Campervan culture is significant in New Zealand. In some obvious instances, cars start to pile up like caterpillars in slow traffic on a windy single lane road on the hill - “must be a camper”. On unfortunate occasions, that stressful driver is me.
One of the best ways for tourists to explore the country is on a campervan. It’s like living room on wheels. Freedom camp at the beach, in a park reserve or somewhere close to nature. Most of the beautiful places to spend the nights are usually the ones which are free.
In a campervan park in Southland where passing tourists usually come and go, we spent a long time staying. It was there we saw a community of locals living permanently in caravans. There was an old lady who took interest in us staying, perhaps a little too long. We exchanged pleasantries on a couple of mornings in the communal kitchen and one day she invited us into her home.
At the ‘everything’ building in the middle of the spacious 6 hectares campervan park, amongst the shuffling of pots and pans on the kitchen stoves by travellers rushing to prepare their breakfasts before check-out time, Maureen sits at her usual corner sipping her tea with the daily newspapers in her hands while stealthily observing the situation in the kitchen. Here in her kitchen, she waits patiently for the clock to strike 10, for the crowd to slowly thin out. Maureen then proceeds to do her rounds- scrubbing of stoves, cleaning of tables, washing of leftover dishes from the Kiwi Experience bus group from the night before, and occasionally passing us the leftover salads or bananas if she sees us around. She doesn’t own the place but she keeps it clean just because she loves it and it keeps her busy.
Having stayed at the campervan park for the past 8 years, Maureen is now known as Camp-Mother. She first got that name when she received a card from a little traveller boy who stayed at the park briefly while holidaying in New Zealand. “I like that name,” says Maureen. “So if you’d like to send me a letter or a postcard, just address it to Maureen Camp-Mother, they (the owners of the park) will know whose it is.”
Maureen is drawn to cats and flowers. Everything at home speaks volumes of her love for these two. She used to have a cat, “a lovely kitty cat,” that accompanied her for 18 years before it passed on. “My children wanted to get me a new cat but I said no. At my age, it’s easy to trip over them and break your hips, your back, or your head. And boy, it takes a long time to heal.” She knows it from experience because she is used to taking care of old people, lots of them in fact as she used to be a nurse.
84 years old, 3 heart surgeries and now walking with a sore foot because of an infection caused by cancer, Maureen has never stopped working. She grew up on a sheep farm, started working as a seamstress, a florist and then a nurse till the age of 75, way past the national retirement age of 65. Now, she helps to clean the kitchen at the park. And after her daily morning routine, Maureen will head back home to clean her place and tend her garden. “You have to keep yourself active. I like my things clean and it keeps me out of bed. While at the kitchen, I get to meet people from everywhere and I enjoy talking to them. It keeps me active both physically and mentally.”