When Covid-19 wrecked overseas travel plans for Aucklanders Paul and Gayle Davies, they bought a mobile bach instead.
The $113,000 late model motorhome is one of more than 1000 ex-rentals being sold off as Tourism Holdings Ltd (THL) reduces its fleet to cope with the border closure, and Kiwis are snapping them up.
The Davies match the profile of the typical New Zealand motorhome owner â€“ baby boomers who are retired or close to it.
But that is changing and more young families are among recent buyers, many of whom have taken advantage of cheap rental deals for a trial run.
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THL chief executive Grant Webster says their $29 a day rental promotion drew 20,000 bookings, and 40 per cent of hirers said they would consider buying a motorhome in the future.
The price range is wide, from $30,000 for an older vehicle, more than $70,000 for a family-size motorhome, right up to $300,000 for a luxury pad.
The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) has about 100,000 individual members, (most are couples), and its figures reflect the boom in sales.
In the first week of the THL vehicle sale, the club received almost 300 membership applications, and over five weeks in August, the number topped 1000.
Having hired motorhomes in the UK and to follow the Lions rugby tour here, Paul Davies says that buying a motorhome was on their to-do list, but the pandemic prompted them to get on with it.
In early October they take delivery of the four berth 6.6 metre Mercedes with Sky dish, bike racks, and solar panels and Davies says they intend travelling south in January to do a bike trail on the West Coat.
â€śWe both hopped in it, and we felt this is us. We drove it up Albany hill, which is a good test, and it just flew up there.â€ť
Motor Caravanner magazine editor Chris Gaskell says motorhome ownership is definitely becoming more diverse with more new migrants deciding â€śitâ€™s a pretty cool part of being a Kiwi,â€ť
He says motorhomes have tended to hold their value better than cars, but with the influx of vehicles from THL going on the market, he suggests models more than 10 years old may become harder to sell.
Sourcing stock is an issue despite the big THL sell off, and Neil Whithearâ€™s Freedom RV sales yard in Christchurch has 20 vehicles on the lot, when heâ€™d like 40.
He says the realisation that there will be no overseas travel, possibly for a year or two, is really sinking in, since lockdown ended he has sold 30 vehicles, three times more than usual for the time of year.
Families who might previously have holidayed in the Pacific Islands are buying campervans, but the older cohort are still well represented.
â€śI have people coming in who have finally had their cruise money refunded.â€ť
Whithearâ€‹ says the size of motorhomes can be daunting at first.
â€śBut once youâ€™ve done your first terrifying drive around town you realise itâ€™s just like a big car with a bigger back end.â€ť
Tourists idling along ogling our stunning landscape have seen the vehicles unflatteringly described as â€śroad slugs,â€ť but that may be less of an issue this summer.
â€śThe big difference with Kiwis is that theyâ€™ll be sitting on 100km an hour because theyâ€™ve seen the scenery before.â€ť
That said, Whithearâ€‹ warns South Island nor-west gales can be vicious and sometimes itâ€™s safer just to pull over and wait until gusts die down.
Storage is something owners need to consider too, and Whithearâ€‹ says the old Kaiapoiâ€‹ Woollen Mills warehouse just out of Christchurch as an example of indoor parking for hire.
â€śA lot of modern subdivisions don’t want them parked there, but in older suburbs you can generally park in the street unless neighbours complain.â€ť
Some retirement villages also recognise the growing number of â€śgrey nomadsâ€ť looking for a lock and leave home, and provide onsite motorhome parks.
There are all the usual vehicle running costs such as insurance, registration, warrants and certificates of fitness, servicing, and road user charges for diesel vehicles.
Whithear says motorhomes also need an electrical warrant every five years, and a certified self-containment warrant every four years.
The latter is essential for staying in areas that only permit self-contained vehicles capable of holding toilet waste and grey water on board. (A port-a-potty shoved in the back wonâ€™t cut it â€“ the toilet has to be useable when the bed is made up.)
NZMCA membership ($240 for two people for the first year, ($90 thereafter) includes free self-containment certification, free access to 46 NZMCA parks throughout the country, and a directory of 2500 other freedom camping sites.
A powered site at a holiday parks or commercial camping ground is on average $40 a night for two people.
To help cover costs, about 1000 motorhome owners hire out their vehicles on Mighway, a THL rental platform.
Donna Henderson uses it to defray expenses for a six berth motorhome bought to accommodate the family when national surf champ daughter Ava attends surfing competitions.
While Mighway hire does not completely cover the $3500 to $4000 a year in running costs, it certainly helps.
â€śThe main thing for us is that it’s not parked up all the time, itâ€™s being used, and weâ€™re being paid for it.â€ť
Pre-Covid, Henderson says customers were all international tourists. â€śNow itâ€™s Kiwis, recently we had a young guy going to a 30th birthday in Dunedin, and he couldn’t get accommodation, so he hired our van.â€ť for a week.â€ť
In one unfortunate incident a novice motorhome driver ripped off the folding step and scraped the side of the vehicle, but Henderson says the damage was quickly fixed through insurance.
â€śPeople seem to be very respectful and itâ€™s never come back in a mess.â€ť
According to recent research, more than 245,000 people freedom camped last year.
About 91,000 were New Zealanders, and almost three quarters of them slept in campervans or motorhomes, 85 per of which had built-in toilets.
Waste must be disposed of properly at designated dump stations, and Gaskell says the yuck factor is a little akin to changing babies nappies â€śonce youâ€™ve done it a couple of times, itâ€™s just life.â€ś
Lee Adam has trained up 14-year-old son Max to empty the toilet cassette.
â€śThere was quite a learning curve. We quickly learned to use toilet paper that breaks down really easily or you end up with a clogged or smelly toilet.â€ť
A couple of months ago after a trip to the US was cancelled by Covid the Adams, who live in Dunedin, paid almost $50,000 for 1996 camper which came emblazoned with the name â€śBruceâ€ť.
They regularly go away for weekends and have a trip to Akaroaâ€‹ and Kaikoura scheduled for the school holidays.
â€śWe can live off the grid for a week, we have a diesel heater, gas oven and fridge, solar panels, a toilet and shower,â€ť Adam says.
Researchers found most New Zealanders freedom camped because of the cost saving, seclusion and access to nature.
Adam, a keen amateur photographer, says that sums up what they find so appealing about owning a mobile home.
â€śWeâ€™re living the dream.â€ť