The Ruru's

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Category: Caravan Living (page 1 of 2)

The Kiwi Backpackers Whose Travels Have Inspired Them To Downsize Their Lives

The below editorial featured in The Press ‘Escape’ section on the 12 July 2018, written by Lorna Thornber.

Cantabrian couple Brent and Claire Ruru had been living in Dubai for two years when they decided they had too little time left on the planet to waste it wearing themselves out in the corporate rat race.

They had moved to the United Arab Emirate after raising their children and building a successful childcare business in Christchurch, but their new lives amid the shiny new skyscrapers of the desert city felt about as authentic as the snow on the ski slopes in Dubai Mall.

Brent, 52, says of his senior management role developing policies and procedures for a global logistics company: “I was driving to work in a square box, looking at a square box to generate square boxes for a bunch of squares.”

A year in, Brent was sure this wasn’t the way he wanted the rest of his life to unfold. Claire, 48, who had initially struggled to find work and had finally secured a role with the New Zealand Consulate, felt they should stick it out a bit longer.

Brent and Claire enjoy multi-day tramps in New Zealand in between overseas trips.

A year later, in 2011, they’d sold the furniture in their apartment to their landlord, shipped their sentimental possessions back to New Zealand and left for Turkey with just a couple of backpacks.

The plan was to hike from Istanbul to Gallipoli (their travel style is probably best described as free-spirited, shoestring-budgeted and slow-paced), walk famous Spanish pilgrimage trail the Camino de Santiago and trek to see critically endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda before returning to New Zealand. When a friend joked that they may as well climb Mt Kilimanjaro as well, they decided to take him up on it.

The couple hope to walk the Camino de Santiago trail again in their eighties after being inspired by a couple of Australian “grey nomads”.

“It was very impromptu and before we had researched any facts about it being at altitude. All we could imagine was standing on the rooftop of Africa,” Brent says.

Friends told them they were mad for choosing to walk from Istanbul to Gallipoli, where Brent’s poua (grandfather) may have fought in 1915, when it was just a five-hour bus ride. But the couple saw it as a good way to transition from life in the fast lane to a more comfortable, contemplative plod.

The intention was to walk up the motorway toward Gallipoli and hang a left when they could to follow the Marama Sea coastline the rest of the way. They’d only taken about a dozen steps when Brent says they began cursing, “asking each other who’s bleeping idea it was and saying “jeez our packs are heavy”. I was carrying 19 kilograms on my back and six on the front; Claire had 17kg on her back”.

Arriving in Silivri – a city on the Marmara just outside metropolitan Istanbul – three days later, the pain in their upper thighs was so acute they believed it was no longer purely muscular, but skeletal.

At the end of the cycle portion of their journey along the Camino de Santiago.

“I couldn’t walk for the next two days and honestly believed our trip was over before we had barely started,” Brent says.

They laid out all their worldly possessions on the bed at the hotel that had fortunately found room for them and threw out everything but the barest essentials. It was, Brent says, the beginning of an ongoing mission to live simpler, less materialistic lives.

They walked through raw countryside dotted with villages where men sat outside drinking coffee and smoking while the women worked the fields, staying in cheap digs they came across along the way.

“Every now and then wild dogs would approach. The walking stick became our only defence, wobbling it around like a taiaha. And screaming loudly to scare them off. It did.”

In Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.

There were a couple of incidents that riled them (they discovered they were staying in a brothel one night and Claire narrowly avoided a snake bite on her nether regions after venturing into the bush to pee) but they arrived in Gallipoli certain they had made the right life choice.

They did as all Kiwis do in Gallipoli, sleeping at Anzac Cove and attending the dawn service.

Brent’s journal entry that day was a poetic tribute to his poua:

“Although we never met, I know who you are,

My grandfather who went to Gallipoli, a land of distance far.

We came to see for ourselves, where you spent some fighting time,

To expose ourselves to history, and imagined how you shined.

The walk was hard and challenging but we made it all the same,

It was the least one could do, to honour the family name.

Anzacs are spoke of highly, so we commemorate and remember you.

From all the Ruru whānau, as they stand proud too.”

At the end of their reverse journey along the Camino de Santiago.

They had expected the Camino to be more of a physical adventure than a sentimental or spiritual one but Brent says the centuries-old trail seems to exude a “spiritual ambience”.

Walking from the village of Roncesvalles to Pamplona, of Running of the Bulls fame, they were surprised by how little their fellow “pilgrims” knew of New Zealand – and how quick they were to claim their countries did things better.

“Territorial banter is quick to assert world dominance status,” Brent says. “People from above the equator think we live upside down below and a number think we are a state of Australia and have no cars and ride horses. But it became more bull… banter after a day or two, taking the p… out of each other with smiles and laughter..”

In this way, he says, they became firm friends.

Off to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

In Pamplona, the couple switched their hiking boots for bikes, arriving in Santiago de Compostela, where biblical apostle St James is said to be buried, after 16 days. Still having “ages” before they needed to be in East Africa, they decided to head back the way they had come on foot so they could run with the famous bulls.

By this stage, their backpacks weighed 7kg each (although Brent carried an extra 3kg on his front) and they were feeling lighter in more ways than one.

“This became foundational to us embracing the minimalism culture and led us to mapping out living in a tent on our eventual return home,” he says.

One day, they came across a young American woman who was dreading returning to her routine existence as a hairdresser. As they walked, Brent inspired and persuaded her to quit her job and start up her own business in Spain.

Seeing how humans had encroached on the gorillas’ habitat in Rwanda inspired the Rurus to volunteer at an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo.

“She went to the nearest town, purchased some scissors and for five months walked up and down the Camino trimming pilgrims’ hair. All because we had that one conversation… We just never know how [a conversation while travelling] might turn out.”

It is conversations with strangers that give Brent the greatest pleasure while travelling.

Chatting to the porters, clad in jeans and business shoes, while climbing Kilimanjaro, the couple discovered they were fascinated by the All Blacks and held ex-player Jonah Lomu in particularly high regard.

“When they found out I could do the haka, I was asked to perform it every day after dinner,” Brent says.

Brent was asked to perform a haka on Africa’s highest peak.

His final performance took place at the summit and, once they were back down, he says the porters, whom he’d been teaching the moves, “performed a native song and haka in response.

“Those are the experiences that bring a tear to the eye when you reflect on them, long after the goodbyes are said.”

Their eventual return to New Zealand brought mixed emotions, including renewed gratitude for their homeland.

“We have a paradise in the left-hand corner of the Pacific”, he says, which allows you to lose yourself in its “playground topography”.

Brent and Claire prefer to live cheaply so they can spend longer on the road.

However, he says they experienced a kind of “reverse culture shock”, feeling that they had changed fundamentally on their travels whereas some they knew had simply aged. Things they had once deemed important, and others still did, no longer seemed to matter.

Determined to continue living more simply, they secured a permanent site at Christchurch’s Spencer Beach Holiday Park, pitched a family-sized tent and furnished it with a leather couch and TV set. Worried the water that pooled inside the tent during heavy rain would wreak havoc with the electrics, they soon upgraded to campervan, which became their home for the next four years.

“Our backyard had a beach, our lawns got mown for us; it felt like we were on holiday and we made friends with other permanents and outsiders who camped at the park,” Brent says.

An illustration by Brent of the couple’s caravan setup at Spencer Beach.

While some told them they were crazy for giving up their life in Dubai to live in a caravan, Brent says “the number of people who have communicated that we have got life sorted has grown markedly. Crazily in fact.”

These days, the couple live in an 80-square-metre “over 60’s unit” that’s so cost effective they’re able travel overseas regularly. Brent has retrained as a celebrant and does freelance illustration work, while Claire has become a contract bookkeeper – jobs that enable them to pack up and leave whenever they like.

Since moving back to New Zealand in 2012, they have volunteered in an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo, trekked up to Mt Everest Base Camp, ridden cross Canada on a tandem bicycle, staged a mutiny on a Cambodian cycle tour when the organisers asked the “impossible”, watched the sunset over the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar, released baby turtles into the surf in Sri Lanka and followed the Te Araroa Trail around the North Island.

Wearing New Zealand-branded tops while cycling through Canada scored them multiple impromptu homestays, Brent says.

“We are just a couple of baby boomers who have worked out what matters most and are chasing it,” Brent says. “While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles.”

His advice to others considering a similar lifestyle: “Commit to going for it, cost it out travelling budget style, save hard, go do it and repeat. The rest will fall into place.” That and “bugger the Joneses”.

25/8/16 Hopewell Cape to Moncton – 42.2 kms: Shediac Spider Ride

DSC05390-1600x1067The Bay of Fundy is home to the largest tides on the planet and our return to the platform this morning on the low tide revealed a view that was breath taking. We stepped down the steps to leave our footprint under the “Lovers Arch”. It was truely remarkable and had us stand in silence pondering what is.




We rated the emotion up there with ones collected at the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar; from Gokyo Ri in the Himilayas; and on Africa’s roof top Mount Kilimanjaru. Do include this on your list of must visit’s when you bike across Canada or however you travel.


DSC05491-1280x853We returned to the tandem to cycle back to Moncton with a spring on the bike seat to find our homestay. They found us nigh of Moncton itself and the offer to have a ride with Cheryl and their fellow biker Pearl was accepted. We switched costumes and blatted off under a visor toward Shediac, home of the World’s Giant Lobster. It was natural that we tried a Lobster Roll down on a wharf, very much like our own New Zealand Crayfish without the pinchers.




Shediac is also the birthplace of the crossword game later to become known as Scrabble, bit of useless information for a triple word score!

We have no explaination how we are ending up in the situations we do. The hospitality shown was again exceptional as we shared an evening with Byron, Cheryl and Pearl and watched the tides empty out of each bottle of wine consumed.


Adenture is something you seek for pleasure but experience is what really happens to you in the long run.

We continue to ponder what is, eventually horizontal.

A Minimalist Lifestyle – there’s not much to it.


A New Back Yard Beckons

Paragraph 6 - Beach Marshmellows with fellow campers

Where our friends and family thought we had lost the plot, we saw the beauty of a backyard that was beside a beach. A walk, run, swim or roasting marshmallows over fire coals of pine cones collected close by. A back yard with an attached playground where one can ride horses, walk, run, or mountain bike. A back yard with a reserve where animal noise is a natural wake-up call at some ungodly hour to remind us to get up to watch sun rises over the horizon to the east. A back yard that attracts city folk and other fellow travelers and allow for stories to be shared or the laughter of children at play to be echoed across the acreage. A back yard where stars shine bright across the night sky because of the absence of street noise. A back yard that was more affordable versus the over-priced Christchurch rental and property markets.

Paragraph 1 - Caravan1We believe that we hadn’t lost the plot at all. Our plot of living in a caravan permanently felt like we were enjoying the atmosphere of camping out every single day.

However, a new back yard beckoned.  Last weekend we migrated back into suburbia and with that, it brought an end to us living in our caravan.

Paragraph 8 - Sunrise at Gore BayKeeping the second bedroom (our campervan) will allow us to continue to explore and feel the emotion of waking up to another sunrise somewhere else on the island in the meantime – whether over the sea or reflective on some mountain side.

Life in the caravan had moments of adventure within the venture that built resilience and character. This was naturally balanced with moments of fun and folly.

Paragraph 9 - SnowParagraph 9 - Flood

Our focus is certainly to protect the habit discovered – minimalism. Where less is more so as to live the T.I.M.E. habits with gusto on experiences that matter most. It is all part of us staying true to our passion to get back out on the planet and roam a heap more.

Where there are many more back yards beckoning.

Anyone interested in buying a caravan?

And please do not be surprised if when visiting our new abode to be sitting on a camp chair … eating from a picnic table … or if staying … sleeping on a blow up air bed!

Some adjustments take time :0)

There is always someone off worse than you!

There is always someone off worse than you!

Two  weeks ago we made the decision to replace the awning roof after four plus years of it being a permanent canvas roof.  It was well weathered and now raining on the inside!

The whole awning would have to be dismantled and therefore stuff stored somewhere in the interim.  Accepting a quote from the place that constructed it, one forgot to confirm the Friday of the same week!

20150614_103314And so an impromptu decision was made to dismantle the thing the following Sunday.  Asking BClaire what the weather forecast was for the next couple of days thinking we will have a new awning back up within the week – she advised the weather will be okay.

That night, it pissed down! I hadn’t covered the awning floor totally meaning as I lay there, I just had to roll over and accept the floor will eventually dry out and well, it couldn’t get any worse.

Dropping the canvas into the place on the Monday, they advised that it would take a week for new canvas to be ordered and then a week for it to be manufactured meaning a possible two weeks without an awning! I had to depart accepting the reality of caravan open nakedness and well, it couldn’t get any worse.

20150614_114448The very next morning, there was a minus 3 degree frost meaning we had an ice skating rink on our exposed awning floor right up to our door! The banter then became  who would arse up first?

But alas, there is always someone worse off than me.

BClaire has to walk further to the ablutions on mornings like these. Where one has a grin, the other has a grimace.

Surely it can’t get any worse it being snow season and all!

A Christmas Tree That Feeds All Year Round

Living a minimalist lifestyle in a caravan allows for creativity conducive to the space available.

Our Christmas tree is usually some tiny artificial thing that sits comfortably on a seat ledge barely 25cm tall, unable to have any of our decorations hung we’ve collected from the different places visited during our travels.  But it’s the thought that counts, and what it represents – a time of giving.

So for our 2014 tree, our impromptu creative juices turned to constructing an outdoor one.

161214 CT9With our young adult children Cameron and Claire, we ventured into the neighbouring plantation to collect different pine tree branch lengths, and some pine cones.  Laying the branches into a shape of a triangular tree, wire was moulded to affix them into position.


Another time was planned to complete the project, however, this was as far we got due to the bike fall and clavicle experience (refer blog post 050114 A Christmas Break Like No Other).

Christmas came and went.  Folk who arrived to camp had probably dismantled or discarded their trees already. Ours still stood skeletal, uncompleted.

291214 CT10 - Finishing the christmas tree, building the bird feeders291214 CT12291214 CT14It didn’t take much to motivate the camping kids that surrounded our caravan to be sitting at our picnic table smothering peanut butter onto the pine cones.  This was after a camping Dad drilled a hole for another camping Dad to thread the wire to hang them from the tree. And this was done after the kids rolled the cones in bird seed like ice cream being rolled in lolly chips.  It allowed for Mum’s to have some ‘mum time’ as we had fun being kids again ourselves.  Once hung, melted honey was drizzled over the seed, peanut butter and cones giving that glistening tinsel effect when the sun beamed.

291214 CT16 The whispers of joyful absorption were unanimous as the first birds landed to start pecking at the treat bestowed to them.  The numbers of birds and bird species have been plentiful since.  Other passer by campers and children stopped at the sight of the tree and birds dining on the hanging decorations.  Kids radiated expressions were just brilliant.



291214 CT17As the camp ground we reside at has now had the campers depart to open up the space of emptiness more, we will have the pleasure of experiencing a Christmas tree that feeds nature, all year round.



291214 CT18 Living a minimalist lifestyle in a caravan can come with abundance and thus, fulfillment.  Nothing artificial about that.

A Christmas Holiday Break Like No Other

The moment the mountain bike soared up leaving the ramp, I knew I was in trouble.

201214 CB4 - Clavicle break xrayInstinct unfortunately froze to let gravity do its thing … and gravity didn’t disappoint.  Having gone over the front of the bike’s handle bars, my helmet and shoulder took the full impact of body hitting the dirt track hard.  And the ground was unforgiving.

It was my last interface with a Project K student I mentor for 2014 and we chose to do an activity he is passionate about – BMX riding.  I was riding my mountain bike with clip in shoes and it only took a momentary lapse of concentration to change the Christmas festive season holiday break like no other.


211214 CB6 - Pending the operation1The arrival of the paramedics assured me that the lump in the shoulder was a bone split into two.  The ambulance personnel referred to the word “broken” in a number of sentences; and the hospital x-rays confirmed that I had indeed severely snapped my clavicle.  I was admitted to hospital pending an operation to insert a plate to re-align.



241214 CB10 - Clavicle repair xrayFour days later, on the eve of Christmas, the reconstruction surgery eventuated.





251214 CB15I got to encounter the coming and going of Santa, as I did BClaire and Cameron whom joined me briefly on the ward to consume their ham and cheese croissants, as I scoffed traditional turkey and cranberry sauce hospital cuisine style.


Ticking all the boxes on Boxing Day, I was discharged to start the process of time and heal.

251214 CB11 - Christmas Day 2014What a fascinating experience.  New friendships made over the bond of broken limbs.  Being pampered by a realm of brilliant caregivers at the push of a button.  The pink pills to make all the blues of pain go away.  My place of employment value my contribution to offer peace of mind recovery support.  And the number of face book friends who ticked ‘like’ when someone is hurting had me smiling.

Finishing off my Christmas shopping; working through as part of the skeleton team; taking our recently purchased second bedroom on wheels for a tiki-tour around the South Island on the stat days; playing ‘zombie’ tag with the child campers invading our slice of paradise over the holiday period; ramp up the fitness training so as to complete the Motatapu mountain bike ride followed by the St Clair half marathon – evaporated as soon as I went soaring up and over.

251214 CB16 - Christmas Day 2014It was certainly a Christmas holiday break like no other.

With Bells On

There are many reasons why we choose to live in a caravan. Some days we question our sanity at going against the flow … swimming against the current so to speak.

However, there is beauty in keeping with it for the achievement of something greater down the road … and down the road from the caravan this morning, was the beauty in a song themselves.

These feathered things called Bell Birds.

They make us appreciate the choices we have made … and be grateful that sometimes being insane is about going against the flow … with bells on.

Waimakariri Walkway Pitstop

22/6/14 Waimakariri Walk


The 1st of June signalled the start of winter and it would be fair to write that we have had some hum dinger frosts during the first week whereby the temperature got below 0°C and down to -5.

Jack Frost WindowThe water freezes in the pipes meaning having filled containers the night before at the ready; the de-humidifier in the awning freezes up meaning having to bring it indoors to de-frost; the awning zipper freezes up meaning we have to tip water from the jug (kettle) to loosen it up to be able to unfasten; and a towel has to be placed over the car windscreen because the heater takes a kilometre or two for warm air to blow through.


The morning ritual to shower, shave and shampoo still must go on hesitantly.  The walk from caravan to ablutions with jack frost underfoot echos a crunch noise that drowns out the morning song of roosters in the distance.  Nasal juice drips profusely from the cold air and if left un-wiped, forms icicles pointing at the ground.  Vapours exhaled from the mouth is instant steam.

The shower takes a couple of minutes to push through the heat of water so getting naked has to be precise.  Stepping off the mat onto the cold concrete floor invites chill blains if you get it wrong but the technique has been crafted and mastered over the warmer months.  So has showering with the neighbour, however neither of us will ever admit to having hypothermia to exact the act of body to body contact as part of a rescue!

One has to hover the buttocks above the porcelain if needing to sit, the bum chill blains are even worse!

SpiderNow, the spider that decided to come in from the cold without telling us and take up squatting rights in a blue bin just inside the door had me shit myself!  It was obviously curled up in the foetal position from the cold when I departed but had certainly spread its wings, I mean legs when I returned to have me scream a bark of blasphemy in the hope Claire would come running and rescue me.

Nope, she didn’t!

As I stood there in my soiled underpants crustily freezing up, I questioned how Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had missed it at the border.  What was worse was that the beast was between me and the napalm I needed to extinguish its existence.  The laughter from inside the caravan didn’t help my self-confidence neither!

Well I manned up and faced my fears.  I crunched over to me shower neighbour and asked politely for help with the situation.  It wasn’t long before the eight legged monster was a stiff somewhere out on the grass adjacent.

Calm returned soon after a second shower, as did the heat around the campground becoming the butt of everyone’s banter on the frosty mornings following!  I would hasten to bet that others like me now check shoes and boots before putting them on.

As I would they keep their spider spray at the door wearing a blanket so as not to freeze up!

Let’s hope for a speedy winter, not a spidy one!

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