We caught up with Leanne Edwards from Quirky Campers NZ to discover what is so special about travelling in a handcrafted van - and the features that might surprise people the most.
Quirky Campers New Zealand was launched by husband and wife team, Leanne and Dan Edwards just last year but is already causing quite a stir. The unique handcrafted campervan rentals are beautifully different to anything else you will find. Each van has been lovingly created and boasts features that you'd expect to find in a well-appointed bach. Think carved wooden cabinets, log burners, inviting double beds and fully kitted out mini kitchens.
The campers even have their own names. You might decide on Mahara, which is like a Scandi style log cabin on wheels. Or Ivan might catch your eye. With a modern urban twist on a classic wooden camper van interior, he feels very much like you are travelling in your very own boutique hotel room.
Van conversions are a rapidly growing trend globally with holidaymakers flocking to either rent one or custom build their own. More and more people are choosing to spend their money on experiences rather than expensive hotel rooms - and the prospect of travelling in a van that is as stylish as it is functional is clearly appealing to that cultural shift. The associated hashtag #vanlife, is currently sitting at 7.2 million posts on Instagram!
We caught up with Leanne to find out (among other things) why she thinks Kiwis are embracing #vanlife, what makes a customised camper so cool and why their first conversion, Ivan, attracted international media coverage last year.
Why do you think campervans are such a great way to travel and see New Zealand?
For me there are three main reasons why campervans are a great choice. Firstly, you can be more spontaneous, choosing to stay a little longer in a place you love or… you can simply move on when you're done, you don't have to stick around. Secondly, unlike travelling between hotels and B&Bs, when you're in a campervan, you unpack once and you’re done until you pack up again at the end of your trip.
And my favourite reason…the unknown. You experience things completely differently to how you would in standard accomodation. You can have so much fun discovering the features and quirks of your van; parking up (then reversing, moving, turning around) for the best view; stepping out and feeling the grass between your toes; cosying up when the lights go down, feeling like a little kid again; trying to cook and look like a camping pro; attempting to empty and fill the water tanks like a Formula 1 pitstop; deciding it’s fine to go another day without a shower; waking up to stunning views in places only campers can stay; and being able to just pull over and have a cuppa, just the way you like it.
Handmade van conversions – both building them and hiring them – seem to have taken off worldwide. What do you think the attraction is?
I think people love the character and individuality of handcrafted campers. You know there is nothing else like it on the road. It’s your own little bach-on-wheels. There’s nothing wrong with the identikit factory-fitted vans, but they can just lack those homely touches and the element of surprise and delight. Quirky Campers are colourful, cosy and genuinely somewhere you like to spend time!
In terms of building one, it can also be a very cost-effective way to create a holiday home for yourself – and better still, it’s not stuck in one place. And if you then choose to hire it out (through us for example) then you are making a return on your asset when you are not using it. So yes, “vanlife” has really taken off and it’s easy to see why.
Ivan got quite a lot of media coverage last year! Why do you think people were so taken with him?
That's a tricky one as Ivan was a joint project between my husband, Dan and me. I think there are a number of factors… the novelty of him being converted from a decommissioned ambulance, the use of live edge timber dividers which kind of look like he has a tree growing through him, the super cute log burner and the interior design, colour scheme and soft furnishings that make him feel luxurious. We’re really proud of him and love seeing the reactions of people when they first step in – and the stories our guests share with us on their return.
Can you remember your first trip in a Quirky Camper? How did it compare to regular camping?
I can remember as it wasn’t that long ago! Quirky Campers NZ launched in late October 2019 and our first trip – in Ivan – was more of a test run as we hadn’t long finished him. We went up to the Hokianga with friends for Labour Weekend and it was stunning. We had such fun buying goodies to eat from various local shops and we would pull over in a nice spot, fling the back doors open and scoff crackers and cheese with the most beautiful views.
By chance, we also discovered a little music festival in Rawene. It was great to check everything worked as we planned it… and we tried to put ourselves in our customers' shoes. We made a few minor tweaks to Ivan on our return but overall it was great success and a really memorable weekend.
What are some features of the Quirky Campers that people might be the most surprised and excited by?
Aside from the unique interiors, I think what many people love is that most of our vans are pet-friendly! In fact, all our current vans are.
We had hired standard campervans in the past to get out and see New Zealand – and they were functional and fine – but we always missed our dog, Colin. The only way we were able to take our beloved Mini Schnauzer with us was to build our own campervan. But now, through Quirky Campers, we can share these lovely vans and our guests can bring along their furry friends.
What are your plans and dreams for Quirky Campers over the next 6-12 months?
Our main goal is to attract more van owners and build the collection of Quirky Campers across New Zealand. We’re getting heaps of interest from potential customers who would like to hire a van from places other than our current locations of Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown.
We also get lots of questions about whether we have family-friendly vans… and right now we only have 2-berth vans. We’d love to add some higher berth vans so there’s an opportunity for people to take the kids on an adventure. At the moment, the best we can offer is a romantic break for the parents without the kids!
We'd love to talk to anyone that might have a Quirky Camper in the making so please do drop us a line at email@example.com and we can provide lots of information about renting out a van.
Do you have any favourite Quirky Campers customer stories or anecdotes?
Not so much a specific story but more of an emerging trend. Quirky Campers seem to be a very popular choice for honeymooners and those celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries or birthdays! It is so cool to be able to contribute to the experience of such a special occasion and we like to throw in a few little surprises to mark the event too.
Do you have a favourite New Zealand road trip or place to camp?
We have done trips across both the North and South Islands in the past but more recently (and mainly because of the business and the dog!) we’ve discovered the joy of staying relatively local. It’s fun to give yourself a challenge of finding a new place within a few hours drive and just make a weekend of it.
One of my favourites is McLarens Falls Park near Tauranga. It’s essentially freedom camping with access to loos and showers, all set in gorgeous parklands with walking tracks, kayaking, glow worms and a waterfall. The only downside is that it’s not dog-friendly – don’t tell Colin.
Do you have any announcements, offers or upcoming news that you would like to share with New Zealanders?
Well, given what we’ve all been through with COVID-19, we’re keen to help Kiwis get out there supporting local tourism and of course, enjoying our own backyard… but for a few less dollars. We are offering 15% off the rental cost of any Quirky Camper (which includes insurance) for all trips taken before 30 November 2020. Simply check out the pricing and availability of our vans and use the code LETSGONZ at the checkout to apply the discount. Or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to help.
You can learn more about Quirky Campers NZ here.