It’s back; I was preparing to go solo!

It was back and looking lovely, no dings or scrapes and the wide, black strips down each side have been removed. The front and back bumpers have been repainted and it looks (almost but not really) like new.


So with with a few days to spare before I went on my 4 week South Island expedition I had to get it set up and organised; I had removed most of the contents when it went be repaired.
While it had been away I had purchased quite a few (what I hoped would be) useful gadgets, some essentials (like gas monitors) a smaller heater and a whole bunch of useless junk, some of which I was hoping I would use. The majority was purchased very cheaply, through AliExpress.
I had to decide what was the minimum I needed in clothing to cover both warm and cool days and this is difficult for me. I have always overpacked but having minimal storage meant a whole rethink on what was essential.

My expedition, the blog aptly named “Going Solo”  was the first time I had been away for any considerable time in the camper van on my own. I wasn’t phased by that, I am perfectly happy in my own company and as I was staying in motor camps this time there would be people around if it needed  chat. I’m not ready yet to freedom camp, I quite like electricity, also quite like not having to empty the toilet cassette 😉 No, the reason is not feeling entirely safe in a locality I don’t know with people I don’t know. A motor camp offers that touch of security.

I’ve included links to my other blogs. They may be of use to anybody travelling the South Island. I have included paying locations for camper vans or caravan, places I think may be of interest and, in two blogs, my actual experiences and opinions of the places I went.

Planning where we may go in the South Island with my friend, Dasha, from California.

Our experiences in the South Island. 2016

Planning for my solo South Island trip.

My South Island experiences. 2016



A long, long weekend in Palmerston North

It seemed a long time since I had made the 45 minute trip north to my special place, my happy place. Initially I was going for two nights, that’s happened before lol  😉  I had been waiting for the first opportunity since Dasha and I did our four week South Island tour but the weather had not been great or the forecast had been awful and at the last minute it had cleared. Too late . . . . . If Phee wasn’t so timid, he could some too. I would love that.

From the large to the small.

From the large to the small.

Since my first epic adventure last July a lot has changed. The Ducato is set up for a quick escape with everything needed from toiletries, to make up, food and clothing for three days and food staples and easy meals. There is even an electric toothbrush (maybe I’ll add a flosser when I can manage my home one better). Everything but perishables.


The loo and shower (which I don’t use).

I have gas for cooking and heating and I need to buy a meter of some sort to know how much gas I have. I wouldn’t like to run out and if I did I could use the camp facilities to cook no problem but heating? I don’t remember it being this cold over night last year; maybe I am getting soft.

These bins are useful, I keep clothing in here permanently.

These bins are useful, I keep clothing in here permanently.

On Thursday night I was one of three camper vans, on Friday night, I was the only one. It seems that more Kiwis are buying caravans, from really big ones with pop out sides down to a little pop top A frame. Camping people are usually very friendly and we often chat, especially the ones who have NZ Motor Caravan Association ‘wings’ on their vehicles. I am member 60600, so there are many of us.

Puss comes and visits, she lives here.

Puss comes and visits, she lives here.

On Friday I did some work and had lots of work phone calls. I’m taking  Min’s acupuncture business phone calls and doing her appointments while she is overseas.

I sleep the other end now so I can see TV

I sleep the other end now so I can see TV

Over the last 1o months I have modified my bed style. Initially I used the full two person bed but this was awkward in getting to the loo, so I downsized to a smaller version (new sheets required). I also had the cushions refilled to make them more comfortable and refigured them to be various widths. Then I bought a single (expensive) memory foam topper and now have a very comfortable (slightly bigger than) single bed. I used to be quite fussy about making the bed too, fitted bottom sheets and neatly made. Now in winter I used my sleeping bag for the bottom sheet, it’s warmer and takes me 5 minutes to make and unmake the bed. When I win Lotto I will have a camper van with a bed that comes down from up in the ceiling and that can be kept made. I can’t see the point in having a permanent bed at the back, I would rather have space to relax in.

I was interested to see what changes there were in the Esplanade. Last time I was here, in March, it was autumn but very warm. Now it was almost winter (depending on whether you subscribe to the equinoctial seasonal theory, which I do) and cold but calm and sunny. Perfect weather for a long, long weekend.

Spring is coming!

Spring is coming!

The leaves where falling on the many deciduous trees though the best colour shows had passed. Still, it was pretty. I feel for the managers who spend a lot of time raking and removing them. I seem to manage to get them stuck on the bottom of my shoes. The weather conditions had been perfect for fungi. The roses were well past their best but some were still flowering and jonquils were showing too. I though mine were late this year until I discovered I had been mowing them. Oops!! The camellias and rhododendrons were in flower, early I am sure. There is always plenty of colour at the Esplanade.

Sunset if often spectacular.

Sunset if often spectacular.

There were changes happening along the river bank last time. The Manawatu River has had some big flood episodes in the past and despite the big stop banks protecting the housing, the damage to the river banks with erosion was considerable. I remember coming over the Fitzherbert Bridge the day after the 2o02 floods and the water was close to the under side of the bridge. That was the flood that covered miles and miles of the coast and brought down, amongst other things, thousand of onions to my local beach.

The duck pond, busy during duck shooting season.

The duck pond, busy during duck shooting season.

They had roped off a large section of the river walk in March and were building rock walls to contain the river. Many of the lovely trees that the birds liked to feed on had been chopped back and I was pleased to see some had re-sprouted. Willows are hardy. I have a favourite tree and am happy it had been pruned but not removed.


The river walk.

I had some lovely walks, there is always plenty of people, dogs, cyclists and occasionally horses. It is well used and valued by the locals and by visitors.

And like anywhere I stay, there is always housework to do!


Emptying the toilet 🙂

22 August 2016


Going home (Ngongotaha to Levin)

I was slightly dismayed by the teeming rain, I had a long drive ahead.


I was very mindful that I was ‘attached’ to the site and that unattaching was part of the routine I needed to do before I hit the road. There seemed quite a lot to retain in my rather apprehensive mind – undo the power, roll it up, put it in the compartment and lock it, remembering where that key was kept. Turn off the gas, lock the compartment. Make sure the toilet was closed (that one very important), lower the satellite dish and the roof vent. Push each of the cupboard doors into the locked position (not that easy with long nails), have all the curtains tied back, check there was nothing that could become a missile and lastly, put the step inside (I did leave a step in the middle of the outdoor parking at Wellington airport on a very wet and windy day, it must have looked amusing, just there, alone). A thank you to the managers and a wave: it was 9.50 am and I was going home!

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I haven’t driven in Rotorua (Sulphur City) for many years and it was very different from the last time. I got into the right lane, stayed there, oblivious of the rain and the traffic, and drove out of town. Once I was on the highway, I found a pull in area and had a coffee. I had been driving for at least 15 minutes! Lena rang while I was there, I welcomed that. It was 10.18am when I departed again.


It’s not a difficult drive from Rotorua to Taupo, reasonable roads and not much traffic, no major towns. I was surprised at how much of the forestry had become dairy farms, some still in the process of. I guess they hadn’t heard that the price for dairy had slumped badly. If they had, I would imagine they were rather annoyed.


The land looks so naked, stripped of it’s pine trees with one of the timber mills in the background.

I didn’t call in to Taupo, I really would have liked to but I was aware that I would have the parking issue that may involve small spaces and reversing. There is now a new bypass so I sailed on by.


On a clear still day Lake Taupo is beautiful. Today wasn’t one of these. 😦


I stopped at the “picket fence”, named for the fishermen standing in the lake at the outlet of the Waitahanui stream, catching fish. The line of fishermen could be loosely visualised as one. The lake was still choppy, the weather breezy and it was cloudy. I used the “bathroom” in the van, parked on the side of the road and felt very amused. I did have to ask Lena, via text, if the loo flushed without electricity 🙂 It was 11.20 am and I had travelled  94 ks in 1.5 hours. It was going to be a slow trip!


The ‘Picket Fence’ (not my photo).

I was beginning to feel reasonably relaxed driving as I went through Turangi and on to the Desert Road, which is only 60 kilometres in distance.  It is called a desert because of poor soil quality due to many volcanic eruptions and altitude, and has some interesting scenery. There are wild horses, the Kaimanawa Horses, released by settlers, the New Zealand Army uses it for manoeuvres (it’s not uncommon to see Army vehicles) and there are the 3 beautiful mountains, which are active volcanoes.

Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngarahoe and Mt Tongariro

Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngarahoe and Mt Tongariro

Mt Ruapehu’s last decent eruption was in 2007. I received a phone call from one of my daughters who was working on the ski fields at the time, “MUM, Ruapehu’s erupting, come and get me”. She was rightly terrified but nobody was hurt in the eruption, thankfully.
The road is quite winding and steep in sections and I was feeling slightly concerned about the lack of power. This was the first time I had driven a diesel vehicle, I knew it wasn’t turbo, but it didn’t feel quite right. It was a slow journey to Waiouru, at the end of the Desert Road and I pulled over frequently to let the traffic pass me. It was cloudy, I didn’t get to see the mountains.
I pulled into the gas station at Waiouru and had to get the handbook out to see where the lever was to open the place where you fill it up with diesel. It must have a name, I have no idea what it is. I asked them to check the oil (again a look at the handbook) and it was almost out of oil!! I was so very thankful that I hadn’t gone any further, if I had I likely would have blown the motor!!!!!  Again I had two lovely young ladies to help and have a good laugh with.



The Ducato drove much better with the oil top up and I carried on to Taihape, a mere 28 kilometres away. I managed to find a parallel park with no car behind and without the possibility of someone parking in front of me and went to McDonalds for a burger. It was now 2.16pm and I had travelled 222 ks (138 miles) from Rotorua. 🙂


Taihape is the gumboot capitol of New Zealand!

From Taihape onwards, to Levin, I didn’t stop. The weather improved and my only concern was going over the rather narrow and longish Whirokino Trestle bridge, not far from home. I arrived home at 4.20pm. It had taken me 6.5 hours to travel 360 kilometres (223 miles), a journey usually talking 4.5 hours!!


The bridge is old, long and narrow. It going to be replaced. During floods, the water can come up to the bottom of the bridge.

I was home, feeling very pleased with myself and pleased to see my Phee! ❤


On the road (but not very far)!

Before I ‘hit the road’ there were some things that needed attention, including the ‘clunk’, the engine mount. That was sorted and then there was a different ‘clunk’, this time a gearbox mount. The engine mount was available in New Zealand, the gearbox mount was not! Some panic moments and dollar signs flashing before my eyes, thinking about importing from Italy and also the time it would take. (I had factored the cost of the engine mount into the amount I paid for the Ducato and the cost of both were within that amount). Fortunately we were able to source a very good second hand one and after a full service, we were ready to roll.

I had a few weeks at home, getting the things I though I may need (some of which I didn’t) and settling in without going away. I booked a night at the Palmerston North Holiday Park, set up Phee’s automatic feeders and off I went on what was to become a regular thing. It was 31 July 2015.


Palmerston North is a mere 50 kilometres (30 miles) give or take a few, from home, so not an arduous trek.

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I chose to go there as there is lots to do in “Palmy”, walking into the city centre from the motor camp is less than half an hour (good exercise), it is by the river and is through the gate to the Esplanade. I remember going there as a child!


The official title is the Victoria Esplanade Gardens and it was created to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897. It’s vast, with a huge rose garden (more than 5000 varieties), a cherry blossom trees lined entrance, there are many varieties of camellias, rhododendrons, spring bulbs, massive trees, both deciduous and native (which are evergreens), bush walks, a duck pond, a paddling pool for the children, a bird aviary (the same one I saw as a child), a fabulous children’s playground, a miniature railway that winds through the bush and open park, free BBQs and is adjacent to a large sports ground.


The motor camp is pleasant and has become my happy place. It has many older big deciduous trees, rhododendrons and other trees, lovely little gardens, a great children’s play area and accommodation of various types plus powered and unpowered sites. There are permanent residents too, maybe 30. Some are real characters! There are two sets of managers, husbands and wives (or partners, I haven’t asked) and all are lovely and so helpful. As I have continued to visit, I have got to know them well. Initially I got them to reverse onto my powered site, now I do it myself.


The children love the train in the Botanical Gardens.

A new venture is about creating traditions and it is satisfying to consciously be doing this. Most of our traditions are those of our family or just seem to arrive; these new ones are mine!
One of these is to take food basics (or have them already in the Ducato) but visit the nearby supermarket and choose dinner and TREATS!! Dinner is often salmon, steak or lamb chops as I have two burners on the gas stove plus the microwave, so simple is the best. I also do one dish meals like beef stroganoff and chicken laksa. Treats are often from the bakery (much nicer than our local one in Levin), pate, dip (salmon is nice) and other tasty munchies to keep me happy. Dinner tonight is leftover beef stroganoff, homemade potato salad and cos salad with tomato and feta. I’m not starving. There is also a Chinese/fish and chip shop a mere 10 minute walk away, I don’t go often but it’s nice for a change.


One of the aviary birds

I always managed to forget something. Once it was my FitBit charger, once leggings (which I wear in winter), my fleece (and it was cool that weekend) and margarine. I have, at the same time, learned to take less as space is at a premium and I am the sort that packs everything and more. I don’t use a list now so that a step forward.


Being mobile has also resulted in my having a mobile office. Friday is my full office day and it seemed a good idea to sometimes have it in Palmy. Although I have the mobile phone for contact I didn’t realise just how often the landline rings. In becoming mobile I now use iCloud, have bought myself a new iPad and a new iPhone. Initially I was buying an internet plan at the motor camp, with the new phone I have rollover data and I am tethering the iPad/laptop to the phone, I have fewer distraction here (even with the ducks, birds and lovely setting) than I do at home.


The satellite dish for TV was initially a challenge, it seemed so straightforward when it was explained by the expert. Thirteen turns, point the black arrow to the north, then line it up to 120 somethings and it was done. I didn’t have TV for the first two visits and didn’t miss it really, maybe the news but I have a radio. I have used the compass on the phone, bought a compass, looked at other campers dishes and now can manage it after 15 minutes of frustrating fiddling and getting in and out the van to look at that jolly thing! When I got it right I took a photo with the phone which helped a little but not a lot.


The TV satellite dish adjusting thingie.

The satellite was one of the reasons that, until November, I stayed tethered to my site via the electricity cord, the other was that I was slowly gaining confidence at driving the Ducato in the city. Palmerston North isn’t a big city by world standards but in a country of 4.5 million people (half of whom live in Auckland) it is all relative to what we are used to. I live rurally near a small town! Returning home after my first visit I noticed I had forgotten to lock the LPG gas door 😦 I saw it in the wing mirrors and pulled over and shut it, feeling very embarrassed!


I know my way around Palmy well but it has taken a little time to get used to the size of the Ducato in comparison to my tiny granny car.


At Paeroa

Paeroa is a tiny town, population 4,000, and famous for a soft drink (soda), L&P (Lemon and Paeroa). There are hot water springs locally and the “Paeroa” comes from the carbonated mineral water, the lemon is self explanatory . There really is a huge bottle there and I didn’t see it, hence the borrowed photo.

landpWhen we arrived we contacted the guy who was selling it on behalf of the seller and we able to see the Ducato immediately. While I thought the van was just what I wanted at first glance, I thought the guy was a dork. Lena took it for a drive in a rural area and eventually, with no traffic in sight,  I climbed up and drove. It seemed so long and so high to my little granny car.


Lena noticed an occasional “clunk”. I rang Leonie, my former neighbour who now lives in the area. She had kindly gone and looked at the Ducato some weeks earlier and now recommended a good mechanic to do an inspection. I called him, he couldn’t do it but recommended someone else in Thames. I was beginning to panic as it was after 4pm on a Friday and everything closes at 5pm.


We got to Thames (population 7,500 and the gateway to the beautiful Coromandel), Lena driving, left it to inspected and went for coffee. Next-door was the i-Site that was a very informative centre and we poked around in there until it was 5pm and time to go back. The mechanic thought it was mechanically sound and thought the “clunk” was the engine mount and it would be perfectly fine to get back to Levin.


We took the scenic route home, my phone battery died and on it was the “dork’s contact details. By now it was very dark.
I did some bargaining with the “dork” and achieved the price I was prepared to pay. He would take it to Thames for an independent warrant (he worked for a car dealership) and do 3 months registration. All good . . . . . . no! He requested the  funds had to be in the bank the following day, a Saturday, if not I would have to wait until Monday or Tuesday when they would be cleared. Lena had to go back to Levin on Saturday. Panic!! I had a few tense text conversations with him, very tense (on my part). Eventually I rang my bank and they promised me the funds would be transferred overnight.


Lena and I drove (in her Ducato) to the RV centre to park up for the night. There was a motor home club function happening and they were very welcoming (and a lively lot indeed). We were given soup and a bun and retired for an early night. I had hired a caravan ($10) for the night. I slept soundly. Exhausted. Emotionally.