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
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.
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.
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.