How does one best round off a lifetime of camping and caravanning so as to enjoy those final golden years to the full? This was a question that arose as our long-serving Isuzu Double-Cab with its roof-top tent came to the end of its usefully reliable life, having served us well – both in South Africa and in an extensive Africa trip that took us as far north as the equator.
In our 50 years of married life, my wife, Fay, and I have sampled every variety possible of outdoor living and camping. Everything from tiny 2-man tents during tours we did by bicycle in Europe, to campervan holidays overseas, to the conventional towed-caravan that took us all over South Africa when our children were young. In short, we had a lifetime of experience to draw on.
The big debate on “what next, and finally,” took a serious turn during our last overseas camping tour, visiting one of our sons who now lives in New Zealand with his own young family. A significant part of this debate included the merits and otherwise of a very well-equipped, small campervan we’d hired for two months as we toured that beautiful country.
There was also the realisation that, for both of us, now well into our 70s, the days of pitching tents in the rain, or clambering over the roof of a bakkie to fold up a reluctant, frost-covered roof-top tent on a Highveld morning, had come to an end. Although tempted by the luxury of a conventional caravan or a motorhome, we both firmly decided that our most favoured option over the years had been a compact motorhome or campervan, and that this was the way to go. But this time, to make it special, we decided it should be entirely our own design.
The search for a suitable base-vehicle for our planned conversion started in earnest when we’d returned from New Zealand and had sold our faithful 4×4. We soon discovered that there was not much to choose from. Although tempted by the thought of a new vehicle, this idea was soon abandoned – both because of the cost and because I did not fancy drilling my amateur holes (such as the hole for the sink drainpipe) into a spanking-new vehicle. Although there were plenty of old vans to be found on the second-hand market, these were usually too big for our liking or else had high mileages and the inevitable scars of commercial use.
When we were young, we had, at times, travelled and camped in basic kombi-style conversions; but, for the simple daily tasks of cooking or of getting dressed, there can be no substitute for the ability to stand on one’s feet; so this requirement further complicated our search. Vehicles with lifting roofs are, of course, a viable option, but one does not find these in the sort of empty shell we wanted; and panel beaters we approached were understandably reluctant even to quote on such a specialist job.