Kayaking in Cromwell, climbing the famous Wānaka tree, hiking in Coromandel – Mao Mao the cat has done it all on her travels.
Fed up with their mundane day-to-day life, her owners Matt Day and Ching Yi Wong quit their jobs, bought a van and took Mao Mao off on a trip to explore the country.
When the couple decided to hit the road, there was no question whether or not Mao Mao would live the van life with them.
“We get crazy looks from people when we’re walking her, like, ‘Is that a cat?’.” But why not, she loves it,” Day said.
Day met Wong in Hong Kong five years ago. The pair lived together in Hokitika on the West Coast, Day working as a builder and Wong in hospitality, before they decided to spread their wings.
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“We were sick of Hoki, so we thought we’d live the easy life. We just started exploring and seeing where we might want to move to,” said Wong, 25.
Day and Wong lived next to the beach in Hokitika. Mao Mao, which is Cantonese for “cat cat”, grew up having daily walks on the beach and keeping a day company when he went surf-casting.
By the time they were ready to hit the road, Mao Mao, who is a year old, was used to wearing her harness and going for walks in the wild.
Their first stop was Cromwell, where they picked cherries and freedom camped for a couple of months before cruising up the east coast of the South Island.
The “super spoiled” Mao Mao had daily walks through the orchards and visited popular tourist spots, including the iconic Wānaka tree.
They later arrived in Motueka, where they picked apples for three months.
“It was so chill. Everyone loved Mao Mao. She’d run through the kiwi fruit field like frothing,” said Day, 27.
Mao Mao always wears a harness when she’s outside, and has a long lead that ties to the van.
“Otherwise she gaps it and doesn’t come home until like 4am. It’s the most stressful night, not worth it,” Day said.
Mao Mao is no average cat – Wong and Day say she has more dog-like qualities.
She loves her walks, she swims and joins Day for a paddle on the kayak – she even puts her head out the window when they’re driving.
Relaxing on the dashboard in the sun or sitting on her dad’s lap, Mao Mao doesn’t mind the long drives.
She even has her own Instagram account, @adventuremao, where people can follow her on her travels.
The traveling trio are now on Waiheke Island pruning the grapevines.
Living stress-free with little responsibility, the pair say it’s the happiest they have been.
“You don’t have those same responsibilities here, you just come, work for two months, then leave for the next. We’re just so chilled out,” Wong said.
While they live a simple life, Wong enjoys cooking up Asian delicacies on the road.
“Sometimes we’ll rock up to a campground and [Wong] will cook up a hot pot and everyone is staring. While they cook up their sausages, we’re having a gourmet meal,” Day said.
The pair are using the time to explore where they might like to settle down. They plan to spend the summer traveling the North Island with Mao Mao and working where they can.
They have made friends along the way, and have even come across other traveling cats.
“Everyone is so friendly in seasonal work. We get along with everyone,” Day said.