Coddiwomple… not a word you use or see everyday, turns out Laura and Lloyd’s Sprinter could not be more aptly named. Coddiwomple means to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination. And that’s what we all aspire to do right!
Self-confessed van build novices, the Kerikeri couple committed in April 2019 to fitting out an ex courier Sprinter van. What they also did was document every stage of the build, the wins, the fails, the successful solutions. Be prepared to enjoy an hour… check out their insightful blog HERE.
Right now Laura and Lloyd are on the road in the South Island, after originally heading out just prior to Level 4 lockdown and being forced to retreat to the Bay of Islands.
What was the kernel of the idea of wanting to get on the road in a self-contained camper?
A couple of years ago we did a month’s road trip in the States – California, Nevada, Utah, covering most of the National Parks along the way. We did it in a hired Volvo and stayed in motels, which was great, but it really made us realise how much we love road trips and when we got home we seemed to see #vanlife everywhere and that was the seed sown. It’s a wee bit odd as we’d never really thought about it before and definitely not owning a camper sort of thing.
You reference overseas inspiration like American 4×4 Sprinter fit-outs in your blog, was there ever a consideration of buying an existing RV and refitting one of those to your taste?
We never considered buying an existing RV and refitting it. Most of them have too many windows for what we wanted to do. Second hand ones are often expensive, with high mileages and it would have felt a bit sacrilegious to rip everything out! It just comes down to personal preference really, that’s all. We did spend months planning our layout before we’d even found a van to convert so we had a really good idea of what we wanted.
All up, including the purchase price of the ex courier van, how much did you spend on the conversion and how many hours over last year did you put into the conversion?
The van itself was a total bargain and one of these right time right place lucky happenings. We’d almost given up on finding what we were looking for, having had a few trips down to Auckland to look at vans that had been advertised – they were all way up at the top of our price range and not quite right. We nearly made an expensive mistake and bought the wrong van (roof wasn’t high enough) We were pretty disheartened and as a sort of last attempt we put an Ad in our local Facebook page asking if anyone had a van for sale that fitted our criteria. I jokingly said to Lloyd “watch this disappear into the mists of time”. But within 10 minutes the owner of a well known delivery company got in touch – they were selling some of their fleet and he had the perfect van for us. He was really honest and said mechanically it was sound, but it had a few dents and bumps – it still does – they add character! It’s just not bright turquoise green anymore.
And so it began!
The van cost us $20,000 (with a slightly broken sliding door, which we knew about) to this day we know this was a steal – a 4 year old Mercedes Sprinter with 100,000kms on the clock – you can’t buy them for that.
In total we reckon we spent another $35,000 doing it up. We didn’t stint on anything – the electrics themselves were $12,000. But – we can be off grid pretty much indefinitely as even if it’s not sunny, the alternator also charges the house batteries. We got amazing advice from Wayne Hunt in Hamilton (Motor Home Solar Ltd) who was invaluable. We have a good friend who is an electrician and we worked along side him, another good friend who is a plumber – who we worked alongside and an amazing boat builder who became a good friend and he helped with fiddly bits and so much more. Then another close friend who is super handy and just great at everything helped when something stumped us or our fear of heights got too much
Man hours – honestly we can’t work that out – Lloyd says ALL OF THEM. When we weren’t actually building we were thinking about it – all the time. Planning, when you’ve never done anything like this before was all consuming. We changed the layout a few times – suddenly having light bulb moments.
Put it this way – one overhead small cabinet took us a whole day to build – and that was once we were pretty experienced towards the end! The walls of our sprinter aren’t true and they curve towards the top. We made the whole thing in our driveway, on a slope so you couldn’t use a spirit level! Everything just took ages. We can’t even guess.
For the first 8 months it was fun, we took it fairly easy. Then our deadline of the end of February was getting closer and closer and the last 2 months were not fun. All we did was work on the van. We barely went out. We missed summer entirely, we were exhausted and stressed. It was our own fault, though. We should have taken it more seriously at the start!
Sorry we can’t guess at the hours, but it was many more than we expected. A friend warned us at the beginning that every thing you do affects everything else in a space that small. And it does. The position of our AC unit defined the shape of our shower. Which we LOVE – but it took about 15 hours to make the top part of that one wall, because it became so complex!
So we spent $55,000 all up which sounds so frightening (it is!) but we have the most amazing van that does everything we wanted it to do – first time.
Of course you can do it for less money and many people do – I’m just not sure how!! We sold our cars and downsized them to help pay for it.
In your blog posts, although you reiterate your build novices, you’ve built to a very high standard. Now you are living in the van, have the dimensions worked?
Everything works 🙂 But if we’re being super picky –
We added a side door to the wardrobe just to make it easier to access from the living area. Laura is only 5’2” so can’t reach up into the bed area easily.
Our bed height is 800mm then the mattress is another 300mm. It makes it a high platform to get up on to if you are short. We will invest in some lovely wooden folding steps when we get home from this trip. For now we clamber up – easy for Lloyd – less easy for Laura.
We changed the mattress after the first aborted Covid trip. Our original one was a third hand futon mattress and it was hard. We nabbed the memory foam one off our spare room bed and cut it to size with an electric carving knife – now it’s much better! We still have to replace the spare room one, though.
The lights over the bed – we fitted flush mounted down lights (3w LED) which work perfectly everywhere else, but they are far too bright above the bed – we’re a lot closer! So we never turn them on unless we want to be almost blinded. We now use fairy lights plugged into the USB – Laura is happy – she always wanted fairy lights anyway.
Apart from that it all works better than we could have planned. The shower room is large for a camper – but it doubles up as a dressing room and a drying room because the diesel heater is vented into it.
Another thing that’s worked is the insulation – we knew we were going to come south in the winter and really didn’t want to be cold. We packed insulation in – and we’re not cold, and we don’t have condensation.
It’s worked way better than even we expected.
We’re people who do tend to jump feet first into things – we moved to New Zealand from Scotland on a whim! But it’s worked! We’d never even hired or been in a camper van before we built Coddi – lots of our friends said “shouldn’t you try a wee holiday in one first?” But we thought Nah!
We really were novices, though. We had to buy all the tools because we had none except a wee electric ‘mouse’ sander that our boat builder friend still calls “The Toy Sander”. Laura liked painting, but we don’t do DIY. I’m sure some (most 🙂 ) of our friends actually thought we couldn’t do it, and that’s not them being unkind – it just is what it is, we weren’t ‘handy’ people.
The aircon unit… It’s been the thorn in your side from even it [not] arriving. Has it been used yet? Is it the one thing you’d do without, or is there still the element that if you do an Aussie run it’ll be golden?
It has been used! But for heating it’s not as good as the diesel heater – the heat is up in the highest part of the van, so your feet stay cold! The diesel heater is quieter inside and vented at floor height so the air rises and as I said earlier it heats the shower room too.
It does work as amazing AC but you have to be plugged in to use it (which we knew) – and we rarely do this.
During this trip we have discussed taking it out and replacing it with another Maxx air fan (same size opening so no more cutting into the van required) but we just can’t decide. It is probably our most expensive mistake – especially since a trip to Australia in the van is looking less likely – it’s very, very expensive to take a van over with a lot of red tape. In hindsight we wouldn’t have fitted it if we’d known what a hassle it would be.
You’re halfway through your trip, are you staying at mostly NZMCA sites or holiday parks, are you finding you have a preference?
We’re staying at a mix of places. We’ve tended to decide where we want to go next then see if there’s somewhere to stay. It’s been a mix of NZMCA parks, NZMCA CAP’s and POP’s, a bit of freedom camping and a couple of campsites. We don’t really have a preference, but right now we’re at Gentle Annies, right on the West Coast of the South Island and if you’ve not stayed here before you have to. It is amazing. We’ve just sat on the beach, beside a fire watching the sun set. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Joining the NZMCA has also been great – it opens up a whole lot of different places to stay for almost no cost and massive discounts as part of the membership benefits – ferry crossings are especially discounted.
Connectivity; you’re doing a great job of posting blogs and insty inspo, how are you finding and using data?
This was something we had to think about. Eventually we decided we didn’t want to go down the road of having a router in Coddi, so we just extended our vodafone data. Lloyd has unlimited 100gb and I have unlimited 40gb. If there’s no signal, there’s no signal. So far this has only happened a couple of times and even though we’d like to say it’s no biggie and we don’t miss it – sadly we’ll admit that we do! Also it’s really important for me to be able to FaceTime/whatsApp my mum in Scotland – she’s pretty much still in lockdown due to Covid and I want to be able to speak to her every couple of days to check in.
We don’t have a TV, but we do have an ancient laptop that we bought especially to download Netflix and play DVDs through. This has worked a treat. It’s winter, it’s dark at 5.20 – so early to bed and watch a few episodes of something is great.
Lloyd is on sabbatical huh, what happens when that ends?
We go home and he goes back to work… sadly! BUT!! He does only work part time so we will still have long weekends and holidays etc. For the foreseeable future we shall be out and about in Coddi.
Thinking about fitting out a Sprinter? You have to check out the Coddiwomple Van Blogs, Laura and Lloyd have detailed every trail and tribulation of their build. Check it out HERE.
And follow their journeys on Instagram HERE