Life on the road: Allan and Esta Henderson

Jill Malcolm learns about a truly inspiring story of a couple who, when adversity struck, found the courage to continue.

When I spoke to Allan and Esta Henderson, they were having a wonderful time parked up in their well-equipped Jayco motorhome at the Totaranui Department of Conservation camp in Golden Bay, at the northern end of the Abel Tasman National Park, at the top of the South Island. However, a few years ago, things had not been so wonderful for this couple – and it was an RV that had helped to save Allan’s sanity.

Esta and Allan Henderson loving their life on the road

In 2016, when in his early fifties, Allan suffered a severe back injury. An operation for a prolapsed disc, was followed by rehabilitation, returning him to a normal life and to the activities he and Esta enjoyed. They were keen trampers, extreme mountain bikers and adventurers and two years after the accident, they bought a Hino Rainbow bus with the idea of outfitting it as their live-in apartment.

But life can take some unexpected turns. Just a few months later, Allan picked up a banana box full of empty wine glasses and was suddenly beset by crippling back pain. The four operations that were to follow over the next two years did not end well and he now lives with chronic pain and significant loss of mobility. To add to this calamity, 10 months after they had bought the Hino Rainbow, it was lost in a fire, along with everything they owned.

As many other people have found out, it takes a lot of courage to keep going when one disaster crashes into another. The Hendersons refused to give up and in the same month as the Hino was destroyed, they bought a 2017, 8.5 metre Jayco 0ptimum. It had a slide-out, only 8,500 km on the clock and was built on a solid Iveco chassis. On a COF it would accommodate the weight of the modifications to the layout they had in mind. The intention was to turn it from a four-berth into a two-berth and make it their home, with adaptations to accommodate Allan’s disability. “Those years were hard on us both,” Allan says. “To suddenly go from being a man of action to one who could do very little was tough on both my body and mind. Esta also had to make big compromises. By the middle of 2019, I had become severely depressed.

Allan fitted a few helpful extras on the main access door

“As part of my rehabilitation programme, I was encouraged by ACC to work on the motorhome as we’d intended, albeit very slowly, and to overcome each obstacle one at a time. This gave me a distraction and a purpose, and gradually, with help from a psychologist, I began to take an interest in life again and recover my mental health.”

A New Beginning

ACC was extremely helpful as the couple travelled a gruelling road. “Some of the work I undertook in the Jayco was also considered part of my ongoing rehabilitation, as was the voluntary job I took at the end of 2019, at Motorhome Solar Ltd in Hamilton,” says Allan. “It’s a small company run by Wayne Hunt and Vicki Danrell, who are passionate RVers; Wayne is also an expert in all things solar.

I could only work in short bursts, but the staff were really supportive and gave me the jobs that required working underneath a vehicle, because lying on my back was about the only place I was comfortable.” ACC also helped Allan make adjustments to accommodate his altered life: a cassette toilet was changed for a macerator toilet with a built-in black tank so there would be no heavy cassettes to lift. The standard Jayco bed was swapped for a reclinable Napp Enrich Electric Bed 230V, which enabled them to watch TV in bed, and support his back. A grab handle at the side helps him to get up. Allan also modified the entrance step from one large to two smaller steps, and removed part of the wall behind the passenger seat so that he could recline the seat for comfort as they travelled. Esta does all the driving, saying that despite the Jayco’s size, it’s very easy to manoeuvre.

One large step was made into two smaller ones

Time for colour

The next move was to paint the interior in a colour they liked. “We painted all the interior walls and some of the original cabinetry with Resene Spacecote Low Sheen Kitchen & Bathroom paint,” says Allan. “The lower exterior skirt of the motorhome was spray painted in Raptor Grey, which we also bought from Resene Paints. It took time for the couple to turn the Jayco into their personalised home. “I could only work very slowly and sometimes not at all,” says Allan. “But we lived in it from the start and enjoyed taking short excursions. Finally, in October 2022, we set off fulltime on the road and we are absolutely loving it. We wish we could have done it earlier. Perhaps our favourite thing about it is waking up every morning and for a split second wondering where we are parked.”

Allan painted the interior with with Resene kitchen & bathroom paint, and the settee cushions were re- upholstered to match the driving seats

Allan is only able to travel comfortably for an hour at a time, but that doesn’t stop the couple from exploring. They love finding the roads less travelled. One of the couple’s great joys on the road is meeting up with like-minded people. Allan says his mantra is ‘never give up, never surrender’.

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“The only thing that stops you,” he says, “is yourself.” Esta thinks their love for each other has got them through. It is fitting that they named the motorhome home ‘Optimist’, a play on the Jayco model name ‘Optimum’ and a reflection of their positive outlook on their altered life and their determination to make the best of bad luck.

Personalising their pad: Alterations and additions to the Henderson’s motorhome:

Exterior altered:

• Front door replaced
• Lower skirt painted with Grey Raptor
• Decals replaced
• Cab steps altered from one to two
• Satellite dish removed

Interior fitted or altered:

• Home step changed from one large step to two smaller steps.
• LED lights added to step
• Underfloor shoe storage added
• A 4kw Eberspacher diesel heater, to complement the existing 2kw.
• Three-way ridge replaced with an inverter 310L LG fridge freezer 230v
• Kitchen and bedroom cupboards, replaced with own build for easier access.
• Cupboards replaced with ply HPL laminate and push open, soft close drawers (no handles).
• Kitchen splashback to match bathroom lining
• A pull out 32” Samsung smart TV 230v

A time when the couple were thankful for the second heater they installed

• Booth reconfigured to accommodate Allan’s disability.
• Upholstery replaced with soft Aniline leather
• Replaced the booth table with a manufactured stone top
• A larger booth window to improve the view
• Cupboards and drawer fronts replaced with HPL and painted with Resene bathroom paint.
• New carpet and vinyl throughout.

Bathroom replaced or installed:

• All taps with Methven ones
• New top to match the kitchen
• Cupboard and drawer fronts with HPL laminate
• New wall lining around the toilet to match interior
• A Maxxair fitted above the shower and the kitchen.

Exterior lockers fitted:

• 400L of black grey mix tanks
• A 75L (shower only) grey tank

•Water recycled to flush the macerator toilet
• 440L fresh water tank
• LED UV water sterilisation unit for tap drinking water
• Internal 100mm tube across width of MH for fishing rod storage.

Solar electrical system installed

• A 1980W of roof mounted solar panel base kit
• A 400W rear wall mounted tilt table solar panel
• A 3000W inverter charger
• Battery changed for a 600AH lithium life battery
• A DC2DC 60 amp charging system from the exisitng 120a alternator
• A Victron Cerbo system to monitor tank level and all temperatures
• An auto solar dump (self-designed) to heat hot water from excess solar energy
• An automated ignition controlled locking system on all cupboards and drawers.

One of the joys of motorhome travel is coming across the unexpected.




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