The Recreational Society is all about those random, organic connections. And this feature is one of those; Richard Cripps’ daughter Lillie bought our book The Recreationalists for him. It was a hit, so much so that Lillie reached out to tell us about Richard’s VW conversion. She threw him under the bus? Nah not really. She put Richard on our radar, and he kindly agreed to share his story;
My earliest attempts of camping were when I was about 17 or 18 years old which were really debauched efforts that involved drinking way too much beer and a real lack of preparation. I regret that when our two daughters were younger I wasn’t in to camping as I feel we missed out on that experience. So my advice to myself 20 years ago would be give it another crack – there is nothing more healthy than a family spending time in Aotearoa’s great outdoors!
My interest in campervanning came after a work colleague built a base in his Nissan van in 2018 and headed off with his wife and two kids on an eight week adventure of both the North and South Island. The idea really appealed to me, so a couple of months later a bed base was built in the back of my Toyota Hiace (work van) and off my wife Helen and I went first to explore the East Cape/Bay of Plenty area. We found ourselves being relaxed in that environment and enjoyed waking up in nature.
So then we went for a 2020 Volkswagen Crafter MWB. I picked a Crafter as I can stand up in it quite comfortably and I like the close ties that Volkswagen have to the camping scene. It is modern, has heaps of safety features, and handles like a car. I had a partial wrap added to personalise it, I wish I had been a little bit braver and went for the vintage VW Orange of yesteryear – easy to change!
The whole fit out is a series of boxes and drawers that I can remove when I come back from a trip and reinstall within the hour. This was important in the build as I use the van for work (cabinet maker). When working out the build the things that were important to me were space to stand to change, a comfy bed, storage spaces (minimising clutter), a fridge, and lack of rattles.
I went with a fixed bed platform as I didn’t want to build the bed up every night. We simply lay a queen inner sprung mattress on top which is super comfy for both my wife and I. Under the bed are 4x 1200mm deep drawers that carry all our clothes, food, pots and pans (you name it!). The back has garage space for camping chairs, gas cooker, portaloo, and all the bulkier items. Being a cabinet maker I use the computer all the time with work, but funnily enough, I designed the old fashioned way with a piece of paper, pencil, and a lot of scratching of my head. I have access to a c’n’c but still found cutting things with our saw with a bit of trial and error was the way for me to go.
I went with ply over MDF or custom wood. Ply is easy for me to cut, strong, and fairly lightweight. I then laminated it with formica in orange to add character and a more retro look.
I am not sure a self-built is ever really finished as there is always version 1, 2, 3 and 4. Every time I go away I see something that might improve the experience even more. I would like to improve on the kitchen area as they take up so much of your usable space, I am sure there is a way I can make the kitchen pop out from under the bed base… watch this space! Currently, I went with a Dometic CFF45 fridge, a 2 Burner Gasmate. I have 25litre grey waste tank and instead of pumping water I just have 3x 5lt fresh water containers. I am trying to keep it simple I have an additional 100ah battery connected to the alternator it has done me well so far running the fridge, charging phones and i-pad etc.
I haven’t had a bad trip away but the ones that stand out usually involve the coast. I am a big fan of the East Coast area, as it is just so untouched and rugged. I enjoy being away with Helen, who is my best mate. We find we are more open to opportunities such as local gigs and walks when we are in the van with not a care in the world
I recently took my father away to Miranda to show him the setup. Although we stayed in a cabin it was great to show him what makes his son happy, get to know him even more, and make memories.
We are so blessed in New Zealand with such beauty on our doorstep that changes from town to town and North to South. I hope freedom camping still continues to be a strong part of our culture and the opportunities remain accessible for all Kiwis.