Full Time Caravanner Stories

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After two years on the road as permanent caravanners, Lynn and Ken Finlay had been asked by so many people (including non-campers) how they were coping with life on the road that they decided to write an article about their experiences.

Welcome to 2014 and to all the new full-timers starting the adventure of a lifetime. It is now 18 months since we packed up and hit the road and we can only say to those waiting in the wings… take the plunge! Over the past two years we have even had people who don’t camp (other than for holidays) ask how they can get into it. It is strange, but of the people we have spoken to, many are very keen to try it out but it is the wife who is reluctant. The kids and grandchildren are the main reason for this reluctance, although also there is a fear of leaving ‘home’. The men would generally pack up in a heartbeat so it is the nesting thing that women have to get over. Anyhow, I am sure that we have a lot more converts on the way!

Our own trip started in August 2012 at the fabulous Richards Bay Caravan Park where we stayed for two months, escaping the cold of Gauteng. There we found a group of about 70 couples who are also doing the full-time thing, and what an education that turned out to be.

We were welcomed into the ‘family’ with open arms and, after two months of fantastic camping, wining and dining, we left to move on to MacNicols at Bazley Beach, where we spent a friendly but wet month. From there we spent a month at Spioenkop Dam in the Battlefields area, but this was not a good idea as the wind howled and we spent most of our time alone. The campsite has also deteriorated and, while we love Spioenkop, it is expensive and badly run. Back to Joburg for Xmas and out again as soon as we could, content in the knowledge that we had made the right decision to leave in the first place.

Then on to Gariep Dam resort at Oviston for two weeks… and it was there that we appreciated the money we had spent on buying a cargo net to hold down the tent as well as the silver reflective sheet on our tent. This had been purchased to replace our storm straps which discovered tended to chafe the tent in strong winds. We had just replaced the roof of our tent because of mildew and we added two panels to make an L shaped living area to allow us more space.

The silver and the cargo net are ‘must haves’ and are worth every cent we spent on them. The real test for us came at Langebaan. We stayed at Leentjiesklip during February and, while this is a really beautiful part of the country, if we had not already paid for the month then we would have left just one week into the month.

Forget the large pegs we all use; they are no better than clothes pegs in that wind which blows at 60 km/h every day, with gusts rising up to 80 km! We had to travel into Bellville to buy some GIANT pegs to hold everything down and, in spite of all these monsters, we were still fixing down the tent every morning.

Weekend visitors to the camp obviously buy a new tent for each visit as the tents get shredded within the first day.

Then it was on to Cape Town to visit the family and a two-week stay at Zandvlei in Muizenburg... which I will not linger on as it was not the most pleasant experience. While in Cape Town we looked at all of the campsites within an hour’s drive from the city and, while we were looking for campsites near rivers or dams for kayaking on, we found nothing that was suitable. With the fantastic scenery and roads you would think that the Cape would rival Natal for camping, but this is not so. Most of the campsites are municipal and are very scruffy and run down. The private parks are very expensive and do not offer monthly or pensioner rates. In fact, we found them to be rather unfriendly.

This may well be because of the relatively short season which falls over peak holiday times, but it is nonetheless a pity. We left Cape Town for the Wilderness where we spent a month at Island Lake Caravan Park. This is a gem in the Garden Route list of very lovely campsites. Small, compact, well-run and extremely popular, we enjoyed the hospitality of Johan and Hester and made many new friends. The kayaking in the area is the best in the country with lakes, rivers and a friendly sea to choose from. The people are friendly and helpful and if ever we have to stop our travels, this is where it would happen.

Richards Bay Caravan Park
We spent Easter at the ever popular Forever Resort Plettenberg Bay, where they give new meaning to the word ‘organised’! Packed as it was, there was never a dirty ablution, broken tap or plug point, and never a mess around the campsites. The staff members are friendly and helpful and the month spent there was a treat. We left for Natal to escape the early rainfall in the Cape, and we were very sad to go.

We spent a night at Nature’s Rest, outside of East London, which is a very pretty campsite.

We then moved on to Natal, travelling through the Transkei as we had intended staying over at Cremorne at Port St Johns but, as they had been flooded out, we had to divert to Kokstad, where we spent two days at Mt. Currie Nature Reserve.

We now know that we should have sold our property rather than rented it out. This is what most of the people we have met on the road have experienced.

A word of warning here The Transkei is like a trip to the doctor for a medical examination; you either leave feeling great or leave feeling both broke and unhealthy!

Our trip was a nightmare and Mthatha and Butterworth proved that you don’t have to leave the borders of SA to find filth and chaos in the streets. The roads are bad as motorists are completely lawless, animals wander all over the place, taxis disgorge passengers in the middle of the roads, children play in the middle of the highway (amazingly not moving for traffic!) and all pavements in the towns are ‘parking areas’, so the people walk on the roads instead.

Driving a vehicle through the towns in bad enough, but towing a ‘van is near impossible. Don’t even think of filling up with fuel. You cannot get your car and caravan into the garages. At stop streets (and at every shopping centre, every school, clinic, crossroad or bus stop) you stand the risk of having your caravan or trailer broken into and being relieved of your precious camping cargo. Speed humps and pot holes are a constant and this is murder to the caravan chassis. By the time we reached Natal we found that our walls had come away from the floor of the caravan! We noticed that there were gaps between the cupboards, bed and floor and even found that the screws holding the walls to the floor had stripped off… so we were floating!

We will bypass the Transkei from now on and leave the Transkei Big 5 (domestic animals, taxi’s, rural population, speed humps and pot holes) to the tourists! As we were too early for Richards Bay, we spent two weeks at the Protea Karridene campsite.

A tablet is better than a computer for communication across mediums such as Skype so, instead of each having a laptop, have one laptop and one tablet.

This is also a lovely caravan park, wellmaintained and popular and their rates were very reasonable.

Then it was back to Richards Bay for four months, which was a month longer than planned due to the rain in the rest of the Cape and Natal. Strangely enough, it was a cool winter rather than a warm one and, while the humidity was at an all-time high (90% on most days), the nights were cold and we had unseasonable rain. Most of us got flu and were really sick due to the damp conditions, but a great time was had by all, with all the ‘family’ getting together again and adding a few more newcomers to the already huge clan.

Sadly, we lost a friend as Errol Hunter, a much-loved member of the caravan park staff, died from leukaemia after years of treatment.

We headed back to Wilderness, going back via the old East Griqualand route through Matatiele and Queenstown. The road is good, quiet and very beautiful.

We spent a month at Areena Resort in East London, and we enjoyed great kayaking in the area. Then it was back to Island Lake in Wilderness for six weeks, after which we ended the year in Cape Town. We have since been staying at Van Zyl’s Resort outside of Kuils River, a small and quiet campsite on a private farm. Here we have met up with many of our travelling friends and we had a good social stay in spite of the incredible heat.

Central to all areas of Cape Town, we have been able to visit the winelands, meet up with family and friends and visit some of the real beauty spots of the Western Cape.

Ken + Lynn
The big questions we get asked are ‘what has changed in the past 18 or so months?’, and ‘what have we learnt?’

• We now know that we should have sold our property rather than rented it out. This is also what most of the people we have met on the road have experienced.
• Clothes and linen wear out, so you have to have a regular clearout of stuff, otherwise you carry around stuff you don’t use. Hospice and charities are more than happy to take them.
• Do not take leather, cotton or any natural fabrics to the Natal Coast, as they develop mould.
• Gin and tonic keeps mozzies at bay!
• You are living in weather! So it blows, rains and the sun beats down on you and you cannot escape it the way you did in a house. Accept it.
• You have to be computer literate, as it is the cheapest way to keep in touch with friends and family.
• A tablet is better than a computer for communication across mediums such as Skype so, instead of each having a laptop, have one laptop and one tablet.
• A hospital plan is not the best option. Either have a full medical aid, take your chances with the State hospitals… or have lots of ready cash on hand!
• Get to know the locals in the town you stay at. They are the ones who are going to service and repair your car, service your ‘van, and introduce you to the best eating spots and private campsites. They will also know the painless dentist or the nicest doctor, the best hairdresser and where the pension place is! Entertain them at your caravan as many of them do not know what life on the road can be like. Keep in touch when you leave as you will be back if you enjoyed a place.
• Move on if you are not happy at a campsite, even if it means losing out on camp fees. Complain about shoddy ablutions, bad electrical connections, poor water supply or bad management, as you will have paid for the provision of these services.
• Be tolerant and considerate. All husbands (and most wives) snore, all neighbours have a scrap sometimes, not everyone loves your grandchildren, and not everyone is tidy. Your fish braai may be heaven on earth to you but, to many, it is very smelly!
• Be clean. Clean your own mess and make sure you leave your shower or toilet as you would like to find it. If housework is not for you then hire a maid to clean up your campsite. Some campsites have maids listed who have been charring for the campers for many years and who are known to be trustworthy. They also set the fee so that there are no disputes to handle.
• Remember that absence makes the heart grow fonder, so you don’t need to feel guilty about not being with the kids or grandkids all the time. They probably don’t miss you as much as you miss them!
• Fuel is the biggest expense, so plan your trips well and cut out trips that entail long distances for short stays. We had to go back to Gauteng twice this year and it was cheaper to fly than to take the van there and back.
• If you are travelling with a pet, especially a dog, make sure you keep it on a lead, clean up its mess and do not allow it free run of the campsite and beach. Even little dogs make smelly poos, and males urinating on other campers’ tents can be seen by an angry camper as reason enough to shoot! Yappers are not acceptable and neither are biters.
• READ. There are many days when you can only sit around at the campsite due to the weather. And make a habit of leaving your books in the ablutions for others to read when you have finished with them. When everyone does this it forces you to read new authors.
• Night time is the only time for sleeping.

Here's to the next two years on the road. Cheers and happy travels!
- Story and photos by Lynn and Ken Finlay

This was published in Caravan & Outdoor Life Magazine.
If you would like to contact Lynn and Ken, please contact us.