There’s a sign up north that reads, “This is where council maintenance ends” – but this is also where Labour Party leader David Shearer’s family holiday starts. The sign marks the entrance to their holiday hideaway; there’s no resort, pool or even a bach – it’s your typical Kiwi camping holiday.
Since David and family friends went halves on a Northland property, they now have a base for their camping trip – and the 1976 caravan they bought on Trade Me is a step up from the tents the family used in the past.
Even when the leader of the opposition and his wife Anuschka were based overseas, where they were humanitarian workers for Save the Children Fund and then the United Nations, they always returned to New Zealand once a year, and their children, Vetya (15) and Anastasia (14), always looked forward to their camping trip north of Whangarei.
“We’ve been going camping for 15 years. For the kids this is what New Zealand was like for a number of years,” David explains. “It really is roughing it. It’s not a luxury holiday. It’s cold showers and swims, but our kids are pretty easygoing.”
However, they are fair-weather campers and you won’t see this family putting up with torrential rain for the sake of staying a few more days. A runabout boat is another addition to the site so the family can go fishing, and David and his son Vetya also enjoy surfing together at the beach which is just a few minutes drive away from their property.
The children have not seen as much of their father in the past year, after he took over the leadership of the Labour Party in December 2011. He is normally at Parliament in Wellington four days a week, while his family are based in Auckland where David is MP for Mt Albert.
“It’s certainly had a big effect. The absences are very long,” says Anuschka. “Which is why these holidays are so important.”
David is also taking this time to consider his political game plan for this year. “It’s no secret it’s been a tough year and my first year in the job as leader of the opposition,” says David. “It’s been hard and I’m pleased with where we have ended up – up eight points on where we finished in the election. “We’ve done a good job of being in opposition. Now we need to prepare to be in government,” he adds.
Both Vetya and Anastasia can be affected by public criticism of their father's leadership as he’s frequently in the public eye, but there are still advantages to having a father who’s in the limelight. David regularly appears on Radio Hauraki and Vetya loves going with him.
He’s learning how to play the guitar and has developed a taste for rock, strumming along with his dad. So far David and Anuschka have kept their children out of the public eye, but agreed to some family shots as they relaxed outdoors.“It’s a holiday,” Anuschka says. “It’s part of who we are,” adds David.
Camping is always something they have associated with New Zealand, and is a far cry from the war zones where David and Anuschka spent years working. If the family went on holiday when they lived in the Middle East, they would book into a resort.
“You just don’t camp. There are no camping grounds in Jordan,” Anuschka points out. “People think you’re nuts,” David adds. “This is why we wanted to do it with our kids when we returned to New Zealand because it is quintessential Kiwi stuff. “Summer in New Zealand is unbeatable. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else in the summer.”