We were back in Whangamata over the New Year staying at Gareth's mum's. She has a lodger called Tom from the UK staying over the summer and as it happened, some friends of his were also in the country and popped in to see him. Like us, they had also been travelling around NZ in a camper van for about the same length of time, in a 2008 Mazda Bongo affectionately known as Ken, thanks to his number plate. Having a good old chinwag to other people who live the same way as you is always interesting and a pleasure, but this lovely young couple were seriously savvy. We thought we were already living on a shoestring but these two were next level! They had obviously done a LOT of research before setting out on their travels and put in a lot of effort to make sure they did everything right.
'Would you like a tour?' asked Hannah, as they were getting ready to leave. 'Sure!' we said. Neither Gareth or I were prepared for what we saw when she opened the door of the plain looking, white van. Ken was beautiful! He had custom made kitchen cabinets, a fridge, a stove - everything you could possibly want. Hannah and her partner Ollie had purchased Ken as an empty shell and then filled and furnished him themselves. Every little detail had been thought of and had been done well, whilst still being on a budget as much as possible. Even the mirror Hannah had bought as a cheap wall tile and framed it herself using red and blue bungy cord. Ingenious! Anyone could see that Ken was a real labour of love, so much care and hard work had gone in to making him their home away from home.
We said thank you for showing us around and everyone said their goodbyes as Hannah and Ollie were taking off on the last leg of their travels before leaving the country and Ken would be sold to another lucky wayfarer. Gareth and I both thought Ken was great but it didn't cross our minds to upsize. We had been saying for some time that whilst travelling in Batty was snug with a woman with too many clothes, a hulking great Welshman and an overweight spaniel, it was nothing we couldn't live with. Sometimes we did wish that things were a little easier, especially when the weather was bad but we never entertained the thought of buying another vehicle. We loved Batty and would make the best of it until the end.
It was only the next day when talking to Gareth's mum about Ken that things took a swift and unexpected turn. She hadn't taken the tour with us and sounded as impressed as we were. 'Imagine what it would be like, being able to cook inside? We could cook so many more things and it wouldn't matter if it was windy or raining', we said wistfully. The way things currently were, even trying to make so much as a sandwich was a nightmare in bad weather, with the wind blowing the bread and everything else everywhere. Rain was something we dreaded on the whole, as poor Batty was so full of stuff that even something as simple as opening the sliding door to let Minnie out in the mornings could result in sodden bedding in seconds, not to mention a hefty laundry bill. That was another thing Hannah and Ollie didn't have to worry about in Ken, the bedroom was at the back, way past the door. If the rain came in it would simply go on the kitchen floor which was vinyl.
Ken also had a fridge - ohh, you cannot imagine how luxurious this sounded to us! The hotter the summer was getting, the less our meagre chilly bin was able to keep things cool and we were having to throw things out more and more, much to our own and our wallet's despair. If we had a fridge, nothing would get wasted any more and I could go back to having all my favourite foods again! Tomatoes, avocados, green leafy salads, how I had missed them all. I was already dreaming of the healthier diet I would have - and ice! You can't imagine how much you can miss something as simple as having an ice cube or two in your drink on a hot day.
Talking of heat, that was another thing Ken had which would solve an increasing problem for us - fly screens! The weather was getting hotter and hotter and Minnie was getting more and more unsettled at night. When you're in the middle of nowhere or surrounded by dozens of other campers the last thing you really want to do is get up and wander about at three in the morning so the dog can have a wee and cool down! Leaving the windows open was also not an option; even leaving it open just the slightest crack at night resulted in a swarm of mosquitoes so bad they covered the entire ceiling. Ken also had power through an inverter and battery. This was something we had been investigating and was going to be a big and reluctant expense for us; however it was nothing short of necessary if I was going to be able to work properly. Paying to stay at a powered campsite every few days just so that I could get things done was really not ideal.
It was becoming more and more obvious that a vehicle like Ken would save us a lot of money long term. No more paying for power, no more wasted food, no more having to cook outside in awful weather. As chief cook that was Gareth's real woe. We also found very early on after purchasing our Weber Baby Q that it's not much fun trying to sleep with a stinky BBQ above your head! Unfortunately there was simply nowhere else it could go, which meant that every night we had to take it outside and chain it up to the wheel so it didn't go missing. Gareth really wouldn't miss that - or having to climb on the roof every time we packed up and unpacked to grab something we didn't have room for inside and tether it all again securely.
The big one however was Ken's loo. To be certified as a self contained vehicle under the new and recently changed rules, you need a toilet that you can use INSIDE your camper. Simply carrying a toilet on board was no longer enough, you had to be able to use it without encroaching outside your vehicle. Without this, you no longer qualify for freedom camping and whilst a lot of freedom camping spots have public toilets, more of them don't. Batty had a toilet exactly the same as Ken but once the bed was up at night there was no room to use it inside. Trying to put up an outhouse tent was not always easy and in some places such as Taranaki the wind was so bad it didn't even stay up for two minutes without blowing away and we had to give up the idea of staying at the NZMCA camp ground and fork out $44 at a campsite that would accept dogs just so we could go to the loo. Not to mention the sight of us putting up an additional tent now meant incurring the baleful stares of other campers who all knew the new rules. The one time we did try and 'harden up' and stay at a freedom camp without a toilet I had to go 13 hours before I could have a wee. And no, taking a tinkle al fresco when you're surrounded by 17 other camper vans is not an option! There was no two ways about it; if we had a vehicle like Ken, camping every night would be free and we would save a fortune.
'Sounds like you should buy Ken, he seems just what you need!' said Gareth's mum. 'Well I have to admit, I did really want him', I confessed. 'Me too!' said Gareth. 'You did? Why didn't you say anything? I didn't realise you were that keen!' I said. 'Well we had been saying all these weeks that even with all the clutter and chaos we wouldn't give in get a bigger vehicle', pointed out Gareth. But Ken was so perfect...
A few short minutes later, Tom wandered in and informed us that Hannah and Ollie were on their way to Auckland the following day to show Ken off to all the people who were interested in buying him. 'They've got over 20 people looking at him!' he said. Gareth and I looked at each other. 'I'd better drop them a line straight away!' I said. The rest, as they say is history and is why we had to delay going to the South Island a little longer, as we waited for Hannah and Ollie to finish their travels and pick up Ken.
As for Batty? We found the perfect solution - Tom! As a single bloke working and travelling around NZ, Batty is everything he could possibly want and with there only being one of him, he even has room to use the loo! Everybody's happy and now we are all set to save even more!