The beginner’s guide to family caravanning

The day we realised our very old and very orange 1970s pop-top caravan had been stolen, something dropped inside of us. Even though it was far too small for our long-limbed family of five, losing the possibility of going camping really hurt. By Sonia Speedy

We immediately started the hunt to replace it. But in Covid times, things move fast and no sooner would we set up an appointment to view one, than someone would swoop in and buy the thing from under us, sight unseen. Thankfully we eventually came across Grovetown Caravans in Blenheim, who sorted us out.

Fast forward through Covid-related shipping delays and borrowing a caravan for a couple of nights to get us started and by late January we were burning off excited energy in Pollard Park, Blenheim, while we waited to collect our new family member – Bonnie Doon. Luckily, Pollard Park has 24 hectares of wooded parkland, stunning gardens, a fantastic playground for all ages and ducks!  

That evening we found ourselves an excited gaggle with our very own caravan! We spent our first evening helping the kids feed the resident eels at Spring Creek Camping Ground just out of Blenheim and watching the kids on the playground – from the luxury of our own awning. Bliss.

But kids can bring you back to earth with a thud, which our eight-year-old did when she woke up with a 24-hour tummy bug on the very first night, putting Bonnie Doon’s small-but-perfectly-formed bathroom basin to the test. Sigh.

We also had to have some serious talks about the excessive amount of toilet paper being used in our little onboard toilet – with Dad giving a demonstration (backed by a soundtrack of gagging noises) of the implications for him when it came to emptying the toilet cassette. Learning takes many forms.

But before long we were on the road proper, heading for Quinney’s Bush just out of Nelson. This turned out to be kid-heaven! Multiple flying foxes and a HUGE playground, a BMX track, river, a go-kart track – the kids literally did not know what direction to go in first.

With the kids worn out, we meandered over to Cable Bay, on the other side of Nelson. It was on the way here we learned how important it is to secure everything on the caravan as we watched an external cover fly past as we drove down the Spooners Range. But all’s well that ends well, and this day ended particularly well when our new caravan neighbours at Cable Bay brought us over homemade piña coladas!

But where we really found our family caravanning groove was at the Department of Conservation campground at Momorangi Bay in the Marlborough Sounds. Parked up just metres from the water, the kids spent hours finding crabs and starfish, splashing in the shallow water, walking on the surrounding bush tracks and playing at the park. Sitting on our fold-out chairs with a book in hand (sadly, the manual for operating the caravan fridge), we hit one of those parenting bliss moments when it all comes together, and parenting all seems to make sense.

And there was great learning going on for the kids, too. After some pretty heated squabbles, they worked out a rotation system for the top bunk; they spent ages playing games – card games, made-up games, Connect 4. They had so much fun, and they TOTALLY (well, nearly) forgot about screens. 

That sinking feeling in our stomachs when we found the old pop-top had gone has been replaced with a new one. An excited little buzz.

5 top tips for family caravanning

  • Do your research to find the right caravan configuration for you and get advice from someone in the know on the best brands.  
  • Make sure your vehicle is suitable for towing the caravan you want.
  • Let the kids help plan your trip. You get their buy-in, and they learn about planning a trip.
  • Join the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA). This was recommended to us by several fellow caravanners en route. Membership gives you discounts (including on ferry crossings), access to NZMCA camping spots and Park Over Properties. The NZMCA app is gold for showing you where all the local campsites, dump stations and playgrounds are.
  • Don’t expect it to be all beautiful family moments, unicorns and rainbows. The usual fights and niggles are still going to happen.But once you hit your camping groove, it’s all worth it. 

Images © NZMCA