When I spoke to Rachel and Marius, they were staying at a White Horse Hill Campsite, enjoying fantastic views of Mount Cook and celebrating two weeks of adventures in their housebus, Orca. On March 5, they took that first exciting drive away from Rachel’s family home in Cromwell, and I can immediately hear in their voices how much they love it.
You’re running the bach kit - how did you set it up and where have you installed it?
I [Marius] installed most of the kit myself, with the solar panels on the roof, running everything on 230V. We installed it slightly differently [wiring it into the bus] so we got an electrician in for the final work in connecting everything. We have 10 double power plugs around the bus which go into the inverter. We’ve also got the water pump directly connected.
Our setup is in a 1968 Bedford bus! It’s originally from England, brought in as a passenger bus for Timaru city council, which then travelled to Palmerston North, and up to Auckland city! We’re actually the third private owners since the original conversion from a passenger bus. So Orca’s already been all over the country!
Why did you choose this bus, as opposed to a newer vehicle or traditional motorhome?
We really wanted something with character! Most of the newer vans aren’t set up for full time living, and having only recently returned to New Zealand after travelling overseas, we wanted more of a “house on wheels” that we could still put in storage if we went travelling overseas again. Space was another big factor - for one, you don’t see solar panels on small vans as they don’t have much room, whereas the bus has lots of space on roof for panels. And inside, it’s like a small apartment on wheels, with lots of room inside to make it comfortable for the two of us to live in.
Why did you decide to go off-grid?
We get bored staying in one place for too long! When we moved back to NZ, we were originally looking at basing ourselves in the far north, because of what it had on offer in regards to the outdoor activities that we both enjoy like fishing and hiking, but we didn’t want to be constrained with responsibilities of owning or renting a house. We wanted the freedom to live how we want to live, to go whenever we wanted to go.
Why did you choose solar instead of other options, like a generator?
Solar is easy, convenient, and quiet, and it’s not expensive when you’re going off-grid. It’s also really cool to be generating power yourself, to generate enough to get by, and to be able to monitor how much we’re using. Whereas generators can be quite noisy and they use a lot of fuel. We didn’t want to park the bus somewhere gorgeous, and then turn on a noisy generator and ruin the whole point of getting out in nature. We did the research on our options, and solar was the best option.
Why did you choose GridFree, instead of a local company?
We actually spoke to several companies in Cromwell, and Gridfree gave us the best price, and the best service with quick responses. Even though there’s a building boom in Cromwell right now, companies weren’t interested if it wasn’t a house, many took over two weeks to respond, and it was too expensive with most of the options available. When we looked at sourcing individual pieces to do it all ourselves it we had the same problem, and it was still more expensive. We’re really happy with the quality, particularly the batteries which are so important. GridFree was just the best option because you could supply what we needed. Even shipping was cheap! We got a sink shipped from Auckland, and it cost $100 in shipping, while all the solar kit including four 60kg batteries was only $280!
What challenges have you faced during this project?
Marius would tell you that every time I [Rachel] walk into the bus I have a great new idea for the renovation that’ll cost more money. It’s really hard to stop! We did a lot more than we expected to do, and so it cost more than anticipated, but it’s our home so we didn’t want to compromise too much on how we wanted it.
We needed help from professionals on some things, but again it was difficult to find people that gave honest quotes and had the availability to do the job in such a busy area. We also found that it’s really time consuming! You just want to get on the road, but you can’t go until everything’s running how you want.
We’ve had no hiccups on the road, it’s almost gone better than expected! The plan was to be out for two weeks then go back to the family home to change things as needed, but we haven’t found anything to change! It even rained all last night and it’s grey weather at the moment, so it’s good to be able to monitor our usage and output, but we’re still using power happily.
We know coming into winter that it could be a different story, especially if we plan to stay down South over the ski season, and we will have to get a small generator and 48v charge kit if we want to maintain the same style of living.
What are you running on your kit?
We’ve got computer screens, a computer, a 143L deep freeze - so we can be off-grid long term and freeze things like milk, bread, and fish we catch -, a full size fridge, four overhead lights, the water pumps, a coffee machine, a toaster, a desk fan, a fan for our composting toilet, and chargers for our laptops, phones, and tablets. And not on solar, we have small gas oven (it’s been a challenge to find trays that fit!), a two burner gas cooker, a wood fire for heating, and hot water on gas.
What’s been the best part of off-gridding so far?
The first time driving away from Rachel’s family home was exhilarating, because we’d put so much work into it! It’s been exciting seeing what we’re generating, we’ve had plenty of power and haven’t had to try not to use electricity. The best part is that we’re in New Zealand, and we get to see the gorgeous scenery everywhere we go. It’s awesome to be able to park up anywhere, get the best views, and still have power and internet! Even when it’s cold and raining you can still be warm inside and make yourself a cappuccino. Every second in the bus cool - with all the windows on all sides you get a 360 scenic view of wherever you park, plus it’s so much higher than other cars so you can always get a view!
What would you tell other people considering off-gridding?
Do it! As long as you set it up right it’s really easy to do, and you don’t have to worry about it. It’s like being in a little apartment on wheels, so just do it!
Follow Rachel and Marius’ adventures in Orca Bus on their Facebook page or their Instagram.
The Orca bus is running the GridFree Bach Kit, featuring four solar panels and four batteries - get your own, or get in touch with our solar experts to find your perfect off-grid solution.