One of the funniest moments of six months living in a campervan in New Zealand had to be when I got stuck in the van toilet in the middle of the night. Our awesome winter campervan Bertha comes equipped with a shower/toilet cubicle and for the life of me I still don’t understand how I got stuck in there. Admittedly I was half asleep and it was dark but still, who does that? I found myself patting the walls of the cubicle and wondering how long I should leave it until shouting to wake up my campervan companion and partner in travel Nicholas. Eventually my senses woke up fully; I located the door (in the same place as it had always been) and stumbled out theatrically. Nicholas remained fast asleep.
Then there was the time I got out of bed in the night and fell on top of Nicholas in his bed opposite me. He shouted at full volume ‘what the h*ll!?!’ as I attempted to blame his shoe for tripping me over when I had actually fallen over my own feet and the table base. Nicholas is wise to my excuses after months in our campervan together and I snuck back to my bed quietly.
I have lost count of how many times we have banged our heads on the corner of cupboards, doors, beds and also the lights – lofty Nicholas is 6ft 3in and lights are danger zones for him in the campervan. Being 5ft 4in I find cupboard corners are nasty critters in the night when I have no spatial awareness in my sleepy mind. Midnight swearing and injuries have become a common feature of our time in Bertha. I don’t dare drink anything after 7pm, as getting up in the night is when the campervan interior is at its most dangerous. It is not to be messed with in the dark.
We developed the ‘campervan waltz’ early on in our tour of New Zealand when we had our smaller, autumn campervan. That campervan was our predecessor to Bertha and was home for three months. Wow we loved her. Jangles the Shark Mobile, as she was affectionately named for her noisy aerial that jangled in the wind, had an incredible turning circle and was super cosy for our adventures in the South Island. She didn’t have much foot space or leg room though and we often danced around each other as we tried to get dressed, cook, unpack groceries etc. I also kicked Nicholas in the head many times as I attempted to do my daily Pilates in the van. That was no easy feat as I wobbled atop the bed cushions but I did it daily, I have to for a back injury, and Nicholas’s head eventually recovered – sorry Nicholas.
You might ask why we are spending six months touring New Zealand and why our first campervan had such a strange name. We are two Great White shark wildlife guides from England who are touring the globe with our marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks. We are spending a year giving free lectures to adults and children around the world about shark conservation whilst also raising money for two charities. Call it a career break, an adventure and our way of giving something back to the communities around us. Jangles and Bertha have been our transport and homes in New Zealand and we are kindly supported by the awesome campervan company that is Wendekreisen Travel Ltd. This family run business is leading the way in being an ethical, environmental and supportive business that also sponsors causes such as Friends for Sharks. They offset the carbon for their entire fleet of vehicles and they have also just won GOLD in the environmental category of the PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) awards 2015. They are an incredible company and their vehicles are ideal for New Zealand campervan life.
I had not travelled in a campervan prior to arriving in New Zealand and I was nervous about being confined in a van for such a long period of time; especially when we had over sixty shark conservation events to complete and online work to do along the way for our business sponsors and social media sites. There have been moments when I have wanted to tear my hair out when I have missed my own bed and space but the upsides of living this way are phenomenal. Jangles had such great manoeuvrability for a small van and we were able to access many tucked away campsites and beaches, such as those found down the winding roads of Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula. We camped at spots that those reliant on public transport simply cannot reach. Wendekreisen have a policy that you can drive on gravel roads in their vehicles and we made the most of that freedom. It is that policy that afforded us time with the Hooker Sea Lions of The Catlins and the ability to explore Golden Bay fully. We made treasured memories and those areas at the bottom and top of the South Island are places we long to return to.
What is not to love about falling asleep in a cosy bed with three duvets and peeking out of the window to find bright stars and The Milky Way above you? I adore night time in our campervan, even in the chilly winter, and have often stuck my head out of the window to admire the stars from my bed. Three duvets is ideal for me in winter though Nicholas only needs one – brave soul that he is! Bertha is an ideal winter home and has a gas central heating system for those cold winter nights when frost creeps up to our windows and we are freedom camping. We are warm, tucked up and yet can still admire nature around us or pop outside to view glow worms in the middle of the night. I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be at those moments.
Fellow campers are friendly people that wave as their vehicles pass us by and we have made new friends with Kiwis we encountered at remote campsites such as those within the Marlborough Sounds. I had always heard that the people of New Zealand are an open-hearted bunch and the campers have welcomed us with open arms. We have spent nights at campsites with new friends who have taken us under their wing with a bottle of wine, the infamous Kiwi Dip and companionship in exchange for our shark and travel tales. We have visited those same camping friends at their homes and I know we will see them again in the future.
We have helped hitch-hikers along the way and shared what we have with others whenever possible. We have sung songs, exchanged stories of English life and also shared our favourite driving game: holding your breath over every…single…bridge we have crossed in New Zealand. It’s not easy when you’re also trying to hold a conversation and the bridges are long over the expansive rivers around Christchurch. Campervan life really does remove social barriers and provides a sense of fun and community in an increasingly isolated and digital world. When camping, we are all in it together come rain, shine or snow. It’s a great lesson for life in general and one I hope to remember and share.
Article by Kathryn Hodgson
Kathryn Hodgson (1979) was born in England and spent her childhood exploring the rugged beauty of Cornwall. Kathryn pursued her love of nature as an adult and created a successful career within environmental enforcement in England and then as a scuba diving instructor in Egypt and Great White Shark wildlife guide in South Africa. She is co-founder of the marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks, author of the inspiring memoir No Damage (December 2014) and lover of life, laughter and adventures. She can currently be found touring the world in aid of shark conservation and raising money for The Shark Trust and Project AWARE.