Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Campervans: A vantastic way to see New Zealand!

By Alex Robertson: original article click here

Holidaying by Maui van is easy to sniff at but one weekend behind the wheel soon reveals how blissful an experience it can be, writes Alex Robertson

Sitting in a traffic jam 8km south of Whangarei at 4pm on a wet Friday in winter is hardly the best start to a weekend away. However, instead of waiting in line then arriving at our destination late, tired and fuming, I took a glance at the road atlas, turned off and headed west.

The map told us the road led to Maungatapere, the GPS said "re-routing" (to rhyme with "outing" in an electronic American accent) and my wife asked how long the detour would take as we had a hungry 3-year-old on board.

And I couldn't have cared less - we were in a Maui campervan and could stop where we pleased.

Taking advantage of Maui's winter weekend break has been a revelation to me. For years I sniffed haughtily at campervan people sitting by the side of the road drinking cups of tea and eating ham sandwiches as I passed on my way to a "real" destination.

And I was always a little circumspect of people who decided to sleep next to the public conveniences at a popular beach or scenic spot (but why Cox's Bay, for heaven's sake?).

But, I was missing the point. They stopped there because they were thirsty, or hungry, or tired or fancied waking up to the sun rising out of the ocean with nothing but sand and sea to obscure the view.

Now we were heading in the wrong direction to Tutukaka, our target, not knowing how long our journey would take. And the sun was setting.

I was emboldened by the confidence that we could pull over to the side of the road anywhere and pitch camp: no setting up poles; no stretching canvas; no hammering tent pegs. Just pull on the handbrake and brew up.

The GPS soon recalculated our route (I'd already checked that we could double-back on the map) and we cruised through golden, winter, afternoon sun chasing rainbows over Whangarei and the coast beyond.

That first night, we stopped short of our target and pulled over by the toilets on the water's edge at Ngunguru as daylight failed. Dinner was soon served and cleared away and setting up the sleeping arrangement was a cinch. These vans are well designed and easy to use, with lots of storage and plenty of space. There's even a shower and a loo.

There's not much to do when you're sharing your one-roomed pad with a sleeping mini-me, so, after a couple of glasses of wine and a few chapters of a book it was lights out.

The tremulous bark of oyster catchers woke me just before dawn. Another little voice soon pitched in demanding breakfast and we were soon gulping down steaming porridge watching the colours change on Ngunguru sandspit and Whangarei Heads, as the sun came up.

The locals were friendly and didn't seem to mind our camping across the road from their living rooms. Maybe a small, fleeting addition to that gorgeous view that hasn't changed for thousands of years added a little interest. We were soon gone, stopping in at Tutukaka for coffee before heading up the coast through Matapouri (for a picture stop) past golden beaches and rugged headlands, then climbing bendy roads through rolling, verdant farmland.

We turned off to Whananaki South and soon hit the gravel road. The big (7.2m long) Mercedes diesel automatic was superb at negotiating the tight, twisty road and slippery hills and was as easy to drive as a family car. We met another Maui campervan coming the other way and we all breathed in (mentally) and managed to pass without incident.

At Whananaki South (a handful of houses and a beautiful ocean beach) we found the Southern Hemisphere's longest footbridge, which crosses the estuary to Whananaki North (not many more houses, a school, library and community hall). Whananaki North also has a sealed road, but that was all water under the (foot) bridge.

We headed back south to Waipu, stopping for lunch along the way because we could, and spent the night at the Waipu Motor Camp ($20 for a van with two adults, hot showers and electric hook-up).

I took a walk along the beach with a 40-knot easterly battering the shore.

The stormy sea and threatening clouds painted a beautiful, dramatic picture that glowed eerily pink and orange from the setting sun: It was a scene that Turner could have painted.

The rain lashed our roof all night and the van rocked now and then as a gust blew through.

We stayed warm and dry - unlike my previous attempts at camping in a storm, but that's another story.

Sunday was grey and miserable and we decamped fairly early taking the coastal route through Langs Beach to Mangawhai and a coffee and art stop at the Smashed Pipi Cafe.

We then tried the back route through to Matakana and, after a brief detour back to SH1 after our GPS disagreed with the driver and the map, we headed through the beautiful Whangaripo Valley and over the hill to Matakana (windy, steep gravel roads again handled with ease).

The trip home to Auckland was (thankfully) uneventful with easy flowing traffic and no need for further detours.

Having cleared our gear and returned the van, my wife discovered that she had lost a bracelet. I called Maui the next morning advising them to look in the microwave (yes, they even have a microwave) and it was duly found for me to collect the next day.

I mention this because the people at Maui were as friendly and helpful as you could hope for and a perfect complement to their wonderful product.

Next time you see somebody enjoying a cuppa in their campervan at the side of a busy road, give them a toot and a wave. It could be me.

Alex Robertson travelled courtesy of Maui.

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