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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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!

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.

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.

Plumbed in and ready to go

After the overindulgence last week of filling both sinks to the brim to test the campervan’s plumbing system, came the inevitable morning-after headache when we tried to empty them. The main problem has been finding fittings to connect the various flexible pipes to their respective tanks. But, with a bit of wrestling and a lot of silicon, everything seems to be secure and the cabinets have stayed dry! The only unexpected outcome is when we empty out the bathroom sink, the kitchen sink fills up:

Apparently it’s because our driveway slopes downwards, although I may keep it up my sleeve as a last-ditch party trick if we ever end up at a particularly sociable campsite.

This is the waste water tank, secured into place with some luggage straps.

The main grey hose leads into the tank from the two sinks, and we can empty it out via the blue tap at the bottom, which leads to an outlet with a normal hose connection:

We fill the cold fresh water tank up from the inlet pipe:

The pipe was a bit too wide to fit through the standard inlet connection, so Paul heated the end in boiling water until it was soft and pliable enough to fit. When the pipe cooled, it expanded back to its previous size and filled the hole nicely.

From there, it runs around the back of the waste water tank and into the fresh water tank:

The vertical pipe is a ventilation hose, which exits just to the left of the inlet hole (see above), and the metal bracket at the front holds the tank in place.

The real test for the whole plumbing system will come when we’re bumping along one of Queensland’s finest outback roads with a full water tank; it may be prudent to fill our limited storage space with more emergency mops than emergency cardigans for our first few trips.

Campervan plumbing – we have running water!

A splutter, trickle and finally a whoosh…and (with only one small-ish flood) we had two sinks full of water!

To install the plumbing system we used:

  • A 30 litre cold water tank
  • A Flojet Triplex Diaphragm water pump
  • A Truma 14 litre electric boiler
  • Various John Guest pipes and fittings.

We ordered everything from Caravans Plus, and were incredibly lucky that having built the cabinets in advance without any tank measurements, everything just fit with millimetres to spare. We were also pleased to come across the electric water heater, which had only just come on the market.

Most water heaters seem to run off gas, but with our gas tank on one side of the van and both sinks on the other side, it was going to be hard to lead the gas pipes across. We also didn’t want to use gas any more than necessary. The electric heater connects into the 240v system, heats the water to 70 degrees and then loses around one degree per hour. So we can be unplugged for 24 hours and still have relatively warm water.

The system was installed in two stages, with the plumbing and electrics. Here’s an overview:

Plumbing

The cold water tank is on the right, and Paul added a water level gauge, which is wired into the indicator by the door:

The photo below shows the plumbing system in more detail:

So following the circuit above:

  • A12mm pipe runs from the cold water tank to an isolation valve (blue & white tap on the right) to isolate the cold water.
  • The pipe continues into the water pump, which pumps the cold water out through the pipe on the left. The water runs through a pressure-reducing valve (see blue valve), and down to a t-junction.
  • At that point, the blue pipe runs up to service the cold taps in the kitchen and bathroom
  • The bottom pipe continues underneath the pump, through a non-return valve and to a safety drain valve (see yellow valve). This is a safety mechanism leading to a hole Paul drilled in the bottom of the van, which can be used to drain the hot water tank quickly.
  • The blue cold water pipe then runs up out of the safety drain valve into the hot water tank, which we had to raise onto its own shelf to separate it from the pump.
  • From the hot water tank, the clear pipe running down the middle is a ventilation pipe that prevents air bubbles getting trapped in the tank, and runs out through the same hole in the bottom of the van.
  • Hot water flows out of the red pipe and up to a t-junction to supply the hot taps in the kitchen and bathroom.

Electrics

The water pump connects to the 12v battery via a 15 amp fuse – the cable runs behind the fridge through the conduit in the doorway and round to the battery.

The electric heater has its own power point, which is wired into the fridge’s power point to link into the 240v system – this saves running two cables around to the 240v input socket on the other side.

So the result:

I’ll cover the input pipe and drainage in the next blog. So if, by any chance, you’re attempting your own plumbing and following these steps, don’t turn your taps on just yet!