There are an infinite amount of reasons and whys we get into the campers we have. Clint Ulyatt’s catalyst is one you wouldn’t wish on anyone. But the end result is family and making fond family memories. This one is for you Ken.
My interest in becoming a Recreationalist was sparked back in the 70’s. As a kid my family moved to Western Australia. It was 1978 and my old-man had lost his job in NZ.
We flew to Sydney and my Nan paid for us to take a train for three days and three night across the Nullarbor Desert to Perth. It was insane, my parents had no money, and no jobs to go to. Just two kids and two suitcases. We ended up living in a caravan park while Ken, my dad, cleaned cars and mum looked after the cleaning at the park as a way of getting by.
For 6 months we lived in the caravan. It was the best time of my life.
The warm, dry climate meant that all our time was spent playing outside and meeting new friends as they came and went from the park.
Fast forward 40 years… I’m living in Auckland with my wife and kids, and I get a call from dad in Hawkes Bay telling me he’s dying of Cancer. And like so many men of his generation he’s just going to roll with the punches. As far as he was concerned he was an immortal.
Right near the top of his Bucket List is a camper. Not just any camper, it had to be 4×4 and a diesel, fully self-contained and not $100k! He wanted to pull up to the beach, grab a rod, do a bit of surfcasting and have a cup of tea with whatever time he had left.
Enter Yoko! (A 1992 Toyota Townace, Amcraft, 4×4, diesel)
We found her on Trademe. She’d come from Japan at some stage and had ended up in the hands of an engineer who had added solar and a host of aftermarket goodies.
The current owner was selling after his wife had recently passed away, also of cancer. We got her for $15,500 after some serious bidding at midnight on the night the auction closed. Some poor punter lost-out after driving to Auckland from Palmerston North on the expectation he’d be successful.
I remember vividly the day she was dropped off. The owner was in tears, Yoko had been like a family member for the better part of the last 10 years. They had holidayed with the kids when they were young and his wife had used her as a mobile office. I felt like I was taking a piece of his heart. I drove him home on what was a 2 hour round trip. It was pretty cathartic for us both – him having just lost his wife and me knowing what was on the horizon.
I drove Yoko to Hawkes Bay immediately after taking possession of her. Which was a slow slog, 25km/h up the ranges. Sweet downhill.
Eventually I got to Hawkes Bay. I took the old man out for a night on the town, parked up in Napier at the Tom Parker Fountain on the Marine Parade and watched the lights change colour over Hot Chick rotisserie chicken and an ice cream. Which is what we used to do for entertainment as a family.
A month later my Dad passed.
I made the decision that Yoko would stay in the family as a way of honouring his memory.
In January 2020 we took her up to Waipatiki Beach, which is a beautiful secluded beach and campground North of Napier. Bizarrely we ended up having to make an exit from the beach as a forest fire took-hold. It was like Armageddon driving through the smoke and fire with a couple of stressed out kids – trundling along at 25km/h up the hills. Hardly a rapid escape. “ What’s that smell dad? … Ending up at Kennedy Park in Napier which is a great spot for the family.
The plan for Yoko is to continue to upgrade her and keep-up the maintenance. The fibreglass structure is epic as she’s totally waterproof and the pop-top is protected by the roof that encloses the canvas when folded-down. Totally ship-shape!
I like to think that Yoko will be used by family and friends. Kind of like a living memorial to my old man. A group of us are looking after her. My dad’s mates have chipped-in with paying the insurance and maintenance, new tyres and keeping the certification current. They’ll use her up the mountain and for their own family. Sounds a bit like a commune!
Yoko’s a great machine, but the 2L diesel non-turbo’s a bit slow up the hills. What it lacks in speed she makes up for in reliability. Bit like the Tortoise and the Hare. She’s taught me that it’s not about getting where you are going, it’s about the journey. She parks like a normal van – tight turning circle and no drama to park in the city. Not at all wide. A total breeze. Great mirrors and a smooth column-change, 5-on-the-tree.
She’s been great over the summer with the kids. They love the pop-top and the way in which the configuration allows for the double sleeping space up top to be closed off as a separate sleeping-rumpus area. We adults can hang downstairs around the table. Heaps of lighting options and an after-market double burner and a sweet gas /electric fridge.
I looked at a lot of van renovations in March 2019 at the Elerslie Car-Fair, as the back-backers departed, but none came close in terms of features. A conversion often feels a bit unfinished. I like being able to close the door and cook without having to open the tail gate and stand out in the rain.
I really like that the Japanese seem to think of everything, lots of little details that make life easier. Check out the video
I’m 6’3 (187cm) So having the pop-top open is great when the kids are not in there!
I’d like to add an awning. And change out the curtains. They are a bit dated. So far we’ve added a bike rack. And whitewall tires. Having the solar panels on the pop-top is a bit limiting. The Thule bike rack we sourced is great, it allows for two bikes, and mounts off the spare tyre bracket. There is no tow-bar on Yoko due to the positioning of the water tanks, so this was the best option.
Clint’s 5 Tips:
1) If you can find an old Persian rug to stow and throw on the ground. It serves as a cool play area for the kids and adds a touch of character.
2) If you are going on long trips between cities – empty the water tanks. There is a lot of weight in there.
3) Buy a camper that’s easy to park. Vans are sweet. Feels like I’ve got a Tardis!
4) Folding chairs and tables are great. And easy to stow. They complete the look, add a 3rd dimension and valuable bench/working space.
5) Remember it’s about the journey. Take your time and stop wherever you can safely.
I’d really like to hear from anyone who has a similar van, to share our experiences and the odd part or two. I have not seen any similar in NZ to date.
You can contact Clint via his Instagram Here