It has been a busy few months for us, starting before Christmas as we rushed to get the last issue to print before everything closed down.At that stage we had great intentions of heading to Whakatane and taking the heli flight out to White Island. I don’t have many things on my wish list, but a visit to New Zealand’s most active volcano has long been one of them. Actually it’s been on the list so long that, at one stage of my life, I had even contemplated diving at White Island. That’s off the list now, but landing to explore, or to fish from the rocks or from a boat near the island, would be magic.

Camping out in Ngawi

In the end, Whakatane didn’t happen because we had an issue with our Webasto dual top heating and hot water unit. It’s been a regularly occurring problem over the years, and is now fully resolved (I say that with crossed fingers). I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve come to a conclusion I will share, one that has gone on our personal motorhome checklist: NO dual appliances – separate heater and separate hot water for us. It would have been good to have at least one of them operating. The ultimate problem turned out to be the TV and entertainment wiring that was installed a few years back (by a professional company) and was connected to the wiring loom of the heating unit – a big no no. So please take note, this type of dual appliance can have a big power draw to get cranked up, and it must have its own dedicated wiring to the battery system. The TV system, satellite dish and similar will also have high power draws as they kick in, so should have their own dedicated wiring to the battery as well. Another thing to consider when getting something like this repaired, or even stoves or fridges – get a quote first and foremost. You might be surprised to find that one small fan part costs $1000 to $1500, then the labour to install could be $120 per hour. Remember to ask yourself how much would a new appliance cost – seriously, do the sums. For the money we have spent in 18 months we could have had two new individual units installed. The service we got from RV Dreams in Wellington and Diesel Services was very good; it was pre-Christmas week when we needed the issue resolved, and they did the work for us to get the vehicle ready for the road at that busy time, which we appreciated greatly.

Martinborough Square on the Saturday – the cars fill the Square and side streets

Our summer plans changed accordingly – we simply made a quick visit up North for Christmas to catch up with my siblings briefly and back home again. The next few weeks consisted of short trips to our usual Ngawi on the South Wairarapa coast, our go-to, beach-fix overnighter.

We also headed into Wellington for New Year’s eve; well that was the plan. The first night we stayed in the motorhome park just off Cuba Street, smack bang in the action centre for restaurants and people energy. Our friends and family can’t believe it, and I am sure readers who have met us will be just as amazed. My Rock had turned vegan for a change of pace – four months now and loving it – so we had researched where to go and Cin Cin was selected for the evening, a casual, busy restaurant that accommodated Rocky with a vegan pasta dish. We laughed when the owner stopped to chat with us, took one look at Rocky, and promptly ordered another pasta from the kitchen for the fat vegan – hilarious and totally unnecessary as the first bowl was a great serving, and tasted fantastic. A good night out it was.

Getting out on the water in his fold up dinghy, seemed to work really well for him once he got in and away Heading over on the Interislander, Caspar is so happy he is on the deck in the motorhome

We awoke to wind and threats of rain so decided to move the van down to the waterfront, and after taking Caspar for some exercise we headed to Te Papa. Such a great place to wander and spend time on a miserable day. We did have plans for cycling around the waterfront and wandering the streets, but it was so windy, and with rain forecast from 8pm the outdoor concert was going to be off our list, so there was a change of plans – let’s go home, which we did via a quick trip to Eastbourne on the other side of the harbour. There’s a brilliant cycle trail there out to the lighthouses at the harbour entrance; I will share that area when we do it for ourselves in upcoming months.

On January 2 each year our local Tauherenikau racecourse has one of its only three (I think) annual race meetings. It is a great country course and Wellingtonians and Wairarapians all flock there for the day when the weather is kind. This year it was brilliant. We took the motorhome and parked up by the fence right by the track. Caspar chilled out in his seat, taking care of his leg (see his column page 127), and we had like-minded neighbours to chat with. It was a fun day out, with families having picnics, music playing and entertainment for the kids. Admittedly everyone there was shocked at the entry price, $20 per adult – it was $10 a few years back – and at least 60 car loads of people were seen to exit in protest. You would think the price would stay reasonable to encourage more people to come for a family day – involving gambling essentially – but there you go.

Clean green NZ - yeah right - these cows were fenced into the stream area on the road to Ward Beach Wards Beach – we will all remember the photos of the rocks with paua still stuck on them after the quake – this is where they were taken Kekerengu beach at the Store pre earthquake Nov 2016 - we stayed the night here on our way south just a week before the November quake. The rocks on the concrete steps have messages written on them by tourists - but today they have fallen to the ground

Then it was up to Hampton Downs for car racing. This time we flew up, hired a car, and stayed with my gorgeous grandchild and her parents, ha ha. We also did a quick trip down to Raglan to check out a house; I don’t know why, but we keep looking for a new place to live – not interested in this one but I do love Raglan.

Next road trip, we loaded up and headed to the South Island on the Interislander with Caspar in tow. Finally we were taking the trip down State Highway One to Kaikoura, checking out the roadworks, slips and developments on the way. We enjoyed the Premium Plus lounge on the ferry – the quality of the food seems to have stepped up, and the service is always really good from the team. It was evening when we arrived, and we headed straight to friends with a vineyard near Renwick where we parked up by the vines for the night. Heading off early the next day we decided to go out to Marfells Beach to see if it had changed after the earthquake – no, it didn’t appear so. Next we headed out to Ward Beach. This was the place where large rocks had been pushed up with the seabed, with paua and other sea life stranded on them. We hadn’t been there before so that was great to see.

Kekerengu The Store - this is the beach after the quake - much higher, the sand bar and little lagoon on this side is gone. The tourists stones have fallen away with no visitors for so long Smiling and happy, all the road workers were so friendly

Keeping going, the trip was great. Much of the road we drove on was very good, and the road-worker lollipop guys were just so friendly – they deserve awards, big smiles/waves and giving off a great vibe to the travellers on the road. We stopped at The Store at Kekerengu on the Kaikoura coast where we have often slept in the RnR over the years. The last time was just days before the earthquake hit, after a trip to Christchurch. I hunted out a beach comparison shot which was interesting. The mountains, as they came into view down the coast road, showed massive scarring from the big slips. On previous journeys there were lots of pull-over spots, where you would often see motorhomes parked up, almost on the water it seemed, staying for the night. No stops really exist now, though Nin Bin caravan has a good area still, and the road crews have a storage depot there as well. I hear there are plans for parking areas to be created during the rebuild – that will be very welcome I’m sure. Parts of the area are recognisable as you drive by. The incredible road and bridge building going on, and the continued work on the slips and terrain above, can’t be described adequately by me, but we did video much of the trip which will be linked on our website to view, or hop on our Facebook page where video content is loaded.

Heading south well past Ward you start to see the slips that scar the hillsides Still in business – a stop at Nins Bin for crayfish freshly cooked and served with a view like no other

The drive is really quite quick, especially with the few opportunities now available for stopping. We called in to our friends Dave and Lynn at Surf Watch, north of Kaikoura – Caspar was so happy to have a play with their dog Lila. We headed into Kaikoura and spent the next few days exploring, visiting the country Irish pub, going on our first Whale Watch trip in Kaikoura, visiting the Pier Hotel, and walking all over the town – in fact we did too much to share in these pages. I will write something more detailed for NZTODAY in the next issue.


Show time

It is nearly show time, when thousands of people flock to the Greenlane ASB events centre for the Covi Motorhome Show in March.

For those new to shopping for an RV, the array and variety of models that will be on display this year will be even more confusing and baffling than any previous show. The quality and variety, from camp trailers right up to $350K big rigs with all the bells and whistles will be amazing.

The Rock and I will be looking with a different eye this year as we are seriously contemplating selling our Mitsubish Isuzu-based three-berth Rock‘n’Robyn motorhome – time to upgrade we are thinking. So it is list time, making notes of what is important for us, minimum expectations, storage requirements, flexible sleeping options but still with a made-up bed, including the ceiling-drop-down bed options that are out there – to my mind this has always been a great use of space.

Heading south to Kaikoura, fantastic road we thought, thoroughly enjoyed the drive New road being built around the old road, all the white rocks are new beach-old sea bed – the rocks on the left show a clear line

Some things that matter to us would be irrelevant to others. For example, payload is really important to us because of the weight of magazines we carry when we travel. We travel extensively and usually make quick trips; we don’t sit back and relax for days anywhere, so an upgrade in the engine department is the most vital change we are looking for. A recent trip helping a friend with their motorhome saw us doing the usual 10-hour trip from Auckland to Martinborough in less than seven hours – at night with no traffic admittedly – but being able to do 100kph was almost exciting. For us personally, we prefer a rear U-shaped lounge for real laid-back comfort; a second dining–living area would work really well for us as well so we can each work in a separate area – actually I prefer the Rock as far away from me as possible when we work, so one of us outside under a tree does happen as well.

I am sure the old road went up and over, the Rock disagrees - check out the videos on Facebook and see what you think So interesting to see the stages of slip on the landscape

It’s almost like Christmas when you decide to upgrade or to buy for the first time – starting a list, adding to it, changing your mind on what’s important, taking things off, and going round and round in circles – seeing so many vehicles could get you confused.

Ultimately, the most important advice I can give you is to understand yourself; how you are going to use the RV (just a few times a year or more than once a month?); what types of areas you go to will determine things like FWD or RWD chassis; if you think you will go off-road or regularly drive gravel roads you will want a good chassis set-up, dual wheels or axles and great suspension; or are you a road cruiser who stays at a campground to enjoy the social interaction? Will you take kids away with you, take no one away with you, or share the vehicle with other family members? Do you park and stay somewhere? – a caravan could be your ideal unit; or do you want to have maximum space and slide-outs everywhere in the RV to give you lots of internal living room? There is so much to consider. Options to hire and try before you buy are there in the rental market, so it is easy to try one of those European models you have seen and then compare with an Aussie-built or Kiwi-built motorhome; try out two- four- and six-berth sizes and get a handle on what you really need, a well-fitted long-wheel-based camper can easily meet most people’s needs, but if you want the fixed bed, big bathroom, bling and shazam, it is right there and available as well.

Freedom camping area north of Kaikoura – this becomes quite packed out now as there are very few spots to stop on the way down the coast nowadays

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Robyn with Dave Robinson and Lila from Surf Watch Kaikoura