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WORDS & PHOTOS BY HARSHAN & DANANKA JAYASURIYA #65551
Anybody who knew us ten years ago would never have imagined we would become caravan owners.
I was raised in Singapore, an island only a little bit larger than Lake Taupo, where caravans are not exactly commonplace, and a getaway usually involved flying to another country.
My husband Harshan spent most of his formative years in Sri Lanka, where holidaying in a caravan was both literally and figuratively a foreign concept, only experienced in books like the Enid Blyton novels.
However, getting together has allowed us to deviate significantly from the norms and conventions we were brought up with. It has led us to take a few bold steps, such as leaving our life in Singapore and moving to New Zealand with a five-month-old in tow. And it was this newfound boldness that five years later spurred us to take the plunge and buy a Jayco Starcraft without ever having experienced life in a motorhome or caravan before.
Our main motivation was that our children thrived in the outdoors and we loved to explore new places as a family. Having a caravan seemed like the best way to explore and enjoy our beautiful country.
The friendly staff at Jayco took us through the caravan basics and spent a lot of time with us to ensure we were comfortable before we hitched up and dealt with our first challenge – getting to grips with safely towing a 2.2 tonne caravan (neither my husband nor myself had towed anything before) and then reversing it onto our driveway, which wasn’t designed with this in mind.
With double gates allowing about 30cm of clearance on each side, a slight dog-leg at the gate posts, a large Rimu tree to squeeze past, and a hedge along one side of the driveway, it would be an understatement to say we struggled.
Fortunately, we are blessed with good neighbours and Nick, who has a caravan himself, came to our rescue. Twenty minutes later with a lot of guidance, our caravan was neatly parked at the bottom of our driveway. Without saying anything, Nick ran back to his place and got a couple of wooden blocks for us to use as chocks, making us realise just how unprepared we were. On subsequent trips we managed to reverse our caravan safely onto our driveway, but I can tell you our marriage was tested a couple of times with Harshan driving and me guiding him! Fortunately, we have improved with practice and the process is quite smooth now.
We will never forget our first trip on Anzac Weekend 2016; we didn’t dare head too far afield and chose Whangateau Holiday Park for our first outing.
With some trepidation, we rolled into the holiday park trying our best to look like we knew what we were doing and that this wasn’t all new to us. Fortunately, the trip was a success and we all loved the experience in a home away from home where everything was just the way we liked it.
Our two children Tristan and Cheverny, who were 5 and 3 at the time, loved their bunks at the back of the caravan so much so it was hard to get them to sleep. They were overcome with excitement. Tristan had the top bunk and beamed from ear to ear, literally squealing with delight.
That was the first of many trips. In the nearly three years we have had our caravan, we have done a total of 20 trips and I can't name a single one we didn’t enjoy. However, the highlights would be our 10 days in Golden Bay, and our four-week trip to Northland.
Our family adventures have taken us to so many beautiful parts of the North Island and the top of the South Island. Our children are now almost 8 and 6 and at their happiest when they are out and about experiencing everything nature has to offer. As far as we are concerned, there is no better way to travel and explore this stunning country.
Of course, it hasn’t all been rosy. Getting the caravan around some tight corners and into small spaces have led to a couple of minor prangs. Once it was scraping a sign at a holiday park, another time trying to do a 3-point turn on a driveway with a dip in it resulted in our bumper getting stuck on the road surface.
With the latter incident there was no damage done, apart from a few more grey hairs for both of us. With some gentle coaxing and trying to ignore the awful sound which was like fingernails scraping on a blackboard, we got out of that bind.
We have done several walks of differing distance and difficulty. Some of the most memorable are the Mangawhai Heads Cliffs Walk when we camped at Mangawhai Heads, the 12km Farewell Spit circuit while camping at Pohara Beach in Golden Bay, and most recently the Tongariro Alpine Crossing while camping out at Whakapapa.
We have also enjoyed some awesome cycle trails such as the Hauraki Rail Trail while camping at Miranda, the Twin Coast Cycle trail while camping at Russell, the Dunes Trail at Opotiki while camping at Ohope Beach, and some of the Hawke's Bay bike trails while camping out in Napier.
We also love kayaking as a family and some of the highlights include paddling amongst the serene beauty of the Marlborough Sounds, through the subdued Pacific swell in the Bay of Plenty, and the tropical beauty of the Far North.
Tristan loved the experience of kayaking up to Haruru Falls on his own kayak. We derived a lot of pleasure from the joy on his face as he spent most of his time there popping the frothing bubbles near the base of the waterfall.
Along with these activities, it would be very remiss of us not to mention some of the beautiful beaches we have enjoyed while camping. Our favourites include Matai Bay in Northland, Ohope, Matarangi, Waihi, and Omaha.
While we try to stay in new places every year, we also enjoy the familiarity of a couple of our favourite campsites. For a weekend or long weekend getaway, Martins Bay Holiday Park (TD #892), or the NZMCA Park in Rotorua (TD #3093) are top of our list.
Our children have achieved several milestones while out and about. We’ll always remember the time Tristan kayaked from Rawhiti in the Bay of Islands to Urupukapuka Island when he was just six; Cheverny's first really bad fall while biking, which was on the gravelly Dunes Trail at Opotiki; the first time they boogie boarded; the first time they both surfed; the first time Cheverny kayaked on her own; the first time they went luging on their own; the first time they went on a proper mountain biking trail. The list goes on!
One of the biggest milestones we achieved while camping was completing the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing which was a huge achievement for our children aged 7 and 5 at the time.
They walked (at times clambering and sliding) the track entirely on their own and had more energy than both Harshan and I at the end of it.
Through all these amazing experiences, our caravan has always been the one constant. It’s always there for us at the end of an exhausting, but satisfying day, providing the comfort and space we need to unwind and bond as a family. There has always been so much laughter, so much delight, and so much chatter as we share the experiences of the day.
Having the caravan has made it so much easier for us to head out and thanks to that, the children are experiencing a remarkable childhood, full of fun times and we are making wonderful memories as a family.
Apart from all the adventures nature allows us to have, the other highlight has been the people we have met along the way. From the friendly waves from other members while we are driving, to chatting with other people when we are relaxing in the holiday parks, travelling around in our caravan has always made us feel proud to be part of this amazing community.
At the end of our stay at Golden Bay in the summer of 2017 (a favourite trip thanks to its beauty, relative isolation and proximity to Abel Tasman National Park), our little boy Tristan looked up at us and said, ‘Mummy and Daddy, my bunk bed in our caravan is my favourite place in the entire world’.
We knew then that getting a caravan had been one of the best decisions we have ever made in our lives. Our caravan and the promise of adventure and the quality family time it offers makes it so special for us.