The Best Year Of My Life
What NZMCA member Judy Klaus #37775 calls ‘the best year of my life’ will strike a chord with many members who have had their lives changed by discovering the joys of the motorhome lifestyle. Judy writes:
I am not sure what came first, joining the NZMCA or buying my old 1990 Mazda 3500 cabover motorhome. But they both have been inseparable over the last seven years. It was September 4, 2011, sitting on the stern of the Waiheke ferry as it took me to my island home – when a chance comment from a friend about when was I going to do my dream trip around NZ in a motorhome’ stuck with me. The dominoes fell fast, one after another; and a month later I had bought my old van (Just Meandering), handed in my notice at work at the National Maritime Museum, found tenants for my house and was on the road.
I had no idea what was in front of me. People said I was brave. That word never entered my thoughts, however words such as adventurous, living the dream, stupid, wise, wow or thank you, did. I had been a teacher for years; plans, long term and short, were my mantra. Suddenly I was thrown into a freedom I had never known before, that of being on the road where plans, if they were made, were often broken, so I learnt better not to plan. Just live in the moment. I kept a daily blog and uploaded photos of the journey, for friends as well as for myself. It was like a log book tabulating my joys and adventures as well as my challenges and misadventures.
I headed south. My only plans were to have Christmas with a friend in Nelson – that was four weeks away. From that point on it was a toss of the dice, a quick check on the weather map or a matter of getting lost. I did the latter a lot. And still do. I find so many wonderful places getting lost. With my home on my back I could afford to get lost. I was so naive when I started out. I trusted my instinct mostly, which isn’t good all the time although came in handy often. The van needed so much work – she leaked, had rotten wood, the brakes seized and needed to be replaced in Christchurch. The clutch went too and needed to be replaced on Waiheke, the tyres had splits in them and needed replacing (VTNZ kindly paid for these after having passed her COF pre-sale), the radiator needed replacing in Nelson, a new solar panel and battery was a godsend, the water pump needed to be replaced and the fridge, an ongoing repair job, should have been thrown out.
Yes, they were all challenges but seven years later I still have the old girl and get away in her whenever I can. You know what they say – better the devil you know than the one you don’t. As the song goes, I went everywhere man; north to south, then back north again. I wrote a six-month journal thinking there would be only two of them, and then I would return home and resume my life on the island again. That never happened. One year on the road led to two years, and then two years led to nearly three. Then I found a place I now call home. “A relief manager wanted for Aroha Island Eco Centre in exchange for free motorhome stay.” I read this in the classified advertising at the back of The Motor Caravanner. I had never heard of Aroha Island but it seemed to complement my journey. I applied for the role and soon found myself north of Kerikeri in this amazing place where Kiwi called beside my van at night and during the day I kayaked on the smooth waters of the Kerikeri Inlet.
I was wooed. And within 18 months I had sold my Waiheke home and bought a home in Kerikeri. But that’s the end of the story (everyone goes to the last paragraph of a book to see how it ends so I have saved you from doing this). So much happened during those three years, too much to share here, but it was the wild places, the people I met along the way and the memories that made those years the best. I will leave you with an excerpt from my journal, my six-month entry. All I can say is, if you want to do something then do it. There are no guarantees for tomorrow, so just get out there and live each moment. To all my vanner friends I have met and to the ones I have yet to meet – you are the best.
Judy’s blog entry after six months on the road read: “It seems I have been on the road forever. It is time to take a rain-check. It is six months since the whirlwind few weeks of making the decision to do this road trip, leave work at the Maritime Museum, rent my house and buy a motorhome. The first month was full of challenges and stress until I hit the road. From then on it has been a magical time. I have seen places I have never seen before, as well as visiting old haunts. I have met some wonderful people from all over the world, making new friends and catching up with old ones. “The van, Just Meandering, is the home I thought she would be. She is warm and comfortable and just the right size for my trip; big enough to house me and small enough to circumnavigate and park in all sorts of places. We have parked up on beachfronts, mountain sides, paddocks, camp grounds, riversides, open spaces, forests, towns, cities and little out of the way places.
“People ask what is the most memorable place I have been to? It is so hard to say, as each day brings something special and often at the end of a day I say, “WOW, it can’t get much better than this.” But it does.
I feel so lucky to have been able to make this trip. I love the simplicity of life on the road. I really live in the moment and very rarely plan for the future. The plans that I do make often change anyway. It is the surprises along the way that make each day; taking the wrong turnings and finding treasures I had not imagined, unexpected challenges that have been met that in hindsight I would never have planned had I known what was in front of me. I have been challenged and the van has been challenged (especially when I went down a 4WD road by mistake). I wake most mornings to beautiful sunrises and sunny weather. I think the weather gods are travelling with me. “The windscreen wipers are dry through lack of use. I have had a few showers that have lasted an hour at the most, apart from that the skies have reigned blue.
“I have walked places I didn’t think I could imagine doing given the state of my knee a year ago, I have ridden miles on my bike (bought for $5 at Blackball on the West Coast), I have kayaked rivers and bays, swum in mountain streams and ridden horses and I have driven miles. “The people I meet make the places special. I can’t imagine living back in a house again, rooted to one spot, the chores that bind my time, the things that cluttered my house and my life. I love the simplicity of life in my van. I am still me but there have been changes, I have no time for things that are a waste of time, that do not edify, that are not meaningful, that are not fun.
“I do not travel great distances in one day just to cover ground – this journey is not about clocking up miles but experiences. I have travelled over 10,000 kilometres though (I found this out when I realised I had run out of road user miles). “I have sat around campfires and told and listened to stories, I have witnessed the freedom and beauty of dolphins surfing with swimmers, kayakers and surfers for over an hour south of Oamaru, I have been in places where the only noise is the beating of my heartbeat in my ears, I have seen wonderful sights like stars on a clear night at Tekapo while I laid back in the warmth of a spa bath, I am now witnessing the autumnal colours of Central Otago.
“I have seen awesome things that have made my heart sing and I have witnessed things that have made me cry with pain not joy (the devastation of Christchurch made me speechless as I walked the streets of the fallen city). “I have trodden paths that were worn from human feet that trod the same trails a hundred and fifty years or more ago. I have lost friends while I have been away, their deaths reminding me to live each day as if it is my last.
“If my journey comes to an end today for whatever reason I have enough memories from the last six months to last me a lifetime. As long as my eyesight does not fail I have the thousands of words I have written recording my daily dairy and the thousands of photos I have captured moments of. “I have no idea where the road will take me from here, other than south for a while until I can go south no longer then I will head north. I have enjoyed zig-zagging the South Island trying to cover as much ground and small places as possible, getting off the main routes, discovering small town New Zealand.