Honey, can you be more careful?" This was the sixth time my wife had said this since we'd picked up the luxury TrialLite 500 series on Saturday morning, and we'd only just reached the motorway. It was my first time behind the wheel of a vehicle this size, all 8 metres and 6-plus tonnes of it, and my wife was as anxious about me driving it as I was excited.
Our two-and-a-half-day trip testing this gleaming relaxation machine was a dream experience for the two of us and our two boisterous girls, and with great weather promised for both days, we were thrilled to be under way.
The TrailLite's turbo diesel ensured it was no slug on the road and we were through Auckland's busy Saturday morning traffic and over the harbour bridge in no time. Taking care not to get too distracted with all the fancy toys in the cab, it came to my attention that my wife and 7-year-old hadn't been having quite as much fun belted in side-saddle on one of the camper's couches further back. Part of the issue was that the weight of that small luxury apartment over the rear suspension meant bumps and hollows in the road made the camper bounce like something out of a rap video if you took them too fast, so I kept things more sedate, my wife relaxed her grip on the cushions and was soon taking pictures of the stunning landscape south of Orewa as it slid past the side window.
Making a lunch stop at the cute historic village of Puhoi, we soon discovered the size of the vehicle made it tricky to find a parking space so settled for parking the camper in a private street away from the main thoroughfare. At Goat Island a short while later, we struck a similar problem. There's no way this is going down there, I found myself thinking, the TrailLite poised above what looked little more than a sheep trail leading down into the lower carpark. Thinking better of it, I reversed away carefully using the handy full rear-view camera and found a clear area further back down the approach road.
With a highly informative Glass Bottom Boat experience on the done list, we headed for Whangateau Holiday Park, where we had booked a powered site for the night. Taking a luxury camper to a camping ground is like wearing a tuxedo to a barbecue. You may have your swagger on but you do get some interesting looks. The staff proved lovely, the facilities excellent, and our generous site made parking up the TrailLite a breeze. Whangateau sits on a wide, grassy field looking over an idyllic tidal inlet which, with the tide in, was a sheltered, safe spot to let the kids go for a dip, and with the tide out a wonderland of soft sand and shallow pools for the little ones to romp about looking for shore crabs and tiny, darting fish. There's even a mysterious, piratical-looking island to explore, which you can walk to at low tide.
Returning to the TrailLite after an afternoon's exploring, we threw open the vehicle's many windows and skylights, slid the insect screens into place and soon had the interior lovely and cool. The attention to detail in the living quarters really is top-notch throughout, with pop-out buttons meaning no snagging your clothes, and elegant little LED spotlights throughout adding an eye-pleasing note to the ambience. Busying ourselves making dinner, we also appreciated how much elbow room the camper's well-thought-out kitchen and living space allowed. Meal and a DVD done, we headed off to use the park's showers and toilets as we planned to keep most of the camper's 200 litres of fresh water for the following night. Making up the beds was a cinch - flip over the dining table, add the extra base board, drop in the squabs and the girls' double was ready to go. The master bed left little room to manoeuvre on the bathroom side with the extension in place - and might have been a touch short for anyone above average height - but the inner-sprung mattress was a gem and with a silky breeze wafting through the cabin, we quickly drifted off to sleep.
We woke with birdsong drifting through the window and rolled out of bed for breakfast. Taking things easy was holiday perfection - watching the kids play, sea air in the nostrils, a gentle breeze tousling the hair, and daydreaming of owning the TrailLite so we could do it all again next week.
Using the last of our pre-paid wi-fi, we shunned any thought of eating in a pokey village centre and booked lunch at Ascension Winery out on Matakana Rd. Casting a baleful eye over the neat rows of cars in the carpark, I spotted a vast, unmarked area near the road, big enough to land a Cessna. For tour buses I guessed, but today it looked like a gleaming concrete oasis just for us. The TrailLite certainly seemed in its element here, against a stunning backdrop of grapevines and rolling hills. Shopping for dinner later necessitated a quick jaunt to Countdown Warkworth, where squeezing that heavy duty booty under the building was out of the question, so we parked instead on the street - but far enough back so as not to block the eyeline of cars leaving the carpark.
We planned to try the unpowered, off-the-grid experience at Wenderholm Regional Park. A long, beautiful beach was a nice surprise and the girls happily played in the light swell and built sand sculptures. Once the day visitors had cleared the carpark we were free to set up wherever we pleased, so we found a flat, sheltered spot with million-dollar views over a small lake with a stone jetty. Looking out the camper window as the sun set, we felt a lump-in-the-throat pride to be Kiwis with such beauty in our backyard.
For some the lifestyle dream is owning a holiday home, but after two delicious days in the 500 series we felt like this was something better. Sure, you could have another chunk of the overheated property market sitting there in its pretty spot collecting capital gain, or you could be out on the road collecting memories, all in the four-star comfort of your custom-built TrailLite, with a new adventure around every corner.
TrailLite sell New Zealand-made, motorhomes designed especially for self-contained camping, with prices starting from $189,000. The vehicles come with a five-year warranty and a 2200 litre garage for bikes and other toys. traillite.co.nz