WHEN Charne Stotter decided to give up her spacious Beacon Bay home for a poky beachside caravan in Yellowsands Caravan Park, her friends thought she was crazy.
But Stotter, 45, and her family knew better and since giving up their stylish four- bedroomed home with its two chic lounges and entertainment area overlooking a large pool, they have never been happier.
“Now our friends all ask us to find them a place here and say they also want to live more simply,” Stotter said.
The Stotters are just one of the many families who have left the suburbs and settled into a more peaceful, less materialistic existence in modified caravans and parkhomes on the Wild Coast north-east of East London.
These seaside communities are similar to the working class trailer parks scattered across the United States, except they are situated in some of the most beautiful coastal resorts and most residents have moved here as a conscious choice to lead pared-down lifestyles close to nature.
Charne and husband, Selwyn, who owns an office furniture business in East London, and their two children Lakin, 19, and Joshua, 11, share very close quarters in their caravan conversion, which consists of a small caravan with a built-on, open- plan lounge and kitchen.
The compact living area doubles up as Charne and Selwyn’s bedroom, while their children share the tiny caravan “room”.
And, after having a choice of three bathrooms at her Beacon Bay home, including an elegant en-suite, the family now uses the public ablution block just metres away from their front door.
“The kids took a while to adjust, but then they fought in our big house too and this has brought us closer together as a family,” said Stotter, who moved to what used to be the family’s holiday home just over a year ago.
“We never ever thought we would live here permanently, but now I look at people who live to keep up with the Joneses and I think it’s so sad. There is more to life than things. Our lifestyle here is so simple and relaxed – and there’s less to keep clean because I just kept things that were meaningful to me.
“The world is always acquiring stuff, but the more you give away the more you become what you are supposed to be. In my house I used to want everything to be perfect, I would always be redecorating. Here I can be who I am, there is nothing more I want.”
Stotter said she and her husband decided to downscale because their old life was costing up to R25000 per month for bond, electricity and rates.
“Now we put most of that into ensuring our old age is taken care of and for our kids’ education.”
Like many permanent residents at Yellowsands Caravan Park, which is one of the Eastern Cape’s most popular camping destinations with its spacious caravan sites overlooking the sea, the Stotters have taken immense pride in the appearance of their modest home, with flower-filled pots, wooden ornaments and a “Merry Christmas” sign welcoming visitors.
Like her daughter Charne, Denise Krull, 70, never dreamed she would one day move into the modified caravan she and her late husband, Norman, used for weekend getaways.
But since Norman’s sudden death just a few months ago, Krull left her Gonubie home for the safety of Yellowsands – and to live next door to family.
“I feel much safer here and I also have a lot of friends here – people are always popping in and we have a social once a month.”
And, while she misses her husband of 47 years tremendously, she still has a rugby supporter living with her in the form of Zac, the African parrot, who screeches “Go, Bokke go” when the Springboks are on TV.
Her children and son-in-law surprised her with a new bed and built-in cupboards in the bedroom, which is in the original caravan part of her home and decorated the cosy living room with its brick- effect wallpaper with family photographs.
“It was such a surprise it made me cry,” said Krull, who got rid of all her furniture and just brought ornaments with a sentimental value to her little seaside home.
And while she enjoys the peace and quiet of the resort, December holidays bring their own excitement.
“All the campers and holiday-makers are here and you can smell braai fires all the time. Many of them have become friends because they come here every year.
“I have everything I need here except a bath, but if I want one I just pop over to the ablution block which is always kept very clean.”
Also living the dream are Anita and Dick Bryant, who gave up their four-bedroomed double storey home in Baysville to live in a park home overlooking the Buluga River in Glen Eden, 27km north-east of East London.
“We had a big double storey house but then Anita, who is an estate agent, saw this park home and said ‘I’ve found our dream home’ and when I saw it we bought it on the spot,” said retired bank manager Dick, who built a study onto the original Plettenberg parkhome to neatly house his collection of 8000 LPs.
“I had 18000 LPs so I had to downsize when we moved here,” said Dick, who paid R289000 for the three- bedroomed parkhome and spent R70000 upgrading it.
While her husband had to give up some records, Anita had to sacrifice her precious Noritake dinner service due to storage challenges in their airy little kitchen.
“I only have space for eight dinner plates and we often have more people than that coming over, but besides that and my big electric stove, there is nothing we had in our big house that we don’t have here – and look at our magnificent views of the river and the sea. We have such a relaxed lifestyle here and we are a very close community that looks out for each other.”
As an estate agent working in the area, she said the park homes at Glen Eden are very popular even though buyers own only the structure of their homes and not the land it is situated on.
“I sold seven park homes in the last year and I have two on the market. We have leasehold title so don’t own the ground and we renew our lease every three years.”
Anita said she will never leave Glen Eden.
“We have lived in many houses with pools and double storeys, but I’ve never been as happy as I am here.
“They will have to carry me out in a box.”