Jackie’s Journey: Coromandel to Matauri Bay

We’re excited to introduce our newest contributor Jackie Norman. Jackie is a long-time freelance writer and blogger. Previously a self-confessed spendaholic, she transformed herself into a money-saving whiz, writing under the name Penny Wise for frugal website Simple Savings and That’s Life! magazine. 

In 2016, after more than a decade of whittling her life down from materialistic to minimalistic, Jackie sold her home (along with almost everything in it) and purchased a campervan to embark on a full-time life on the road. Together with partner Gareth and faithful dog Minnie, they travel the length and breadth of New Zealand, exploring as much as they can while spending as little as possible. 

Jackie describes life on the road as the perfect lifestyle and says she would never go back to living in a house and paying a mortgage. MCD will be following her travels each month as she lives the life so many of us dream of.


As someone who until recently owned a house in one of New Zealand’s top beach destinations, I’m ashamed to say I have led a woeful example of taking full advantage. Upon arriving in Whangamata six years ago, I vowed and declared I would never take my beautiful new home for granted, as I had seen so many do before me. I would walk the beach from end to end each day, spend every spare minute splashing merrily in the ocean, enjoy a year-round golden tan, and naturally become a magnificent surfer. To be fair, I did indeed keep up the beach walking for a while, a couple of years even, and I did sport a bit of a healthy glow a good part of the time. But I can’t remember going in the sea after 2013, and I never set so much as a big toe on a surfboard.

Life got in the way, you see, as it always did when I lived in a regular house. How on earth could I justify swanning off to the beach when there were always other important things to be done, such as vacuuming, weeding the garden, and being a domestic goddess in general? The to-do list never seemed to go away, and neither did I. That changed last year when Gareth and I made the decision to sell our house and embark on a permanent life on the road. Until then, I had never spent so much as a weekend camping, let alone stayed in a van. You could probably say we did it all wrong really, having no prior experience of dwelling in anything but a house, or at the most adventurous, a smart motel. Not only that, we jumped straight in and purchased the first vehicle we had the opportunity to go and see.  You’re not supposed to do that apparently. But everything just felt right to us, and it was.

Even better, once word got out of our impending travels, all of a sudden, everyone, from the courier man to the chap we bought our eggs from, had a gem or two to share of places we had to see. We duly noted them, in particular, one called New Chums Beach. According to the Observer, it was one of the top 20 deserted beaches in the world, no less! Funny we had never heard of it, especially when on further investigation we discovered it wasn’t far from where we had been living all these years. The manager at Kuaotunu Motor Camp, where we stayed at the start of our journey, agreed it was indeed a must-see and offered to babysit our dog for the afternoon so we could go.

That afternoon was a game changer. New Chums Beach was everything people said it was and more. No amount of photography can do it justice. It opened our eyes to so much more and made us realise what we had been missing. All the time we had been busy working, mowing lawns, and concerning ourselves with a million other things every day, we had never even got around to exploring our own backyard, yet look at how amazing, how unique, and how stunning it all was! I actually felt ashamed. Not to mention eternally grateful to the egg man, without whose knowledge we would have left much of the glorious Coromandel unexplored and driven away without so much as a backward glance. Having seen it with new, unhurried eyes, we have a whole new appreciation and fondness for the area, and since that afternoon, we have visited many more unforgettable places.

Jackie -3

This summer, I have done no gardening except occasionally watering Spike and Waverley—our two succulents who live on the dashboard. The only housework I have done is a quick sweep of the floor out the door of the van. Instead, I have finally been splashing merrily in the ocean and walked upon many exquisite beaches, from the white sand at Matauri Bay in the Far North to the sparkling black sand at Waverley in South Taranaki. I have climbed rocks, crept inside caves (to be greeted most unceremoniously by a large sleeping seabird, that was a shock!) and wallowed in warm rock pools where our feet were tickled mercilessly by baby fish and whiskery prawns. I had to chuckle to myself at the thought of all the friends I knew who had paid a fortune to go to Thailand for the same privilege, yet here we were, enjoying it for free.

As well as swimming with the fishes, we’ve also been trying our best to catch some with our new fishing rods. Having come from a family of fishing fanatics, I’m kicking myself now that I never got any more involved in fishing than reading a magazine while idly dangling a rod in the water, which someone else had rigged and baited for me. Fortunately, Gareth’s mum is a capable fisherwoman and she took us for a fishing lesson at Opoutere jetty, where we spent a most enjoyable few hours. I envy her ability to simply haul out her kayak and go out fishing off Whangamata beach for a couple of hours before returning with lovely fresh fish for dinner. There’s nothing better than a feed of free fish. While Gareth was successful, I didn’t manage to catch anything other than rocks. Still, I have all the time in the world to learn now, and I don’t even mind if I don’t catch anything. When you’re surrounded by such awesome scenery, it’s just great to be out there. It’s been a wonderful summer, and while others have been lamenting about the dismal season, you’ll hear no complaints from us. We just check the forecast and go wherever the sun is.

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