Camp­ing and Car­a­van­ning of Yes­ter­year B

Fol­low­ing on from his Clas­sic South Is­land Tour se­ries, Trevor re­calls mem­o­ries of camp­ing and car­a­van­ning from the 1950s to 1970s — backed up by rec­ol­lec­tions from his fam­ily

New Zealand Classic Car - - Special Feature - Words: Trevor Stan­ley-joblin and Fam­ily

ack in the Septem­ber 2006 is­sue of Nzclassiccar, I wrote a small ar­ti­cle about a book, by Brian Briggs, a well-known sin­gle-seater spe­cial builder (the side-valve Ford V8–based Briggs-mer­cury) in the ’50s. The book re­counts Brian’s mem­o­ries of car­a­van­ning over many decades, and it cer­tainly brought back happy mem­o­ries for me.

Like most things to­day, out­door camp­ing has come a long way since my early mem­o­ries of camp­ing with my par­ents back in the ’40s and ’50s — and my first mem­ory of camp­ing goes back to around the mid to late ’40s, when we camped be­side the Waipara River in North Can­ter­bury. With no such lux­u­ries as chilly bins in those days, we had only one way to keep things cold, or even just chilled, and some­thing like a set jelly would be kept cool by float­ing it in the river.

Vin­tage Car­a­van­ning

In the years im­me­di­ately af­ter World War II car­a­vans were pretty rare in New Zealand, and vir­tu­ally all those which did ex­ist here were home made. Hav­ing said that, there were a few lo­cal fac­tory-built car­a­vans pre-war, such as the Moore-schulz ’vans built in Christchurch. The old­est car­a­van known to ex­ist in New Zealand is owned by ex Fairgo front­man, Kevin Milne. His 1936 Tan­ner clone was fea­tured in the March 2011 edi­tion of Nzclassiccar. Tan­ner car­a­vans were made in Auck­land from the ’30s un­til the ’50s, and the com­pany used to also sell plans for mak­ing your own car­a­van. Milne was keen to es­tab­lish ex­actly where his car­a­van had been built and by whom — even­tu­ally track­ing down Ian Tan­ner, then aged 92. Af­ter look­ing at all the pho­tos Kevin brought along with him, Ian con­cluded, “This looks very much like a Tan­ner but we didn’t make it at our fac­tory in Auck­land, my thoughts are that al­most cer­tainly a pro­fes­sional had bought Tan­ner plans from us to build their own car­a­van.”

Ev­ery­thing that had been in the draw­ers fit­ted to the Tan­ner’s in­te­rior was still there — cut­lery and crock­ery, old fish­ing gear, brand-new packs of Sun­light soap, brand-new wooden pegs, and an ex­cel­lent sup­ply of old ’50s mag­a­zines. There were loads of old pink week­lies, and the cup­boards were lined with ’60s news­pa­pers — one boasting the head­line, “Just who are The Bea­tles?” The pre­vi­ous own­ers of the car­a­van, the Wil­liams fam­ily of Waituna West, near Feild­ing, told Milne that their grand­fa­ther had pur­chased it new in the ’30s from Feild­ing Cen­tral Garage.

Camp­ing Ex­pe­ri­ences

Dur­ing the pe­riod from 1958 when Lor­raine and I mar­ried, un­til we pur­chased our first car­a­van, hir­ing pri­vate car­a­vans was the or­der of the day. The first I re­call was the drop-floor 8x4 trailer that dad built. Over the years a va­ri­ety of makes and sizes were hired. Ob­vi­ously, the num­ber of berths re­quired in­creased as our fam­ily grew — we had three chil­dren in to­tal.

In the years from around 1964 to about 1986 I owned many Hold­ens and Fords, and with­out go­ing into de­tail, the worst tow­ing ve­hi­cle I ever owned was a ’65 HD Holden sta­tion wagon, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that towed car­a­vans were in­clined to sway a lit­tle from side to side at speeds above 80kph. The best tow­ing ve­hi­cle I ever owned dur­ing that same pe­riod was a V6-pow­ered Zo­diac MKIV — you never knew the ’van was be­ing towed, and I towed the same ’van with both ve­hi­cles, so it wasn’t the car­a­van’s de­sign, weight dis­tri­bu­tion or tyre pres­sures. I put the dif­fer­ence down to the Zo­diac’s in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion.

Turn­ing back the clock to 1966, Lor­raine and I, with our three young chil­dren, trav­elled up to Renwick, just out­side Blen­heim, to at­tend a mo­tor-rac­ing meet­ing — part of the sum­mer Tas­man Se­ries. It was a tight street cir­cuit, used only that year, and I can still re­call John Miller’s Re­nault-corvette hit­ting a pole which was sur­rounded by hay bales. A fire broke out but was quickly ex­tin­guished. Other sa­loons I also re­mem­ber that were out­stand­ing in­cluded Rod Cop­pins’ fa­mous Ze­phyr-corvette, and David Simp­son’s Lo­tus-pow­ered Anglia 105E.

Af­ter the day’s rac­ing was over, we headed to the Blen­heim Hol­i­day Mo­tor Park and, on ar­rival, were al­lo­cated a site. The five of us be­gan to un­pack the trailer, item by item, to lo­cate our first re­quire­ment — the tent. Although the tent fly was there, I had over­looked the most im­por­tant item of all — the tent it­self! We couldn’t af­ford a mo­tel in those days, be­sides, they would have prob­a­bly all been booked out by the rac­ing teams and sup­port­ers. There was no op­tion, with limited fi­nances, but to re­turn to our home in Christchurch that evening. I think we ar­rived home about 11.20pm, with three young, very sleepy chil­dren on the back seat!

My mem­o­ries of hol­i­day­ing dur­ing child­hood are mainly the times we spent us­ing wel­fare cot­tages. Dad paid into a wel­fare fund for 23 years, giv­ing us ac­cess to mo­tel-like units all over New Zealand. How­ever, it was the warm sum­mer hol­i­days we all re­call with great pas­sion.

Camp­ing at Peel For­est, for in­stance. I re­mem­ber go­ing for walks in the mag­nif­i­cent rain­for­est there. Climb­ing up grad­u­ally, we would come across huge trees be­lieved to be cen­turies old. Then there were the many won­der­ful wa­ter­falls. In par­tic­u­lar, I re­call all the beau­ti­ful sounds com­ing from the na­tive birds — just lovely.

Living at the Aranui Mo­tor Camp in our car­a­van, while our two-storey house over­look­ing the Avon River row­ing course was un­der con­struc­tion, was an­other time I re­call with fond mem­o­ries. We spent time in the camp swim­ming pool dur­ing week­ends, and with no dis­trac­tions such as tele­vi­sion, we ex­celled in our homework and re­ceived high marks in school re­ports. Then there were the times we spent at the Spencer Park Beach Hol­i­day Camp, dur­ing sum­mer-time school hol­i­days. For up to two weeks, dad would go off to work while mum and we three chil­dren went over to the beach. Come lunch time, it was just a few min­utes walk back to our car­a­van.

Prob­a­bly the best time away from Christchurch, for me, was when we went up to the Nel­son Prov­ince via Lewis Pass, tow­ing our ‘clas­sic’ car­a­van with the ma­roon-and-white XR Fal­con Fair­mont. Fish and chips on Tahuna Beach I loved — but the best of all with­out a doubt was, and still is, over the hill at the golden-sand beach at Kai­teri­teri. With its calm flat sea this will al­ways re­main my favourite place, and the mo­tor camp was right op­po­site the beach.

Many years later, with my own daugh­ter, So­phie, now aged 19, I look back on those great days we had with our mum and dad out camp­ing and car­a­van­ning. All three of us re­al­ize how for­tu­nate we were to have par­ents who had the time, pas­sion and re­sources to spend fun times with us over those grow­ing-up years — times and mem­o­ries we will cher­ish for­ever.

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