Can there be anything more exciting than picking up your new campervan! Well maybe, but probably not for the campervan geeks and dreamers in the world. A few days ago, we collected our new campervan, a Toyota Alphard converted by Northstar Conversions, from the Isle of Wight. While we were there, we had a weekend camping with him to get to know him and so that Northstar could do any tweaks that were necessary. Here is what happened…
At the end of June, we got a call from Northstar that our van was ready, and we could come and collect it. So, we booked a ferry to the Isle of Wight and arrived there last Friday.
We had planned to camp for the weekend but, before we set off, Northstar was going to custom-cut our tables for us while we waited. Our camper is also going to be our mobile office so we needed 2 tables where we could sit and work on our laptops, and it was important that they were comfortable and the right height.
One table goes with the rock and roll bed seating and the other attaches to the floor to work with the passenger captain’s chair when it is turned around. The larger table also attaches to the kitchen drawer at the back of the vehicle so you have an outdoor, dining table too! We strap the tables to the rock and roll bed with the safety belts when we are travelling.
Within minutes, Northstar had measured up and made the tables and fitted them to the van! It was almost like magic, and the secret is their CNC machine and some very creative guys. This machine just cuts perfectly to any shape you give it and, there is a real advantage to having a converter that has one of these.
YAY – WE HEAD OFF CAMPING
We then loaded our stuff into the van and headed off for a pub lunch and our campsite on the south coast of the island. If you haven’t been to the Isle of Wight, it is a beautiful island and there is something for everyone from coastal walks to attractions for the kids. We didn’t know the island before buying our van there, but we will certainly be going back for some more camping holidays. The ferry costs around £60 return for a car and 2 passengers and takes about an hour but I really enjoy being on the ferry. You almost feel like you are going abroad!
BUT WHAT ARE WE GOING TO CALL HIM…
We didn’t know what name we were going to give to our van as I like to get to know the camper before giving it its name. As it is a Japanese import, we wanted to honour his Japanese heritage, so we decided to call him ‘Kaizen’. There is no equivalent word in English, but it is basically a philosophy about aspiring to continuous improvement and evolution in your life. We like that. He is called Kai for short.
YOU CAN’T KILL A TOYOTA!
Toyota Alphards are a dream to drive. They are automatic, so not easy on mpg, but they are effortless. Although our van was a 2008 reg, it only had around 60,000 miles on the clock as these vehicles are mainly just used for sedate weekend outings in Japan. And being Japanese, they are precisely maintained and kept immaculate. The 2002 – 2008 model is the one that a lot of people are now converting to campervans, but the later Vellfire version is also making a good conversion, but you will pay a lot more for that, naturally. However, I have had many Toyota vehicles and, as they say, “You can’t kill a Toyota”. They really do go on forever!
Being Japanese, it has lots of gadgetry and even speaks to us in Japanese, especially if you get to the red line on the reversing camera. I’m not sure what she is saying but you definitely get the message. These vehicles were really advanced for their day.
WE KEEP IT SIMPLE
Having been campervanning for some years now, we really know what we want and don’t want in a van, and we wanted to keep this one simple. Everybody is different and we all have our own camping styles but, as we only tend to go away for a few days at a time we are able to cope with not too much stuff.
I didn’t want a side kitchen and sink as we hardly ever use the sink and have collapsible bowls for anything like that and I don’t like cooking in the van. So, our kitchen is a pull-out drawer at the rear, and I cook under the tailgate. We have a Primus Tupike double stove which folds up like a briefcase so you can take it away from the van to cook as well. It uses the screw-in gas canisters. We wanted to keep and use the stove in the back drawer, so Northstar adapted the drawer for that by making specific divisions and creating a lid that also doubles-up as the surface for the stove. Love it!
Power-wise, Kai has a hook-up and a couple of mains sockets and USB ports but he also has a solar panel on the roof so there is plenty of power for off-grid. The solar panel is one of those thin ones so you cannot see it from the ground which is good for any wild camping. Northstar was able to fit the leisure battery next to the starter battery under the bonnet, so it doesn’t take up any space in the living area.
The rock and roll bed is a 48” model that Northstar has made specifically for their conversions. It has their lovely, compass logo on it and looks really smart. More importantly, it is very easy to put up and down to make it into the bed.
IS IT WRONG TO BE SO EXCITED ABOUT A LOO?
What else can I tell you? Well, the loo solution was great. Northstar made a box cover for our Thetford Porta Potti so that during the day it is covered and can also be a seat. However, there was the dilemma of what do you do with the box at night when you need to have the loo ‘ready-for-action’? Once the bed is down there is not a lot of space and, if it is an overnight stop and you aren’t putting the awning up, where does it go? I found that I could just turn the box upside down (it has no bottom) and put the loo inside and use it like that.
The only problem was that, although it has hand-holes at the side of the box to lift it, they were not big enough to be able to pull out the handle that lets things drop into the bottom, if you know what I mean. However, when we went back to Northstar for adjustments, they were able to cut a bigger hole on one side so now there is no problem in pulling out the handle. As a campervan geek, I found this to be very elegant (sad, I know).
Anyway, we had a lovely weekend, just taking it easy with nice walks and good food and we are thrilled with our new van, especially as we can now also use him as a day van to go and work in beautiful places. Working at home has its advantages but it is nice to get out of the house for a few hours and what better way to do that than in a gorgeous campervan.
Many thanks to Carol & Adam at Northstar Conversions on the Isle of Wight and their brilliant team of campervan converters. Check them out at: https://www.northstarconversions.com/