Life on the road

Kia Ora, I’m Heather, a full-time van-lifer, student, and adventure bum. I chose to buy a van end of first year because I hated the idea of paying rent and wanted a cheap alternative. I then bought a Ford transit and spent the summer converting it — this was not a cheap alternative but it has been worth it for the experiences I’ve had. I also convinced another girl I met in good old Uni Hall to do the same, and for the past two years have been building a little squad that lives on the streets travelling around. I’ve been mountain biking in Nelson and Wanaka, climbed and tramped in Arthurs Pass, kayaked multiple times in Murchison, driven through the West Coast an East Coast, returning to Christchurch every so often to attend labs and hand in assignments.  

I’ve also had flat house batteries, knocks on the window, broken wing mirrors, flat tyres, water leaks, no showers, no oven, no heating … but, cheesely enough, it’s been worth it for the beautiful days of adventuring.   


  • Freedom to live wherever I want.  
  • I can chase the swell, kayak the rivers, climb some rocks, and ski fresh pow.  
  • Only having to walk 10 steps after a flat party to go to bed.
  • No flat drama.  
  • Get to spend all my money on fuel, equipment and repairs. 
  • Meet lots of new people.   
  • Get to take own accommodation on field trips.  
  • You learn not to give a f*** what other people think. 
  • Good time management skills.  
  • Waking up with the sun and going to sleep earlyish 
  • Confidence to chat to all the oldies on the road.  
  • Never forget anything cause my whole life is with me.  
  • Being first in the surf in the morning.  
  • Being independent.  


  • Makes “come around to mine” a little awkward. 
  • Get mistaken for a European tourist 90% of the time.  
  • It’s freezing in winter! As are flats though  
  • You can get a little stinky as it’s sometimes hard to find a shower.  
  • Doing washing at laundromats.  
  • Spend a lot of alone time (which I guess can be a good thing?). 
  • Sometimes hard to find a park. 
  • Can make studying hard; do not recommend if studying engineering (I study geography). 

Most commonly asked questions people blurt out as soon as they find out:  

Where do you park?  

Wherever. If I have to go into Uni (which is 2-3 days a week) I’ll “stealth” park somewhere close around. Otherwise I’ll be at the beach, Port hills or on some trip around the South Island. 

Where do you shower and go pee?  

When I do shower, it will be at the UC gym (a good motivation to go), my old work (at a pool), in the ocean or at a mate’s flat. My van is self-contained so I do have a toilet, but prefer to use public toilets to avoid a shitty situation 😉  

How has COVID-19 impacted you?  

For lockdown I spent some qual time with the fam bam but am now back in Christchurch. I love how Uni is fully online as I’ve been able to submit assignments from wherever I am, but it’s made freedom camping and showering hard (lots of campsites are closed still and so are public showers RIP).   

Tips to van-life.  

  • Buy a van that suits your needs — do you need roof racks? Want to stand? 4WD?  
  • Do your research — where are you going to park? Are you travelling around? 
  • Most commonly heard … it’s nowhere near as glam as it may seem! For every stunning place I park up, I spend 3-5 nights parked up in a carpark, stealth on the streets. But, if you’re looking to escape the 9-to-5 and want the freedom to get out of your comfort zone, then go for it!  

By Heather Niccolls