Memories of a Motorhomer

This week I realised that it’s 40 years since I first purchased a caravan and adopted or at least partially adopted the gypsy lifestyle. So I thought I would dedicate this blog to some of my memories in the hope that it might jog memories in some of the other people that read it. I have lifted some photos from Google as I don’t have any myself that covers a lot of the early period.

Brian Jackson

Back in 1978 at the age of 20 with my then partner Sue we purchased a caravan from Bryan Jackson Ltd. Brian was a real character in the industry who when he had difficulty importing caravans from England ended up copying the floor plans and constructing them here as Jackson caravans. At one time Jackson was the largest seller of caravans in New Zealand.


If I had been able to join the NZMCA at that point, my member number would be somewhere around 1400-1600 instead of the number 18180 that we got when we joined in 2002. it’s just amazing to think that the numbers are now well past 80,000.

oxford caravan
Ours was orange, but this is as close as I could find

I know I could not have joined with a caravan in those days but I just though the number exercise was interesting. I cannot remember meeting anyone in those days who actually was a member of the association.

With the help of my trusty tow vehicle, a Vauxhall Cresta 3.3, we set off on our adventures. Initially travelling the large distance from Mt. Wellington to Manukau City to stay at the Meadowcourt Caravan Park while continuing to work for a little while and saving for the trip. Then from there we where to begin the hippy lifestyle by spending a year living at the Tauranga Bay Motor camp.

Tauranga Bay

The camp these days is very similar to how it was in 1979 just with more people staying there. We chose Tauranga Bay because it was cheap and such a pretty place to stay. One of my all-time favourite memories was when out swimming one day, then turning round in the water to see 3 Orca not 50 feet from me. To say I got out of the water reasonably rapidly would be something of an understatement.

Both of us had learnt various crafts which we made and sold in Kerikeri at either the market or craft shops. We didn’t quite make a year and as funds began to run down it was time to take a real job. I ended up spending the summer of 1979/1980 working as a barman/wine steward at the Bella Vista restaurant in Pahia while living in the caravan at the campground in Waitangi.Β  At the time the Bella Vista was one of only two licensed restaurants in town, imagine that today! It is just incredible how much both of these towns have changed since those simpler days.

When that relationship fizzled out in the early 1980s, caravaning and camping fizzled out with it until I met my wife in 1988. Turns out that Sarah was just as keen on camping as I was. With us getting away to places like Papa Aroha in the Coromandel and back to Tauranga Bay to show her a place I had come to love during my time there.

Turns out Sarah’s family had a long history of caravanning with family holidays taken in Waihi and Whangaparaoa well before it became a suburb of Auckland. So you could say the lifestyle was in her blood. We found these old photos from the 1960s showing the caravan at her parent’s house. As well as this photo of Sarah from 1980 enjoying tenting.


Our first real motorhoming experience came in the 1980s when we had the chance to rent a Maui camper and took our (at the time) two sons away with us spending time at the mountain and visiting Rotorua. I just remember my boys saying how cold the snow was. But also how much we enjoyed the freedom of the motorhome.


Over time the four of us became five as we added our third son getting away for short holidays at places like Matauri Bay where we rented a beachside caravan giving us quality time as a family. It was these experiences that cemented our desire to make these sort of holidays happen more often.

Then in 2001 we took the leap and purchased our first motorhome, an ex Maui 6 berth Mitsubishi Canter that was to be ours for the next 16 years. Our first trip away took us to Otamure Bay the DOC Camp just out of Whangarei. This became a very popular destination for us when almost every weekend we would jump in the van and head north from Auckland.

It was during this time that we got to know Rod and Dot, who were the custodians of the campsite. The two of them convinced us that we should join the NZMCA which we did and have been members ever since.

In 2003 we started heading to Puriri Bay as it had phone signal and Otamure Bay didn’t. As it became more essential to stay in touch with work Puriri Bay became the new destination of choice and over time our favourite place to stay.

It’s funny looking back at these photos as it’s shortly after these photos were taken that we lost the awning in a wind storm and never got round to replacing it. Thinking back on it now and just how quickly it happened still scares me and has made us very cautious with putting out the awning on the new motorhome.

So in these photos, you can see us minus the awning but with the new addition of the Zodiac. At the time we purchased the boat very few motorhomers had one of these, but they have since become almost a must-have. The boat was 3.4 metres long with a 15hp Mercury that our boys could wakeboard behind. Such great fun.

We had the motorhome specially modified to allow for the outboard to be carried at the back of the motorhome. Which often caused people to enquire about our unusual power pack. It also served as a great way to get talking to other people in the campground.

Time, as it does, moves on, our boys got older with other things going on in their lives. Going away with mum and dad became less of a priority for them. Business pressures became more significant, and the motorhome didn’t get used as much as we would have liked. During the years 2010 to 2017, we barely used the motorhome. Managing to sneak away for 3 or 4 days at a time, a couple or three times a year usually in March or April. We always seemed to go back to Puriri Bay knowing that the fishing would be good and the sunsets even better.

Well, almost every time to Puriri Bay we did manage to get back to Tauranga Bay for the first time in 20 years as well as places like Port Jackson and a trip to Cape Reinga. The old Mitsubishi was such a faithful servant even if I was frustrated with the snails overtaking us on some of the larger hills at least we always got there.

In winter 2017 with the sale of my company imminent we took the Mitsubishi on one last great adventure (or at least under our ownership). With a trip to Taranaki and surrounds as well as travelling the Forgotten Highway. The photo above shows the motorhome at the NZMCA camp in Tamaranui one the first times we had stayed at an NZMCA camp.

So in September 2017 with the business sold it was the time after 16 years to consider an update for the old Mitsubishi. With this in mind, we visited several motorhome dealers in Auckland. As well as the Motorhome Show at Mystery Creek in Hamilton. Spending three days wandering round and round looking at all sorts of options. Eventually, we had narrowed it down to either the Jayco above or a Dethleffs Globetrotter.


Leaving the show, we spent our final night in the Mitsubishi at Ray’s Rest pondering our options. A fitting farewell spot after years of faithful service. We sold the old Mistubishi at what was then the Bus Stop in Pokeno but has since been renamed. We hope that whoever purchased it has as much fun as we did. Maybe we will see them on the road one day.

In the end, we chose the Dethleffs, and as a tribute to the years of service from the Mitsubishi, we took the new motorhome back to Otamure Bay for the first night spent in the van.

Funny how things change but remain the same. With my trip away with two of my boys last year and one of them choosing to sleep in a tent just like 13 years beforehand. That we still have the same inflatable but now it’s not an unusual thing with so many motorhomers having one and so many models available for sale.

And of course, continuing to return to our favourite spot Puriri Bay in Northland. Although if you have been reading my blog, you will know that we toured extensively in the South Island in the new motorhome. Which is certainly getting much more use than the Mitsubishi ever did.

I started out writing this blog to celebrate 40 years since I brought my first caravan and to maybe spark some debate on Facebook or by people commenting on this post with people sharing their own memories. I know I won’t have another 40 years as that will make me 100 if I wrote this post again. But I do hope for many more years of happy motorhoming.

Finally, I think that if my family had not emigrated from England when I was 13 that this lifestyle would have been lost to me. I think that camping in NZ is still affordable with DOC and NZMCA camps that the lifestyle choice is an easy one to make. Long live motorhoming in New Zealand.

To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.

To view the Ratings, we have done for other camps click hereΒ 

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11 thoughts on “Memories of a Motorhomer

  1. Hiya John. Thanks for the mention. 😁 We spent 20 years in our dear old 1979 Beddy called Pseuper – had to sell it when Rod had health problems 2 1/2 years ago & buy ‘a poncyass’ van so still travelling but not full time now. Loved all the fantastic folk we met at Otamure Bay – such great memories xx. Was it your son who cut his foot open on a smashed bottle in long grass so his brother jumped into the same place to show us where the broken glass was, much to our horror teehee???? Rod has now been a NZMCA member for 40 years in Dec – me for 33 years. A great club – seen lots of changes – met so many fabulous folk from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Favourite-ist spot for me in the whole of NZ – Otamure Bay (the way it was) and Titorangi Bay in the extremes of the Marlborough Sounds. Rod says anywhere we park & look out our window. What a life πŸ€—πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜πŸ‘«

    1. Great to hear from you Dot, I often think of you guys when telling people about how we joined the NZMCA all those years ago. Although nowhere near as long ago as the two of you. It was our oldest boy who had the accident and it was his Knee that he sliced open (he still has a wonderful scar). Sorry to hear that you are not getting out as much as you used to but safe travels. Otamure Bay so different now they have the house there as much more developed with houses in the area. Hope one day to run into you on the road.

  2. Hi good post
    I worked part time at Jacksons as a school boy.Paul graham whos number is under 2.000 worked there as well about the same time we may have met.Brian was a member as was Len his partner From memory .But the club was never mentioned as they sold caravans.You had to have a motorhome back then We joined in 1988.and like you have a lower number.Keep it up may me meet again on this great ride

    1. Thanks for the comments Chris I also came across Brian later in life around 1986/7 When I ended up buying about 100 pairs of Kangaroo Shoes that he had repossessed from someone as payment towards some outstanding rent. He was a real character

  3. Fantastic memories. I recall our camping holidays with mum and dad in the old CF Bedford in the 80’s. It sowed the camping seed in me and still enjoy life on the road today.

  4. Really interesting reading.Funny,we used to go to Tauranga bay every Labour weekend in my families caravan but 1977 was the last time I went before I went out in to the big wide world.Then last year exactly 40 yrs on my partner and I spent Labour weekend there.Still the magical place it was.

    1. Thanks for the comments. Yes that first Caravan was a real step up from the tent for a lot of people I am sure. Everyone has to start somewhere

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