Presenting… our diy campervan

Well the deadline was Christmas, and apart from a few final tweaks, our campervan is finished. YAY!

The festive corner

Fridge nicely stocked

We still need to finish some edging, paint the inside of the back door and make some tiebacks (ribbon will do for now, in keeping with the season) but this can all wait until the Christmas break.

Of course I’m biased, but I think Paul has done a stunning job – the van is unrecognisable from its days as a minibus and I can’t wait for lots of campervanning mini-breaks.

And the maiden voyage is not far off; we’ve booked one night on North Stradbroke Island at a beachside campsite called Adder Rock. We’re hoping the name is not prophetic, but just in case we’ll be requesting a pitch far from any rocks.

We’ll let you know how it goes. Merry Christmas everyone!

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Our campervan bathroom

With a new deadline of Christmas, we’ve spent the last few weekends adding the final touches to the campervan.

The bathroom is now finished:Campervan bathroom

Campervan bathroom

The glass mosaic tiles were left over from our own bathroom so we thought we’d continue the red theme through from the living area.

We have boxed in the wheel arch behind the toilet, which also provides a handy shelf or magazine rack:

The doors separating the bathroom from the kitchen are made from the same gloss panels Paul’s used for all the woodwork (sold as pantry doors in Bunnings – if the link is saying ‘sold out’, err.. we have bought quite a few.)

He added new hinges, handles and a lock at the top of each door, so they can be secured in both the open and closed positions.

Campervan bathroom

So the interior is very nearly complete.

In other news, the curtains are finished – hurrah! My new nemesis is the tiebacks; they are being decidedly tricky.

A trial run – Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort

If you love travelling, you might have noticed that an affinity for hotels is often accompanied by a slight addiction to the review site, TripAdvisor, both to research potential hotels and review them after you’ve stayed. Indeed, I was secretly delighted a bit embarrassed to learn yesterday that I’m on the cusp of being awarded my ‘Senior Contributor’ badge. A good one for the CV!

Once the campervan is finished, I have a vague notion of developing a website to review and recommend campsites that we (and others) stay at – obviously not on a TripAdvisor scale, but there doesn’t seem to be anything similar out there. Maybe because Australian campers relish the surprise of arriving at uncharted campsites; if that’s the case, Mum – the site might just be for you.

So over the next few months, keep an eye out for bestcampsites.com.au, and in the meantime, here’s the first review.

Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, Cape Hillsborough, Mackay, Qld

As the name implies, the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort has much higher ambitions than your average humble campsite. And for the most part, I think they’re justified – you can’t go far wrong when you’re located on a deserted tropical beach and surrounded by beautiful national park.

Cape Hillsborough beach

This review is just our impression of the resort. For full details about facilities and prices, please visit the website: www.capehillsboroughresort.com.au

Accommodation
There are powered and unpowered sites, some studio rooms and a variety of beachfront cabins, ranging from the more luxurious Beach House to the less salubrious Fishing Huts (boasting the description: NO LINEN AND NO BATHROOM – I know we were seeking a camping experience but thought this was a step too far for our first jaunt). We opted instead for one of the mid-range Beach Huts at $125/night.


The cabins

 

One of the powered sites

Our cabin was fairly outdated but functional with a bed, kitchenette and shower/toilet. Outside we had a small deck and a couple of chairs. An army of ants had moved in before we arrived, as could be expected in an outdoors setting, but they were politely unintrusive. The room could have been improved immeasurably though with a quick blast of Exit Mould and a whiff of bleach; it was the sort of place where you might just keep your flip-flops on. I can’t comment on the cleanliness of the other cabins, but from the outside, I got the impression they might be fairly similar.

Redeeming features
The resort is renowned for attracting native wildlife (not just ants), the highlight being the resident kangaroos that congregate on the beach at sunrise and sunset. As recommended, we stumbled on to the beach at 5.15am to find a sizeable crowd had already gathered around a lone kangaroo. Who, to his credit, was distinctly unfazed by all the commotion.

Bovvered?

If you don’t fancy such an early start, you may find (as we did) that once the sun is up, the kangaroo(s) will stroll nonchalantly into the campsite and snooze outside your cabin for the rest of the day anyway.

Resort guests only? Pffft.

Vibe
Relaxed, good humoured and friendly – so much so that as people walked back from the bbq at breakfast time wafting steaming plates of bacon and eggs under your nose, you did wonder if they might offer you some. Especially as we were less than prepared and sitting on our deck with one cereal bar each. (They didn’t though – not a sausage.)

Verdict
If you have a tent / caravan / campervan, go for it – it’s a great resort, and the pool would make it a hit with families. Make sure you stock up on provisions before you arrive, the onsite shop is limited, and there are few cafes or food outlets around. I’d probably give the cabins a miss.

The great outdoors

Having spent the best part of a year building our campervan in preparation for lots of mini-breaks in the great outdoors, a thought suddenly occurred to me: I hope we do actually like the great outdoors. In 13 years together, our experience of campsites has extended to one short holiday travelling around New Zealand a few years ago – a campervan trip we enjoyed so much it encouraged us to build our own.

Limited experience of ‘the outdoors’ (in NZ)

The main reason we’ve never truly embraced this quintessentially Australian lifestyle is probably due to a complete LOVE of hotels. Whether it’s a city centre spa nestled in a quirky cultural quarter, a boutique B&B perched on a clifftop, or, quite frankly, a Holiday Inn on the M1, if there’s ever a chance for a weekend away, you can put our names down.

It’s such a treat staying in a hotel; a real feeling of escapism. I love the sense of anticipation when you first pull back the curtains and peak at the view. The excitement when you prise open the mini-bar and involuntarily gasp at the price of the Pringles. The thrill when they replace all your toiletries the next morning (when actually you’ve just stashed the first lot in your washbag). The indulgence of hanging the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, just because you can. (Much to my sister’s embarrassment when I was sharing a room with her.)

While room service and complimentary smellies might be harder to come by at a campsite, it’s the sense of freedom we’re hoping to capture in the campervan. The chance to escape after work on Friday, put a pin in the map and then just rock on up to somewhere new – particularly somewhere with a beautiful view. (Of course the fact we’ll be able to open the fridge when we get there and not have to pay for Pringles is an added bonus.)

And having devoured every episode of Bear Grylls in recent years, I feel we’re fairly well equipped to deal with anything nature might throw at us. I will be quite content to sit under our awning and twirl a twig for three hours to produce a spark for our stove. And if ever a cold front moves in and we get caught in a storm, I will be instructing Paul to immediately strip off all his clothes and perform 20 star jumps naked to get his (and everyone else’s) heart pumping.

<I won’t be inserting an appropriate picture here.>

Anyway despite these useful skills, for all intents and purposes, we are definitely camping novices. So we thought we should conduct a trial run before our van is finished, just to brush up on our camping etiquette and basically check that after 12 months’ work, our enthusiasm for an outdoors mini-break is still intact.

The opportunity arose a few weeks ago when we visited some friends in Mackay, 1000km north of Brisbane. We decided to break with tradition and, after spending one night in ‘a nice hotel’, we checked into the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort for the next night. I’ll do a quick review of the campsite and our experience in the next blog post – not that it particularly warrants the added suspense, but from a ‘technical perspective’ I can separate it out from blog posts about the campervan conversion.

Thankfully though, we had a great time. And suffice it to say, star jumps are so last year.

Raising the roof

Early on in our diy campervan project, Paul removed the back panel of the internal ceiling so he could install the wiring. (The front panel stretched right down to the windscreen and housed all the air conditioning, so he left this intact.) Removing the ceiling afforded us an extra 10cm head height in the main part of the van, which has been useful with Paul working in there every weekend, and which we’re now reluctant to lose! So instead of replacing the original ceiling, Paul’s created a new one out of panels of flexible hard board.

This shows the original ceiling at the front and the extra head height we can gain at the back:

Once all the ceiling was insulated (using flooring insulation as above), the hard board panels could go up. It was quite a long process involving a lot of measuring and sawing, before each panel was screwed into the van framework with metal screws.

In the bathroom we’ve extended the ceiling down to block out the two side windows (it seemed a bit of a shame to lose the extra light, but the alternative was making two more curtains. Hmmmm.)

The original ceiling is covered with a pale grey type of carpet, which we couldn’t match exactly so we’ve gone for a two-tone look with a darker grey carpet matting from Clark Rubber.

It was really fiddly cutting the carpet template exactly to size and fitting it in place – made harder by the fact that the adhesive (Selleys Kwik Grip spray) was brilliantly sticky and stuck fast the instant it attached to something.

The wiring for each hole was fed through the board and the carpet, then the light fitting screwed on top.

The final job is to bridge the 10cm gap between the front panel and back panel.

It’s great having the tiny bit of extra room, and we’ve realised we don’t even have to stoop over any more, if we just bend our knees into a slight squat we can stand up to full height – a quick and simple way to combine a bit of added exercise with excellent health & safety practice.

Preparing for a hot summer – campervan ventilation

Summer is officially here, and the temperature has soared over the last few weeks (sorry to anyone shivering in the Northern Hemisphere). All through winter I was wondering if we’d have enough cupboard space to store a 25 tog arctic duvet during the day (answer: not a chance), and suddenly it’s a question of how we’ll be able to cool the van down, particularly at night.

The front of the van has air conditioning, but it only works when the engine’s running. So as extra ventilation, we have the ceiling fan which provides a good breeze, and even when it’s not switched on, the open vent lets some fresh air in. We also have an air vent in the door next to where we’ll sleep:

To fit a vent:

  • Draw an outline of your vent panel on the inside and outside of the van.
  • On the outside of the van, cut three 10cm diameter holes through the body work with a hole saw, and seal them with a rust proofer. Note – if you’re fitting a vent to a door like we were, you’ll find it has extra bracing and reinforcements than the rest of the van – be careful to avoid these when you’re drilling.
  • Drill 6 bolt holes around your outline on the outside and rust proof each one.
  • Squeeze a line of silicon around the inside edge of the vent panel intended for the outside of the van (to prevent water seepage).
  • Attach this vent panel to the outside and bolt through.
  • On the inside of the van (ours is hard board) cut a square hole a few centimetres smaller than the outline you’ve drawn, and tighten the bolts you’ve just screwed through with nuts. Take care not to screw them too tightly, as the outside body work will start to bend inwards.
  • Fit the inside panel over the template you drew and simply screw 6 bolts into the hard board.

We have two other vents in the van: in the battery compartment and next to the fridge. The fridge didn’t strictly need one, but it’s an added safety feature in case it ever overheats. These two vents were much more straightforward to fit; they’re not visible from the inside so the open hole can be exposed, meaning you only need to bolt a vent cover to the outside. Here’s the battery vent from the inside:

We also have an extractor fan above the gas stove:

Paul boxed in the top using the same gloss wood he’s used all the way through.

So that’s the campervan’s ventilation, but hopefully for most of the time we’ll be sitting outside under our lovely new awning!

For some reason awnings are incredibly expensive. This one is a Fiamma ‘bag awning’ from Caravans Plus and a really basic version, but it was still one of our most expensive campervan purchases. You have to roll it down manually, but it seems to work okay.

The frame is fixed to the van and you roll the awning in and out of its bag. You can then remove the cover and store the whole thing inside when you’re not using it.

So there’s not much left to do now: refit the ceiling, build a bathroom door, fit the door handles and then we’re almost there! Oh, and make 11 curtains.