When Bernie and I discussed living on the road, one of our aims was to limit travel to less than two hours between each destination so that we had time to take a good look around the area at each place. Initial thoughts of an area could very well change after spending time exploring and finding out more about it.

Maybe there’s a town that you tend to simply always drive through? Or perhaps at the most, you stop for a brief break as you’re passing through. For us, Murchison was that town. It’s about an hour and a half from our hometown, Nelson. We rarely  stopped there and if we did it was only for coffee or diesel.

We never tire of watching sunsets

Until recently, my idea of Murchison was of a small rural town that serviced a farming community and little else. Then after the Kaikoura route was closed due to the 2016 earthquake, Murchison became a hive of activity. Because of the considerable increase in traffic flow, this little town now has to meet thousands of travellers’ needs.

To stick to our plan and limit travelling between stopovers to under two hours, Murchison was our first port of call. Friends who had stayed at the NZMCA park, recommended it. And we’re pleased they did. It’s a great place to stay. It’s spacious, with an easy-to-access dump station and is only a two-minute walk from the supermarket.

Our overnight stay ended up being a six-day stopover. That taught us lesson one – don’t judge a town until you’ve spent some time there. Murchison started off as a gold-mining town, but later this little slice of paradise transformed into a farming community and it’s now a mecca for thrill seekers. It pays to do a little research before staying in an area because you never know what you might discover. We found many stunning walks and unearthed some interesting history.

(Since visiting Murchison, I’ve developed an interest in historical buildings. Not only do I uncover pieces of fascinating history, but these dated buildings also add another dimension to my photography passion.)

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The Murchison area offers a variety of walks suitable for any fitness level, ranging from short tracks to day tramps. The first day I tackled the Skyline Walk, which zigzags uphill through native bush to reach a lookout point with picturesque views over the Murchison valley. In each direction you look, there are rivers, untouched native bush and lush farmland with mountainous backdrops. If bygone times interest you, the Six Mile Walk combines walking with a slice of history. Other walks I enjoyed were the Kahikatea Walk and the Johnson Creek Track, although parts of this walk were inaccessible due to heavy rain the previous week.

Paying attention to the weather has been another lesson learnt. We thought we could plan our trip a month ahead but what’s the point of visiting a place if it’s in for rough weather? We found it better to stay somewhere when the weather is settled. Dry days make the dogs easier to manage. Washing can be dried while parking, and packing up without rain is better.

Following good weather is the way to go

Speaking of the weather, if the forecast is for wet weather – be prepared. Keep your raincoat and umbrella handy inside your mobile home so you’re protected from a drenching when you do venture outdoors, and use the shower cubicle to store wet gear. And a little tip – if you bring your awning in when it’s wet, move your footwear out of the way first. We learnt the hard way, after our gumboots filled up with water.

Although we thought we were being careful with water usage, we ran out unexpectedly. Fortunately fresh water was on hand (we were at an NZMCA park), but this experience taught us we couldn’t do much without this precious commodity and  it’s surprising how fast you use it.

If you do happen to run out of water, turn the water pump off; leaving it on with an empty tank can cause damage. There were a few lessons like this we learnt early on. And to be sure we didn’t forget, we made notes – and also checklists, for example, of things to do as we’re packing up to leave.

Murchison was just a town we drove through until we stayed a few days and saw it had a lot to offer

And, yet another lesson – lesson number 56 (and counting) – was never get complacent and think you’ve done everything, without double-checking. When we arrived in Hanmer Springs after staying in Murchison, we realised we’d made the mistake of driving with the gas on. Safety first! Turn gas off before travelling. That’s now on the list.

And while there are checks to be done when packing up, there are also things to consider when setting up.

TV reception is one. Park north, east or west of trees – not south. It will and does affect your TV signal. Just north of Culverden, at Balmoral Reserve, we set up beside a stand of pine trees thinking they’d give us protection from the wind. We made sure we were far enough away from the trees to avoid sap or falling pinecones and branches. But that evening when it was time to catch up on the news, we discovered why parking south of trees wasn’t such a great idea.

Crossing over the Waiau Ferry Bridge, Hanmer Springs

Always make sure you have a clear view north for TV reception – even one thick branch or several thin leafless ones can sometimes interfere with reception. If you’re directionally challenged, look at other satellite dishes in the same vicinity to see which way they’re pointing so you can get a rough idea of signal direction. Compass apps are available for phones so you can have one handy.

And check the prevailing wind of the area. Park into the wind, not side on to it, or you might be in for a rocky time.

It may seem as though the first month of our new life on the road has been somewhat of a learning curve, and in many ways it has. But like they say, ‘The best way to learn is by experience’.

Sunrise over Hanmer Springs NZMCA park

Although these newbie lessons are keeping us on our toes I can honestly say the good times definitely outweigh the challenging times. If I was to rate our new lifestyle out of 10, I feel I’d score it a 10++. It’s so much better than I imagined it would be. New places to explore, so many lovely people to meet, walks to enjoy and that sweet anticipation that an adventure is waiting just around the corner.

Steam train chugging through Weka Pass, North Canterbury
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