Winston Aldworth

Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

On the road ... with the kids

With children in tow, Winston Aldworth gets a taste for the nomadic life on a motorhome holiday.

Baxter and Zoe Aldworth settle in for the journey. Photo / Winston Aldworth
Baxter and Zoe Aldworth settle in for the journey. Photo / Winston Aldworth

The first rule of Motorhome Holiday Club is no pooing in the onboard toilet.

And, yes, the second rule of Motorhome Holiday Club, is no pooing in the onboard toilet. It's also the third-through-to-10,000th rule of Motorhome Holiday Club.

Which is easy enough for adults to understand, but for Zoe (age nearly four) and Baxter (age nearly two), rules about toilets are a work in - ahem - motion.

Any road trip is magic. Jack Kerouac knew that, and the fundamentals he chewed over in On The Road remain true even in a motorhome: the sense of open possibilities; the yawp of freedom. All with the added advantage of a gentle cup of tea brewed during a roadside pitstop.

Kerouac might shudder with horror at the sight of a modern motorhome. These wheeled bungalows open up the near-religious experiences of roadiness he celebrated to the suburban drones he hoped to escape. We drive with a built-in microwave, for crying out loud.

And while Sal Paradise's journey was dictated by the whims of hip-cat, weed-smoker and orgy-frequenter Dean Moriarty, I've got Little-Miss-Nearly-Four demanding we pull over to make peanut butter sandwiches.

First, we're heading north. I pack the Maui Platinum River motorhome as the kids spin out at the notion of a house you can drive. Their mum joins us from work in time to baptise the trip with gin and tonic at Waterview's excellent Heron Park playground. The merit of driving around with a functioning fridge is immediately apparent.

And so we hit State Highway 1, heading for Whangarei to spend a few nights with family.

Nothing behind us, everything ahead of us, as is ever so on the roa ... "Dad, I want a peanut butter sandwich."

"Right, sweetheart, I don't think there's really anywhere to pull ov ..."

"Awwwww, I want one NOW!"

And so it goes.

The author at the wheel. Photo / Louise Taylor
The author at the wheel. Photo / Louise Taylor

If you like driving tractors, you're going to love driving a motorhome. The diesel engine growls and - as someone more familiar with fanging about in a `92 Corolla - I felt the sheer weight of the beast on every rise and dip.

The Maui Platinum River has an automatic transmission, but you still feel like you're driving these things every inch of the way. With little acceleration, we're always looking for spots to pull in, allowing other drivers to pass. You soon settle into the meditative rhthym of being the slowest vehicle in the long line of cars.

It's loud. A motorhome journey in a big van comes with a soundtrack of rattling crockery, diesel hum and jostling whitewear. The microwave bumps in its berth, the fridge shunts about and each piece of cutlery makes itself known on the road's uneven dips. Sitting in the front, it's hard to hear what's being said from the passenger seat without shouting. Idle chat is out of the question.

In short, it's bliss.

"I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.''
Jack Kerouac, On The Road

One day, our kids will know this holiday only by the photos they see of it. So I take heaps.

Driving south again, the sand of Whangarei Heads is sprinkled about the motorhome. We come back along SH16, alongside the Kaipara Harbour, a road betrayed by joyless planners who allowed for no views of a cracking body of water.

In Auckland, I drop off Louise and pick up my mum, the kids' nana, before chugging onwards to the Coromandel.

In Tairua, the bloke in the fish and chip shop grunts a chuckle when I ask if the snapper is fresh. He batters it right in front of me and pops it in the oil. Divine.

Baxter and Zoe at Hot Water Beach. Photo / Winston Aldworth
Baxter and Zoe at Hot Water Beach. Photo / Winston Aldworth

"Ah, it was a fine night, a warm night, a wine-drinking night, a moony night, and a night to hug your girl and talk and spit and be heavengoing."
Jack Kerouac, On The Road

I get the kids - and their nana - tucked into bed and head off to catch a midnight low tide at Hot Water Beach.

There are, of course, many tricks to getting a good spot at Hot Water Beach. Three are foremost:

1. Bring your own shovel (I failed at that);

2. Get there before the horde of young backpackers who have just arrived in two massive buses at the campground (I managed that);

3. Bring cold beer (too easy).

Travelling with kids? Establish a routine where you park the motorhome and one adult takes the sprogs for a stroll while the other transforms the interior.
Travelling with kids? Establish a routine where you park the motorhome and one adult takes the sprogs for a stroll while the other transforms the interior.

"Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree."
Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Far be it for me to quibble with the great man's sentiment here, but regardless of the travails of the day, there's nought to match a comfy bed. The beds in our motorhome are superb.

Zoe decrees that she and I must share the double bed that stretches above the driving cabin. So, throughout the holiday, she wakes me at various times of the night, initially in a state of distress, to tell me that she can't find one of her stuffed toys, usually Larry the Lamb.

By the last night of our trip, when we're all pretty au fait with the tricks of motorhoming, Zoe's cool about Larry's midnight wandering.

"Dad," she whispers calmly.

"You'll need to turn the light on and find Larry."

We bail on Hot Water Beach, heading for the motorcamp at Miranda and a dip in their more orderly pools.

I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt.

"The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view."
Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Jack Kerouac might not have invented the term "pretentious, try-hard, wannabe bohemian", but he had probably just left the room when it was first coined.

Anyway, the old navel-gazer had a good point on experience.

Don't take my word for it; try a spot of motorhoming for yourself. I know I'll be back.

Baxter Aldworth takes a truck break in the Coromandel. Photo / Winston Aldworth
Baxter Aldworth takes a truck break in the Coromandel. Photo / Winston Aldworth

Top tips for a motorhome trip

Size matters. Have a really good think about whether you'll want to be using that plumbed-in toilet. If you're likely to be spending most of your time at or near motorcamps with good bathroom facilities, then you might be better getting a smaller van with no loo and shower.

Don't hurry the start of your trip. You probably haven't driven anything this big for quite some time - if ever - so allow time to familiarise yourself with the vehicle and how it handles before dashing to the motorway.

When you pick up the van, a staff member will talk you through all the buttons, levers and gadgets controlling everything from the grill to the awning. Pay attention - it took me ages to figure out the awning.

Going to Hot Water Beach? Don't forget to take a shovel.

Stick to the road more travelled. We found a noticeable difference in surface quality between side roads and State Highway 1. Vibrations tremored up through the vehicle on metal pock-marked roads that would be fine to drive on in a family car. Road noise, coming up through the wheels and chassis and into the cabin was also a factor.

Travelling with kids? Establish a routine where you park the motorhome and one adult takes the sprogs for a stroll while the other transforms the interior. Turning it from "mobile" to "home" is fiddly at first, but you soon pick up the knack.

Rental information: See Maui New Zealand or call them on 0800 651 080.

Winston Aldworth travelled with assistance from Maui and Top 10 Holiday Parks.

- NZ Herald

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