New Zealander Paul Little loves his caravan. And he's happy for the world to know it.
The plan was to have three caravans. I am bach-averse… the mortgages, the mowing, the monotony of having to go to the same place every time the holidays roll around. But I am married to someone who would have very much liked a bach (for the Australians, a bach is a small holiday home); someone who, in fact, would own a bach by now if I had not dug in my heels more than once in the further reaches of the Kaipara, on the road to Hokianga or half way through the weekend newspaper real-estate supplements.
Because I like to give the appearance of reasonableness, I continued to allow myself to be dragged along to view baches, my heels becoming increasingly worn down as the years went by. And that is how I came to be a caravan owner. One busy Friday morning in 2004, my father-in-law, who had been visiting a small, relatively isolated campground regularly with his own caravan since he and my mother-in-law had discovered it, rang to say he had found just the bach for us. Neat.
So we got ourselves down there and inspected the bach. We had been promised that it was absolute waterfront and would be available on a long-term lease at a very good price. On an estuary, it turned out to be extremely waterfront. If it had been any more waterfront, it would have been a submarine. But this waterfront was so tidal that the terms of the lease could have been as generous as that under which the US holds on to Guantanamo Bay, we still wouldn't have been interested.
However, there was no denying the prettiness of the spot, its seductive air of calm and quiet, the remoteness of the region. It is on the road to nowhere. If you come here, it is because this is where you want to be, not because you are on the way to somewhere else. There is no somewhere else here, to misquote Gertrude Stein.
So that summer we agreed to rent one of the on-site caravans for a week. Somewhat to my wife's surprise. Over the first few days of this stay I felt the subject of a strange scrutiny.
"Why do you keep staring at me like that?" I looked up from The Idiot long enough to snap at her.
"I'm waiting for you to explode," she said. "To go 'I can't stand this I'm going home,' or storm off to a motel or something," (In my own childhood, motels counted as camping.) Well, I showed her. Instead of exploding, I evolved. A man of nearly 50 summers, I finally learnt how to make instant noodles. (Really easy, it turns out.) I adjusted my pace to the point where a day with four activities in it counted as busy. And one of those was sitting down. I applied my legendary boot- packing skills to a caravan fridge, so it could hold enough food for four people. I got, in short, the hang of it.
The following winter we travelled to Kawhia and bought a caravan that had done duty providing accommodation to sharemilkers or shearers - I'm not sure which, but I know it was something to do with pigs. It had fulfilled this function for several years, and looked like it.
Showing creativity and energy that had me feeling like I was living in a magazine feature entitled "Turn that caravan from drab to fab with great discount-store finds", my wife turned "Shearers' Rest" into "Grey Lynn on the Water". Inviting and luxurious aren't words often associated with caravans, but suddenly this one was. (Top Tips: Big pillows! Mute that palette!) Since then, we've pretty much been going there every chance we can get.
Certainly there's a downside. There's my sheer bulk. The prototype caravan was obviously invented around the turn of the 19th century, when nutritional standards were low and the average adult male was 5ft 4in. I am slightly higher and have frequent encounters with bench edges, vent handles and the top of the door. That'll teach me to be tall.
Once you get four of us and the dog in, there's not a lot of room for much else.
The rhythms of the sea and the sun in its course mean you both wake and tire early and sleep the sleep of the dead - which is just as well because the beds are slightly less spacious than a medium-range casket. If you want to open the fridge you have to make the dog lie down.
Bottles of spirits, dry food and extra noodles are sealed in large plastic containers that are kept under our bed, from where they are retrieved at the end of every holiday so that we can open them and say, "Oh look, we forgot we had all this gin".
Most importantly, you don't pull up at a campground like this and act as though paying the fees entitles you to anything. Sure anyone can rent a spot for a night or two, but to be accepted as a regular, you have to show you're in tune with the site's ethos. And at this camp, phrases like "in tune with the site's ethos" could just about get you run into town. Which is one of the reasons I like it so much.
I also like that there is much sharing and swapping of baking and freshly caught seafood. I like that it does not have a games room, good TV reception, trampolines, mini golf nor a swimming pool and it does have respect for everyone who turns up there. And it has its priorities right. It is genuinely laidback, it's incredibly tolerant of all sorts of people (obviously) and the boss plans to keep it that way. His emphasis is on maintenance, not "improvements" of dubious value.
Our caravan doesn't move. It lives here and is towed on to our site when we come down. That may seem odd, as the point of caravans is that you can take them anywhere. But there's nowhere else we'd rather be. The camp ground has a calm estuary, a view with a couple of islands occasionally visible, great seafood, a surf beach around the point. Just about everything, in fact, except a glow- worm cave and good skiing.
Oh yes, the three-caravan plan. It was simple arithmetic to calculate that the cost of three caravans in separate locations, plus transport to and from them, would be considerably less than the cost of one bach. Not to mention avoiding the inconvenience of towing a single caravan to different destinations. The first caravan was bought on the understanding that two more would follow.
This is such a brilliant idea - if I do say so myself - that somebody has almost certainly thought of it before. I wonder if they acted on it or, like me, were so content with their first little spot of New Zealand, and the people there, that they never got around to establishing holiday locations numbers two and three.
Written by Paul Little. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz.