Gavin explains, "We keep a pile of brochures and cards in the 'van to hand to anyone who is interested in the Eco-Tourer.

It's amazing how many are interested, especially among people like us who love out of the way places and getting into the great outdoors."

Mal says the couple's enthusiasm has already helped to sell three 'vans, with another sale likely. "There's nothing better for a prospective purchaser than to talk to owners with integrity."

For Pam and Gavin the two-way relationship works extremely well. Says Pam: "They don't forget about you once they've made the sale. That's what we call really good after-sales service."

The couple tested the relationship when hub cap and wheels began to display surface rust. Gavin mentioned his disappointment to Mal, who rang the Australian manufacturers. "I was staggered when shortly afterwards a full set of hub caps and wheel nuts arrived in the mail."

And when Mal later noted that the upholstery was worn, it was replaced without question.

They have "absolutely no regrets" about their purchase, says Pam. "When we're in the 'van we sleep better."

Meanwhile, Gavin also reports "absolute satisfaction". He says, "People sometimes say the Eco-Tourer is expensive, but we feel you get what you pay for."

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