The Magic School Bus

Photography by: Carl Rapson


A luxury RV is the dream, but not for one couple who swapped their A-class model for an old Bedford VAS – and, they tell Lisa Jansen, they couldn’t be happier

the magic school bus Whakaipo Bay.jpg
Whakaipo Bay, just one of the many beautiful destinations the couple have travelled to in their renovated bus

Isn’t it great to see the diversity of RVs on the road in New Zealand? From small vans to modern motorhomes, caravans of all sizes, self-built house trucks and majestic old buses, you’re likely to come across them all, and more, on your travels. 

Two people who know a thing or two about diverse mobile homes are Carl Rapson and Justine Forster. The pair started out with a little Toyota Hiace over 10 years ago. After years of holiday and weekend adventures in it, Carl and Justine decided they want to live full-time on the road. So they upgraded to a nearly new, very modern Carthago A-class and set off on their adventures. But they struggled to feel at home in the luxury RV. 

the magic school bus The Bus needed a lot of work.jpg
The bus wasn’t in the best condition; still, it was love at first sight

"It was a beautiful motorhome and very comfortable, with ducted central heating and double glazing – but it just wasn’t us. We’d always loved the character of old buses and really wanted to be able to hand-craft the interior of our home on wheels ourselves."

The pair started looking for a mobile home that would better suit their style. Six months ago, they found the 1967 Bedford VAS ex-school bus they now call home. It was love at first sight – despite the fact that the bus was not in the best shape. But that’s exactly what Carl and Justine wanted; the opportunity to create their own home.

the magic school bus The inside of the bus before the renovations.jpg
The inside pre-reno – lots of character but little comfort

"The bus was originally converted in the mid-80s and needed a lot of work. We spent the whole of the lockdown working on the bus. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s coming along nicely."What they have created is simply stunning – a warm, welcoming home on wheels that oozes character and leaves no doubt about how much work, thoughtfulness and love Carl and Justine put into it. It’s easy to see why a modern RV never truly felt like home for these two, who love their vintage bus. 

"It’s so nice to live in a space that we have created and to be surrounded by native timbers, driftwood and other natural materials."

However, an old vehicle like this also comes with its own set of challenges.

the magic school bus Carl and Justine did an amazing job turn the bus into a home.jpg
Carl and Justine have done an amazing job honouring the 60s vibe but turning the bus into a lovely home

"Being a 53-year-old bus, it’s not the easiest thing to drive. We also had a few breakdowns recently, but we’re hoping these are just teething issues."

Having over 10 years of experience RV-ing in New Zealand, these two have seen much of the country and have found their favourite spots. "Number one would be the Far North for the beautiful beaches, especially the Karikari Peninsula." Taranaki is another favourite thanks to the many freedom camping spots and the beautiful mountain views. Cape Palliser and Castlepoint have also been particularly memorable.

However, even after 10 years, there are still many places they haven’t been to. "The big one would have to be the South Island. We’ve only been to a couple of places down there and never in a motorhome. So that’s high up on our list."

On their travels, the couple prefer to stay in freedom camping spots and DOC sites rather than commercial campgrounds. "We don’t need the facilities and find them a bit cramped, especially in the summer."

Among the freedom camping spots they enjoy are Stratford Plateau on the side of Mount Taranaki, Whakaipo Bay at Lake Taupō, Opoutama Beach near Māhia, and Ngāwī at Cape Palliser.

Their favourite DOC sites include Maitai Bay, Rarawa Beach, Puriri Bay and Spirits Bay – all in the Far North – and Kakaho, north-west of Taupo. When asked why they love those spots, the reply is a familiar one; stunning views and being right by the water.

the magic school bus The bedroom in the bus.jpg
The bedroom is cosy and full of retro charm

Their answer to what they like most about living full-time on the road is also an often repeated one. "The freedom. Freedom to roam wherever we want, whenever we want. If we like somewhere, we can stay, and if we don’t, then we just move on."

But, as for many others, creating a life of freedom also meant overcoming some challenges. One of the first was figuring out how to make money. Initially, they tried selling Carl’s photography and driftwood creations as well as Justine’s soy wax candles at markets, but it didn’t quite suit them. "It tied us up every weekend, and in summer, we had to book months ahead to secure our spot at the lucrative markets, which would restrict our freedom."

Luckily they found an alternative source of income that doesn’t impinge too much on their ability to travel when and where they please. Having previously owned a motel, they found work as motel relief managers. Then, last year, they bought a house in Taupo which they renovated and now rent out on Airbnb. "It generates enough for us to live on, leaving us more time to travel and enjoy life."

It’s been an exciting journey for Carl and Justine so far, and one that’s taught them much about life and themselves. "Probably the most important thing we’ve learnt is that we’re able to live with very few
possessions, get by without earning much money, and yet be happier than we ever were doing the 9-5 slog. Everything you buy, you have to trade a portion of your life, and we’ve realised most things just aren’t worth selling our freedom for."

To follow Carl and Justine’s travels, visit their website, lifeontheroadnz.com.
 

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