Dan and Kelly's Off-Grid Housebus Conversion - Freedom Kit

Dan and Kelly's Off-Grid Housebus Conversion - Freedom Kit

"I've always thought that idea of the kind of mid-life crisis is just such nonsense. It's not a crisis, it's just an awakening of just like 'you've lived half your life! What are you going to do now? You going to just sit here and keep living that same life?" 

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"Literally feel like we've just landed in paradise... It's just an awakening of just like you've lived half of your life, you've lived half of it! ... Yeah what are you going to do now? ... Oh, my God. This is so beautiful. ... You won't die. ... We've got a lot of stuff I've never grown before... Why don't you just build something in a bus? ... Yeah. Let's get out of here, man! Let's go."

"Hi, Craig."

"Gidday Daniel! How you doing?"

"Yeah good mate. It's good to meet you."

"Good spot here."

"It's pretty nice, isn't it? Yeah, we're pretty lucky.

We're Dan and Kelly and we live on the West Coast in the Waikato. I've always wanted to live in a bus off-grid, it's always been a dream of mine just to be self-sufficient. Grow your own food, have your own power, have your own water. Be able to rely on yourself. It's always been a big dream. So yeah, we're making that happen.

We moved over to New Zealand from England, we've been here a year now and we were lucky enough to find this land, bought a bus, and we've been living in that since.

This is the bus."

"Nice. And did you drive it here?"

"I bought it off a farmer and the farmer drove it to the land. We had it down here for a few months. And then I decided, especially when I thought, oh, when I get solar panels, I want it to be north facing. So I ended up moving it myself into this spot."

"So it's still drives?"

"It still drives. It started first time, which was kind of unbelievable to me. But there you go, 19, 1968. So it's this pretty old engine. But yeah, it drives great."

"And so there’s a toilet here?"

"Yeah, that's right. So this was the only thing on the bus that I haven't stripped out. Everything else water had got inside. Walls were rotten, so I took everything
out, went back to the metal. But the one thing I didn't take out was this. It's like a fiberglass all in one shower and toilet unit. And I thought for now it's just quick and easy just to leave it rather than get involved with tile and grout. And so the plan is bedroom down there."

"Yeah. And sort of what, a lounge area here?"

"Probably run a bench along here with a sink."

"It's a fantastic idea to put a roof over the top of the bus aye."

"It simplifies it, one you don't have to think, 'is that sealed? Is that sealed?' And every time the wind direction changes, you find you've got a new leak. Having the roof means you don't have to worry about leaks. You've got somewhere to put the solar panels and you've also got plenty of surface area to collect water. Which, you know, all of those things are really important.

"So I was working as a cameraman in London for 20 odd years, and since moving here all of my time has been taken up with getting set up with, you know,
building the bar, getting things set up. And so as far as work goes, I'm not sure what the future holds. But one thing I can say is that our cost of living here is dramatically different from the life we had previously.

The impetus to work is still there. Obviously you've still got to make money. At some point I'll probably end up going to Auckland and finding work again as a cameraman, but for now I'm just busying myself with making somewhere to live.

Our daily routine is dictated entirely by the weather and the hours surrounding. So the minute the sun rises, we're up. Partly that's because we've got no curtains in the bus. And partly it's the amount of noise that the birds and the cicadas and the rest of it make. And once we're up, I tend to be busy. I'm either
putting sheets of iron on the roof or I'm working out how to wire up a solar system.

I'm trying to grow enough food so we've got something to eat, or I'm cutting down a tree that's about to potentially blow down and smash something to pieces. So if I'm lucky, by the end of the day, I'll squeeze a surf in and then I'll typically kind of collapse asleep with exhaustion at the end of the day.

And it's amazing, you know, you're just buzzing, you're lying in bed buzzing as the endorphins flood your body because you've just been, you know, working really hard and it's physical all day. It is physical. I've never once spent the day
sitting down reading a book. I don't have time for it."

"You know, I'm helping Dan with what he needs help with. And then I'm cooking outside, getting vegetables from the garden. I can walk to town from here and get food if we need it. But yeah, it's just nonstop projects."

"Yeah, you're excited to get up. I think living in a small space forces you outside. You know, when you when you're in a house and you've got insulation, double glazing and so on, your walled off from nature, your living in your own little bubble. The minute you're in a small space, you naturally get out of that small space all the time. The minute you wake up, you're out and there's something inherently great about just being in nature.

My favourite features of this place, for sure it's the bush. I love it. When we first bought this land, we moved up here and most people that were looking at it were looking at this flat section, thinking, 'Where am I going to build my house?' For me, I was just straight into the bush. I’ve gradually been cutting a few trees down and making a little bit of a pathway through the bush. When we first got the land, I couldn't even get down there. It goes all the way down to the water.

"This wasn't here a few months ago. It's already grown back. This is coming from the storm. Yep.

"If you were to do this in the UK, it's not about how much it cost, it's not possible. Yeah, it's quite a sort of a privilege really. You know, when you find somewhere
like this, for me, it's like mind blowing."

"Oh, this is very nice."

"Yeah, I just built this recently, so just this makes it a bit easier to get down to the water. Yeah. I'll probably start building some interesting and weird structures in the bush. I’m thinking in treehouses domes, it's going to look like an ewok village.

"Yeah, it’s low tide at the moment. So the waters out a bit, well it comes up to about here at high tide. 

"[Craig laughs] Piece of an old boat there?"


"And I noticed there’s ah, a heap of boats up there?"

"Yeah, they actually belong to our neighbors and they've said, oh, just help yourselves whenever you like. We haven't tried it out yet, but we want to go out and maybe catch a few fish out there."

"Yeah. You want to try and have a fish, I reckon."


"Incredible, to have a beach like this so close to your property."

"It's unbelievable. When this place first came up and we had a look at it, the first thing we did was we took that walk. It was quite difficult to get through the trees, but we sort of missioned our way down there and we were just like gobsmacked by it. We literally feel like we've just landed in paradise. It's yeah, it's just an incredible place."

"Our life has changed dramatically. It feels like it's just changed overnight hasn’t it? Living off-grid is just a totally different experience to living in a house, running a business, scaling back, spending less. We've really changed our lives."

"It’s that initial step is pretty much terrifying."

"Yeah, saying goodbye to people that really love you and moving country is such a big deal."

"We were in an environment where we could earn good money in London, spend eight months working hard and then four months just traveling. Once COVID happened, that lifestyle was no longer tenable. Those options just closed, and when you're locked down somewhere, you want to be locked down somewhere nice.

"I've always thought that idea of the kind of mid-life crisis is just such nonsense. It's not a crisis, it's just an awakening of just like 'you've lived after your life, you've lived half of it! What are you going to do now? What are you going to do? You going to just sit here and keep living that same life?'

I enjoyed the life we had. It was fantastic being able to travel, traveling for work. We loved it. Coming out here and going back and forth. It was great. It was a great way to live. But the minute that opportunity shut off and we were stuck on a cold, muddy, wet island, it's like, no way, man. Like, if I'm going to be locked down anywhere, it will be here.

"I love being here and this is where I want to spend my time, you know?

"So this is a pretty basic kitchen set up."

"Did you build this or was it here?"

"No, this was one of the few things that was on the property. So this was previously like a campsite, very small one. So they had this and they had the water tank and that's been a bit of a godsend, really, just being able to get on to the property and have water."

"Quite cool eh, having a seat outside and having an outdoor kitchen."

"When I first saw it, I was stupid enough to think like, 'oh, it's a bit of an eyesore on the land.' And then as soon as we moved on to here, I thought, 'oh, this is really useful' because if you cook and it's raining just to have that little bit of protection and to be underneath here, it makes things a hell of a lot easier. Without it, we'd have been struggling.

"This is our first opportunity to do things like grow trees. I went to a tree pruning workshop. How middle aged is that? So things like that have been fun just working out 'How do you grow more food?' Yeah, we've become quite close to the community living here, so we get it like a crop swap every few weeks for everyone, swap the excess produce at their house and people bring all sorts
from kombucha scoby or excess vegetables.

So we're very much like part of the community here now already and we love it. Yeah, even doing that, just having a small veggie patch and swapping with your neighbors is enough to significantly reduce your grocery bills, which is great. Going out and picking a few tomatoes and a few potatoes and bringing it from there one meter to there and cooking it. It's just a lovely way to live. Yeah, healthier as well, but it's a real quick and simple method, you know, just chucked a load of cardboard down and then I got some compost from the dump. Put that down with with some wood chip and that's it. Really easy. No, no digging."

"And what got you into gardening, is it something you've taught yourself?"

"I've been interested in it for a while. I was growing stuff in England and I had a much smaller garden, so I always had these small raised beds. And as soon as I got here, I just ended up doing a similar kind of thing. So I'll probably double the
size of this and extend it. 

"I just like meeting people from the town and just learning stuff from them. There's a lot of people with a lot of knowledge on how to grow things. You know, when you're new here, you don't know what needs to go in the ground, when. We've had a lot of wind. So, you know, you need to protect stuff. That's why we've got the wind cloth as well.

I would like to be able to grow more of the staples. I would like to grow more potatoes, more onions, more carrots, so that yeah, just so we just don't have to visit the shop so frequently. So it's mainly for self sufficiency."

"So you've got produce right here ready to go. It doesn't need to be in the fridge."

"Yeah. And the joy of doing it. I really like gardening. It's good fun. I find it quite relaxing to come out here and you know, having the outdoor kitchen works really well and to come out and make a coffee in the morning. I'll quite often drink my coffee and look around and, you know, pick a few weeds out, just check on the things so it doesn't feel like work. You're just sort of pottering around in your garden. I really enjoy it.

"I think before I did this, my thought was, 'you buy a bit of land.' My first thought was almost terrified. Like, 'Wait, where do you go to the toilet? How on earth is this going to work?' Like, don't worry. People have lived for many, many years
without flushing toilets, you won't die. And so all it becomes is these little things that you think are so important - once you go without them, it's not that important. It's just not quite as luxurious. It's not quite as nice."

"You're cutting out the luxury, but the payoff is huge I think."

"So the Solar kit that I chose is the Freedom Kit. And I was a little bit lazy, to be honest with selecting it. I know that the way that most people do it is by working out the wattage hours of various appliances. I couldn't be bothered. And so instead of doing that, I looked on the GridFree website and I got a sense of what other people were doing. And I kind of thought, 'Well, they're a family, they've got that kit and it's working for them.' Therefore, that will be more than enough power for me. I didn't want to go smaller, mainly because I wanted to futureproof myself.

"I knew pretty much nothing about solar when I started doing this, but I must admit the instructions from GridFree are unbelievably simple. Literally anyone could do it. The pictures are like this big. It looks like it's made for five year
olds, which for me was great. You can just go through 'that goes into that. That goes into that.' You just follow what's written in the book and then it works.

The main reason I went with GridFree was that it was just so easy. Rather than having to work out, 'oh, I need four panels and two batteries and this type of inverter,' which is far too complicated for my small brain, it was much easier
to just go, 'here's a kit and you don't have to think about it.' There's like, it comes with the correct number of batteries and the correct inverter and the correct number of panels for that particular set up. So it was just easy.

"I was lazy, but I've got enough projects on. I don't want another thing to research. We have just in the last few days finished installing our kit and it's great.

"So this is where we keep our solar kit, at least for now."

"And the panels on the, on the roof up there, running down this conduit I guess?"

"Yeah, that's right. And then it just comes into the underneath of the bus, they're just screwed in and then up to the inverter here."

"Right. And how do you find the fan on the inverter? Any issues there?"

"Well, this was something I was a little bit concerned about before putting in. I filled this wall with as much sheeps insulation wool as I could possibly cram into it to try and cut down on the noise. At the moment, it's not a problem, but that's because we're not really drawing much power. Once we've got a few more things plugged in, I think we'll hear that fan noise more. My guess is this is going to be a temporary solution and we'll end up moving this out into another structure.

"We've got more power from that solar system than we could ever want."

"Yeah, it's great. Yeah, great system."

"In terms of the pricing, I asked an electrician how much it might cost to connect to the grid their estimate was in the sort of $15 to 20K range. And so for me, The Freedom Kit was roughly that price and I thought it seemed like a no brainer to me. I could, I had either the option to connect to the grid and then pay for electricity for the rest of my life, not knowing what the price might be in ten years time versus spend the same amount of money, get a solar kit and have free power for the next 10-15 years before the batteries need to be replaced. It's an easy easy decision.

"When we were living in England, there was definitely a feeling that you buy a property that's not that great and it's in an area that you don't like that much 
and you do that property up and it improves a little bit. And then you buy another property that's a bit bigger and is in a slightly nicer place and you just keep going. And for me that felt like a fairly futile and ludicrous pursuit. And now
our focus has changed dramatically. Now, I don't want to do this land up and sell. I never want to sell this land. I just want to live here and enjoy it forever.

"We like to see our life as an adventure. And if it's if it's not an adventure, it's
nothing to us. And so we felt like, yeah, let's get out of here, man! Let's go! You've got to take action and live your dream. And if you're feeling too stressed with a job, give it up. You can make it. You know, just a bit of courage and yeah, that's all you need really."

"It's one of the great things about living off-grid, is that your life is full of very small, incremental gains in quality of life, and that just brings you constant joy. 
Each little step is just, it's magical. It's just magical."