Gypsy Jottings #4

“When it’s time for you to venture out, don’t let fear get you looking back at what you’re leaving behind.” (Dau Voire)

“Travel. As much as you can. As far as you can. As long as you can. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.” (Gentleman’s Wisdom)

IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE THOUSANDS OF FRIENDS (well, I know of at least three) who are following this blog with baited breath, I owe you an apology. Because, having admitted last time I wrote that we had quite likely gone barking mad, I then went off the radar. And, chances are, you’ve been worrying ever since that Mrs Cooney and I have disappeared somewhere in the Far North, giggling uncontrollably and totally off our rockers – right?

Sorry about that …

The truth is, we did get kind-of lost. (You’re allowed to do that when you’re gypsies ­– it’s half the fun!) And, as we continued our northbound wanderings up the long, skinny bit at the tip of New Zealand, we almost drove off the end.

I can’t remember exactly when we did what, and where, but I can remember:

  • lunching on fresh-caught bluenose fish, hot chips, and an exploding egg-burger while sitting on a retaining wall overlooking curvy, picture-perfect Matai Bay (on the Karikari Peninsula)
  • following a very dusty road to the giant Te Paki dunes where, while walking backwards to reconnect the car’s towing-frame to the truck, I tripped on a tiny Te Paki dune, went sprawling backwards, and was nearly run over by my wife who was driving the car (you had to be there)
  • checking out some other dunes (dazzling snow-white ones, this time) at Rarawa on the other coast, and letting the fine, highly-prized silicone sand run through our fingers
  • feasting on magnificent ice-creams at Te Kao on our way down – and even more magnificent peach-muffins at Gumdiggers Café at Ahipara
  • tramping back through pioneer history at the Ye Olde Gumdiggers Park just north of Kaitaia … learning about the ancient kauri forests that were buried up here a zillion years ago by events cataclysmic … marvelling at the tough life of the early NZers who poked around in these peaty soils searching for kauri-gum that was worth more than gold … and oohing and aahing at the beautifully-preserved timber that is still being milled from those centuries-in-the-ground logs and stumps
  • heading off the beaten track in the Mangamuka Gorge … eyeballing the astonishing Wairere Boulders … meeting Rita (the delightful, animated Swiss woman who co-owns the farm) … hearing the fascinating story of this massive unique-in-the-world river of rocks … and walking the extensive bush-track built by Felix, her engineer-husband.

However, our highlightingest highlight was the two days we spent at Godzone’s Top-End … overnighting in the lovely, right-on-the-beach DOC park at Tapotupotu, where we shared a sunset with some wary dotterels … and reacquainting ourselves with nearby Cape Reinga, towering with its iconic lighthouse above the frothy seas where two great oceans collide.

This spot on the map has sacred significance in Maori mythology – and it’s not hard to see why, because it kind of overwhelms you. It’s from here, legend says, that the spirits of the dead finally leave behind the world they’ve known and depart for the afterlife. And DOC have done an excellent job in presenting that story to visitors who pass through the entrance-arch and walk the winding pathway down to the lighthouse.

“LEAVING BEHIND THE WORLD THEY’VE KNOWN” is something we’ve done, I guess. We’ve abandoned our life in the suburbs and driven off in a motorhome … free as the birds to roam at will and enjoy New Zealand at large.

Pretty-much everyone we talk to admits they would love to do something similar … except … WE SOLD OUR HOUSE, for goodness sake!

Is that wise …? Are you sure …? Have you really thought about it …? What if …? What if …? What if …?

We can understand the hesitation. I mean, ‘owning your own home’ has long been a Kiwi dream. We dreamed it and DID it (with the help of a mortgage or two) – and someday somewhere we’ll happily do it again. But, after nearly half-a-century of home-ownership, we were feeling a little trapped … a bit boxed-in … and, well, overdue for a change.

Mrs Cooney and I have always had a tendency to do things boots-&-all. Half-hearted has never excited us. And early in our motorhome-research phase – should-we/shouldn’t-we? this-one/that-one? will-we/won’t-we? – we agreed: If we’re gonna DO this crazy thing, we have to do it PROPERLY!

Yes, of course, it’s taken some time to get used to. And it still feels slightly weird, having ‘no fixed abode’. But, 10 months down the track, we’ve LOVING our gypsy lifestyle. We’re loving having no mortgage … no debts … no bills to speak of … no rates to pay … no maintenance to attend to … no lawns to mow … no gardens to weed … no trees to prune … no leaves to sweep up … no decks to scrub … no spouting to be emptied … and no slimy green pool to clean.

We’ve been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. And, right now, we’re LOVING our big warm TrailLite (plus the little Suzuki we tow behind). We’re loving being able to stop wherever takes our fancy … stay for as long or short as we want … head off the main roads… poke around in unheard-of places … and check out cafés along the way.

We’re loving that there are few things to rush back for … way less pressure … (mostly) no hurry … hardly a traffic-jam in sight … still time for catch-ups with friends … and more hours than ever with our grandkids.

Having spent 45 years giving our family roots, we Cooney-Seniors are spreading our wings. And you tell me: WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?

Take one sunny Thursday last April. We were stopped for coffee in the main street of Ohakune – with Mt Ruapehu as a glorious backdrop, smothered in fresh clean snow. This guy gets out of his car to admire our TrailLite, and he calls to me across the road: “What an AWFUL way to live!”

I reply, “Yeah, aint THAT a fact!”

And he laughs, with a shake of his head, “I’m SOOOOOO envious!”

Yours (from somewhere in the Central North Island) – JOHN & ROBYN

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Gypsy Jottings #3

“The most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” (Randy Komisar)

THIS GYPSY LIFE IS AWFUL, IT REALLY IS. We’ve been forced to spend the last three days parked up on a choice site at Russell, in the Bay of Islands, while the July sun rained down upon us. Each morning we’ve had to listen to the constant chortling of tuis. Each evening we’ve had to put up with wekas scratching in the grass around our motorhome and almost eating out of our hands.

I’ve been dragged away from my much-loved work and made to comb through the museum (in what was NZ’s oldest capital: Kororareka) … revisit some early NZ history (including the signing in 1840 of NZ’s oldest Treaty) … turn the handle on NZ’s oldest printing press (the Pompallier Mission painstakingly turned out nearly 40,000 Maori-language books on this ancient contraption) … walk the aisle in NZ’s oldest (and still used) church … climb the hill to NZ’s oldest (and, thanks to Hone Heke, most-frequently-chopped-down) flagpole … and overeat at NZ’s oldest licenced restaurant (the Duke of Marlborough Hotel).

See what I mean? Awful!

And today, to cap it all off, after rising at dawn to ferry our hefty TrailLite across the flat-calm harbour, I was pushed into a waterfront café. And (here’s the worst bit): just as I was forcing-down some yummy eggs-benedict, two shiny-backed orcas (I kid you not) swam leisurely past, their fins breaking the surface just metres from where we were sitting!

It doesn’t get much awfuller than that – right?

YOU MIGHT BE WONDERING WHY Robyn and I swapped our home-in-the-suburbs for this anything-BUT-awful life-on-the-road as gypsies. What on earth made us embark on such motorhome-madness?

Well, it started one Saturday morning last August. Robyn had nagged me previously about getting a (small) campervan-cum-motorhome: “It would be such a fun way to see New Zealand!” – and I, being sensible, had always put her off: “Sure, Darling, but ten/five/two years from now, when we can afford it, okay?” However, several friends had recently been hit with some rather nasty medical stuff (warning: it starts happening to friends around the time you get your Gold Card!) … and one healthy, fun-loving mate had died suddenly, shockingly, from totally unexpected complications.

I’d woken early that Saturday morning, thinking about corners and what might or might not lie around them. It occurred to me: If we really want to do this, we should do it NOW – not wait until it’s too late. And then, just as quickly, in an unusual flash of brilliance, I had worked out how to do it

I nudged Robyn awake. I asked her to sit up in bed and concentrate. Then (for the second time in my life) I proposed: “I’ve got a crazy idea! Let’s sell the house … put our stuff in storage … and buy a motorhome big enough and nice enough to live in and work in!”

And she (who has loved me and put up with my crazy ideas for 45 years, and is at least half-crazy herself) looked at me and said “YES!” 003-21 motorhome THERE ARE TIMES IN LIFE WHEN you need to act on an impulse … when the best thing to do is hold each other’s hand and jump! And, thankfully, that Saturday, we jumped! Instead of overthinking the idea, picking it to bits, finding fault with it, scaring ourselves to death with it, and talking ourselves out of it … we applied one of my favourite mottos: “If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way to make it happen!” To cut a short story even shorter …

  • Two days later, we’d shared the idea with our family, and got their unreserved thumbs-up (plus offers of help).
  • Two weeks later, we’d offered ‘Big Blue’ (our family home for 30-plus years) to our young next-door neighbours, and shaken hands on the deal – just like that.
  • Two months later, we’d looked at so many motorhomes we were going cross-eyed, and signed-up at last on our TrailLite.
  • Then, just days before Christmas, having sold, stored, dumped or given away most of our stuff (more on that later) … we downsized (more on that later, too) … from four bedrooms/two bathrooms/two lounges/and a big office to a six-wheel, eight-tonne, nine-metre truck! (More on that later, as well.)

Some people, I’m sure, thought we were BARKING MAD! But they waited in vain for us to come to our senses, change our minds, act responsibly, lower our sights, and settle for something less-risky. With our NZ Motor-Caravan Membership Card in her purse, and my Heavy-Traffic Licence in my pocket … Robyn and I were off on our gypsy-adventure!

She’s learning how to make trinkets and beads – and I’m doing a course in tattooing. Yours (from somewhere up north) – JOHN & ROBYN

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Gypsy Jottings #2

“Logic will get you from A to B … but imagination will take you everywhere.” (Albert Einstein)

IMAGINE WAKING UP ON A HIGH GRASSY HEADLAND overlooking New Zealand’s wild West Coast. From your bed, through the open window, you can hear the trilling of skylarks and see Muriwai far below you, with its close-up colony of gannets-plus-chicks. And stretching off into the early-morning haze is mile after mile of frothy Tasman surf, breaking onto mile after mile of sundried sand …

IMAGINE PARKING UP IN A TINY COROMANDEL BAY down the far end of a steep dirt track. The bay is ringed by lumpy green hills and fringed by crimson pohutukawas. The millpond high-tide stops just a metre or so from where you’ve just spent the night. Chooks scratch in the wet sand for grubs. And cows line the fence, staring impatiently as you wait for your morning cappuccino to cool …

IMAGINE SETTING UP IN A LEAFY GLADE, surrounded by autumn yellows and back-dropped by bushy cliffs. A fresh-water creek runs past, just a hop-step-and-a-jump from your open side-door. A bouncy swing-bridge lures you across into shadowy tracks on the other side. Tuis chortle and chase each other in the trees overhead. And plump wood-pigeons watch you watching them watching you …


Well, for better or worse, we Cooneys aren’t imagining it – we’re DOING IT! And we have been, now, for more than six months.

  • We WOKE up in a paddock on that grassy headland, after being given a red-carpet welcome the previous afternoon by the friendly farmer who owns the place.
  • We PARKED up in that privately-owned Coromandel Bay after a quick phonecall the day before and a cheerful invitation: “Sure, come on down!”
  • And we SET up in that leafy glade after friends told us about this gorgeous scenic reserve that’s “like a million miles from nowhere,” just off the main road out of Te Kuiti.

The cost? Nothing – or next to nothing! And the views? To die for!

This (we’re discovering), is the everyday life of Kiwi motorhomers and caravanners who’ve chosen to be nomads, gypsies, of no fixed abode. They’re cutting their ties and “letting their imagination take them everywhere” … exploring Godzone’s nooks and crannies with a passion.

And you’ve gotta ask: “WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?”

How did we Cooneys come to join them? Well, that’s quite a longish story. But if you’ll stay on this blog and come back with us into the recent past, we’ll tell you …

Yours (from find-us-if-you-can) – JOHN & ROBYN

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Gypsy Jottings #1

“Two drifters, off to see the world …
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’ve after the same rainbow’s end,
Waiting ‘round the bend,
My huckleberry friend,
Moon River … and me.”
(Henry Mancini) 

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU OPENED YOUR EYES … took a good look around … followed the road less travelled … went off the beaten track … explored some unexplored corner … and let Godzone work its magic on you? When was the last time you noticed that we Kiwis live in one of the most gorgeous spots on earth?

If I’m honest, I had almost forgotten. I’d got so used to rushing from one place to the next – can’t stop, too much to do, gotta keep moving – that I’d become blind to the beauty that was everywhere. “One day …” I kept telling myself, “I will stop and smell the flowers, listen to the birds, wonder at the world that is New Zealand. One day … when I’m not so busy. But not right now. I haven’t got time …”

However, all that has changed (or begun to change) since my wife and I went barking-mad … sold our home … put our stuff into storage … and moved bodies, clothes and laptops into a motorhome. As a lifestyle-change it’s been HUGE … and our conversion from suburbanites-with-a-letterbox to gypsies-with-no-fixed-abode has felt quite weird at times. But whenever Mrs Cooney and I talk about it (i.e. constantly) we agree: It’s the BEST THING we’ve done in a long, long time!

We’ve hardly started, of course. Our new life as nomads is still VERY NEW. We’re still getting used to driving in/living in/eating in/sleeping in/working in our big, luxurious, nine-metre-long, state-of-the-art TrailLite. And we’ve barely had time to attempt more than a few short practice-runs to the Coromandel Peninsula and Auckland North, plus one longer ‘sea-trial’ around the Taranaki coast.

What’s more (believe it or not), we’re still VERY BUSY. Frequent hook-ups with kids and grandkids keep Robyn out of mischief – plus the 101 other things a good woman does (like gourmet cooking for her husband, vacuuming our gypsy wagon (takes forever!), plotting our next on-the-road route, and reassuring her worried/envious Facebook friends that, HONESTLY, WE’RE LOVING IT!) And it’s her job, of course, to feed the horse …

As for Yours Truly? Well, most afternoons and evenings (into the wee small hours) you can find me banging away on my keyboard, writing articles and fundraisers for Grapevine, helping Mike (our son, the editor) with the next magazine, and adding pages to a Big Fat Book (‘33 Years of Grapevine’). Plus we both keep busy (with our friend Roger Glynan) planning new overseas tours for our Midlife Madness friends.

The great thing about our motorhome is: WE’RE LIVING THE DREAM! We’re grabbing the chance, while we’re still fit, healthy and young (haha), to explore our special homeland … to snoop around, go places we’ve never been, check out some history, scratch around below the surface, ooh-aah-and-gosh-look-at-that to our heart’s content.

And I can tell you already: this is one seriously gorgeous country, populated (mostly) by seriously nice people! In just a few months, without even really trying, we’ve eyeballed breath-taking scenery, lush natural bush, awesome snowy mountains, driftwood-strewn coastlines, native birds, gushing streams, autumn hues, crashing surf, and superbly maintained parks and reserves with walkways/tracks/bridges that make it all so easy-to-get-at – plus lookouts/viewing-platforms/picnic spots that make it all worthwhile once you’re there. And each time we’ve stopped, we’ve met friendly, welcoming locals, and learnt a little more about their town, their district, their neck-of-the-woods.

We’ve been impressed all over again with how much our generation has inherited from previous generations of pioneering Kiwis … how much has been given to us and sacrificed for us and handed down to us and protected for us … and how privileged we are to be handing it on to our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids!

We’d love to sit down with you (over a frothy flat-white or a cup of gumboot-tea) and show you where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. But this occasional blog is the next best thing. It won’t be a travelogue (there are enough of them already). And we won’t go on and on (like this), I promise. Some postings may be deep-&-meaningful … but most will be short’n’sweet, random roadside ramblings … and some might end up mainly photos (Robyn’s and mine) like these.

Anyway, if YOU’RE slightly mad, too, and would like to follow this gypsy-trail – be our guest!

Yours (from goodness-knows-where) – JOHN & ROBYN

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