Finding the Vanmaison

I am going to convince you, a would-be New Zealand nomad, to avoid purchasing a large, ex-rental motorhome or an older already fitted-out campervan. You will eventually decide to buy your own Toyota Hiace van and kit it out yourself. I’m going to go full van on you in this post. You have been warned.

Be us. You arrive in Wellington, New Zealand in January 2016 with campervans on your mind. 

An Instagram memory from the time my business partner and I hired a classic VW campervan in Cannes France, and drove FAR too many people home from a party.

It’s peak Summer holidays and everyone wants to hire, buy or be in their campervan. You have never bought a vehicle in your life. You know hiring a campervan for 6 months will be very expensive, so buying your own is the ideal option.

You make a list of the things you need in a campervan:

  • A large, ideally king-sized bed
  • A comfortable space to sit and work on a laptop during the day for 2 people
  • Power to charge laptops and other devices
  • A place to store food and cooking equipment
  • A place to keep food and drinks cold
  • Storage for 2 large travel bags, clothes and possessions.

There’s only so many times you can Google “advice for buying a campervan in New Zealand” or “What kind of campervan should I buy in New Zealand”, before you realise you just need to get out there and see for yourself.

Checking out large, ex-rental motorhomes over 5 metres long

We looked through a couple of 2-birth ‘Ultima’ ex-rental Motek motorhomes at around 50k NZD.

You check out a local Wellington dealership selling enormous, all-the-fittings, ex-rental motorhomes. The dude is super friendly and helpful. Oh yes, these beasts are comfortable.

Decent 2009 and 2010 model vehicles were going from $50,000 to $80,000 NZD (~ £22,740.80 – £36,385.29 GBP at current exchange rates), so they’re not cheap. There’s a full service history (which is extremely rare in NZ) and a 6 month mechanical warranty on offer, but the kilometres / miles on the odometer are mega high. There’s no getting around it, these beasts are BIG and CHUNKY and EXPENSIVE.

The 4-birth ‘Beach’ Motek models were roomy, but set you back ~80k NZD.

Ah, there’s a guaranteed buy-back option you say? Great! For 55% of the purchase price? Oh.

Yes sure, you can always sell the vehicle on the private market, but you’re leaving the country in Winter. No-one wants to buy a campervan in Winter. It’s not an easy or cheap size to store. You don’t want to keep ALL your money tied-up in a van you’re not using. You don’t even know if you like living in a van yet!

And for those reasons, you decide a smaller, cheaper van might be for you.

Checking out small campervans, under 5 metres long

So let’s look at already kitted-out vans. Some have been done by professionals, some have been hacked together with various levels of DIY skill. Every van seems to have a unique touch. They’re interesting and inventive and you think “wouldn’t it be great if that sink was just slightly to the left” etc.

Wicked Campers are cheap and all over the world. You get what you pay for. Photo by Ed Dunens.

An almost 20 year old already kitted-out van with 300,000+ kilometres (~186,000 miles) on the clock will still set you back $20,000 NZD or more.

Sure it’s got the stuff you need, but it’s not *perfect*. It’s a bit old or broken or shabby here and there. It’s quite expensive for what it offers. Will it still be running in a month?

And for those reasons, you decide to find a decent van and kit it out yourself.

Finding a campervan to DIY convert yourself

You’ve always loved the VW T5s too? Forget about it, they’re expensive and rare this side of the world. There’s a limited number for sale which keeps the price high and repairs expensive.

You move to the Auckland region to conduct your van search more thoroughly. There’s so much more van variety up north, more dealers, more private sales.

Taiichi Ohno, one of the inventors of the now famous Toyota Production System. Consultants and Agile product people (like me) go all nerd-wagon for this stuff. Photo by Toyota Material Handling Europe.

In New Zealand you soon learn, everyone’s crazy about Toyota. They import and sell white or silver Toyota Hiaces new, and many dealers source and import used vehicles from Japan.

Nissan Caravans are very similar, but for some strange reason, they’re much cheaper than a Toyota. We found newer models (~2 years newer), with less mileage on the clock at ~$3000 NZD cheaper. Apparently Nissans are just as reliable, but everyone here seems to have a loving, trusting relationship with the Toyota brand. According to several people we spoke to “Toyota engines just go and go and go and go…” and “they’re so easy to re-sell”.

So this is what we did: we bought a Toyota Hiace.

The Vanmaison!

A white, 2008, long wheel base, hightop model with 124,000 kms on the clock. Immaculately cared for. Tinted windows, 5 doors, not a scratch or a whiff of oil on the inside, all for $19,990 NZD (~£9,090 GBP).

A quick Google search for “Toyota Hiace campervan conversion” will show you a bunch of companies and DIY geniuses who had the same idea and made something wonderful. So much inspiration! I’m making a Pinterest board of conversion ideas over here:

It’s a long weekend in NZ at the moment, so we need to wait until Tuesday before we can get her properly checked and drive away. In my next post, we will have hopefully been through the pre-purchase mechanical inspection, registration and international money transfer without a hitch.

Did I just jinx myself? I hope not.

Other ideas for finding a Toyota Hiace in Auckland:

Featured image by William Newman

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