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NZ July 'Summer' Holiday

04 November 2020

Words and Photos: Robin Pieper

Central Otago. Coldest place in New Zealand in winter, hottest place in summer. Lucky for us, winter was rolling around fast (as it normally does about June each year). Ben and I were ready and armed… with a 1970’s caravan, no internal plumbing, and a garden shed kitchen/wash house. It doesn’t get thaaat cold right? Well after a few (4) days in a row of no defrosting and highs of 0... we concluded it didn’t actually get that warm either. That coupled with the (momentarily) bleak conclusion that winter is long, and it probably won’t be the only winter living the caravan life, sprung us into action. Jetting over to get Gelato in Italy was out, the big landscapes of Canada were out... so how about a new caravan?

Winter in Alexandra.

Hereby introducing… the NZ July summer holiday! After getting thoroughly carried away looking at 5th wheelers, 2 bedroom caravans, pop out sides… we settled on a 2-berth cutie within our budget, aptly named a Compass 'Corona'. Only problem was, it was in Napier, approx. 1200km from Central Otago. Wait, is that even a problem? We figured it would take at least 10 days to make the round trip and incorporate sufficient bike activity, and hence the July summer holiday was born.

Northwards! First off, an after work dash to a friend of a friend's halfway house in Mt Somers for a late night arrival and early morning departure. Straight into Wellington’s welcoming arms where our mate Gav had the tour de Welly booked in for us. Even the weather showed up and we all day snacked on Wellington’s offerings, from Miramar, Mt Vic, Polhill, Deliverance and burning out just before attempting Makara.

Onto stop two - Rotorua. Ride, eat, ride, eat, socialise, sleep. Repeat. We had three days to ride all the trails, visit all the favourite cafes and catch up with all the favourite people. Game on! This was our pup’s first adult voyage into Whakarewarewa Forest, so naturally we had to show her what all the fuss was about. July ‘summer’ turned it on – riding in t-shirts, epic dirt conditions and sunny days. It seriously was summer. Rotorua’s always like this aye?

Rotorua riding goodness. Photos: Ben Gibson

Kea gets her first taste of Rotorua

And now onto the main event, a trip down via Napier to pick up the new ‘house’. We arrived at the home of a joyful English fellow who was truly passionate about his caravan and was delighted to give us the grand tour of dear little 'Corona'. We promptly turned the heater on to see how good this thing would crank, and by the time we went to bed we were complaining about how hot the summer nights were.

The next morning we not only had a new house, but a boot loaded with 3 'complementary' awnings, and two boxes of assorted Fenwick’s caravan and bike cleaning products. We pulled out onto the road, ready to rumble back south… "oh hey Ben, did you manage to sort that insurance"? Hah. 20 min later, in between patchy service and trying (harder than normal) not to crash/damage the new 'house', we were insured and good to go.

Back over the ferry and into Robin Hood Bay as the obvious dog-friendly camping option. First night away. We had a fridge, full kitchen, central heating… all in a wherever you park it sort of arrangement.

The sweet as 'Corona' camping set up

Favourite part of the day rolled around soon enough, where Kea (doggo) and I got to go for our morning stroll. We cruised along the beach to the far end of the bay in the morning colours. Down jacket was quickly classed as ‘overdressing’ - it was summer after all! A quick dip to welcome the day and off to the comforts of 'home'. The day's mission was to head up Mt Roberston and ride the Whites Bay loop. Unfortunately the summit of Mt Robertson clearly hadn’t gotten the summer memo and we were rewarded for our efforts with a stiff breeze and clagged-in summit. The descent, particularly from the Whites Bay Loop Track, was mind-boggling good, with tacky but not slippery conditions. How good.

Campside sunrise

Next stop was the Queen of NZ summer holiday destinations - sunny Nelson. Ironically, we saw very little sun while in Nelson, but you can’t win everything (must’ve donated the sun to Rotorua). We went off for an easy summer bike ride, around Coppermine... chasing Emma Bateup who was in Whaka100 training mode. The GE raingear got as much of a workout as my legs - but that downhill from Coppermine Saddle is sick. I bet the view is too, but the weather had other ideas and it was a very brief summit stop with sideways rain in the middle of the clouds. After hussling down the Matai, we picked up the Kea doggo, and hustled in a couple laps of Codgers to tire out her long legs. And because it was summer after all, we went and treated ourselves to gelato. All in all, a top notch summer day.

The next few days in Nelson were characteristically Nelson-like - or how most trips in Nelson go for us anyway. Maybe other people are smarter and it doesn’t happen to them? We always seem to plan a big ride, have some fun, get really scared, and get really tired. Not dissimilar to a facebook emoji timeline… and then do it all again the next day.

And soon enough, as all holidays do, there comes a time where you turn for home… but not before one of my favourite rides in St Arnaud - Unhinged off Maitland Ridge. In my memory it was tight but fun, and not at all intimidating to do on my lonesome. Somehow I had completely forgotten about the steep middle section - but minor details right? It’s a hoot of a track, and even better because it has an uphill that is 100% rideable. Emma is as equally broke as she was fit - she either had $71 or $0.71 (can’t remember), but either way it doesn’t go far on gas these days. So at the end of the trail she merrily turned her 170 mm enduro bike northwards and pedalled her way 71 km home.

Holiday accessories, bike and doggo

Last stop - Christchurch. Cruising in at 5pm, I was back on my bike at 5:30pm to join the yo-pros on some night-time Vic Park laps. It had all the makings of summer, warm temps, dry dusty conditions, friends... and darkness? Oh yeah, it’s still July. Ended, as all good rides should, with a pint at the local, and meanwhile back home Tony even had a plate of dinner waiting for the rowdy late arrivals. What a champion.

Sneaking in pre dinner laps, Victoria Park. Photos: Tony Hutcheson

After Christchurch, we rumbled ‘Corona’ to her new resting place, parked up in the paddock and have been living the lush caravan life ever since. All you really need at the end of the day is a warm pad to unwind and cook some delicious food. Our little Corona gives us just that, while having the wide open skies and mountains of Central Otago right at our fingertips.

Home sweet home