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Jackie’s Journey: The Best Experiences Money Can Buy

Jackie Norman sold her home in 2016, bought a motorhome and embarked full-time on the road with husband Gareth. In this issue she shares some of their best ever value-for-money excursions.

On the whole, us Kiwis are a thrifty lot. You can’t pull the wool over our eyes and we know the value of the smaller things in life. The same goes for motorhoming, particularly full-time. While life on the road is far more economical than conventional living, we still have to watch our pennies and make our money last. Consequently we often tend to leave pricier thrills such as bungy jumping and jet boating to the overseas tourists – until now.

With Covid-19 affecting how and where we travel these days, it’s up to us to support local tourism more than ever – but how do you choose where to put your money? In four years of full-time travel, Gareth and I have enjoyed countless amazing experiences. Most of them have been free, but the following paid adventures will stay in our memories as among the most special ever, and are worth every cent.


I’ve always been a mad keen nature lover but our day trip to Kapiti Island also opened Gareth’s eyes to the true beauty of unspoilt wilderness. Glen ‘Coops’ Cooper is the perfect friendly and professional skipper, as he takes his passengers from Paraparaumu Beach out to the island by boat.

Kapiti Island is a joy to explore.jpg
Kapiti Island is a joy to explore

Once there, your guide takes you to The Whare, where they share the fascinating history of the island, once home to early Maori tribes, and a hub of the whaling industry. In 1897, the government purchased much of the island and ever since, it has been looked after by caretakers and organisations such as the Department of Conservation, who have carefully restored it to its original beauty.

After the briefing, you are free to roam the island via a choice of tracks, and enjoy the stunning view from the top, along with the friendly feathered residents. We have been to many other sanctuaries, including Zealandia and Orokonui, but nowhere has matched up to Kapiti Island and the experience that Coops and our guide, Robert, gave us. It really was like going back in time for a day, and we didn’t want to leave.


It always amazes me how many people have still never witnessed the miracle of nature that is Milford Sound. The first time we went, we were feeling stingy and refused to take part in any of the typical touristy cruises and scenic flights. Big mistake. If you want to really see the best of this magical place, you have to get up close to it – and the best way to do that is by boat.

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Admiring Milford Sound from a distance can_t compare with experiencing it up close.jpg
Admiring Milford Sound from a distance can’t compare with seeing it up close

You will get wet (unless you choose to sit inside) but that’s all part of the fun! We saw seals sunbathing out to sea and got super-close to all the iconic waterfalls, such as Stirling Falls, Lady Bowen Falls and my favourite, Fairy Falls.

Getting wet is all part of the fun!.jpg
Getting wet is all part of the fun!

On the Discover More cruise, you also stop at the Underwater Observatory, where you will be amazed at what goes on beneath where you have just been sailing.

Our favourite, however, was the guided kayak tour, paddling out into an ethereal world of the dark and deep, listening to ancient Maori myths and legends of the area. It’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of; absolutely unforgettable.


Of all my memories travelling around New Zealand, one that will always stand out is looking out at the entrance to Cook Strait from Ship Cove, in the very spot where Captain Cook once stood. It took my breath away. I couldn’t believe I was actually there, as I tried to imagine how things must have been and looked 250 years before. Just one of the many highlights from the day Gareth and I spent delivering the mail through the Queen Charlotte Sounds with Beachcomber Cruises.

Leave the bustle of normal life behind with a Mail Boat Cruise.jpg
The Mail Boat Cruise is a wonderful way to see the Sounds

Beachcomber are the only operators of this unique cruise. They are proud to uphold this invaluable service, which has been running for more than 150 years. You’ll never look at mail delivery the same way again! The skipper is a wealth of information, there is so much to learn and see the whole way, and the scenery is second to none. I found myself smiling the whole time I was on the boat at the sheer beauty of everything and the heartwarming quirkiness of a different way of life just a few miles off shore. With no two delivery days the same, I would happily jump on board the Mail Boat every day.

Ship Cove will always be a special place for me.jpg
Ship Cove will always be a special place for me


This place, for Gareth and me, is the jewel in the crown. It is, hands down, the best experience of my life. We spent three magical days in complete isolation, and I could hardly stop pinching myself. Kawakawa Station is a family owned, operated and much-loved station in remote Cape Palliser, between the Putangirua Pinnacles and the little fishing settlement of Ngawi. We were lucky enough to experience both the glamping and the three-day hike.

Kawakawa Station is surrounded by breathtaking views.jpg
Kawakawa Station is surrounded by breathtaking views

Days are spent walking your mapped route for the day, to reach your hut for the night. These are like no huts you have ever seen – they are out of this world. As is the scenery. Each setting is completely different from the last, from coastal, to bush, to river, and let’s not forget altitude, as you climb more than 600 metres above sea level.

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Every detail you could wish for is taken care of by hosts Iain and Rebecca while you get yourself from A to B – from transporting your gear, to home-cooked food waiting for you. Talking of which, the food is phenomenal: you are totally spoilt.

If Rudyard Kipling thought Milford Sound was the eighth wonder of the world, we reckon Kawakawa Station is the ninth. Be sure to find out more at

We loved glamping at Kawakawa Station!.jpg
We loved glamping at Kawakawa Station



All operators featured in this article told me that Kiwi motorhomers and caravan owners have kept them afloat this past year. They want to say thank you with some special deals for MCD readers.


Coops and the team close over winter for the off-season but open again on 1 September and offer a variety of experiences, including sea kayaking. Check the website at for more information.

To take advantage of this exclusive spring special for MCD readers, use the code motorhomes when you book.


Southern Discoveries has finished kayaking for now until the summer, but still run cruises to the Underwater Observatory year-round. They generally offer 10 percent off all products if you book through their website They have some great combo deals with KJet Queenstown.


Beachcomber Mail Boat Cruises operate Monday to Saturday from 1.30pm, returning around 5.30pm. MCD readers can receive a 15 percent discount by booking online or by phone and quoting the codeword travelnz15. Travel and validity dates 1 May– 30 September 2021. For more information, visit

Huge thanks to everyone who has got behind these and other tourism heroes. They are all so deserving of our support.

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