When it comes to buying a motorhome or caravan, everybody’s criteria and circumstances are different. Jill Malcolm interviews RV owners to learn how they made their decisions.
Owen and Elaine Smith had already taken one giant leap of faith in their lives. Now in their 60s, they have done it again, this time taking up full-time life on the road in their new RV.
What was the first sea change you made?
In 2003, we sold up everything in the UK and emigrated to New Zealand, even though we had never set foot in the country before. It was hard to leave family and friends behind, but we wanted to do something different. And we’d agreed that if either one of us was unhappy after a year, we would return to England. That never happened. For the next 18 years, we lived in Whangaparaoa, in a house with a view of the sea and a good-sized garden.
Why did you decide to sell up and live permanently in an RV?
Over the years, family and friends from abroad stayed with us, often for long periods. Their visits acted as a catalyst for our decision because they were seeing more of New Zealand than we had. We had been too busy earning a living. So over the last three to four years, we had talked about travelling around New Zealand in an RV, even though we were never sure it was going to happen.
How did you start making it a reality?
We went to the motorhome shows and started going to dealers’ yards. At first, we looked at motorhomes, but the cost was a bit off-putting and we started researching caravans instead. When we came across an Ultra-Lite Forest River Rockwood 2604WS caravan with double entry doors, it seemed to have everything we thought we would need.
We continued looking and must have seen hundreds of options, but we kept coming back to the Rockwood. We liked the separate bathroom and bedroom at the front. The north-south bed, the size of the tanks (227L fresh and 340L waste) and the fact that it was light and airy with plenty of home space and storage. The Forest River 2604WS was not being built after 2020 so if that’s what we wanted, it was now or never. We took a deep breath and put down a deposit. At this stage, we had nowhere to park it, and it remained in the dealer’s yard until we paid it off and found a home for it.
What happened next?
In situations like that, it’s wonderful to have friends like Tina and Gary Bolton, who offered us a temporary home for the Rockwood on their lifestyle block in Waitoki.
We parked alongside their house and they provided power and water until we could work out how everything in the caravan worked. Our stay lasted rather longer than we thought while we finalised everything.
Was selling the house difficult?
Owen finished work in October 2020, and we began the process of getting the house ready for another couple or family to love. Over the previous year, I had culled quite a bit of stuff but still needed to do much more. What we didn’t sell, we gave away to op shops or deserving friends. Eventually, we only had two storage boxes left, containing photographs and a few sentimental things we’re not quite ready to part with. The boxes are now stored in a friend’s garage.
The house should have gone to auction on 8 November but there was no interest and it was cancelled. That was when we both became uncertain about what we were doing. Was it the right thing? But we kept going and finally accepted an offer on the house on 15 November. The new owners wanted us to vacate the property by 16 December so they could be moved in by Christmas. We thought that was going to be nearly impossible as I was still working full-time as a registered nurse. But we plugged away tirelessly and got the job done. We spent Christmas with more wonderful friends and finally moved into our ‘forever’ home just before New Year. Since then we have also done a couple of house-sits, because I continued working until mid-January when I took early retirement. After 25 years of looking after others, I thought it was time to look after myself.
Now that you’re committed to a different lifestyle, how does it feel?
The undertaking is just another step in our lives, and we’ve had a few. Some friends were (and probably still are) dubious. They say things like: “Won’t you kill each other living in such a confined place?” or “What will you do if the tow vehicle breaks down?” There’s a long list of possible disasters people have come up with. But we have faith in each other and will be learning our new life together.
Have you made adjustments since you bought the caravan?
Owen is technically minded and has done a lot of research. So far we have added 1200 watts of solar panel and had the air conditioner taken out. We installed a reversing camera, more batteries and an inverter, and fitted bike racks.
We have a few luxuries we still want to include, such as a diesel heater instead of the gas one, which we find noisy. We also want to change the ceiling vents, which we can’t leave open, and replace them with ones we can leave open full time. The one in the bedroom will have a fan in it, to cool the room in hot weather.
What is one adaption you have had to make?
As a chef in a previous life, I have gone from a commercial kitchen to a domestic one, and now an even smaller one in a motorhome, and I am finding that frustrating. There is only one shelf in the oven, so I’m going to have to adjust the way I do things, and cook simpler meals. That is going to be a real challenge for me.
What is your towing vehicle?
Before we had even bought the Rockwood, Owen had researched a tow vehicle. After many questions and a lot of information, we decided on a Ford Ranger FX4, because we had been assured it was up to the job. However, a few months down the line, we knew it wasn’t. Yes, it pulls the caravan, but it doesn’t give us a comfortable ride. It’s very bumpy and leaves me feeling seasick. We moved things around, in the trailer and in the bed of the truck, to see if that would make a difference but to no avail. So just a few weeks ago, we bought an American Dodge Ram 1500 Express Crew Cab truck. We have had a dashcam and the reversing camera out of the old truck installed. While we were waiting for the Ram to arrive, Owen added an extra licence to his list. He has learnt to drive a forklift, in case we need to earn money while on the road. This is not our intention, but you never know what is around the corner in this ever-changing world.
Could you buy back your old life if you didn’t like the new one?
No, because we couldn’t afford to buy a house like the one we had in Auckland. If we decide this is not the life for us, we can buy a downsized house or buy a small piece of land somewhere else. But at this stage, we don’t want to contemplate what’s next until we have fulfilled our goal of travelling nearly every inch of this beautiful country.
One question people keep asking is, “Where are you going next?” The answer is, “Wherever we feel like going.”