The Van that started it all…

Most people have fond memories of their pets or long time family and friends and for us there is a van that is the beginning of our journey

Camping with the Kangaroos in Hat Head National Park, New South Wales, Australia

Our lovely 2000 Toyota Hiace was our first campervan build.
This is the old timer beauty that kicked off our vanlife adventures and cemented our desire to live alternatively.

Van life was a complete accident. We never set out to build a van originally. I had been involved in a motorcycle accident in 2018 and wrote off my motorbike and nearly myself. I needed new transport and fast. As much as I loved motorcycles, I wasn’t keen on jumping back on the bike anytime soon.

After some recovery I decided to get a van with a nice big bull bar for added protection. We didn’t think of turning it into a campervan when we got it, I just fancied the idea of owning a van and being able to transport things.

Once I’d recovered, I was looking for a project and it was actually Kiri who suggested we convert the van. I had zero experience building. The last thing I built with my hands that I was proud of was a spice rack in high school woodwork. Where would we start? Can you even do it yourself? There is no way this was going to work out.

Well, after much consideration, about 2 minutes of thinking, we decided to go ahead. We spent hours watching van conversion videos on YouTube and reading all the how-to posts. There wasn’t a lot of information for smaller vans, especially the Toyota HiAce. So we decided to just wing it and make it up as we went.

Our comfy bed with real sprung mattress and Koala sheets. The picture frame turns into a table.

During the planning and building phase, our core aim was to have a sustainable holiday machine that would allow us to not rely on caravan parks or motels. We’d seen so many vans that required setting up and packing up a bed. That for us personally was precious adventuring time wasted. Practicality and functionality was our main goal.

For our layout, we decided to build a raised bed, behind the cab and have a kitchen at the back to extend the space. The rear door opened up to provide an adequate roof in case of rain.

We installed 2 x 130w flexible solar panels on the roof and connected them to a Goal Zero Yeti 1400 (combined lithium battery, regulator and inverter unit).
This was more than adequate for our power needs on a trip.

Our first primitive sleepover (on an air mattress and milk crates) in our van introduced us to the issues of condensation! So installing a MaxxFan Deluxe on the roof was an absolute must. It is the only roof fan worth talking about.

In the kitchen we had a 2.5kg gas bottle connected to a slide out Coleman Stove. It cooked faster than our house kitchen stove.

Kiri’s ingenious spice rack. The timber gives it a warm cozy feel.

We both love cooking so having a functional kitchen was a priority! We invested in a decent fridge, the Dometic Waeco CFX55, and designed the fit out to allow sufficient bench space. Kiri also built a full spice rack by attaching a metal backing to the back of the bench and use magnetised jars.

Working with such a small space, the key to efficiency is using every bit of space you have. There were 3 large draws that extended under the bed. One in the kitchen for pots, condiments and pantry items and two extending from the sliding side door for wardrobe and activity items like fishing poles.

Just to the left of the stove we had a 25L Jerry can for water, this lasted us about 3 days. It was attached to a Shurflo 12v Pump and a hose with a tap on the end just behind the fridge so we could easily fill drink bottles and saucepans.
The bench above the fridge was hinged for easy access to the fridge and water hose.

All setup for action, the stove was on a draw slide and had a chopping board mounted underneath on slides.

We travelled with this van from Melbourne to Bundaberg and all the way down the East Coast of Australia with many other trips around Victoria. To this day, we think it was one of the most functional small vans without compromising on comfort.

Published by Chris Hayward

Tour Guide, Professional Adventurer and the first person in history to ascend Australia's longest river. Chris has harnessed his life of adventure and turned it into a life on the road in a custom built Mercedes Sprinter Van Home

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