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Shift Over

Words by Hannah Dickson, photos by Gerry Vink

Sometimes a picture manages to capture not just a special moment, but an entire attitude to life. The magnificent photos Gerry Vink took of his wife Clare Tank as they kayaked amongst a group of playful dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura late last year are not only a great reminder of a special day, but also reflect the couple’s commitment to weaving travel and adventure into their everyday lives.

Gerry and Clare are both nurses at Christchurch Hospital. They work three days a week, allowing them to get away in their motorhome as much as possible in between shifts. Work is stressful, particularly for Clare who works in the emergency department, so balancing days with patients with days in the wild is the perfect antidote to busy shifts in the frontline.

The couple have been motorhome owners for the past 15 years: “We’ve upgraded over the years and have a nice little four-berth now,” says Gerry. “It’s ex-rental, but very nice with room for all the toys on board. We usually have two or three kayaks on the roof and the mountain bikes on the back.” 

Kaikoura, where the photos with the dusky dolphins were taken, is a favourite destination. “We’ve seen dolphins there before,” says Gerry, who estimates they were about 20 minutes out of town. “But this time we got the perfect shot, with the clouds in the background and the great lighting. We were probably out there for about three-quarters of an hour, watching five of them playing around us.”

Gerry doesn’t carry around a heavy camera, instead he relies on his smartphone to record their adventures.

“If you play around with the settings and keep the lens clean, you can take some pretty awesome pictures, that’s good enough for me,” he says. The couple say their Christchurch base means they are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing places to go for their mini-breaks away from home. “Christchurch is such an awesome base. You can go south, north or west, and there are so many opportunities for incorporating outdoor activities,” says Gerry.

Along with Kaikoura, some of their favourite destinations include Banks Peninsula, Arthur’s Pass and the Canterbury foothills. “Arthur’s Pass is only an hour and a half away, and Banks Peninsula is full of little bays you can hide away in. It’s close to home, but within three-quarters of an hour you are in total wilderness. 

“We try to get away every second weekend for three or four days. It is weather dependent, if the weather’s not good we’ll stay close to base, otherwise we take off.” In fact, Gerry says if they go through a particularly busy time with extra shifts at work, or other commitments, they start to get very restless: “If we haven’t been away for 10 or 12 days, we’ll make sure we go away, even if it’s only for a night.”

After touring by motorhome for 15 years, Gerry says it’s definitely become noticeably busier at well-known spots in the South Island, but says there’s still wondrous isolation to be found if you know where to look for it. “If you go to the popular spots you certainly won’t be the only one, but there are still so many places where you can be alone, or there may be only one or two other campervans. 

“Things are certainly different to how they were 10 years ago. With the West Coast you have to do your homework beforehand, and find out where you can go off the beaten track.” But apart from that, the couple don’t plan their trips too far in advance. They watch the weather, make sure the water tank is full, then take their chances with destinations that offer plenty of scope for active adventure. 

“Most of our trips are four or five nights, and we definitely play it by ear. We shy away from campgrounds, not just because of the money, but because we prefer to be slightly away from it all.”

Although they have both been in New Zealand for many years, Gerry is originally from the Netherlands and Clare is British, so that means frequent visits from family members who are always keen to see more of New Zealand. “They come over fairly regularly and that’s really nice because we all stuff ourselves into the motorhome and head off to some great places. Luckily we all have the same interests like cycling and kayaking,” says Gerry. 

While it’s fair to say the couple know their own patch of southern paradise very well, they also enjoy going further afield. Several years ago they bought a motorhome in Europe, and take a few months off each year to enjoy the northern hemisphere summer. Highlights have included extensive travel through Norway (18,000 kilometres in three months), and also in Croatia. 

“Europe is very nice travelling and freedom camping is encouraged in a lot of countries, Norway in particular is probably one of the best places in the world for freedom camping.”

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