IT seemed almost too good to be true. We parked outside Torere School, right alongside the magnificent carved gateway; lit the gas stove, filled the kettle and made a nice cup of Lady Grey tea; got out the biscuits, sat down at the table and had a pleasant morning tea, enjoying the spectacular views of White Island and the Bay of Plenty on one side and the school with its carvings on the other.
If it had been a nicer day we could have put up a table and chairs outside. But it was cold and the wind was getting up so we lunched inside where - thanks to the heater - it was comfortably cosy.
Afterwards we washed up, used the toilet - okay, you didn't want to know that, but finding somewhere to go can be a big deal when you're on the road - read the paper, checked out the guide book and, when the time felt right, headed off along the East Cape leg of the Pacific Coast Highway. Fantastic.
If we'd wished, we probably could have spent the night at Torere. But we opted instead to stay at Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp, where we had 6km of magnificent unspoiled beach pretty much to ourselves. And we could plug into the mains supply and - the height of decadence - watch television, play our CDs, chill the wine in the fridge, cook the veges in the microwave and grill sausages on the camp barbecue.
I've found the Transport Agency's statistics a bit difficult to unravel - and they take a while to respond to requests for information - but it seems there are more than 30,000 motorhomes and 50,000 trailer caravans, with about 3000 more being registered each year - making for a pretty impressive fleet.It's that sort of experience that is responsible for the boom in motorhomes and caravans: they offer a seductive mixture of freedom and convenience, wilderness and luxury, that more and more Kiwis are turning to.
The Motor Caravan Association has 22,000 members and reckons they spend an average 72 nights away a year, which represents a lot of people out there cruising the roads and enjoying stopping places. There are also around 3500 motorhomes available for rental, which are mainly taken up by foreign tourists.
Part of the reason for their increasing popularity has to be the improved comfort. When my wife and I last used a motorhome, for a family tour of the South Island 25 years ago, it was a fairly spartan experience (though we still had a great time).
But the Kea Dreamtime we took to the East Coast was like a luxury apartment.
If you're interested in seeing the range that's available these days, a great start point is the Covi Motorhome, Caravan and Outdoor SuperShow, which is on at the ASB Showgrounds, in Greenlane, this weekend (from Friday to Sunday).
There'll be everything from little family-friendly caravans to opulent ultimate motorhomes like our Dreamtime.
It's worth a look. If, like me, you haven't checked out modern motorhomes for a while, you'll be amazed at what they offer.
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