Jay Smith and his young family have a lifestyle many envy. Jay is the NZ Agency Director for Burton. Based in Wanaka the Smith family live and breathe Snowboarding and Skateboarding. This out of interview quote pretty much sums it up…”We camp A LOT – sometimes feel like we’re homeless, right through winters. And through our two sons being newborns. It is honestly mental and sometimes Mini wants to kill me, but by the following weekend we’re back at it.”
So Jay what was your first interest in caravans, is this a generational thing?
I’ve always loved camping, but then along came the rest of the gang (Family). The pup-tent missions into the wild just weren’t going to happen; it was time to invest. The first decision was whether to go the adventure mobile or the caravan route. As I needed a new truck for work that decision was dictated by the remaining budget; caravan it was. I knew nothing about caravans, but 1000 hours on Trademe later, I was the owner of a 1979 Oxford. My son Archie named it Nacho.
When did you buy Nacho?
Three years ago in Rangiora. Don’t all caravans come from small towns where old people live? Alexandra is another caravan goldmine. I bet Levin is good too.
How would you describe your style and use of the caravan?
Nacho is a character wagon. I guess we were leaning towards that aesthetic, it’s fairly basic but it is all we need. I love the wood veneer internals and old school lamps. When we’re chilling it feels like we’re in an old mountain cabin. The worn out military green canvas awning and original wooden poles set up for a cool place to hang in summer on a rug. It’s just what we need and nothing more.
Initially we were going to set it all up to be functional off the grid (own power supply etc). We quickly learnt that NZ campgrounds are always in the coolest spots, super cheap and have good facilities. Such as kids playgrounds. so 99% of the time we find somewhere to plug in; it sounds restricting I know, but there are so many rad campgrounds scattered throughout NZ that we’ve been too lazy to sort out our free-camp options.
It looks pretty mint and original, what have you done to it since owning it and what’s the plan?
All we do is wreck it. But thanks, yes it is mint. You could tell the family that owned it before us took so much care of it and I’ve tried to continue that; but our kids couldn’t give a shit! Haha. I’m definitely no handy-man so we were just after something to hook on and go. For the most part we haven’t had to do a lot. Just small things like curtains to block out the kids, outdoor lighting, new brakes (see below), It’s worked out well.
Winter camping in the deep south is pretty full on… But you love it, where are you doing it and how is the caravan winterised?
We always try to be motivated to use the caravan no matter the season – it’s our chill time. We try use it as often as possible even though our kids are young, they’ve grown up in it. I’m lucky my wife Mini is always keen on a mission.
We’ve camped at the bottom of Ohau Ski Area the past two years. Thanks to knowing the owners Mike and Louise, we’re able to leave the caravan there and get back every weekend we can. It’s rewarding because it is a bit more of a challenge to camp in winter. Even though the caravan is old, it’s a small space so easy to heat with a small bar heater. We just have loads of wool blankets and hot chocolates. It’s fun getting in all our outerwear and heading up the hill for the day, or coming off the hill and having the caravan as a cosy little base.
The last couple of years we’ve also organised a group winter camping mission around Tekapo & Roundhill Ski Area called Dark Sky Snow Camp. But that’s for another story.
What have you learned from owning the caravan that’s surprised you?
You don’t choose the caravan, the caravan chooses you. And after that, you have to go through your initiation, which you have no control over.
This may not be everyone else’s case but it has definitely been mine. I think at least the first 10 caravan trips something broke, or went wrong, it was really testing me. Not long after we purchased the caravan in 2017 we had decided to do a big mission and spend Christmas in it at Pounawea in the Catlins. All planned and packed (Santa’s presents included) we headed off after work, fully loaded for the long drive ahead. About 15 minutes into our drive I (finally) noticed a guy trying to wave me down. There were flames coming out of the caravan’s wheel wells, up the sides of the body! When I pulled over we had to use fire extinguishers to put the flames out and there was melting rubber or plastic, and black ash covering the wheels. It was hard to tell what the damage was, but it did not look good at all. Turns out the old style hydraulic brakes hadn’t released and got so hot they’d caught their own pipes on fire, it was lucky the tires didn’t explode. Right before Christmas – I could have cried. Anyways we let it cool off, tidied it up and made a couple of DIY mods on the spot and made it to our destination (brakeless). Character building.
For more Nacho inspiration check out Jay’s instagram HERE