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!

How to convert campervan seating into a bed

After much pencil chewing and imaginary beard stroking over how to convert our campervan seating into a bed, Paul had an epiphany.

The first stage was fairly simple. By hinging an extra panel onto the long section of the L-shaped seating, we could pull it out to create the base of the bed. As shown here:


Paul had to cut the top panel marginally shorter than the bottom one, so it would clear the overhanging worksurface when pulled out. This will be hidden though once the seat cushions are on.

We’ve continued to use the same material for all the seating panels – I imagine the staff at Bunnings are somewhat intrigued by the sudden demand for their cheap pantry doors. It’s been a readily available form of MDF though with a glossy plastic coating, and has been really easy to work with.

The challenge was creating the supporting leg underneath the pull-out bed panel. The moment of revelation occurred when Paul worked out he could add another panel, which, when hinged, would act as a back rest in one position, and a supporting leg when folded down:

In the bed configuration, the two seat cushions will stay in position, and the two backrests will lie side by side on the other half. The bed is actually wider than I’d imagined; I was visualizing us both having to lie on our sides and turn over in unison, but it’s about 1.2m wide, which is fairly comfortable.

This week Paul has also fitted the master control switch, and bought the battery and the charger, so the next job is to start wiring everything up. Since winter arrived early in Brisbane, I have been lobbying for a nice warm fan heater, in case the van is finished before August. I’ve been advised to just rug up.

Buying the van – what happens next?


Tues 11 October 2010

So after a seemingly endless, global search that saw us trek out to car yards as far away as Strathpine and Acacia Ridge, we’ve finally found the perfect van, hurrah!!

Well, I say we…

Paul had very precise requirements, and was starting to lose hope that there were any Toyota commuter vans in Queensland that represented exactly what he wanted (i.e. diesel, automatic, low mileage, low cost, no signage emblazoned on the side, one careful lady owner etc). We had seen and discounted quite a few for various reasons, and unfortunately every salesman we encountered had the same reaction, exclaiming with a sharp intake of breath and a shake of the head that they were as ‘rare as hen’s teeth’.

Not to be defeated, I logged on to carsales.com last Friday morning with the now ingrained list of requirements, and at the top of the list was a lovely looking van. It was petrol, not diesel, but other than that, it seemed exactly right. A 2006 model with only 41,000 km on the clock and best of all, it was $32,000 – $3,000 less than we thought we’d have to pay. It had somehow slipped through the cracks on Paul’s search, but he agreed it looked promising. That evening, Paul rang the contact number listed, and the guy said he had theoretically already ‘sold’ it to two people who were scrambling to arrange their finance, but if we could promise cash the following day, it was ours. Well. That was a turn up for the books.

Keen not to be gazumped ourselves, on Saturday morning we drove in torrential rain to yet another interesting Brisbane suburb, Rocklea, where we met the owner in a printing & signage workshop where the van was being stored. It had recently come across from WA, where it was owned by ABC Childcare. It wasn’t too good to be true, it was a beautiful van – clean and shiny with no dents and hardly any wear inside. It also came with a free fire extinguisher!

We gave it a thorough test drive in the garage, and then dashed to the bank down the road for a cash deposit before he could sell it to anyone else.

The owner was great, and promised to arrange for all 12 rear seats to be taken out, get it certified as a 2-seater vehicle and also re-register it in Queensland – all without charging any extra!

Sat 16 October
Paul drove back to Rocklea yesterday to transfer the rest of the money and drive the van home – sans 12 rear seats. Luckily it fits perfectly down the side of the house. So here it is: ooooh, aaaaah.

Campervan

 

Plenty of room!

Sat 23 October
The first job was to get the windows tinted, which Paul arranged at Auto-Tint in Capalaba. They used the darkest legal tint and promised no bubbles. It looks pretty good:

 

In the afternoon we also joined 5,000 other people wearing this season’s pac-a-mac at the Brisbane Caravan and Camping Sale. It was good to check out the various fixtures and fittings, including lighting and sinks, that we can use in the van, although admittedly we spent most of our time swooning at the fantastic Winnebagos that slept about 16. Our van does not resemble a Winnebago. We found a conversion company who were helpful, and can do either the whole van or just the tricky bits. The look on Paul’s face suggested he would quite like someone to do the whole van, so we had to make a swift exit.

At least we can get a quote for just doing the cutting work to install the gas bottle and ventilation.

Fri 29 October
It’s all systems go. One of Paul’s colleagues has done a 3-D design of the van, which shows everything should fit in well, with our living / dining / sleeping area at the front, a kitchen in the middle with hob on one side and sink on the other, and a tiny bathroom at the back:

Sun 31 October
Paul spent all day yesterday building a mock frame inside the van, to show where each bit will sit. Here you go:

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

 

The only issue that keeps rearing its head is the height of the van inside. It’s 156m high, and because I’m 170cm and Paul is a bit taller, it means that spending any length of time standing or walking through induces a rather stiff back and neck. One option is to raise the roof an extra foot or so with either a hard or soft pop-top so we can freely move around, but Paul is not keen.

Cutting the roof off would obviously be a major job, fairly expensive and not particularly one for the driveway. It would decrease the rigidity inside and make it hard to have an internal wall separating the bathroom (particularly with a soft-top), reduce fuel efficiency and limit the number of multi-storey car parks we could frequent.

Of course, we won’t be spending long periods standing or walking inside however high the ceiling is. But it seems a shame to spend time building a lovely kitchen and bathroom if it’s then too uncomfortable to use them. Anyway, lots of people have tried to persuade Paul and he is having none of it – he says I can fry his breakfast kneeling down at the cooker. Hilarious.
Sun 7 November
We’ve had no luck with the conversion company, who as it turned out were not interested in just doing part of the job. So Paul’s going to tackle it all himself – any excuse for another trip to Bunnings to buy some shiny new tools.

He ordered a stainless steel box for the 9kg gas bottle, which arrived this week. The plan was for it to sit underneath the seating bench but it’s a bit tall, and means when we put the seat cushion on top, the seat will be at window height. To avoid passers by getting a perfect view of our derrieres through the (albeit beautifully tinted) windows as we sit and enjoy our cups of tea, we might have to get a smaller gas bottle, that fits under the seats as we planned. A 2.5kg bottle should be fine just for weekends away anyway.

Sun 20 November
There were a few sweaty palms today, as Paul had to cut a nice round hole in the side of the van for the electrical power point. I can’t imagine there’s much demand for minibuses with portholes, so there’s no going back now!

Still, it went beautifully: