What made us choose to build a van + experience van life

Posted by

If you’ve been following Where to Walk on Instagram, you’ll know that we bought a campervan and are currently in the progress of renovating it with the aim of taking it on the road around New Zealand for a year.

I’m going to blog about the process, which I’ve broken down into four stages:

Stage One: Buying + Demolishing
Stage Two: Preparing + Fixing
Stage Three: Building + Installing
Stage Four: Decorating + Final Touches

Before I write these, Paul suggested it would be good to write a post explaining why we are embarking upon this adventure, and what led us to making this decision, what we’re hoping to experience, and what we’ve done to get here. So, here goes!

In 2020, we had a bunch of overseas travel planned. Obviously, like many, many others that got canned. After New Zealand came out of our nationwide lockdown in May 2020, there was a concerted effort by regional and the national tourism organisation to get kiwis travelling and to experience their own country. A lot of tourism companies came to the table with discounts and offers to encourage this (I’m not going to get into the pricing of tourism activities for New Zealanders, or the shape of New Zealand’s tourism industry, or anything like that here!) As part of that, Maui Campervans had a deal where you could hire a campervan for $25 a day. Now, normally these go for more than $100 a day, so it was definitely a bargain and the deal was incredibly popular that you had to sign up to be informed when the next dates/campervans became available. I received the link and we booked in our campervan to pick up in Christchurch in mid June (middle of winter in New Zealand) where it would be all ours for 10 days.

Our only criteria for the campervan was that Paul had to be able to stand up in it (he’s more than 6ft) It limited us somewhat, but we found a van and it came with linen/towels etc. For 10 days, it cost us less than $600. Bargain!

First day in our hired campervan!

I think we had a couple of nights in it and we were sold. The freedom! The ability to cook and go to the bathroom whenever you want! How cosy the bed was! How good it was having a diesel heater (remember, we were travelling in the middle of winter!) How roomy they actually were inside. I can’t comment on the driving as Paul did that, but it was nice being a passenger! The incredible camping spots around New Zealand – many of which were right on a lake or beach.

After our trip we were still buzzing. We were both looking for freedom and not being stuck in an office and we didn’t see our future in the city we were living in so we made the decision to sell our apartment and use some of the cash from that to fund #NZVanLife as we travelled New Zealand to figure out where we might want to live and work next. As part of that we decided to move to Hawke’s Bay, where we could live cheaply with my family and work on the campervan. All this was done within four months of returning from the first campervan trip.

But how to buy one? How to choose? What were we looking for? Our criteria was:

  1. A tall van. We needed to be able to stand up inside.
  2. A full size queen bed.
  3. A long wheel base(LWB) vehicle.
  4. Room for a bathroom and kitchen. We needed to be fully self contained in order to use the many DOC and freedom camping sites around New Zealand.
  5. Not too much mileage on the clock, and the engine needed to be sound.

Well, it turns out that we weren’t the only ones with this idea and vans were popping up on trademe and marketplace and selling again just as quickly. While there were lots of smaller vans (ones you can’t stand in) available for sale by tourists who were leaving NZ, it wasn’t what we were after. We kept looking and even contemplated buying a bus for a while (in hindsight, so glad we didn’t go down that route!) We’d narrowed down that we were after a Fiat Ducato, Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, or Iveco Daily.

Finally, in late 2020 we found one that matched all our criteria. We drove up to Gisborne, did a bank transfer, changed the paperwork online, and a LWB Iveco Turbo Daily was all ours! Back in the Bay we took her on a couple of day trips, sketched out how we’d like the inside to look, and took her on an overnight trip to Kairakau Beach were we confirmed that we definitely need a bed that goes length way down the van, not width ways as most campervan beds tend to be!

Our Iveco Turbo Daily on the day we purchased her

So what we are hoping to achieve with our trip?

Freedom. The ability to explore with no time constraints. We’ve already decided that we are aiming to not drive for more than an hour each day. Choose where we want to be according to the weather or what we feel like that week (beach or bush? Or both?!) We want to spend more time outside. Simplify. New Zealand is a fabulous place to experience van life for the first time – we have an abundance of places to park up, it’s relatively safe, and there is so much natural beauty to experience!

And now the big question. Cost. How much is the van build costing us? How much are we planning on spending on the road? Are we planning on working? The latter question is the one we get asked about the most!

Taking her on our first overnight outing to Kairakau Beach

Well, our budget for the van purchase + build is NZ$50,000. Our Iveco Turbo Daily cost us just under $20,755, which left us $29,000 for everything else. Which we thought was a lot, but that had to cover:

  • Panelbeating + outside paint job
  • Insurance
  • Garage/workspace rental to work on the van in
  • Tools
  • Appliances for the van
  • Wood + building supplies
  • Plumbing + electrical
  • Batteries + solar panels
  • And everything else that needs to go into the van.

As for how much we are planning on spending on the road, we have a budget of $400 a week between the two of us. So $200 each over a year which is $10,400.

That $400 weekly is to cover:

  • Diesel + RUC
  • Groceries
  • Campsites + laundry
  • Insurance
  • COF (warrant of fitness for campervans)
  • Service + registration costs

Any tourism activities/extra things we want, we pay for ourselves! If we need to make some more money we will stop somewhere and work for a while, whether it’s picking fruit, or doing work on our laptops somewhere, we’re not too worried as it’s pretty easy to pick up work here.

Is there anything we’ll miss while we’re on the road?

There’s only two things we can think of. The first is our cat, Elfie. We did initially think about taking her in the campervan with us, especially with friends sending us instagram of videos of hiking/paddleboarding/kayaking cats, but she hates travelling in cars, and what we would do with her when we did overnight/multi day hikes? We’d either have to find a cattery each time, or leave her in the campervan, neither being great options. Thankfully, she’s able to stay where we are currently living, with my brothers. She has lots of room to roam, and has already taken to the chickens at the property, and has made sure the dog knows who is the boss (it’s her). The second is that we will miss out on being able to visit some places, just due to the size of the van (she comes in at 7+ metres) and that it isn’t a four wheel drive vehicle.

Eflie Cat – we’ll miss her while we’re on the road!

Paul is the Project Manager for the van build, while I’m the apprentice and in charge of the finances and of the interior design. And of documenting the process! We have LOTS of photos and time lapse videos, but they will be shared in the upcoming blogs detailing the four stages of the build, so sign up to receive those straight to your inbox.

The blog of Stage One: Buying + Demolishing will be up soon, where we take absolutely everything out of the van, stripping it right back to the frame and discover that we have a lot more work to do than we initially anticipated!