Our Big OE 1981/82
Peter & Debra’s Big OE to Europe – 1981/82 – Introduction
On the 19th September 1981, Debra and myself got married at St Stephens Church in Shirley. Debra was 19 years old and I was 24 years old. When we got engaged we had decided that we would like to head off to the United Kingdom to have an extended honeymoon.
So shortly after getting married we set off on our Big OE (Overseas Experience – a tradition for many young Kiwi’s and Aussies).
We stopped over in Los Angeles before purchasing a Kombi van in London to explore the UK & Europe.
Six months later we headed home via a stopover in Singapore.
Debra was lucky enough to have had a Scottish grandmother (her Dad’s mother) who came from the north eastern fishing town of Peterhead. Because of this Debra was able to get a ‘UK Grandparent’ visa which gave her ‘leave to enter the United Kingdom for an indefinite period). As her husband I could do the same. This was really useful both for this trip and also again a few years later when we came back to the UK to live in Scotland for 3 years.
We had great fun travelling and living in our van (Ludwig). An excellent way to iron out any initial ‘wrinkles’ in a marriage. Cooking, eating, sleeping, washing and toileting in a small Kombi van with someone you have never lived with before is ‘thrown in the deep end stuff’ that bought us very close together very quickly.
Great Fun. No one but ourselves to work things out. We had occasions when we had to make important decisions on the trip and figure out solutions to predicaments that we faced and as a couple we soon worked out the way forward.
It was a special time for us far away from our homeland and family. We loved the feeling of Kiwiness that comes from being away from New Zealand and the enjoyment that people overseas seem to get chatting with Kiwis.
After a brief trip down to Cornwall and then up to Scotland (brrrr) we headed across the English channel and proceeded to make our way down through France travelling further south as the northern winter started to take hold.
Once we had got down to the French Rivera we then travelled along the coastline towards Spain.
Crossing the French/Spanish Mountains we continued our trip along the eastern coast of Spain enjoying the warm winter sunshine.
We travelled as far south as Alicante where we spent most of the northern winter free camping by the different beaches, doing very little!
We then travelled back to the UK taking a scenic ‘minor roads’ route through the beautiful interior of France.
Our Kombi, Ludwig
In those days, most of the 2nd hand vans were sold from a car park in London called Hungerford Car Park. You can see the Hungerford carpark between the rail bridge and the tall white buildings across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.
A great central location with a view of the Houses of Parliament. You could pay to stay in the carpark during the day (away from the traffic) while you were selling your van or just park it on the side of the road outside the car park for free (well you got parking tickets but they seemed to get lost on the plane ride home).
For our money we got a really good buy with our Kombi, Ludwig. We had very few problems in the 5 months we had the van.
It was fully equipped and ready to go. The rear seat folded down into ¾ bed. A toilet (well a bucket) located between the cab and back of the van doubled as a seat when not in use. The kitchen gear comprised of a fridge, a gas double burner and grill and all of the cutlery, crockery, pots, fry-pan etc. required. We had a water tank (accessible from out side the van for refilling) with a hand pump through to a small sink. An outside table and stools was stored in a cavity under the roof above the bed. A blow-up rubber dinghy came in handy when we were sunning ourselves by the beach in Spain. A small gas heater kept us warm in the evenings. There was a large storage area under the back seat that we used mostly for a sack of potatoes we bought in the UK that kept us going for many months. A map cupboard with tons of Europe maps/information helped us with planning our trip. A radio picked up the BBC overseas broadcast in the evenings for us to catch-up on what was happening in the UK and the chance to hear some English being spoken.
A cassette player in the cab (we got to know Simon & Garfunkel’s music really, really well by the end of the trip) kept us singing along on the long travelling days.
The van was very economical and easy to drive. Took a bit to get used to not having a bonnet out front. The smallness of the van was great for negotiating the tight roads of Cornwall and some of the Gorges in France (even though we still had to have a couple of goes at getting around some of the corners!).
After our trip we put up the ‘For Sale’ sign on Ludwig at the Hungerford Car Park and after a couple of days, were able to sell Ludwig for 800 English Pounds to a couple of Maori guys. Hopefully, they had a great time like we did. Maybe Ludwig is still ‘chugging’ along the roads of Europe with its latest lot of Kiwi travellers!
Kombis do seem to go on for ever so maybe…………