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Kiwi camping with a difference

Shaun & Jenn

It all started with a chance conversation with friends about a special birthday coming up (I won’t mention which one!) & the fact that I wanted to take my wife & kids on a trip to the South Island over Easter 2023 as our boys had never been.

Being on a budget, we decided that camping was our best option but our current set-up/pack-down time was way too long & we always took way too much gear to fit in our car, plus we wanted to take the bikes & kayak as well. With our friends already having a tear drop camper (and an extremely fast set-up/pack-down time), we decided to have a go at making our own camper trailer, as we already had the 7x4 Pinto Kingsider trailer.

I’d always wanted to make a lockable cover of sorts for it so my mind started working overtime with all the possibilities. After spending many hours watching YouTube videos to help with ideas on how to build one and things to incorporate, I formulated a plan. I would build a collapsible box for the top of the trailer that could be stored flat when not in use so that the trailer could still be multi-purpose.

I decided to make the frame out of 25mm galvanised steel & would clad the outside in ACM panels (aka Signboard), held on with VHB tape (for those that don’t know — it’s basically double-sided tape which was scary to think that it would do the job but I was assured that it would). I wanted to ensure that the hinges on the doors would be fully waterproof so chose Centaflex hinges & they work great. The roof would then drop down on top of the frame to secure everything in place (along with a couple of bolts & homemade roof-racks) & then we attached the rooftop tent on top of that with quick release hinges.

We ended up purchasing the roof top tent first as we could still use it while building the camper trailer. After looking at all the options, we decided to go with a Kiwi Camping Rooftop Tent & Annex as it had the best layout for our family, easy access & the service from them was great. Plus, the height profile of it when packed away suited our needs too, as height of the entire unit was something we needed to take into account as we wanted to be able to store it in our garage.

The drawers were next to be made & after much input from my family (mostly from my wife!) on how they needed to operate (she wanted all the bells & whistles, lol!) I drew up a sketch on how it should look & am proud to say that it came out looking pretty much like it. Not being a woodworker, I stumbled along & got it done with the basic tools I had (& plenty of cursing), but it worked & I got the drawers finished.

The first drawer was 1 long drawer for waterproof storage boxes which would hold food & other things, the second drawer had a chopping board pull out tray that converted to a kitchen sink/washing area, 3 burner gas cooker that sat on the top, plate & cutlery drawer & a back section for other miscellaneous items (eg cooking spray, gas bottle, cleaning supplies etc).

I also made the back section of floor removable so that we could access anything that we stored under the floor at the front of the trailer which allowed room for the gazebo & other larger items.

After not having much luck with a company getting back to me on welding the frame (I waited at least 2 months or more),family & friends came to the rescue & got it all done for me just before Christmas 2022. The sides, ends & roof were all attached together using riv nuts for easy dismantling later & foam tape for weatherproofing.

Finding some of the hardware for the doors/hinges/easy release tent mounts proved to be very challenging & took up a lot of time & gas but as the weeks went by the collection of items grew until we had everything we needed.

Next it was time to do the most nerve-racking thing of all & attach the VHB tape to the frame & then secure the ACM panels which was extremely stressful as one false move & it can’t be un-done! Luckily it went without a hitch (& a huge sigh of relief) & the frame was finally together. I then fitted quick release brackets for the roof-top tent on the homemade roof-racks & fixed it to the roof. I also mounted a solar panel near the back of the trailer that could be multi-directional to capture as much sunlight as possible.

I wanted to make sure that there was side access to the camper trailer so I also installed a side door that could be accessed from inside the annex of the roof-top tent along with a small window on the opposite side for outside views & airflow. I installed a couple of extra air vents for additional air circulation too.

I am glad I did install the side door as it’s proved very beneficial during wetter weather as you can load everything from inside the tent/annex straight into the camper without it getting wet.

Last but not least, I went searching for gas struts for the rear door but after having a lot of factors to consider, I decided to get a professional to install them (& I’m glad I did) as they work extremely well.

We added a couple of finishing touches (eg. LED Lights for inside the trailer & above the cooking area, Mosquito nets/flyscreens on the doors, window curtains, wall pockets for phones/books/torches/tissues etc) & then decided to make a quick run down to Miranda campground (Firth of Thames) for a weekend to test it out before going away on our big trip. It worked great & with a few extra things added when we got home: we were ready for our big trip!

So, 3 weeks, 5000km

We left from Auckland, drove down to Wellington via New Plymouth, got the ferry over to the South Island & then travelled around visiting lots of different (& amazing) places before making the return trip home. We clocked up at least 5,000kms!

Some of our favourite places to visit were Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Dunedin, The Catlins, penguin & seal colonies, Te Anau, Manapouri, Doubtful Sound, Queenstown, The Wanaka Toy Museum, the Clay Cliffs at Omarama, Lake Tekapo & we couldn’t resist a stay at Lake Taupo Holiday Resort on the way home (they have the best hot pools & a swim-up bar). Our little camping trailer survived the trip & actually went really well — so much so that we’ve used it a lot ever since!

The only thing we would have done differently would be to spend longer in each place as there’s soo much beautiful countryside to see & activities to explore.

Even though we’re very close to being fully self sufficient — we don’t have a self-containment certificate — but instead of staying in packed campgrounds we prefer the serenity of a basic campsite.

Photos ©2024 Shaun & Jenn

It all started with a chance conversation

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