Wendy and I have enjoyed a number of holiday homes over the years we’ve been together, including a converted Coromandel motel, a former Presbyterian Church in Albury (South Canterbury) which we adapted into a stylish, comfortable open-plan holiday home, and more recently, we tried tenting with a multi-roomed Zempire inflatable tent that we bought at a tent expo in Taupō where we now live.

We had to move on from both the Coromandel unit and (very reluctantly) the Albury Church when we moved between Islands, and age and inconvenience saw the tent lose some of its appeal, although the relatively small monetary outlay was a positive.

The answer to our need for somewhere to holiday seemed to lie in a caravan or a motorhome, and again the capital cost involved with a caravan held more appeal to me than the considerably higher outlay involved with a motorhome.

The solitude and beauty of New Zealand’s little-travelled byways can be breathtaking – this is the DOC camp at Lake Okareka, just 15 minutes from Rotorua

So began the long and sometimes very confusing research into the pros and cons of caravanning versus motorhoming, a journey that saw us spending many hours reading RV Travel Lifestyle vehicle reviews, as well as searching out people’s views and reasons they purchased a motorhome versus a caravan; our search took us to countless caravan and motorhome dealers round the North Island; and saw us chatting to owners of both caravans and motorhomes whenever we had the opportunity.

We decided that for us, a motorhome would better suit our needs than would any form of caravan. Some of the reasons for this decision were the ease of handling and parking a motorhome over a caravan, the overall size of the unit, and the fact that you only have one vehicle involved. Of course, this is a personal choice, and there will be plenty of caravan enthusiasts who will have a different view.

During our initial investigative phase we didn’t go to any of the caravan or motorhome shows, and for me that worked perfectly, because at that stage I think I would have either come away from a show more confused than ever over the huge range of choices, or we would perhaps have made a spur-of-the-moment purchase that might not have been the ideal solution for us and which we might have regretted later. But as we became more familiar and confident with what we wanted in a motorhome, going to a show became the next logical move, because where else can you view such a wide range of vehicles in one place to confirm your tentative decision?

Having made the decision that a motorhome was our ideal solution, there was then the issue of which make and model; I’m sure these same considerations will apply whatever your final decision on the type of vehicle that will best suit your needs.

Winter time and it’s cold and wet at the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park, but Wendy will find it warm and cosy inside the Tracker FB

What we discovered fairly quickly in our search through the countless possibilities, is that it becomes a matter of compromise, and this has been a theme that has been echoed by almost everyone we’ve spoken to. Just as the legendary Speights’ Southern Man held the view that there’s no such thing as the perfect woman – likewise there’s no such thing as the perfect mobile home, so be prepared to compromise, and hopefully find a vehicle that fulfils most of your needs and desires.

For us, the choice narrowed down to an Autotrail Tracker FB, as being the brand and model that fulfilled most of the items on our wish list; however, after half-a-year’s experience, we’ve found that it doesn’t quite meet our needs. Now we think the slightly larger Autotrail Delaware, from Nationwide RV in New Plymouth, with its fixed full-size double bed, snazzy en suite bathroom with separate shower and toilet, and better fridge/kitchen/pantry design, would be more suitable.

One thing we did notice was that the modern motorhome is a pretty smart piece of kit, and really, they do almost everything themselves without you having to worry too much about the details. When we first got our Tracker, we sat down and read all the manuals and instruction sheets cover to cover – as you do – and the complexity of all these bits and pieces, from water heating systems to fridge controls, seemed to be so complicated that I worried we would never get on top of it all. It was a pleasant relief to discover that what we were reading were really technical installation manuals, and that basically these clever bits of machinery look after themselves, and virtually everything happens automatically.

Of course, as happens to so many people – including Vince and Nic Jones in the last issue of RV Travel Lifestyle – we’ve fallen in love with the motorhome lifestyle and our Tracker, and we’re now thinking that next year we’ll let out our apartment and hit the road full time for a couple of years.

So far, our motorhome experience has been restricted to winter and spring, which have been cold and wet. But even so, we feel reluctant and hesitant – even a little unhappy – when the time comes for us to pack up and head back home. I think those feelings will be even more marked when we’re enjoying the warmth and sunshine of summer and spending more time relaxing under our ample awning – it’ll be even harder to bring ourselves back to the apartment.

 

So, to summarise how best to go about the task of buying your first mobile home:

• First, decide what is the best solution for your needs – tent, camper trailer, caravan, fifth wheeler or motorhome
• Choose a vehicle size that suits your needs and that you are comfortable in handling
• Think about what you want to take with you – sporting/fishing gear, bikes, BBQs, outdoor furniture – and make sure you have enough boot storage for your gear
• Have a list of what you want in your ideal vehicle, and realise that there is no perfect solution – be prepared to compromise on some of those things
• Decide if you want new or second hand and how much you want to invest, but be flexible if you can, to make sure you get the vehicle that is right for you
• Think carefully and investigate thoroughly before attempting to import your own vehicle
• Talk to as many owners as possible – they will all be enthusiastic about their brand, but you will pick up valuable hints and tips
• Talk to dealers about their brands and pricing – again you will learn a lot from them
• Buying new from a reputable dealer will give you worthwhile warranties and guarantees
• Don’t rush into anything – seek independent advice if you’re unsure about anything.
• Here are some of our observations that you might also experience, once you’ve made the purchase and done some cruising:
• Do join the NZMCA – it’s one of the best investments you’ll make
• NZMCA Parks are an amazing asset and well worth exploring
• Reading matter and DVDs are available for exchange or taking/swapping in many NZMCA Parks and camping grounds
• Chances are your horizons will expand once you’re on the road, so be prepared to consider upgrading
• Modern motorhomes drive like cars, but they aren’t a car – they’re an awful lot longer and taller, and it’s very easy to run into immoveable objects, especially when backing. We have a rule that one of us gets out and watches proceedings when we’re in tight or difficult situations
• Do watch for road cambers and humps in the road – even the most innocent driveway can have a camber or hump that can quickly result in body damage
• Do watch the ground you’re going to drive over at camping grounds – it can look safe from a distance but often can be soft, and you might find yourself sinking in. Adding to the danger of that, is the fact that many modern motorhomes don’t have towing eyes to attach a tow rope
• Enjoy all that New Zealand has to offer, explore more-remote areas away from the tourist routes
• Freedom camping opens up new horizons, so be adventurous!
• There is a real, friendly community of owners wherever you go.

Wendy’s footnote

After six months of a lot of travelling we’re now more spatially aware of our motorhome and our joint needs. Tom is a big guy and I’m small, so a fixed wall bed is not so comfortable for him to get in and out of; the inclusive bathroom is too small; and I need a stool to reach the pantry above the fridge and the overhead skylights!

For us an island bed and bathroom with larger separate shower and toilet would give Tom the space he needs. If you’re older, think carefully about over-cab beds, as you may not wish to be climbing ladders in the future.

Good storage is important too, but don’t over clutter – downsize everything and plan carefully.

We prepare some meals before leaving home and keep it simple because there’s not much room for making fussy meals. A good fridge size is important to us because we like fresh, healthy food. Careful planning of meals is important, because eating out all the time is expensive, and you don’t want to be looking for the supermarket every day.