The minimalist guide to camping – set up your site in five simple steps

1. Arrive at campsite and park under shady tree.
2. Unfold camping chairs.
3. Open bottle of wine.
4. Decide on red or green Pringles. Mmmm.
5. Sit back and watch the proper campers next door wrestle with tangled ropes and inadequate foot pumps in the midday sun. If you’ve got any left, maybe offer them a Pringle.

And so began our first trip in the campervan. It’s probably not a purist’s view of a camping weekend but (in our limited experience) a brilliant alternative.

We took the ferry to North Stradbroke Island – the second largest sand island in the world and a beautiful spot. It’s very accessible from Cleveland so we’ve been lots of times, but this was the first time we didn’t have to rush for the last ferry home.

Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island

We stayed at the Adder Rock campsite, right next to the beach near Point Lookout. Surprisingly, ours was one of the only campervans amidst an entire village of tents – and these were not your average two-manners, but mini canvas empires with dining rooms and adjoining corridors – all very swish. And a few metres from our pitch was Home Beach which is just lovely: a small bay which is perfect for swimming and then a sweeping stretch of white sand.

Home Beach, Point Lookout

Once we’d sussed out our surroundings and entertained ourselves with our new toys (an ergonomic broom for the wooden floor being the highlight) we were quite content to just kick back and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Yes our awning would have been very effective.. if we’d parked the other way round. Tsk – amateurs.

Our very subtle Christmas decorations (particularly subtle when compared with our neighbours’ fairy light extravaganza and lifesize inflatable reindeer).

We were very taken with our little van. It turned out we had heaps of storage, and lots of nooks and crannies so that everything had its place. The seats were comfortable (hurrah!) and the bathroom was fabulous. Unfortunately the gas wasn’t connected due to our plumber going awol the day before, so there were no cups of tea this trip – a bottle of bubbles stepped in at the last moment to toast our maiden voyage. And it was so hot I don’t think anybody (i.e. Paul) even noticed I served the same trio of salads for each meal. As soon as the stove’s working though I’ll have to consult my campervan cookbook and try to conjure up some cuisine worthy of competing with the other delicious aromas drifting around the site at 6pm.

We’d planned the weekend as a kind of test run to see how everything worked and whether another trip to Bunnings was required (it usually is) … but all I wrote down was ‘more bin-bags’ so it turns out we were quite organised.

View from the car ferry on the way home.

We were only away one night but it felt like a proper break – apparently that’s the start of the camping bug. Since we returned we’ve surrounded ourselves with maps and brochures to decide on the next destination. All recommendations welcome!

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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.

Converting a campervan – our favourite Google searches

If you have arrived at this post from Google or ‘another leading search engine’, I am wondering if you’ve found what you were looking for. When I first embarked on this blog, I had the rather lofty ambition of producing a kind of campervan oracle for people tackling similar projects. I have a sneaking suspicion that something has gone awry along the way. To test this theory though, I have developed a (not at all egocentric) fascination with the WordPress stats page. This is where, under the dubiously respectable guise of ‘professional interest’, I can find a list of search terms that have led people to this blog. (Fear not, I can only see the words you typed into Google rather than your postcode or inside leg measurement). Theoretically, this should tell me the topics that fellow campervanners need help with.

Interesting things I have learned:

  • There is definitely demand for a blog solely about campervan toilets. They are remarkably popular.
  • Campervan cabinets seem to be the nemesis in most people’s campervan conversions. (Just go to Bunnings!)
  • There is surprisingly high interest in gingham curtains. Maybe we could form a clique.

Some of the search terms have actually provided great inspiration for our own project:


‘DIY campervan bath’
– Now this is a fantastic idea, seats are overrated anyway. A bath would neatly fit in the living area and would require no cushions!

‘Tiling a campervan bathroom’ – what, the whole thing? That is dedication. I was planning to just stick a few mosaic tiles around the sink but maybe we should put a bit more effort in.

‘DIY slide-out room on campervan’. Now there’s a thought. I quite fancy a study. Unlikely though, seeing as I’ve been campaigning in vain for a slide-out roof for several months.

Some search terms have been more concerning:


‘Mould in campervan toilet flush tank’
. Hmmm.

‘Campervan toilet won’t flush’. Oh dear.

‘Campervan toilet still won’t flush’. This person was getting desperate.

‘Campervan toilet leaking water on floor’ I’m hoping that Google swiftly directed this poor person to a mop and bucket and they’re not now standing up to their ankles…

I also feel I might have lured some unsuspecting audiences here under false pretences, because quite a few people have arrived at the blog having googled ‘calming colours’. This must hark back to our early interior design plans to create a zen like atmosphere; I’m sure anyone hoping to be faced with a calm and serene environment beat a hasty retreat at the sight of our eventual fabric choice. Hopefully the people who googled ‘fun campervan upholstery’ left feeling a bit more fulfilled.

Over the course of the project I’ve tried to include most of the popular themes along the way, but there are some specific questions that keep popping up, so I’ll try and answer these in separate blogs. First will be how to attach cabinets to the shell of the campervan. After that, I should finally be able to report on the electrics because after several weeks surrounded by wires, apparently we’re almost powered up.

Incidentally, if you are converting your own campervan and have any questions or comments, please post them here!

Ps Thanks for everyone’s comments and messages about the cushions; I’m under the impression you’re getting a bit concerned. Luckily I’m not the sort of person who turns into a procrastinating perfectionist when faced with a bit of pressure* and I’m making steady progress. Photos coming soon!

*this might not be completely true.

The quickest route to a relaxing weekend?

Straight down the Pacific Highway, of course. After a busy few weeks at work, Paul and I had been craving a quiet, relaxing time over the five-day Easter break. So I think we were both a little surprised to find ourselves not heading to the coast, but ensconced in a crowd of other frazzled couples being herded along the pathway at Ikea. A pathway from which there is no escape. No early exit strategy. Everywhere you look people are frantically searching for a little pink card that says ‘Move directly to marketplace. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.’

Anyway, the plan was to look for a wooden work surface for the campervan kitchen. This was an about turn really; we’d always been keen to avoid the traditional pine look that you see in so many pictures of converted campervans, and were planning to use a pale laminate for the kitchen surfaces instead. But Paul loves working with wood, and was concerned that the interior was starting to look too white and sterile. I am inclined to think once we introduce the red cupboard doors and stripy seat cushions it’ll be hard to see any white, but I do quite like the idea of a solid wooden surface. Like one huge chopping board. So we’re hitching a brief ride on the pine-look bandwagon and have bought an Ikea Lagan worktop. It was almost 2.5 metres long, weighed over 30kg, and only just squeezed in the car (barely leaving room for my Ikea purchase: a single fluorescent dishwashing brush, which was looking a bit forlorn at the bottom of my huge yellow bag).

Paul’s cut two pieces of wood to fit each side of the kitchen and has given it about five coats of timber oil. He chose a Danish wood oil in the hope it would get along nicely with its Swedish wooden companion.

Wood before being oiled

In other news, Paul’s been doing some finishing touches on the cupboards and has boxed in the wheel arch at the back of the main kitchen cabinet, using the same laminated wood he used for the walls.

He’s also completely secured the toilet to the floor, which I am relieved about because I find it quite a comfy place to perch while Paul’s working, and as our driveway is on a slope, I was always in slight danger of sailing off down the van. Fixing the toilet was quite tricky, we couldn’t get long enough screws to drill far enough into the floor, and the limited space in the base of the toilet made it awkward to get the drill in to screw down. So Paul went underneath the van and used long bolts to drill up through the base of the van and through the floor, and secured the bolts with nuts in the base of the toilet.

Finally, the prize for this week’s most interesting photo surely goes to:

This is the steel box that Paul has resized for the gas bottle, so it will snugly fit our 2kg gas bottle rather than the 9kg one it was intended for. A bit of hacking and a lot of sticking has saved us sending the original box all the way back to NSW.

Earlier this week we had a bumper delivery from Caravans Plus which included a stove, kitchen sink and roof fan, so Paul’s going to tackle some of those this weekend.

A final word about gingham curtains

I’m sure there are plenty of craft blogs out there and I have no intention of turning this into another one. However, at the risk of confusing everyone who arrived at this blog having Googled ‘how to fit campervan cabinets’ (and alienating everyone else) I am going to indulge in one final post about my affiliation with gingham fabric.

A few weeks ago, I bought some beautiful red gingham material, which would be perfect for the quintessential campervan curtain.  Since then, I have been looking, unsuccessfully, for some upholstery fabric to match.  The stripy fabric that Paul’s so keen to use for the seat covers would clash horribly. Plain red fabric would work well with the gingham, but next to all the red cupboards might create an ambience more ‘brothelesque’ than would be desireable.  So I have reluctantly admitted defeat. There will be no gingham in this campervan. We have bought the bright stripy fabric for the seats and I am now on the search for a plainer fabric for the curtains.

So this picture is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means I finally managed to thread the bobbin on my new sewing machine and produce something resembling a tissue case. Hurrah! On the other hand, it means that my beautiful gingham, which had so much potential, is destined to spend the remainder of its days protecting packs of Kleenex.

So put your orders in now while my bobbin is still in place. I have samples of gingham fabric in red, lilac, navy, black and lime green. How I ever thought lime green curtains would match red cupboards, I’m not sure.

Campervan paraphernalia

Now, at the risk of sounding like we’re taking this hobby one stage too far and becoming (eek) ‘collectors’, we have amassed some very cool campervan paraphernalia since we started the project. It’s inspired some lovely presents and quite unlikely birthday / Christmas / Valentine’s cards. Here are some of the things we’ve had recently:

Paul got this model kombi van from Jean & John, very useful to practise on before he started the real thing. Although actually, he just had to stick on the lights and add the wheels so we can safely say he’s progressed!

I love this book Alice bought us for Christmas. It’s full of gorgeous campfire feasts, blustery cliff-top walks and tips on how to forage for your own funghi. It remains to be seen whether I could ever summon up enough… well, camping spirit to produce a lemon and herb risotto with cubed gorgonzola in our little kitchen – can you imagine stirring a pan for 20 minutes kneeling down?? – and I must confess, I’ve already ensured we’ll always have enough storage space for a ready supply of nice clean, supermarket-foraged mushrooms. But it’s a fantastic book.

I really like this Christmas card. Obviously I’m the one on the right, not sure who the other lady is.

Paul bought this one. He clearly has very unrealistic expectations high hopes for our future campervan exploits.

In need of a(nother) day off

I’ve decided that maintaining a blog is actually a great way to chivvy you along with whatever project you’re blogging about, just so you have something to post. Unfortunately, no amount of chivvying is going to increase the likelihood that any of our suppliers will open beyond the hours of 10-4 Mon-Fri so we can actually visit them. Paul raced back from work yesterday to see a cabinet maker who could potentially supply all the wood we need for the campervan, only to find he had already closed grrr. And as we have barely worked a full week since early December due to various public holidays and natural disasters, a day off is not looking very likely. At this rate I’m going to have to start on the gingham curtains so I have something to blog about. Is gingham surfer chic?