Piha stalwarts Dave Wood and Emma Shand have owned two Hi-Ace vans over the last 6 years, slowly refining their minimalist approach. Like many Recreationalists their camper is also a daily driver. Dave needs the carry space of the van for his business WMW Integrated Training. Here’s how they do it…
Dave; After travelling abroad for 8 years I arrived back in NZ with a newfound appreciation for exploring but also realised I had a profound lack of identity with my country outside of Piha. I bought a small camper in England that I drove to Morocco and back with a mate and it was the best experience of my life.
Emma; I had absolutely no camping experience. When I first met Dave I was in my early 20’s and lived for the night life. I couldn’t imagine back then and Dave will reiterate this , that I would be into camping or LOVE it as much as I do now. Our first camping experience and first trip together overseas (Woody was definitely testing me) . We did the east coast of Australia for 4 weeks. We started in Sydney drove up to Ulladulla then we went back through Sydney and finished in Byron Bay. We hired a bit of a shitter that had a clutch that would every day test Dave’s patience. We also arrived at a time where the dollar was through the roof (so budgeting was key). And it was the most rain the coast had in about 20 years but it’s hands down my most treasured camping trip and when I fell in love with the whole concept of “camping”. It’s when I discovered a whole new meaning of life and how good it is for the soul! I loved the excitement of discovering a new place, town, or beach. When you do that coast in Australia some of the towns you drive through is like travelling back in time. My favourite place on that coast is Seal Rocks. It’s the ultimate camping spot. Beautiful beaches, incredible wildlife like Dingos running around the campground and huge Goannas.
Dave; I had no idea of how I wanted to convert the first Hi-Ace, except that I wanted to keep it simple. My old man is a builder and did the fit-out which was absolutely incredible. He is a building perfectionist and it showed in the detail of this simple but aesthetically pleasing setup. We had a bed platform at the rear with dividers for bins and surfboards underneath. Dad built cabinets for clothes along the driver’s side and that was pretty much it!
Emma; When Dave got the first man van (Toyota HIACE) and he slept in it in our driveway for about a week. He refused to come inside. I would look out the window and sure enough Woody would be fossicking around the van late at night with his head torch on. Once we started with a very basic van, and could travel or do an overnight surf trip and have the freedom of packing up and going and not having to commit to a house rental in advance that is when the stoke starts. Holidays become cheaper! The fact that he could see that I was frothing on more adventures (I think you gotta have a partner that’s into it for sure! The froth levels have to be high on both sides. As a chick on a surf adventure with your partner you gotta learn to rough it a little, embrace being a little uncomfortable and the uncertainty of where the adventure lies as its always dependent on where theres waves right?! You may not be able to shower every day, you may have to wear dirty clothes, and you can’t blow dry your hair. If you’re travelling with a surfer and the surf is too big for you, you gotta enjoy being at the beach, and enjoy your own company, because if you’re like Woody he will be in the surf 5 hours a day if he can.
So….where I’m getting at is ….all of these things is probably how it all manifested. Woody is relentless, that’s what I love about him. Once he gets an idea in his head , there is no stopping him – he’s really good at visualising concepts and ideas in his head – now it’s become a deep obsession where he’s even watching real life camping You Tube videos at night and scrolling religiously on Trade Me for the next man van. What did he say to me recently in the Far North ….oh yea “Even when I’m in the van, I’m constantly thinking about new ways to improve the van”.
Dave; While I loved what Dad had done, the first one was 2WD and I wanted a 4WD that could go on the beach and around the rocks at Shippies without having to worry too much. We were also after a slightly bigger version of what we had and so we opted for the 4WD, long wheel base Hi-Ace machine. A part from really wanting 4wd and a bit more room, I learnt pretty quickly that cooking inside a small van is a highly flawed idea unless you have fitted it out with good extraction and even then your van is going to stink. We do all our cooking outside via exterior pull out drawers and it works perfect. If it’s windy we bring the cooker inside but yeah most of the cooking is done outside on our camp table or exterior pull out drawers. With V2 I stripped the entire interior and insulated the wall cavities with EVA foam sheets, this has been a game changer, it makes the van so much cooler in summer and dampens road noise incredibly. Then Dad made up a similar bed platform, but with the extra length of the van it’s bigger than V1. We also spent more time on the pull out cooking drawer, it’s on heavy duty sliders, and has multiple drawers and spaces within the unit.
Emma; When Dave told me he was going to sell our first van I was heartbroken. I had so much emotional attachment to the van. People don’t realise this but when I lost my Dad suddenly a few years ago, Dave made it his mission to take me away in the van as much as possible. Probably as a nice distraction, but being amongst nature and the ocean during that time was incredibly soothing- and I look back on it and feel incredibly grateful that we had the van during that time. SO , no it took me a while, I even felt a little distant to the van 2.0 when he bought it home. But absolutely, I have fallen in love with it if not more. I liken it from going to Economy to Premium Economy. It’s more spacious, the bed is longer and maybe wider (we are both tall and this makes a huge difference) and like flying in Premium Economy you allowed more baggage so with the van the overall extra space makes it easier for having drawers / storage surfboards etc. I love clothes – so it’s nice to be able to have my own set of drawers to take away with – Plus it’s got 4WD capability. Need I say more! Once we drove up Ninety Mile Beach I was completely in awe of our new camper 2.0. The fact that you can literally spend the day at beach and have a set up is freedom at its finest. You can cook a feed when you come in from a surf and heat a coffee up …..how good is that?!
Dave; Man I always remember this one trip we did to Dargaville in late summer and to Baylys beach. We drove along the beach toward Kai Iwi Lakes and found a spot above the high tide mark that backed onto farmland with high sand dunes on either side, it was the perfect amphitheatre with nobody around. For 3 days I surfed a perfect little right and left just in front of the camp spot. We ventured back to the pub a few times but other than that we stayed right there for 3 days of surfing, cooking, eating, sleeping…… I left after that 3 days fully recharged. We have the best sleeps in the van – I made sure to get the best high density foam mattress – you can’t skint on that.
My idea of going camping is minimalism. I’ve never had a powered van – when I go camping I actually want to be camping not for luxury or to have all the technology plug ins etc- I want the opposite. when it is dark we use head torches and lanterns, chilly bins and ice, no screens etc just switch off to all the bullshit. It is only on our last camp trip that we bought along a River power bank. That’s cool having that to charge to phones, but that’s about all we used it for. its like anything in life, we think we need more but actually out the time we need less. Comfortable bed, good chilly bin, good storage, nice lean layout and a place to cook and your sorted.
Emma; The FFN. This is our third year going up north in summer. Covid etc no travel – it’s the one trip we look forward to all year. I used to spend summer in Byron bay in Jan but due to giving it a miss one year, Dave and I decided to do a trip up north – I couldn’t believe the hidden gems – clear blue crystal waters, pumping lefts , white sand, kiwiana vibes , I literally froth for weeks prior now – the ability to access surf beaches as I mentioned above like The Bluff, Ra, Hendo Bay – Ahipara, driving over the rocks – it’s such a treat – Far North is incredibly beautiful and we are so lucky to have such sick and insanely beautiful spots on our doorstep.
Camping With A Fur Baby
Emma; I think very early on Dave knew that I wouldn’t enjoy camping unless I had our dog as she’s basically my best mate. It took a couple of trips for him to warm up to the idea, I’m not going to lie but when Dave’s surfing and it’s too big for me , I love taking the dog for a walk and swim and sitting on the beach and watching him get waves. It adds to the whole camping vibe for me. And I think if I’m happy while he surfs for 5 hours then that makes Dave happy (haha). It’s called compromising right?
But in saying that Molly is a very easy dog. She’s also a small dog. I think she’s adjusted to camping life well, and I think she froths on it too. Just like us humans , I think dogs get a dopamine hit when being out in nature etc. But how can they not – they literally living at the beach day in and out, getting walked, going for swims.
Tip number 1; for sure is that if you’re taking a dog away with you they need to be walked every day as best as they can as the van is a confined space esp in the evenings so you want them to feel not restless and worn out. If you have a bigger dog, you would probably need a bigger camper (unless they are an outside dog) therefore they could sleep outside the van. Molly is a mini schnauzer so our current space works, but in saying that if we look at a newer version the extra space will always be welcome.
Tip number 2: Definitely carry a first aid kit, you never know when your dog may need this as well , which we discovered on our last trip. Always park in shady spots, with a draft, and keep a few windows down if you go out surfing (no brainer). And you will find they take solace in your storage spots where it’s cooler so that’s worked out well for us.
Tip number 3 : Always get your dog groomed just before camping if they are wool or hairy like Molly they get very hot very easily, especially when travelling in a van in summer. So the shorter and cleaner they are the better it will be for you when taking a two week adventure.
Also worth noting! I think people don’t realise but there are sick camp spots if you look that will take dogs. I think people think it’s a hassle to have your animal, but it’s really not and I highly recommend taking your dog with you on your next adventure. You might even enjoy camping more!
Dave; There will be a family in the near future and I want them to experience all the joys of camping. I reckon I will use the van more when I have kids. it is the ultimate freedom and I want my children to experience that. We will end up getting the Jumbo Hi Ace and kitting it out – but it won’t have power either – keep the tradition going.