Caravans & the iconic Kiwi holiday

By Adrienne Rewi

When I stepped into Taupo Museum a few months ago, I was immediately drawn to their nostalgia-ridden caravan display – a squat little 3-berth, New Zealand-made Anglo Imp, which the museum purchased when it was discovered abandoned in someone’s garden.  It’s a timepiece of the 1950s and 1960s that celebrates the Taupo district’s role as a year-round playground; and its memorabilia-stuffed interior plucks at every sentimental memory I have of the iconic New Zealand seaside holiday.

 I grew up with a mother who was obsessed by caravans. She loved them and dreamed of owning one. She/we never did own a caravan – we never even holidayed in one; and it was not until I was much older, an adult myself, that I realised how lucky I was to have even known something of my mother’s dreams. Without wanting to digress too much, I think we too often fail to see our mothers (and fathers) as ‘real’ people with ordinary ambitions, ordinary desires and ordinary dreams – as fallible human beings with their own sets of yearnings that go way beyond our childhood perceptions of them as providers of food, warmth, love, security comfort and protection.

So for me, caravans are thoroughly entwined with memories of my now late-mother. I cannot see one without thinking of her, without considering how she may have felt about never realising that particular dream. But I take heart in the fact that for many, the caravan is as deeply entrenched in the New Zealand holiday psyche as the seaside bach is. It is an iconic marker of summer, beaches, holidays, long hot evenings and the annual laying down of memories with friends and family. And it’s nice to know that Taupo Museum has given that credence with its permanent caravan display. It’s a lovely homage to a way of life that is rapidly disappearing. From the post-war rise of caravanning in the 1940s, through the 50s, 60s and 70s to the 1980s, there must be thousands of New Zealanders with caravan and campsite memories who will relate very strongly to this exhibit.

Step inside this humble little vehicle and you’ll find all the markers of a classic bach or caravan holiday – little cubbyholes for multi-coloured, mismatched plates; a bright knitted teacosy; folded canvas camping stools; yellow Sunlight soap in a wire shaker; an old Lemon & Paeroa bottle; eggbeaters, old cushions and gathered rugs – all the cast-offs that imbue a holiday space with that home-away-from-home security. And on the camping table outside, there’s a list of Taupo’s camping grounds from Wairakei to Takaanu, most of which were established from the 1950s on. There are reprints of old camping ground photos from the 1930s on – and a plea for your camping ground and caravanning stories in the Taupo region. It’ s a marvellous collective documentation of more leisurely times – of days filled with sand, surf, gas cookers and sausage barbecues and nights illuminated by fires, kerosene lamps and camp stretchers. There is much to be said for the simple, ‘nomadic’ holiday that ends up on a near-perfect strip of New Zealand’s coastline – and even more to be said about a museum that charts its place in contemporary life. 

All photographs by Adrienne Rewi with permission of Taupo Museum.

Adrienne RewiAdrienne Rewi works full-time as a freelance journalist, sub-editor, blogger and travel guide writer. When she is not traveling the length and breadth of New Zealand updating travel guides, she is based in Christchurch where she readily gives in to her passion for art, museums, photography and fiction writing. In addition to publishing several non-fiction books and travel guides, photographing everything in sight and writing on almost every subject, she is a passionate collector of far too many things and really needs her own museum.

1 Comment

  1. What a lovely post!
    What a very cool little exhibition and how sad your mum never saw her dream realised.
    We never had a caravan either but i do remember as a child in the 1960\’s going camping and staying in one of those 10 ton [felt like it!] heavy square canvas tents, pointy ceiling with no built in floor, ties to close the door opening and thick wooden poles to hold it up… scared the pants off me when the wind blew in the night, nostalgia indeed – no doubt one day one of those tents will appear in an exhibition! 🙂
    Happy New Year Ads.

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