The Van

Start date of Adventure: 4 March 2021

For years, we’d yearned for the perceived simplicity of van life. The minimal lifestyle was very appealing: travel wherever you want and see the sights along the way, and you have your home with you at the end of the day! When we moved to New Zealand, we decided this was the perfect time to find our perfect van!

While we staying in our MIQ hotel, we spent a lot of time looking at vans. When we came across ones we really liked, it was tough because we wanted to schedule a time to take a look at it, but we wouldn’t be getting out of quarantine for another week or so!

There are many camper van types out there, especially on the South Island. From camp cars (station wagon with fold down seats) to super basic camp vans (mini vans) to bigger trade vans that have been converted, we really had to figure out what we wanted to narrow it down.

So many choices!

We were looking for a Self-Contained van. This means that the van is fully livable, self-sufficient for up to three days. If you want the nitty gritty boring details of what is required for a Self-Contained Certification, click here.

Within the Self-Contained (SC) classification there are many different sizes and set ups. You can get a minivan size with a bed platform that might convert into a bench and a kitchen at the back, accessible only from the hatch (boot). There are longer vans that have the bed to bench conversion and the kitchen area inside, or taller vans that allows you to stand up inside. Finally, there’s the ideal combination of a taller and longer van that has the kitchen inside AND you can stand up in!

Kitchen accessible from the back only

Most of the typical trade vans converted into SC vans here in NZ are smaller than what we are used to seeing in the US, like the Sprinter vans. Then there are the even bigger, taller vans or what we might call small RVs back in the US. We have seen several bus conversions too; those are fun but way out of our price range.

Fun, but no

So many of the vans we came across and liked were diesel, which was fine, but were also manual. Neither of us regularly drove a manual car back home, we decided maybe it would not be the best idea to re-learn how to drive manual in a large van, with the steering wheel and shifter on the opposite side while driving on the left side of the road.

We both love to make things, our ideal van would be empty, so that we could convert and build it out ourselves. However, without a home base and tools to do so, we decided to look at ones that have already been built out. Or a super fun option if we didn’t have so much stuff would be a 4 wheel drive Mitsubishi Delica.

4×4 classic Delica

Budget wise, the minivan style was very appealing, and we almost got ourselves a Nissan Serena.

Nissan Serena

After many more hours of looking at vans online we really started considering what our “needs” were. We preferred the longer wheelbase to have the kitchenette area inside, and tall enough to sit up on the bed.

We considered a Nissan Vannette that had very low mileage at a good price and had dual rear wheels which Cameron really liked. However, it wasn’t very long and the kitchen was out the boot.

Nissan Vannette

There was a Mazda Bongo we really liked, which had a very nice interior and tall shelving unit built in along the inside. Unfortunately, it wasn’t technically fully Self Contained.

Madza Bongo

I really liked this Mitsubishi L300 that had a rustic feel to it with a big wooden countertop and countersunk hidden stove, lots of storage under the bed. The best part was it had a swing built in, so you could sit in the kitchen then swing outward. Unfortunately, we later found out that it was manual.

Van with swing!

The One

After searching for the better part of two weeks, we finally found her: meet Cämpi Schlämbi!

A 2003 Toyota Hiace long wheelbase with relatively lower kilometrage. Like the US, Toyotas here in NZ are also notorious for their longevity! The van was newly and beautifully converted from trade van to a SC camper van. She was ready to go!

The electrical set up is great! There is a large solar panel on top that charges a second battery and power inverter inside. The inverter feeds an electrical outlet and LED lights which are built in to the ceiling paneling!

With the longer wheelbase, the kitchen space is all accessible from inside the living quarters of the van, so we could cook inside or use the fold out table to cook outside. She even came with a mini fridge built in!

There is plenty of storage: the cabinets underneath the counter are nicely split up, and there are large storage spaces below the bed.

The bed easily converts to a bench and table, which is nice for sitting and working at during our non-travel days.

We really liked that it felt like a home with the additions of the wood panel ceiling, the curtains with tiebacks, the little details like “home sweet home” and the flags hanging down in the back! You could tell that the previous owners really loved her and took great care of her!

We bought her from a sweet German couple who had to return home before they got to use her too much, due to the COVID pandemic. The van was parked up at a friend of a friend’s house in Queenstown for more than half a year as they decided if they should sell her or not.

They named her Cämpi Schlämbi! When we asked them about the name, they said it was Cämpi like Camper, and then just a funny word that rhymed with it. We thought that was fun! We fell in love with her, the name, and the story of how we got her so we decided to keep her name.

It certainly made for some unique challenges buying her though! To start, we were stuck in quarantine while trying to negotiate. The van was listed in New Zealand Dollars, but we were using our US account to pay the German owners in Euros. Finally we had to arrange to pick up the van with their contact here in NZ, who happens to be an Irishman!

When we got out of quarantine we picked up our rental car, bought a sewing machine and ukulele, and headed out of town (more on those in future posts)! We pulled into the driveway in Queenstown around 9 pm that night to see Cämpi Schlämbi in person for the first time! While we were out chatting with the van man, his wife came out with the small cactus seen in the pictures. “No home is complete without a house plant!” she said. It was actually the German couple’s cactus they bought for the home, and she kept it alive all this time for it’s new owners!

Queenstown
Mount Aspiring NP
Invercargill

We’ll make another post later on modifications we’ve made to Cämpi Schlämbi and where she’s been!

Thanks for reading!

–Kadi

Coronet peak in the background

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