While the experience of caravanning, motorhoming, and campervanning often comes later in life to many, Sophie Piearcey has wasted no time discovering the appeal of the lifestyle. The full-time adventurer with a thirst for discovering fresh horizons is busy exploring every possible corner of New Zealand with her adventuring husband Robbie Collins and their treasured Jayco JRV Campervan. Lisa Potter finds out more.
With an enviable skill set for photography and writing, Sophie’s adventures are inspiring many others to discover the appeal of van life and to take to the road to enjoy the thrill of discovery around each corner.
Adventuring has become second nature to Sophie since leaving her homeland of Britain seven years ago. While her original plan was to travel ‘for a year or so’, she has been beguiled by the world and chosen to settle on the ever-changing shores of Queenstown.
Exploring her own creativity goes hand in hand with exploring New Zealand, and the accomplished photographer, writer, and traveller beautifully captures the world as seen through her own lens.
Her inspiring attitude around living a happy, adventurous, creative lifestyle is shared via travel blogs on her Instagram @sophiepiearcey and her obvious love of South Island landscapes is piquing the imagination of many who come across her musings and images.
When not on the road, she and Robbie recently finished building their first home in Queenstown, another fresh challenge they wholeheartedly embraced.
“New Zealand is home to glaciers, mountains, lakes, rivers, incredible ocean views, and a plethora of activities to keep you busy for years. The diverse landscapes change at every turn, and I swear still to this day, seven years deep into living here, the word ‘wow’ leave my mouth multiple times an hour.
“From the tip top of Cape Reinga to the deep wild south coast of New Zealand, you’re never far from adventure, and travelling in a campervan is the only way to see the pure beauty of this epic land.
“Travelling in a van is freedom on wheels. Don’t just ask me, ask the hundreds of people you meet tripping around on four wheels. Your humble abode on wheels can take you pretty much anywhere in New Zealand and this country sure knows how to turn on the goods for adventure folk like us.
“We love getting off-grid, finding new places, surfing, snowboarding, hiking, and enjoying the slow and simple life that New Zealand provides us.”
Motorhomes, Caravans and Destinations asks Sophie to share just what keeps her passionate about travelling Aotearoa.
What’s your choice of transport for travelling around New Zealand?
We’re two very happy campervanners tootling around New Zealand in a Jayco JRV Campervan. We’ve had this for three years, and it has everything, and I mean everything, you need to live comfortably on the road. Gas cooking, solar panels, a fully working bathroom, and a microwave. There’s an awning that rolls out for summer missions and a dining room that easily turns into a bedroom with a window to the best views on the South Island. Plenty of storage for everything we need and a fridge/freezer so we can carry fresh food. It’s perfect for weekend trips and long stints living in the van throughout the summer.
What are some of the features you like best about it?
I absolutely love the open-plan layout.
I enjoy having the JRV set-up in the daytime with the long sofa seating and the table. Perfect if I’m working while Robbie is surfing, as it allows us to move around with ease. Not having a fixed bed gives us so much more space and being able to throw the double back doors open and let in that sweet fresh air is great. We have all our bedding conveniently stored underneath and when it’s ready to flip to night mode, it takes less than five minutes, and we have a comfortable-sized (more than double) bed for the evening.
Have you made any additions to your campervan?
We opted for a diesel heater to be fitted so we can travel throughout the winter and be toasty warm when not connected to power.
What sparked your original interest in life on the road?
I’m attracted to the slow pace of life. My husband is a stonemason, and I own and operate a social media marketing agency-full time. When we’re in the van, everything slows down, everything is calmer, life is easy, and we have nothing but the open road to focus on.
I love getting off-grid, away from the everyday hustle of life and switching off in nature. We’ve taken our van deep into Fiordland National Park, found campsites at the edge of the Catlins, and spent numerous nights falling asleep under the stars in Mount Cook national park. Every van trip is one to remember and as soon as we pull up at home, I’m ready to hit the road again.
It’s pretty addictive, and I love it.
What’s your earliest memory of adventuring?
Let’s rewind a little, seven years to be exact. When I met Robbie in Australia in 2014, we had dreams – dreams of owning a campervan, seeing the Great Ocean Road, living life on our own time, and lighthouse hunting (we had a thing for lighthouses). Little did I know that when I left Australia to pack my bags and tell my friends and family that I was hopping over the ditch for a year (sorry fam, it lasted longer than a year), Robbie was busy working away on a van. We named him Winston and he was, after Robbie, my first love. I have the fondest memories of driving up and down the east coast of Australia searching for adventure and falling in love.
Where was the last place you visited?
Purakaunui Bay Campsite. We love it down there. Hidden on the south coast of New Zealand in the Catlins. Off-grid, wild, and unbelievably beautiful. Where the wild cliffs of New Zealand meet the ocean – the photographs speak louder than words. This campsite is an absolute must if you’re exploring the South Island. It’s a DOC campsite and only $8–15 per person per night. Great surf, incredible sunrises, and great for wildlife spotting, too.
What was the highlight of that trip?
The sunrise. The sun rises directly out of the ocean and if you’re lucky enough to bag a front spot, you’ll have a front-row view to the spectacle of a new day starting. Also, an unexpected chase from a territorial sea lion in the surf turned out to be on the cards. She was fine when on land and settling into a full day of sunbathing.
Where are your meal choices when you’re away?
Food and travel are my two biggest passions and thanks to the Dometic two-burner cooktop and Vitrifrigo two-way 62-litre fridge/freezer, I can cook up delicious culinary delights for every meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having a fridge means we can carry fresh food and the double gas burner means we can cook up a mean feed each night. We love hearty meals, so lots of curries, pasta, or soup dishes to keep us full. We do like to support local when we’re away and always scope out the best place for a barista coffee or a cheeky little fish and chip takeaway.
What’s your fave thing to cook on the road?
I love cooking one-pot meals. Less washing up, no fuss, and I can throw everything into a pan and come back when it’s ready to serve up. My favourite would be a mushroom and spinach risotto. Great for snacking on the next day if you make a little too much. Also, being from the UK – a country proudly built on a good cup of tea – no matter where I’m in the world, I take that good practice with me. Each morning I pull out the whistling kettle, fill it with water, and wait for the sweet sound of a faint whistle ready to brew my tea.
What kitchen/pantry essentials do you always have on hand?
Salt, pepper, oil, and herbs. I always have a cheeky little snack bag under the sink for those long drives. Chip, dip, and sour lollies go down a treat.
What’s the best place you’ve visited recently in terms of unexpected delights?
The Milford Sound Lodge. Unfortunately, you can’t take your caravan, but it’s amazing for campervans. So much to explore on the road from challenging day hikes to leisurely strolls to photo spots. It’s the only place to camp in Milford Sound and the pitches are perfectly nestled in nature. Surrounded by rainforest, this campground is pretty special. We cruised with Southern Discoveries, hiked on the Milford Track with Fiordland Outdoors, and soaked in the beautiful sounds of nature as we fell asleep. We woke to the pitter-patter of kea feet on our roof in the morning too.
Where’s one of the most memorable places you have been?
We’re always drawn back to Mount Cook National Park. After my Jayco JRV, Aoraki is my first love. The mountains, the scenery, and the atmosphere of this national park captivated me from the moment I stepped foot here and has me coming back for more and more. The White Horse campground is a DOC campsite, and at just $15 per adult per night, it’s an absolute steal. Did you know that Aoraki Mount Cook is a dark sky reserve? This means zero light pollution and the chance to see millions of stars blanketing the sky. We love hiking and always tick off either the Hooker Valley, Red Tarns, or the Tasman Glacier walk.
What are your top tips for other travellers?
Take it slow. Don’t rush the beauty of New Zealand by trying to cram so much in at once. I would rather break up trips throughout the year and enjoy one place at a time. My other tip would be to download CamperMate and check out all the lesser-known campgrounds. There you meet the best people who will also give you intel on the hotspots.
What are the best used/best buy gadgets you’ve invested in?
We have a Goal Zero Yeti 500X portable power station. Although our van is off-grid, and we have a solar panel, I like having this little power station so I can work on the road, charge my gear, and ensure we always have phone battery.
What’s your top piece of safety advice?
Always let someone know where you are going and your intentions. A lot of off-grid campgrounds do not have phone reception. It would be easy to get a flat tire or run into trouble. That and trust your gut – if it feels unsafe, don’t stay.
What’s something you’d love to add to your travel set-up?
Inflatable paddleboards – the ones that pack down into the backpack. These would be awesome for the glacial lakes and also for when the surf is a little flat, but we still want to be on the water.
What has been your greatest summer trip to date?
Last summer, we packed up the van for a month on the road and looped the South Island. We surfed in Kaikoura, we hiked in Nelson Lakes National Park, we lazed on the beaches in Abel Tasman, and we found some incredible new campsites. We didn’t have a solid plan and followed our nose. It was amazing, relaxing, eye-opening, and the greatest month of van life we have had. Our personal favourite campgrounds were Fox River on the West Coast, Gore Bay on the East Coast, and a sweet little DOC site in the heart of Nelson Lakes.
Where’s your next destination planned?
We’re hoping to slide in a snowboard trip this winter. We will leave Queenstown and head towards Methven (Mount Hutt) hitting Ohau, Roundhill, and a few other club fields on the way hopefully. Our van is great for winter with the addition of the diesel heater, and we have heaps of room for our snowboard gear and bag.
What has been your most memorable view?
Waking up on New Year’s Day in the Abel Tasman National Park next to the ocean. We woke at 5.30am and watched as the sun rose over the mountains for the first time in 2022. Magic, we will never forget that.
What do you particularly love about the South Island?
Can I say everything? New Zealand is built for road-tripping. Prepare for mountains, lakes, ocean, hikes, and long gravel roads that lead to the dreamiest hidden beaches; trust me when I say this country is a mecca for adventure. There’s something so incredibly freeing about packing up our belongings, hitting the road without a plan, and pulling up in spectacular places to sleep.
The South Island is full to the brim with hidden gems and adventurous days, but equally, I love the freedom, the slow pace, and the chance to soak up the beauty of New Zealand.
New Zealand roads are built differently. They are long, they wind, they climb, and whoever made the roads here needs a big ol’ pat on the back for creating some of the most incredible, awe-inspiring tourist drives I’ve ever laid eyes on. From the wild West Coast to the calming glacial lakes, every turn is as good as the last.
One day you can be driving through the mountains and the next, following a dusty road down to a freedom campsite with the ocean right on your van doorstep.
I still pinch myself after all these years that I get to call Aotearoa home. This land is just built for adventure.