Today we're in Whangaparāoa to see Stacey's ambulance that he's converted into a cool camper. He used one of our kits that he bought from us four years ago when we first started out.
"I'm Stacey. We're here on the lovely Hibiscus Coast and I've been living here for a number of years with a growing realization that the chances of us being able to afford a two-million-dollar home is shrinking quickly."
"So, tell me, why an ambulance?"
"Well, it wasn't really part of a plan. It was pretty much spontaneous. Spotted it on Trademe as a decommissioned 2010. I looked at it and thought that would be
cool because it's got all this stuff already in it. Maureen said yeah and then we could just get up and go. So with the course of the weekend the plan was hatched. Went to see the guy, shook hands and we were the proud owners of our own ambulance! The attraction of a vehicle like this was that it provided us the a means towards land somewhere distant and doing the off grid thing.
"So how much of the original ambulance equipment was in here?"
"It was just an empty shell. Anything remotely emergency like had been chopped out with bolt cutters."
"And so what was the first thing you did? Did you go and camp in it first before you built it out and test it out?"
"I had this cunning plan to plan. Yep. And Maureen said no let's just chuck the airbed in it and grab a chilly bin and go somewhere. So that weekend we did and that was the process that we used through the whole build basically, was actually use it and get a feel for what we thought we might like. Yeah. We made those decisions as we went and we're still doing it as we go now.
The kit that I put in is the Weekend Warrior and originally I was thinking of the Starter kit just on it. Well, it's cheaper so that's probably all you need a little ambulance and then the idea came to us that well, whatever capacity we have, we'll expand what we're doing to fully utilize it and so we went for the Weekend Warrior. It all just came together right down to the point that there's a little bit of a slope on the roof of the ambulance so that the panels are on a slight lean and water doesn't pool on them. I told Maureen that was part of my planning but it was just pure accident, just lots of things just came together.
We've got two 315 watt panels and that's what drives all the toys. For the size of the vehicle we have a ridiculous amount of power so we are not as efficient as perhaps a lot of people that are camping in this kind of set up would have to
"So you got two panels on the roof that run to your charge controller and then batteries. Where are you keeping the batteries?"
"We were fortunate because this is part of my plan. No it wasn't. The original oxygen cylinder is exactly the right fit for the batteries and the inverter and
the subsequent thousand watt charger that I added to it.
We've had the kit for coming up 4 years. Apparently we were one of the early customers. I started doing the research and it was just like, ah, frying my brain because I didn't really understand the purpose of this and how it was going to join with that. And then purely by accident stumbled across the Gridfree website - "complete kit". Excellent! So somebody who knows what they're doing has worked out that this bit works perfectly with that bit all from the one place, I don't need to go hunting and I can put it in- it's designed for someone like me to put it in. And the little bits of information I needed to flesh out how it all went together were available quickly and easily."
"These cabinets, did you build yourself or are they something that was pre-built?"
"Special order from Bunnings. One of their Kaboodle Kitchens. They have a really cool little setup on their the Kaboodle website where you can design your kitchen. Planned it all out on that. Did the ordering thing, turned up, put it in and discovered that varnishing laminated bamboo is one of the most difficult things you can force yourself to do."
"But it looks great though, it's come up looking really nice!"
"I'm happy with the end result but god it was torturous at the time."
"And where's your bed?"
"The bed is at the end there. There's a chunk of wood that slides across the center there, we just flip the mattresses out. Yeah. So one half is that seat the other half is that seat and combined they just flip out over the gap and we sleep east to west. And then it makes two couches when you're not sleeping in it! So you can make use of the back doors. Wherever we are, we can have the best
view just by how you park.
One of the things we love about the opportunity that we have being grid free is that we can just get up and go. We don't have to go to a campground. We can freedom camp. We can stop at friends properties and just park and because we've got one or two or three of everything that we're going to need. All the beddings already in here, even electric blanket because you know, I'm old. Fridges and freezers are stocked. So, after a week of the daily grind, Friday night, we can go, you know what? Let's just go- stay for as long as we like. Next day go somewhere else, if we like it, stay there.
We've also got this little highly inefficient bar fridge here that we use. Actually belongs to my daughter. She thinks it's in as she sees this I'm busted and she's going to want it back. And I use the Engle that we were talking about before as a
fridge freezer because it's a combo unit. Yeah. And again because of the surplus of power capacity we've got a really inefficient lighting system. Some I put on are the touch- well, motion detecting. These are the original light housings that I
just put a more efficient 12 volt LED set up in there.
What advice would I give to people? It's definitely a process and there is stuff that you learn along the way. We've developed a pretty good understanding of
how you need to work with solar. That's maybe something that people don't understand initially. They're thinking that solar will work with them but it's kind of a partnership between you and your gear and the sun and what's currently sitting in your batteries. I guess you have to have a clear view of your vision. What you're going to be using it for, how many people, how long, how often. If you've got that to start with, you're less likely to go halfway down the track and then go, "Should've done it different."
"So, this is the little area that you talked about when we're inside that you could put the batteries."
"Yeah, and we're lucky that it's got internal access. So, if I do trip the circuit breakers in there, I can just reach in and reset them. Of course that was again part of my master plan. But it fits the two batteries in there nicely I just engineered up a wood and aluminium frame to set them on. The inverter's tucked in the back here and recently stuck the charger on the front there so that I can top things up if need be. Future plans include finishing all the bits that I
told Maureen that I would do ages ago like get her hot and cold running water- that will be helpful. Uh, there's just bits and pieces that are kind of on the periphery of the overall project like it would be helpful to have working electric stairs at the back. So, we don't have to parkour in and out of the back of the camper.
"So, Stacey, tell me more about the the logo on the side here."
"This was a cunning plan that I didn't discuss with the better half but I just thought it was fun. So I stuck them on and it certainly gets attention. Even at Police roadblocks if you happen to be crossing a border. They don't notice that
that's not Saint John's until they're right up to it and they're going, "Hang on a minute. We need to talk to you."
Our overall experience with GridFree has been great. To be fair, we haven't needed them because their product has been so good but I'll definitely be going back to those guys because of the package. I think what we have achieved built around the basis of the GridFree kit is an instant lifestyle change. Where at a drop of a hat we can jump in this, go anywhere we want, set up where we like, choose the view we want, we've got everything at our fingertips to enjoy as long as we want to stay there.
"To think Stacey and his partner started out in this van with just a mattress and a chilly bin to now having all the power they could ever need for their lifestyle thanks to GridFree."