A Home Away From Home

Getting around in New Zealand has always posed challenges, and with its mountainous topography, dense forests and long coastline to contend with things have never been easy for the traveller.

This was particularly true for early European settlers who, having endured many weeks of dangerous sea travel, found themselves in a land where the only means of getting around was limited to using rough bullock tracks or, as Māori did, watercraft on the rivers.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, shipping and rail had revolutionised the way both people and goods were moved around the country and by the late 1920’s motor vehicles were becoming a common sight on New Zealand’s roads.  It wasn’t long before people adopted the idea of travelling with ‘a home on wheels’, often no more than a home-made covered trailer, and caravanning in New Zealand was born.  For those who wanted explore their country and have the freedom of a ‘home away from home’ this seemed liked the ideal formula.

World War 2 put a temporary dampener on caravanning, with petrol restrictions meaning that holidays were restricted to locations closer to home.  Following the war, caravanning quickly regained its popularity and in 1956 The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association was founded, rapidly growing from a small club into a large association that today boasts over 30,000 members.

Regarding the caravans themselves, there was by now plenty of choice for Kiwis wanting to experience the magic of a caravanning holiday.  The pre-war manufacturers had resumed production and many new builders came onto the scene, some with very innovative design ideas.  Others wanting to cash in on this new travel phenomenon started caravan rental businesses, some people imported caravans to be sold on the local market and of course there were the builders of the ‘home-made specials’.

One such ‘home-builder’ was Morton Tuck, co-owner of a sawmilling company then operating in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions.  Morton enjoyed building his own caravans and from the early 1940’s onwards, together with his family, he often stayed at Waihi Beach camping ground in various home-built ‘specials’.

His earliest caravan was rather basic, made from tempered hardboard panels with a canvas roof and wooden window frames.  The next was unique in that it he built it using a weatherboard style, similar to houses of the day.  When finished it was 18 feet long and 8 feet wide with four beds, plenty of storage and an interior finished in varnished rimu timber.  Not satisfied with two, Morton built another caravan in the 1950’s – again with a rimu interior but this time the body was of aluminium, making it substantially lighter and therefore easier to for the old Dodge to tow.

The Gilchrest family have been coming to Waihi Beach Holiday Park for decades and believe they are the owners of one of the very first Liteweight Caravans ever built – coming off the assembly line in 1957.  Over the family’s 50 years of camping at Waihi Beach they have owned only two caravans, both built by the Liteweight Caravan Company of New Zealand.  A testament to their durability is the fact that the original is still kicking around on the farm of Pearl Gilchrest’s son.

These days, the tradition of towing the family caravan between home and holiday spot is in decline, and most of the caravans seen at Waihi Beach Holiday Park are permanently on site.  Increasingly, the ‘motor-home’ is becoming king of the road meaning, regardless of what they choose to drive or to tow, wandering travellers will continue to grace our country’s many holiday parks.