Best of both worlds

Grey nomad in New Zealand and Australia

When New Zealanders Barry and Anne Pearce ‘semi-retired’ five years ago, they came up with an innovative way to ensure that life on the open road didn’t become too predictable … they bought a motorhome on both sides of the ‘ditch’. Here they tell how it’s worked out.  

Approximately five years ago, as we approached semi-retirement, the question was raised about what shape this period would take and where we would be spending the winters?

We had owned a motorhome for several years in our home country and it quickly became apparent that the harsh winter climate in our home area (Lake Taupo, NZ) was something to be avoided.  Several suggestions were put forward prior to being eliminated for various reasons.  My wife’s brother had lived in Australia for several years and after being transferred from one side of Australia to the other through his work, finally accepted redundancy, and hit the road for the nomadic lifestyle.

The seed was sown, so we subsequently sought out and purchased a suitable motorhome in Australia and crossed the ditch for our first winter just over five years ago.  The process in this previous sentence sounds relatively simple and straight forward, however, little did we know that this would prove to be an interesting and at times, challenging journey.

Vehicle selection
Similar to New Zealand, what we wanted was an A-Class motorhome, of reasonable size, self-contained, with a permanently made up bed.  After much studying of the various options, we ended up purchasing an American Imported Motorhome that had been in Australia for around eight years prior to our ownership. We bought it through an online auction, sight unseen and unregistered.

It came through a website auctioneering establishment so we were unable to communicate with the previous owners, however, with our experience and the vehicle’s history, surely it was simply a matter re-registering it and away we go.  What could go wrong?

As a comparison, our NZ motorhome is classed as a heavy vehicle and as such it is subject to a ‘Certificate of Fitness’ inspection every six months.  Similar to the Australian ‘Roadworthy’ inspection it is to ensure the vehicle is maintained in a safe condition to drive on the road.  The inspection fee for this is $75 and any faults found during inspection must be remedied before issue of the certificate is issued.

Registration can then be obtained subsequent to the COF compliance.  Registration can be purchased in monthly increments, so for our purposes we are able to put the registration on “hold” for six months that we plan to be in Australia.  There are no registration fees incurred for this hold period and rego simply be reinstated on our return home.

Twelve months rego for our NZ motorhome is $350. We were advised against registering our Australian motorhome in Canberra or New South Wales for various reasons so we required an “unregistered permit” to enable us to drive the vehicle to Victoria, where our Australian lifestyle would be based.  A separate permit was required for both Canberra and New South Wales and there was a great variation between states for costs of these two permits.

Once in Victoria we were required to present the vehicle for a ‘Roadworthy’ inspection which cost $450 for the inspection fee alone prior to applying for registration. With the registration fee there was a stamp duty fee to be paid on top of the registration fee of just under $1000.

Victorian registration does not allow for hold periods when the vehicle is in storage, so we are required to pay this full fee on an annual basis.  This registration process took two full years to complete and at times proved to be frustrating and challenging.  Having now spent five years in six months segments, we are in a much better position, should we have to repeat the process.

Coming from a small country with one set of rules and regulations it has been a daunting task in a much larger country with varying requirements for  compliance issues including drivers licenses, vehicle registration, gas compliance, electrical compliance, A frame towing and so on…..

Travelling Experiences
The quickest and easiest way I often use to describe the differences in motorhome travel between the two countries  is, “in Australia what you observe in the first 10 minutes of your trip is probably what you will see all day, in New Zealand you will experience something new around each corner and there are many of those”.

This, by no means diminishes the experiences in either case, merely highlights the physical differences.  Travel in any direction in NZ for more than a couple of hours and you will hit the ocean.  Conversely in Australia, unless you make a conscious commitment to cover the ground, you will not reach your destination for a while.  Australia is flatter with fewer hills.  NZ roads tend to be narrower with more traffic.

We prefer ‘freedom camping’ wherever possible, however will also utilize established caravan parks when we need to catch up on the washing etc.  In both countries it appears that some areas are more motorhome friendly than others and some of the smaller country towns have adopted an RV friendly attitude and have benefited from this choice.  NZ has a POP scheme within the NZMCA that allows members with enough space to offer this for overnight stays for fellow members at minimal cost.  This also flows through to clubs and hotels and the club itself also owns property that includes motor camps with normal expected facilities.

This is very popular and often used by us and we also offer our own property in the same way.  There is some resistance to this scheme by some councils and permanent park operators.  I believe a similar scheme is also being established in Australia.  The New Zealand Motor Caravan Club is the largest club in NZ with over 50000 members and very strong in advocating for member benefits.  The club welcomes both although the majority would be motorhomers over caravanners.  My observations would be that there is a majority of caravanners in Australia over motorhomers.

There are some interesting differences between the two countries for fuel costs.  In Australia our motorhome is powered mainly with LPG with petrol backup.  At the time of writing LPG is around $0.50/litre that rises in cost the further you go from the main centres and petrol around $1.20/liter and diesel approximately the same in the main centres.

This works for us in Australia, however would not work for us in NZ.  There LPG is $1.35/litre, petrol $2.00/litre and diesel at $0.80/litre, with the obvious choice of diesel, however we pay road user charger per ton/kilometre on top of the pump price which adds approx. 40c/litre in our case.

New Zealand is our home country and with several children and grandchildren and friends it remains our first choice for motorhoming activities, however when winter arrives and we head across the ditch to Australia, we feel a certain sense of homecoming.  We always initially head to Boundary Bend, NW Victoria for the olive harvest.

The seasonal harvest staff is mainly grey nomads and return each year.  I truly believe that you only really get to know the local folks when you work with them as opposed to just travelling through and always look forward to catching up with the crew.

We have established some great friends and memories through our Aussie winters.


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