Hey there, thanks for being here! Today I’m going to take you through my van conversion that I’ve done in New Zealand in 2020.
Like any van-conversion blog I’m going to put a little disclaimer here. I’m not an engineer by all means, I don’t know much about how to treat wood, I do have no training and experience with electrical set ups. All my knowledge that went into this van conversion was researched for weeks, mainly through blogs like FarOutRide. Check out these folks for more in detail tutorials 🤙
Another thing to mention is the local regulations. While regulations about vans in Germany for example are quite different to the ones in New Zealand (especially with the German TÜV), the regulations that matter in New Zealand are the regulations for the so called Self Contained Camping. Vanlifers that want to stay at official freedom campspots need to be certified by a Self Containment Officer. The rules state out that there must be a toilet in the van that can be used when the bed is made up, it also requires a fresh water and a grey water tank plus a rubbish bin. I went with Ken in Tauranga, a self containment officer that runs his own business with campervan conversions. He was a big help through my whole conversion. Go check out his Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/creative_campers_nz/. Thanks Ken! 🤙
Let’s get started with the conversion. The van I went with is an old 1994 4WD Mitsubishi Delica (for the car freaks, it’s a 1994 2.8L Intercooler Turbo Diesel 4WD Mitsubishi Delica Spacegear). My priorities were on the 4WD feature, I had that feature higher on the list that actual comfort in the van (just to do more offroad adventures in New Zealand).
The features I wanted in the van were: meeting the self containment regulation, have a rock’n’roll bed, have a 2m long skibox, install an electric setup that charge the camera gear and the macbook through solar power.
Through my work during the nationwide Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand I got in contact with a family in Katikati that offered me not only a place to stay, but also the opportunity to use their tools for the van conversion. That was a massive help, I’m so grateful for the hospitality that Dave and Lynne in Katikati gave me. Thank you guys 😊
That was the first bigger van conversion for me. Therefore things may look like a bit unorganized every now and then. Like the whole conversion was really unorganized to be honest. My approach was: Insulation, outside wood walls, skibox, interior wood structure, rock’n’roll bed, water/sink area + toilet area, roof wood structure, electrical setup. For the next conversion I would do the insulation first, followed by water and electrical setup second, then build the rest. Lesson learned 🤘
So, step one was getting everything out of the van. That’s how the Delica looks like without any interior:
My approach for the whole conversion was a “as natural as possible” approach. I wanted to avoid any toxic and unhealthy materials, as living in a really small space with toxic materials isn’t an option for me. A lot of research went into the insulation, as most of the options are either rated as toxic or might be toxic. The material I ended up using: Sheep wool and cork! 🐑
Both materials do have a reasonable r-value (insulation value), both of them don’t really burn, both of them absorb moisture. And they work as a sound insulation as well.
Finding a small amount of sheep wool in NZ turned out to be a big challenge, but luckily an Auckland based company called INNATURE was able to help me out with about 20kg of sheep wool. Thanks for that guys! 🙂
20kg of sheep wool sounds like quite a lot, but I was ending up with using about 17kg. The amount of cork I calculated was about 20 piles of 90x60cm with 6mm thickness, that ended out quite accurate too.
Getting the sheep wool everywhere, and literally in every corner and open area was quite a challenge that took me a couple of days. My approach was setting up the sheep wool first, so that the sheepwool goes against the bare metal of the car. The second layer would be the cork then, third layer would be the plywood that holds all of that together.
Plywood floor and walls
The van had some sort of a very basic conversion before. That helped me with some plywood cuttings, especially as I just reused the plywood for the floor and the bed.
The walls got the same insulation as the floor, a layer of sheep wool first, then the cork, then plywood. I decided to use 9mm plywood for most parts of the outside wall, as 9mm plywood can bend a little bit.
The most important part (personally), but also the first part I had to build – the skibox. The skibox was setting the whole framework for the build, as I pretty much had to build everything around the box. My van is having the about 220cm long, I calculated that a 190cm skibox would not only fit, but would also allow another 30cm for the deep cycle battery.
The box itself is just a basic 9mm plywood box, the inside is covered with some carpet lining to protect the skis. The box sits behind the drivers seat area, so the opposite of the sliding door.
Interior Wood Structure
The next steps were followed by a lot of try and error solution finding. It took me a while to come up with the measurements that could kinda fit for vanlife. I wanted the bed to be 90cm wide as a minimum. The lengths is limited by the 220cm of workspace I do have in total. The water system that I needed to install requires about 40cm of space, which limited the space for the bed to 180cm.
Having the bed at a 90cm wide created some storage opportunities. The car is about 140cm wide, therefore I decided to go for about 40cm of storage on the right side, and another 10cm on the left side. As shown in the photos the right side storage with 40cm width sits exactly on top of the skibox, therefore I had to build a solid wood frame around the ski box that holds parts of the bed and the right side storage wall. The plywood used for the interior structure is a 18mm non-structural plywood.
Here is a quick drawing on how the van setup should look like at some point:
My next step was the underneath the bed storage. I decided to go with two storage boxes, one that slides out the trunk, the other one being fixed kinda center below the bed.
The Rock’n’Roll Bed
Researching youtube for endless hours got me to a point where I liked the concept of a rock’n’roll bed the most. It’s basically a bed that, when sliding it towards the rear end of the van, folds up into a couch. Having a couch would create some extra space for working in the van, especially with my photography editing.
I reused the old plywood for the bed, cut it into three 90cmx60cm pieces, installed hinges between the pieces so that the bed can fold up. Most people just have the bed slide on wood, I decided to give some heavy duty drawer runners a go. So the part that slides, the front end part of the bed, is having drawer runners sitting below the bed. I’m super stoked that the whole setup worked out nice, it’s amazing to have a comfortable couch for work.
Note the holes in the bed, they are designed to keep air flow towards the mattress, also they help with circulating moisture. Also note the drawer area now, I cut the pieces out for the storage section in the same step.
Water/Sink area + Toilet
A water system is required by the Self Containment rule in New Zealand. The rules here are fairly specific, there must be a fresh water container with 4L of water per day for 3 days per person, therefore a 24L water container for two people. Same for the grey water, they require a 24L grey water container. The fresh water container does need a vent, while the grey water system does need an air trap, there’s also an additional hose required that needs to direct to the outside of the car (so that the smell of the grey water tank does go outside, and not into the van). Luckily Ken from Creative Campers in Tauranga helped me a lot there, he sold me a ready to go unit. That saved a lot of time.
Now, the toilet is a painful one. The old (before 2018) rule stated out that there must be a toilet in the car. The new rule points out that the toilet must be build in a way that one can use the toilet while the bed is made up, while having appropriate head and shoulder space. I get the point here, but on the other side about 95% of all freedom campspots in NZ do have an actual toilet..
Building space in my van where I could use the toilet while the bed is made up was a tough challenge. It took me a long time to figure out some measurements that could work out. But I found a way to have the toilet sit next to the water area, between the drivers and the passengers seat. That way, in case I would ever plan on using it, I could have a great view out of my front wind shield 🤦♂️ Again, I get the point for the toilet regulation, but it’s a stupid one in my opinion as there are public toilets at most of the campspots. I feel like the toilet rule was set up to avoid backpackers building camper-conversions into small vans – but hey, here I am 😜
Roof Wood Structure + Final Adjustments
The roof was a big challenge, as the van is build with a big roof window. I had to build my roof around the mounting points and the moveable parts of the roof window. Sadly the window does not open anymore. Anyways, getting sheepwool, cork and plywood in place was a fun challenge, but it somehow worked out at some point.
A great way to hide some mistakes is carpet lining. It also adds a nice touch to the while setting, so I decided to use carpet lining for a few areas. That was pretty much the final adjustment I’ve done on the van build, everything else is in place now. Here are a few photos of the final build:
Last but not least, the electric system. That was a tough one for me as my knowledge about electricity tend to be around zero. It took me endless youtube videos and hours of reading through fellow van conversion blogs to come up with an electric system.
I’m basically using solar power and the power generated by my alternator while driving to charge up a 110 Ah 12V deep cycle battery. The battery then powers a few USB ports as well as a 420W sinus wave inverter that converts the 12V into 240V power. That allows me to charge up my camera batteries and my macbook.
I will not going into a more detailed description about the electric system here, as this article should not serve as an advice on how to wire up a campervan power system. There are great resources out there like the blog by FarOutRide that are super helpful, I do also recommend contacting a local electrician to help you with that task. Big shoutout to my mate in Germany there that helped me a lot with the setup, Mr. Jan Gühring from Elektro Gühring in Stuttgart. Thanks Jan 🤙
Before And After Photo
And here we go:
I’m super stoked about this project. It involved a lot of ups and downs, but it was an amazing experience building a self contained certified campervan in New Zealand!
I’m hitting the road now towards the mountains of the South Island, feel free to follow these adventures here on my blog as well as on Instagram @ingmarwein.
Let me know any comments or questions down in the comments!