This is a story about a truck camper that came ashore on an island in the south-western Pacific Ocean by way of Japan – and Denver, Colorado. Welcome to New Zealand.
This is one story that has a great back story. Back in March, we interviewed Randy Wass, Hallmark’s General Manager, for a story on a new camper called, “Hallmark RV: Return of the La Veta”. Randy explained that the Hallmark La Veta had been a popular export to Japan in the early to mid-1990’s under the name Somos.
Half way around the world, Willem Stein did an online search in April to learn about his Somos truck camper. That’s when Willem discovered the Hallmark La Veta story with Randy on Truck Camper Magazine and learned the history of Somos truck campers. When Willem later contacted us with his truck camping adventures and photography from New Zealand, our jaws dropped. Put New Zealand on your truck camping bucket list.
TCM: How did you come to live in New Zealand?
Willem: Corri and I arrived in New Zealand in 2005. We had sailed our forty foot yacht from Holland in a six-year-long journey that took us to interesting and less visited places: Iceland, Greenland, Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, US East Coast, Bahamas, Cuba, Panama, Ecuador, Galapagos, Easter Island, Chili, Around Cape Horn, Falklands, South Georgia, South Africa, Australia. We wrote about it for many yachting magazines. We fell in love with New Zealand, so we settled here, sold the yacht, and got into truck camping.
TCM: Wow. That’s an amazing trip. Tell us about your truck and camper.
Willem: Until recently, we had a Mazda Proceed truck 2600cc, petrol. We wanted a bit more power and a diesel engine, so we bought a Toyota Hilux, double cab 3000 cc, diesel turbo. I think the Toyota Hilux is sold in the United States as the Tacoma.
When I did some research before buying the Hilux, I came to Truck Camper Magazine and found an interview with Randy Wass of Hallmark RV. That’s how we learned that our ‘Somos’ camper was made by Hallmark.
We like to keep everything onboard our truck camper simple. It has no shower, built-in toilet, television, DVD, etc. If we want luxury and comfort, we might as well stay at home.
TCM: How did find your Hallmark/Somos camper?
Willem: We bought it, together with the Mazda Proceed truck, as a “Japanese import”. The dealer we bought it from had originally imported it for his own use. We were just lucky we found the truck and camper combination here in New Zealand.
TCM: Did you need to make any modifications to make your camper legal in New Zealand?
Willem: With the built-in twenty-four liter grey and fresh water tanks and our porta-potti, we comply with the New Zealand rules for self containment, which allows us to spend the night away from motor camps.
The former owner had a three-way fridge and a propane cooker built in. I changed the air conditioning system from 110 volt into 240 volt, including a new battery charger. I built in a LP gas heater, since the winters, especially on our South Island can be chilly, and we like to go skiing.
TCM: People use their truck campers for skiing here in the United States and Canada too. What else do you like to do when you go out truck camping?
Willem: We like to go ‘tramping’, which is the New Zealand word for ‘trekking’. Since I am into mountain biking, we often carry at least one bike. We are both keen photographers and our truck camper, which we nicknamed “The Snail”, is a perfect way to get to out of the way places for some good landscape shots. Actually we call our camper ‘de Slak’ (Dutch for snail), because we “carry our home on our back” and we travel relatively slow uphill, especially with the old Mazda Proceed we had.
TCM: Where do you typically camp?
Willem: Our main reason for truck camping is to get away from the asphalt. When we go to the National Parks, we stay at the basic campgrounds. Otherwise, we try as much as possible to camp in the wild. Many villages have spots where campers can stay for free, if they are self-contained. Furthermore many fellow members of the New Zealand Motorhome and Caravan Association welcome club members on their property to spend the night.
In general, New Zealand is very truck camper friendly, although some urban areas, like our biggest city Auckland, could be considered as truck camper unfriendly.
On the other hand, in our capital Wellington, you are allowed to stay overnight at the parking area of our national museum, Te Papa, right in the center of the city. Staying overnight in the wild is generally not a problem, although we always try to find a spot out of sight. Staying at parking places along the state highways is not advisable for safety reasons because sometimes tourists get robbed there.
TCM: Do you see many truck campers in New Zealand?
Willem: There are only few truck campers in New Zealand. They used to build them here under the name Stag. I heard that recently someone started to set-up a small production of truck campers, but I don’t know the details. There is a representative for Lance Campers here, but they are too big and heavy for the average New Zealand truck being the size of a Toyota Hilux.
When we’re traveling with our truck camper, we meet lots of people who are unfamiliar with the concept of a truck camper and think it’s a good idea but, strange enough, it hasn’t become popular here in New Zealand. We sometimes use the name, “lift-off-camper”. That’s how a truck camper is known in Australia.
TCM: What are some of the most amazing places that you would recommend that people go to as they travel through New Zealand?
Willem: If you want to get a reasonable impression of New Zealand, spend at least one month here. Spent two-thirds of your time on the bigger, less populated south island and one-third of your time on the north island. South island has the biggest mountains and it is easy to visit glaciers. Furthermore, there are thousands of miles of walking trails, all with mountain huts to spend the night. The Department of Conservation has an informative web-site: www.doc.govt.nz.
TCM: What’s next for you in your truck camping future?
Willem: We have not seen and done everything in New Zealand yet, but also think about making a long camper journey through North America. This contact with Truck Camper Magazine might be a good possibility to get in contact with truck camper owners who might be considering an exchange.
TCM: What a neat idea. If someone is interested in going to New Zealand and exchanging campers with you, they can email us and we’ll forward their email to you. We may even take you up on that offer, some day. Thank you for the interview Willem.
Willem: That would be great, and you’re welcome.