Andrew and Sarah have been living full-time in Bob for 2020 after spending a year fitting him out and as you’re about to read they did a pretty damn good job with a whooping 700 amp hours of off the grid goodness.
We are Sarah and Andrew, but also known as Wally and Bukes. Andrew’s not an idiot (mostly haha), Wally is based on his last name – Wallace, and Sarah’s is also based on her last name Buchanan.
What was the kernel of the idea of doing this… you’d vanned it in the UK before huh?
Ah how long have you got? Na, it all started when we were going to the UK to do a two year ‘working holiday’/OE. We didn’t want to do the usual move to London, get a job in London, spend all our money in London and travel on the odd long weekend. So instead we bought Walter, a self-contained 1990 Transit Van complete with toilet, oven and sink. We went travelling around the South of England, a little bit of Wales and a lot of Scotland before getting hospo jobs back in England. Because although van life is cheaper it’s not free and we had to earn some money at some point. Once we’d saved enough we took Walter to Europe for 6 months and travelled through France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, then back down to Belgium, France again, Spain and Portugal. When we ran out of money we went back to England to earn some more. Sadly we ended up selling Walter and backpacking our way home after that working stint. But Walter ended up in NZ somewhere after the people we sold him to shipped the old rust bucket back! So when we got back to NZ we knew we wanted to see our own country before we went overseas again and couldn’t imagine doing it any other way – hence Bob.
We got back to NZ and pretty much immediately started looking for a vehicle. Originally we were looking at getting some sort of truck with an overcab but after going to look at one in Hamilton and how wobbly they were we were put off.
Andrew’s mum who works at a Glass and Aluminium place was talking one day to her workmates and mentioned we were looking for a vehicle to turn into a camper. One of them told her about a guy who had bought his bus in four years ago for a new windowscreen who, at that time, had said he was going to convert it into a camper but he hadn’t seen him again for another windowscreen or heard if he ever completed the conversion (we’re from a small town where everybody knows everybody!).
So it ended up that Andrew’s mum rang the guy and his wife answered. Andrew’s mum said “I know this is random but…” and got talking about their bus. Turns out she wanted to get rid of it because it had been sitting in their shed for four years doing nothing. Every summer they said they were going to get started on the conversion but every summer they never did. Also, she wanted a new kitchen and selling the bus would help her towards that. So she said she’d talk to her husband and get back to Andrew. That was the Thursday, and on Sunday morning we got a phone call from the husband saying to come out and have a look at it. We drove 15 minutes out of town and had a look at the bus. It was completely gutted inside except for the two front seats, tyres were fine and he said it drove well on the odd occasion he took it out. We took it for a drive and halfway down the road looked at each other and went “I think this is it”. So we negotiated a price and he let us drive away with Bob that afternoon.
As to why we chose him, it was because we could see the whole structure and there was no rust (a big thing for us after Walter being full of it). Bob was gutted already so we got to start the conversion from scratch the way we wanted to and it had character. Bob wasn’t just a white run-of-the-mill camper. We did remove the two kids that were painted on each side of the bus (it was originally a kindergarten bus in Japan) because they looked weird being on a camper!
Did you have a clear idea about your floor plan and the materials you wanted to use?
After having lived in Walter for a year on and off we knew how we wanted to live in the bus and the floor plan was built around that. We knew we wanted:
– a bed that we didn’t have to make every night after it being such a pain in the arse to do in Walter.
– a place for the fire to go.
– a fully functional kitchen (Andrew’s the chef and Sarah’s the baker).
– a toilet and shower (we can’t live without the toilet!).
– to go solar.
So after having looked at a million layouts on instagram and youtube we settled on the one we have. We didn’t change it the whole time we were building it (basically a year part-time).
We knew we wanted to base the interior on plywood from the start because then we didn’t have to frame anything and it looks really good! Also, Surfbusproject’s bus was the inspiration – their aesthetic is truly amazing!
Check out our feature on Surf Bus Project HERE
And Gnome, was Bob built around Gnome?
Bob wasn’t built around the Gnome persay but we have a smaller couch so that we could fit it in.
The Gnome started his life in Walter. We were travelling around the South of England in Walter and knew we wanted to head to Scotland but it was October by this point and starting to get colder. We had no heating in Walter apart from an LPG heater that smelt awful when you turned it on. We had used a Gnome while we were staying in a yurt at a workaway and thought they were pretty cool. The perfect size for in Walter so on our way up to Scotland we stopped in Glastonbury and went to see the guy who made them. We pulled up to a shed kind of in the middle of nowhere and met the guy. He asked to see the van and when he saw the rust bucket cracked up laughing but eventually showed us how it could be done. So we paid for the Gnome and kept on heading up to Scotland. Once he’d finished making it he sent it up to Scotland for us and we did a very DIY job of installing it in Walter. But the gnome kept us toasty warm in Scotland – even when it was -10 outside we were in t-shirts inside!
Then when we were looking at selling Walter before we left to backpack our way back to NZ, we decided we couldn’t part with the gnome. We stuck it in a box with the rest of the stuff we were shipping back to NZ and it ended up arriving back home before we did.
The cabinetry is very schmiko… nice detailing on the drawers and panel trims… is someone a pro here?
Ah if you saw it up close you might think otherwise! haha it was very much a learn as we went DIY. Probably 80% of the fit out was done with a circular saw and a long piece of metal as a straight edge. We didn’t have any of the proper building tools until we were part way through the kitchen. Luckily Andrew’s cousin is a builder and let us borrow his table saw and drop saw so at least some of the kitchen is straight/square. We also made the pully-outy twice as the first time it didn’t fit and was just a shambles.
Lets talk power; you’re pretty much off the grid with your solar aye… what are you running, what panels and batteries, and how was the install?
We are completely off the grid with our solar and the system was purposefully designed to be that way. There are three 300W panels on the roof, a 2kw inverter/charger, an 80 amp solar controller, a DC to DC charger, two batteries (weighing 60kg each!) giving us 700 amp hours of storage and all the wires that connect everything together.
The install went really well because Andrew just happens to be an electrician. Although this was his first time doing a solar set up he did all the necessary research and figured everything out pretty easily.
Kudos to Andrew, because we run a normal bar fridge full time (bought from the Warehouse), we can use a 1000W blender at the same time and the battery storage has never gone below 86%. Haven’t tried a hair straightener yet but Andrew reckons it could do so quite easily.
How much water are you holding and is it sufficient for long showers and off grid living?
We have 160L of water when the tank is full and its sufficient for short showers, doing the dishes, cooking and drinking. We have a compost loo so don’t use any water for that. We have to be really mindful of our water usage if we are staying out in the middle of nowhere for a while but if we are going from place to place where there’s water we don’t have to be quite so vigilant.
The travels…what’s the plan?
We’ve been in the South Island for 8 months. We were on a cider apple orchard for 3 months during Covid it worked out perfectly for us! A month travelling some of the Tasman region and the northern part of the West Coast. 3 months just out of Geraldine calf-rearing and the last month travelling the bottom of the South Island. – but we are literally jumping on the ferry tomorrow morning to go back to our hometown for family events and a wedding. We’ll probably stay there until Christmas then the plan is to travel the North Island. Our original idea was to spend one year in the South Island and one year in the North Island in order to figure out where we might like to eventually buy a piece of land. But who knows, we don’t really make plans as such – we have a ‘no plan’ plan.
What would be your style of traveling, like are you 100% freedom camping or mixing it up?
Because we are off-grid we mostly freedom camp where we can, but also make use of NZMCA parks as we are members and will stay at DOC sites when there are no other options at a place we want to explore. Also, when we feel like a really long shower we will go and stay at a proper camping ground.
Check out Bob The Bus on Instagram HERE