Meet ‘the Heems’

As I began researching the possibility of taking on this journey, I started to look at the sort of vehicle I would need, and how it needed to be configured. I needed somewhere comfortable to live, but the other requirement was essentially… a fully spec’d office.

My van

The Heems’

On the road I needed the essential comforts of home. In addition, I would be writing a book, writing a blog, and filming for the blog (and perhaps a documentary). I needed to be able to edit text, images for illustrations, audio and video. I needed computer power… with quite a bit of grunt for the image and video processing, a printer, and a proper monitor, mouse and keypad. To maintain sanity, (I would be travelling alone) I also needed TV, radio and music. I needed electricity, lots of it; for my fridge, computers, TV, lights, sounds etc. And an absolute essential, was a reliable internet connection.

It took a while to settle on the size of van I needed. It had to be a compromise between large… for convenience and comfort, and small… to get into some of the more remote locations I would visit.

I eventually settled on the type of van that tourists hire when touring New Zealand. They’ve been around a long time, and seem to be well thought out in terms of squeezing all the important creature comforts of home into a compact space.

I named my van, somewhat obviously, ‘Heemskerck’. Immediately I realised that this would cause dreadful confusion in my writing… was I talking about Tasman’s ship? or was I talking about my van? I hadn’t even finished applying the lettering before my van not only had a name, but also a nickname… ‘the Heems’.

The Heems had the all essentials for comfortable living; toilet and shower, fridge-freezer, gas cooker and grill, sink, and hot water (gas) but was hopeless it terms of providing somewhere to work; that I had to sort out for myself. It took me about six months to convert… and all that time, I was living in it. Anyone who has ‘done up’ a house while living in it will know just how uncomfortable that can be. When the space is as small as a campervan it becomes nearly impossible. The van contains everything I need, and when it’s all nicely packed up it is easy and comfortable to live in. But as soon as I pull out my tool boxes, and start working on a job, then suddenly everything is in the way, and everything I need is behind, in or under something else… and everywhere I need to put something down already has something else there.

wire cutters

My best wire cutters

I pulled onto the campsite at Piha on July 19th 2013… mid-winter in New Zealand. The van was cold, dark and powerless. In order to prepare for someone to fit my alarms and reversing camera, I’d bored some holes for their cables. One of my holes had gone straight through all the interior power and light cables. I’d also managed to cut off power to the water pump, so I only had water from a container. Here’s a picture of my best wire cutters.

solar panels

Solar panels and satellite dish

Over the next few months I gradually built up ‘the Heems’ to be what I needed, whilst also researching and preparing the book.

The first job was… power. I needed electricity, in remote places, and for extended periods… so my van is completely self-sufficient with solar power and has a lot of battery storage. Even in winter I have enough solar power to keep my batteries topped up. I am one of the few people that has solar powered computers, printer, TV… even my electric tools are solar powered!

My next major task was to build the office. It raised quite a few eyebrows on the campsite when most of the rear seating was ripped out and heaved through the door. My office desk spans the whole width of the rear of the van, and has a deep lid over it. The lid is hinged along its length, and has my bed above… a proper bed, not a thin foam mattresses. The office remains all set up under the lid while my bed is down. In the mornings I flip the bed up, and voila! the office is open.

I use a smartphone for my internet connection, but to get a signal in more remote areas, I use an external antenna mounted on a pole. Finally, for my sanity, I have a satellite dish on the top and a TV. The dish gives me not only TV but also radio… anywhere in the country, and that is a real life saver on occasions.

A few alterations to the storage arrangements completed the re-construction. By the end of it I had turned a fully functional mobile holiday home for four, into a home-office for one. I was ready for the road at last!

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