Due diligence key to RV dreams

Living the dream. Absolute beachfront — Lake Ohau at dusk. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Living the dream. Absolute beachfront — Lake Ohau at dusk. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Justine Tyerman recounts a decade-long mission to find the perfect RV.

The salesman’s eyes locked on to the hefty file under my husband’s arm. It was 6cm thick after a decade of documenting the pros and cons of every make of caravan and motorhome known to man and womankind.

Christopher described this process as "due diligence", the careful and thorough assessment of all aspects of any potential purchase, the elimination — or at least minimisation — of all risk factors, and the committing of the above findings to comprehensive, colour-coded spreadsheets.

"Endless procrastination" were the words I was inclined to use ... along with some other more colourful descriptive terms.

Increasingly aware of my mortality, I was imbued with a sense of urgency. My husband, on the other hand, believed he was immortal and had all the time in the world to ponder the issue.

Cooking dinner outside in a remote and beautiful location.
Cooking dinner outside in a remote and beautiful location.
Little did the salesman know we had made considerable progress since our first visit to his yard many years earlier. We had entered a critical phase in our mission to find the perfect motorhome/caravan.

On the cover of the inauspicious folder the word "motorhome" had been crossed out and the word "caravan" asterisked. Not only that, the words "off-road" had been inserted before the word "caravan", squeezed in above a little pointy arrow.

However, all the salesman could see was that fat file ... and he wished it was his day off.

I fancied I could hear his brain ticking over.

"Oh no. They’re back AGAIN.

"And that confounded file is even fatter than last time they were here.

"They are going to want to look at everything on the yard again, they will ask 100 silly questions and note down the answer to every one of them in that file. They will want to open every cupboard and drawer, see how everything works, take umpteen photos and expect to test drive every vehicle. And they will want testimonials from people who have already bought whatever it is they are looking at."

But despite the fact it was our fifth or sixth visit to his yard, ever the consummate salesman, he strode towards us smiling broadly, hand outstretched, the epitome of bonhomie.

"Chris, Justine. Delighted to see you again. How can we help you today?"

The outside kitchen was a major drawcard.
The outside kitchen was a major drawcard.
He was astonished, in fact absolutely flabbergasted when we pointed at the 19ft, hard-top, off-road caravan and said: "That’s the one!"

The prelude to this denouement, was many years of renting and trialling motorhomes and caravans, and compiling endless lists of negatives and positives that filled many, many pages in the file.

As the seasons came and went, the file put on weight, the cover became tatty and we got even older. It felt like we were destined never to reach a happy conclusion.

Even our best friends were tired of the topic.

"So have you made a decision yet?" they’d ask, rolling their eyes as we began to describe our latest endeavours to achieve our goal.

The general consensus was we were overthinking and over-analysing the issue and would go to our graves clasping the big, fat file rather than the keys to RV nirvana.

So how did we finally reach a conclusion?

The spacious bathroom has a full-size shower and even a cute little washing machine.
The spacious bathroom has a full-size shower and even a cute little washing machine.
Our many motorhome trips around New Zealand, while wonderfully enjoyable, had highlighted the serious limitations of this option for us. There were so many roads we could not travel due to the gradient, corrugations, river crossings, mud, snow, ice and all manner of uneven terrain. It ultimately became an exercise in frustration.

The lightbulb moment occurred last winter as we came to the foot of the steep, windy, icy road up to Lake Ohau skifield on a bluebird powder day. We were driving a large, heavy motorhome and could not simply zip up the mountain to ski that day — and it caused us great angst. Nor could we tackle the Molesworth Station road, the Rob Roy Glacier access road, the Skippers road or countless other backcountry tracks that beckoned us. True, we had come across 4WD motorhomes and campers that were capable of handling such conditions but they were rare and expensive beasts.

It became blindingly obvious that to fulfil our wanderlust to explore New Zealand in off-the-beaten-track mode, an all-terrain caravan/4WD ute combo was the perfect solution. Unhitch the caravan, hoon up the mountain in the 4WD to ski, hike or bike, then return to the comfort of our tow-anywhere, rugged mobile apartment. Or take the caravan with us if there was somewhere appropriate to park.

After the lightbulb moment, the tedious due diligence (DD) process continued and the file got even fatter. We had never caravanned before so, according to Chris, this option had to be fully explored before the final decision was made.

First of all we hired a light-weight UK caravan because that’s all we could tow behind our existing vehicle. It was nice enough but we were limited to busy camping grounds with easy, flat access. Definitely not our cup of tea.

Then we borrowed a mate’s 4WD and hired a serious off-road caravan.

Our compact luxury apartment on wheels.
Our compact luxury apartment on wheels.
A whole new landscape opened up before us. The possibilities were endless — beaches, rivers, lakes, mountain roads, all manner of rough terrain. We agreed this was what we had been searching for all these years — this was the Holy Grail. An off-road caravan and 4WD tow vehicle would give us the ultimate in flexibility and versatility.

There were only two decisions yet to make. Which off-road caravan? Which 4WD vehicle?

I sighed at the prospect of another few years’ of DD to figure out answers to these weighty conundrums.

But it all came together somewhat miraculously.

Conundrum #1. Caravan

Years earlier, we had spotted a luxurious but rugged off-road caravan with cooking, fridge/freezer, sink, bathroom and living facilities, both indoors and outdoors, ideal for summer and winter living. It had huge solar power capacity, two grunty inverters, and excellent fresh and grey water storage meaning you could spend long periods of time off-grid. It also had a spacious annex which doubled the living area enabling us to take a couple of grandchildren with us. Despite having viewed 100 or so in the intervening years, we ultimately came back to exactly the same model, albeit a slightly longer, updated version.

The annex doubles the size of the living space.
The annex doubles the size of the living space.

Conundrum #2. Vehicle.

The caravan required a vehicle capable of towing around 3500kg. Our existing vehicle only had a 1500kg capability. As we were test-towing the caravan with the company’s 4WD Ford Ranger, we quizzed the salesman about the best vehicles for pulling such heavy rigs.

"You’re driving it!" he replied.

"Is it for sale?"


Fast forward a week and the ute was suddenly for sale. We all agreed on a price and after a smidgen more DD, the Ford Ranger and the caravan trundled up the driveway, delivered right to our door. It was a surreal moment.

Later that day, ensconced in our luxurious caravan sipping bubbly as the sun set in a blaze of gold and crimson, I had to concede, the decade of DD had paid off. Over the years, on several occasions, we came dangerously close to buying a motorhome. Had we bought the first one we fell in love with, we would have regretted it. Sealed roads and camping grounds are not for us ... not yet anyway.

Another decade on, we will probably end up with a motorhome ... we’ll be nudging 80 by then and might not be able to manage the towing and manoeuvring of a heavy caravan.

Setting off on our first roadie.
Setting off on our first roadie.
But for now, we are deliriously happy with our long-deliberated choice. We’ve already christened the combo with an autumn South Island roadie where we literally lived the dream.

With no fixed itinerary apart from a ferry crossing date, we drove in the direction of fine weather, camped off-grid in beautiful, remote locations, tackled some novice 4WD tracks and came across other humans whose philosophy seemed to align with ours, the strange breed of people who prefer to dine outside clad in puffer jackets, beanies, mittens and boots, regardless of the season, than hang out in swanky lodges or restaurants.

The experiences and wisdom gleaned from total strangers over a beer and bubbly in sub-zero temperatures are all the more treasured. Some had chosen a permanent nomadic lifestyle over a fixed abode.

Tempting, I thought ... but what about the DD?