Once upon a time Jordan and Tom Tasman were settled in their idyllic home in England, with nice cars in the driveway and regular overseas holidays. These days the duo are bona fide living the van life. Quite literally. Jill Malcolm finds out more.
It was 2016 when Jordan and Tom left their busy jobs in England for a three-week holiday in Australia, setting in motion a life change that neither had anticipated.
“We had done well in England and lived in a lovely house, nice cars, and took nice holidays,” says Jordan.
“And yet, we weren’t ready to settle down. We wanted more adventure in our lives, which is why we decided to take a look at Australia.”
Travelling in that great continent was so enjoyable they decided to make Australia home, at least for a while. They bought a 1998 Ford Transit Motorhome, which they called Muriel (after the movie Muriel’s Wedding) and toured Australia for two years, travelling a whopping 125,00km.
Well and truly bitten by the travel bug, they decided to come to New Zealand for a working holiday, intending to go back to Australia. But while staying with a relative near Christchurch, COVID struck, and the pair were impacted by the resulting lockdown. We were stuck,” says Jordan, “but happily so, as we had already decided we’d like to stay in New Zealand for at least two years.”
Leaving England behind wasn’t without some difficulties.
“There’s a lot to think about before heading off for fresh adventures,” admits Tom. “You need to sell stuff, store stuff, and it all takes time. It can be hard – you don’t realise how attached you are to some silly little items.
“Obviously, leaving our family and friends was the hardest part. While we miss them every day, we keep in touch (FaceTime is fantastic) and they’re proud of us for taking the risk and doing something different.”
Having decided to settle in New Zealand (a decision helped by COVID lockdowns), the couple worked for a while before buying a 1995 Toyota Hiace pop-top camper van in which to begin their travels. In this intrepid RV dubbed Queenie, they travelled the South Island for six months. Then, unfortunately, Queenie broke down. She had come to the end of her reign.
It was fortuitous that about that time they were offered a job north of Auckland running a busy holiday park for the next 18 months. This was a double bonus because, by the time they left, they were in a position to buy a Mercedes Sprinter motorhome.
“We bought it from a private owner,” says Jordan, “and it was well-priced and immaculately presented with a low mileage.”
Named Matilda and having done just 30,000km with her previous one careful owner, the pair were quick to secure the motorhome as soon as they spotted her.
“As we live in the van full time and plan to tour for a long time, the layout works for us, as we have a separate seating area and a bed we can leave up all the time. That was one of our ‘must-haves’ as well as a bathroom with a toilet and shower.
“We have added more solar power,” says Tom, “and now, with 550-watt output, we never need to plug into mains. The house batteries were upgraded from 200ah to 316ah, and we also upgraded the infotainment system. And to better handle unsealed roads, big all-terrain tyres were fitted.”
Another early change was replacing what they called ‘granny curtains’ – floral curtains that dominated the space due to the fact there are 11 windows in the van.
“We couldn’t find what we wanted actually anywhere so had some fabric and foam covers custom-made for each window (held in place with strong magnets) – this was done in the US by a reputable company and was a total gamechanger, providing excellent blackout and privacy, as well as insulation for the colder months.”
On the road, the couple tend to shun commercial holiday parks, opting for DOC camps NZMCA parks or freedom camps in the towns.
“How long we stay in each depends on how much we like it or how many days we are allowed,” says Jordan. “Our itinerary is loose; often, we don’t plan much more than the direction we’re heading in. One of the joys of each day is being able to make up our minds about where to go and what to do. If we don’t like a place, we just leave. The freedom is amazing.”
Choosing a favourite
“It’s hard to list favourite places. There are so many,” says Tom, “but maybe Fiordland, the Te Anau Road to Milford Sound, Aoraki Mount Cook, Bay of Islands, Russell, and the area around Tongariro. It’s probably obvious that we avoid busy cities.”
Although Tom and Jordan may not always be of the same mind, the one thing they definitely agree on is that there are a few downsides to their lifestyle.
“We sometimes think we’d like a bit more space for cooking and relaxing,” says Jordan, “and if we ever get another van, we would choose to have a bigger fridge. But there are upsides to living in a confined space. One is that it has taught us to be more patient with each other’s differences.
“We enjoy our own company, the life we are living together, and we like our own space. But we also meet an array of people of all ages and backgrounds, some of whom become good friends. At the Wai Worri Festival, for instance, held every New Year’s Eve at Aranga Woolshed near Dargaville, we were by far the youngest folk there but had a right hoot with all the fellow revellers.”
Tom and Jordan point out that there are times when things can get a bit stressful living in a van, particularly when it performs the dual role of being both your vehicle and your only home.
“Getting the vehicle serviced, for instance, can be an upheaval because everything you have is out of reach while the procedure is underway,” says Tom, “So we need to know exactly what time it will be started and approximately when it will be finished.
“We’ve had one or two mishaps. Once we were parked at Cooks Beach on the Coromandel. It was a perfect day with no wind, and we had the awning out. Suddenly, a random gust of wind came out of nowhere and flung the awning up and over the van, bending, breaking, and ripping all kinds of stuff and smashing straight into our satellite dish.
“Insurance covered all of it, but due to Cyclone Gabrielle, we had to wait a month before the new awning and satellite dish could be replaced.
“Another time, driving from Spirits Bay in Northland, we slipped off an unsealed road into a ditch. This was before we had the new tyres fitted. The AA organised for us to be towed out but while we waited, the van was so tilted we couldn’t get inside it, and we had to hang around in the rain for over an hour before we were rescued.”
Tom and Jordan love the life they live together and use their time well, sometimes hiking, bushwalking, swimming, reading, or maybe binge-watching a good TV series.
They run comprehensive social media platforms, recording their experiences and the places they have enjoyed in lively episodes, inviting people to come along for the ride.
“We’re sometimes recognised from these platforms, says Tom, “which always comes as a bit of a surprise.”
Food is another large part of the couple’s enjoyment of their lifestyle. They have a mainly vegetarian diet and Tom catches the odd fish to barbecue, and occasionally, they do eat a little meat.
The pair mainly do their own cooking in the van on the three gas hobs or the external barbecue. Occasionally, they eat out, especially if they come across a good Indian restaurant.
While Tom and Jordan would like to do more touring around Australia, they foresee exploring New Zealand in their motorhome for many years yet, working when required and following the road less well travelled.
Quick bites with Jordan and Tom
Favourite spots you visited recently
Castlepoint Beach in the Wairarapa. We recently got married there, after 10 years, so it has a very special meaning to us. It’s also just stunning. Ocean Beach in the Wairarapa was also epic – very raw. Ngawi was beautiful. The entire Wairarapa region was just epic. It’s totally underrated and not widely talked about or advertised, but we had a wonderful month or so there. We made new friends, enjoyed great wine, and loved the vastness.
Most memorable campground you’ve stayed at
It’s hard to choose just one. We’d say Ōtaki Beach, along the Kāpiti Coast. Just beautiful. You can drive right onto the beach, it’s free, you can have a fire, amazing sunsets. Just gorgeous. If we were to go down Te Waipounamu, the South Island, any on the road down to Milford Sound are just stunning, particularly the DOC camps.
Best travel tips you have ever received or would share
Take it slow (that one was from our family). Enjoy everything. Be patient with each other. One of the tips we give out is to get good solar and good batteries. So many motorhomes and caravans (including new) aren’t automatically equipped to be off-grid. We’ve met and know so many folks with rigs that need to be plugged in, so they have to go and spend $50 (or so) a night because they don’t have the ability to be independent away from power.
Fave meal to cook in a campervan
Tom’s tofu scrambled brekkie. It’s the best!
Your emergency campervan meal
Ha! Well, there has never been an emergency, not yet anyway. We stock up and fit food all over the van if need be. But you can never go wrong with a pancake. Tom makes the best pancakes, whether that be traditional sweet pancake with peanut butter and jam, or okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake with lots of cabbage. There’s always flour in the van.
Most challenging terrain/trip you tackled
Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, that’d be Spirits Bay, mentioned above, when we slipped off the road. That was scary. No one was around, we had very limited signal, and there was rain and mud, plus, we needed the loo! I think we called the AA about seven times before they heard us properly. The most challenging since van life trip would be when we were doing the Stuart Highway in Australia, from SA to the NT. We both got salmonella poisoning. Tom fainted in the middle of the road, and we had two weeks in hospital, both of us, in Coober Peedy. The doctor said if we were another 20 minutes down the road, we’d have been dead, due to lack of signal, people, etc. That was scary.
Most memorable view you’ve seen recently
Castlepoint Beach. Just breathtaking.
Where are you off to next?
We’re heading back down Te Waipounamu. We love it down there. We’ll cruise along the Kaikōura coast, go see some lovely relatives in Christchurch, and then duck up to Abel Tasman National Park, one of the only places we haven’t been on the South Island.