There’s a strong theme with Recreationalists; they are open to change and finding solutions for their camping needs. While we do all get emotional tied to vehicles, what could be better? How could this be more fun? The O’Briens are a great example of this. They had a perfectly good Transit van that they converted thoughtfully, then out grew it. Now they are nearing the end of a bus conversion. Amanda explains…
We bought the Transit in 2018, when Harri was 1. After a bit of research, we decided to go with a fixed bed, for the underneath storage, and a single bunk over it for Harri. At that point, we had convinced ourselves that we would be fine sleeping sideways, despite the van not quite being wide enough… Needless to say, we weren’t fine sleeping sideways! The first adaptation was the bed! We ended up adding a pull-out extension, meaning that during the day it was the same fixed bed, but at night we pulled out the extension and slept long ways instead. Much better!
In 2020, our 4th addition came along, and the sleeping arrangements had to change again! We decided to pretty much completely remodel. Everything, including the kitchen, came out and we redesigned the whole lot! This time we went with a dining area which turned into the main bed, with a fold up bunk on each side of the van. This worked really well for us and we were stoked with how it turned out!
Sleep was definitely the ultimate consideration, especially in the last adaption. Both kids inevitably end up in our bed at some point throughout the night, so it was really important that we could make the sleeping arrangements super comfortable for everyone.
Was there always a niggle that the Transit would be outgrown, or was the Transit like a toe in the water type of thing, you and Nick realising that camperlife is something you wanna do for sure?
It depends on who you are asking! If you ask Nick, he would more than likely say the bus was the end goal. Me, on the other hand, I was definitely a little more reluctant. It’s a good thing that Nick is persuasive, otherwise there is a good chance none of this would have happened! Even after having the van for a few years, I was still reluctant to get the bus. Nick is 100% the driver behind these projects. I am just along for the ride!
What was the moment of pulling the trigger… going ‘you know what, let’s do this, sell the van and convert a bus?
We were on holiday at the Mount, but had to make a day trip back to Taupo. We left Harri behind with family, and Finn slept the whole way. Nick pitched the idea to me on the way down in the car, said he had found a bus on Trade Me. By the time we returned to The Mount, that afternoon, we had bought a bus! We tend to move quite quickly on things once we have decided. It was totally unbelievable for a while, but no regrets!
What will the bus achieve that the Transit couldn’t?
So many things!! For us, the bus means a shower/bathroom (and hot water!!), fixed sleeping areas for the boys, space to live on rainy days, a bigger fridge and an actual freezer, and fixed cooking facilities. Granted, a few of these things we could have had in the van too, but the limited space made it tricky. The bus has so much more space, both inside it and underneath, it to fit things like bigger water tanks, gas storage, etc. We have decided to still go for the dining – come bed option, mainly for the bigger living space during the day. We didn’t mind the set up/down at each end of the day too much, and even this will be easier in the bus with the bigger space!
I guess with the bus, the main thing is that the driver’s and passenger’s seats are sitting up on top of the engine. So, even though there is a load more usable space, it is actually about the same length as what the van was (because the engine is out in front in a van). Also, the bus is wider than most vans too.
How and why did you settle on the Nissan Civilian, like why not a Coaster or an old Bedford?
It was literally what became available at a good price. Nick has sneakily been looking for a while and at that point, buses were getting snapped up really quickly. We (which really means he) didn’t have a preference.
What are you going to do in the conversion, what’s the end layout going to look like?
This was absolutely the hardest part so far – deciding on a layout. We looked at so many different options! I really wanted to leave the back accessible, as we have double doors back there which is something that I loved about the van. We tried having the dining/beds up the front, the bunks and bathroom up the front, the kitchen and bunks up the front, and everything ended up feeling a little cramped and awkward. So, we have ended up with the bunks across the back (a compromise), with the dining table/main bed in front of them, and the kitchen and bathroom towards the front. This is a rough outline… one time in my life where I wish I had decent drawing skills!
How are you dealing with seat belting and compliance?
This was something that we probably should have looked into a bit more before buying! We figured that many Nissan Civilian’s have four seats up the front, therefore surely it wouldn’t be an issue… WRONG! Apparently, this is one of the biggest issues people face when converting a bus. Who knew!?
We talked to a couple of people who were basically like yeah… nah; We won an auction on Trade Me for 10 seats in the hopes that we could make some of them work (they didn’t); We got an astronomical quote from an engineer who put it in the too hard basket; and finally, we went back to AutoTransform who put our double seat in the Transit and they said yeah sure! It wasn’t cheap, but in the end this is what we wanted to do and we were pretty determined to make it work.
So AutoTransform looked after us and did everything that needed to be done, including LT400 certification. Apparently, there was quite a bit of extra reinforcing that needed to be done for the passenger seats to go in, particularly because the 3-point seat belts are integrated with the seat. We wanted to steer away from lap belts for safety reasons.
And what’s the plan once the Bus is on the road, are the O’Brien’s going full time?
No real plan set just yet! Would love to take a year off and travel around the country but we aren’t quite ready to do that at the moment. Extended holidays and weekend adventures are where it is at for the time being.
THE MAPS!!! How’d you start doing them?
We have the Surf Quest map at home, and we were looking at it one weekend and talking about how it would be awesome to have one for our travels. We looked around and couldn’t find one anywhere so decided to jump in and make them! We got our first one designed and haven’t looked back!
How are they going and what’s the most popular?
When we released the first one, it was right be Christmas and it took off! We were up until all hours packaging them and sending them out. Since then, we have added 3 more to the collection and are about to add our 5th map, a hiking one.
Are you going to do a surfing one…and where does it end, like a fishing one, a campground one…
We love our Surf Quest map, and have no intentions of making a surf one to compete with it. The other possibilities seem endless! Our customers and followers have heaps of great suggestions, so who knows where it will head next! Watch this space!
Check out the maps on The O’Brien Collective HERE …. and for that matter the whole website, it’s pretty cool.
Also have a geez at the original O’Brien/ Recreational Society feature HERE