Craig Levers often goes under the moniker CPL or PhotoCPL. He’s well known in NZ surf faternity as one of the stalwarts of surf photography. He worked for NZ Surf Mag for 15 years and was it’s editor for 8 of those. Since leaving the magazine in 2008 he has published 9 hardcover beach and surf books. Craig is the founder of the Recreational Society and its content director. Here’s his journey…
I was stuffed from the outset. My best friends growing up had a family Kombi camper. My first surf and skate trips as a 13 year old were in the Webster’s lefthand drive 1960’s split window T1. Mother Webster, Lois, would happily take us out to Piha or even Skatopia for day trips. When Ste’en got his driver’s license on his 15 th birthday it was really on. We’d overnight to the Coromandel, Raglan or Ahipara. We had storage, a fridge and tables to make museli bowls, PBJ’s and even cups of warm milky tea. I would like to point out at this juncture, as a junior member of the crew, I never- ever got the sleep in the warm confines of it’s metal cladding. Tim Webster and I were always relegated to our board bags under the low Kombi.
It set the tone. When it was my time to buy a car the prerequisite was, that at least a squab could be laid out in the back. I loved my Holden HR wagon, then the XD Falcon ute with it’s canopy, The Mitzy L300 4×4 van and then the Hi-lux surfs.
Every vehicle I’ve owned, there has been some effort to camperise it. A simple tote bin with a butane burner, a kettle and cups, plates and water. Every year while working for the surf mag I’d conspire at least one photoshoot/trip to be based around a motorhome- the ultimate road- trip, either in NZ or Australia.
After a lifetime of coveting campers in 2014 the plunge was taken. I rationalised that having a camper would mean I could post up and wait for the best light for shooting, or cruise between sessions in shade and comfort.
I bought modest Hiace 4×4 van that had been converted from new in Japan. My partner Ange and I loved it, but it struggled on hills often resulting in other drivers making dangerous overtakes. As reaction to that lack of power we bought a Chevy Silverado V8 4×4 ex St John ambo… again we loved it. Loved refining the conversion, loved the space and comfort. Loved the power of the American 6 litre petrol engine. Yes it was expensive to run, but the fuel paled in comparison to the cost of staying in a modest holiday park cabin.
The issue became the upcoming cost to do the conversion we wanted. Solar panels, inverters, shore power and ultimately a complete internal reconfiguration.
In late 2018 the Troopy [a Toyota 75 series Landcruiser] popped up online, it had all the extras we were wanting. It’s an ex-rental, so the camperising was done from new by Maui out in Manukau. The challenge has been the severe downscaling in size… we are adjusting, it’s not easy after the luxurious Ambo.
Since owning the Troopy the modifications have been ongoing. Because it’s on the coast a lot we got it completely rust proofed in 2 pot epoxy from Autoblast. Storing surfboards was a real issue, the high fiberglass roof isn’t load bearing so Simon at The Roof Rack Shop sourced us a rare set of Thule high leg racks. There are two solar panels on the roof so the boards are side mounted on the racks.
Getting the racks also meant we could upgrade the awning to a Rhino-rack Sunseeker. It’s super easy to deploy and pack, plus it has a high wind rating. All the old door and panel internal cards were pretty beat up, so they have been replaced with birch ply panels, this gave us the chance to add a Frontrunner table to the big back door and build in some shelves inset into the side panels.
The storage under the bottom bench was really hard to access, so that old MDF bench seat has been replaced with a birch-ply slat bench. The plan is to replace the old grey MDF cabinetry on the kitchen side for matching birch-ply and by doing so gain more storage. We currently carry 120 litres of fresh water, but we are going to drop this down to 50 litres and add a 50 grey water tank underfloor. This will finally bring us up to self containment certification. It will also give us more storage room inside. We run a 40L Waco chest fridge, which can run off the two solar panels 100%, drawing little to no power off the batteries if the sun is out. The Troopy has a cranking battery and two 95 amp hour house batteries stored under the bonnet. All the interior lights have been converted to LED. In the electrical centre there is a 600 watt pure sine wave inverter, a lpg/240w Cascade water heater and water pump, the Troopy has shore power as well, but in summer we can live off the grid until the water runs out. It’s a wonderful, never-ending project. Still waiting on the curtains aye Ange!
Craig’s Top 5 Tips for better Recreation;
- Keep a set of toiletries onboard, a toothbrush, toothpaste, body wash and deodorant. Why not?
- Have a basic tool kit for the wagon, a mallet, spare pegs, a 6inch crescent, a flat head, square and philips screwdriver at the minimum.
- If you are DIY’ing a fitout, decide on one type of fixing head, like committing to square head screws. It makes the job tidier, but it also means less fiddling around finding the right tool.
- Have a really good First Aid kit.
- Have 3 or 4 good reusable shopping bags left onboard. You need them for your supermarket shop, but also they are really good to use at campground showers to hang your clothes in, off the ground.
Check out Craig’s photography and books at www.photocpl.co.nz