The Mazda “Bango”

As I mentioned in my two previous posts, I bought a 2001 Mazda Bongo a few weeks back. I wanted to dedicate a single blog post to this, as there is plenty to cover.


First off, it’s not much of anything to speak of.  The van came to Hawke’s Bay Toyota as a completely empty, ex-trade, Japanese import van. Bongos are a dime a dozen here and since the Japanese regulations on emissions and the high-depreciation between 6-10 years of age, they are exported world-wide and sold off. Many of the others I looked at in Auckland had multiple rows of seats, which would have required removal and junking– a step I didn’t feel like taking, and didn’t rate in condition or pricing.

So why buy something so sparse when I could have bought a pre-kitted alternative, all-be-it, for less?

For the most part, the story I tell people is I didn’t want someone else’ mess to sleep in. Additionally, taking this route cost me nearly $9,000 NZD, just for the van, plus another $2,500 NZD for the fit-out.  Average price for someone who is on a similar visa, is $2-3,000 NZD. Sure, you’ll get a vehicle which may pass the Warrant of Fitness inspection, but it also boasts nearly 300,000km on the dash and who knows what sort of DNA in the cushions. Gross, I know.

The true story? After 12 years of travel and living in either a rented, government provided, or friend’s home, I longed for a place of my own. This van has become both a project to focus on AND a place to sleep.  Really, this option strikes the balance for me of having a home, yet being able to get up and go at a moment’s notice.

Below is a brief snapshot of what I’ve experienced so far:

18-FEB-17: Crashed out in the street last night next to a mate’s house. The rain has been falling non-stop since Wednesday night and it’s making van-dwelling, um, interesting. You’d imagine that sleeping under a tin roof would be enough to lull someone to sleep, in the same fashion one of those white noise machines does, however it does the opposite for me. Condensation and high humidity also cause the underside of my mattress to get a bit wet, as well as the windows, clothing, food, well…really anything that is porous becomes damp. Today, I’m meant to install a subfloor, using a hook-up from the same mate who is hosting my street party. I’m a bit hesitant to install anything with the amount of rain coming down and the relative humidity in the air. Also, the bananas that have been in the back of the van for the last week, have reached a state of more black than yellow and invited those little gnats.

Smell is also and issue with humidity. Between the wet shoes (which radiate existing internal stank) and wet clothes (which radiate B.O.), a sealed van becomes a pressure cooker of human funk. Intent is to have a specific laundry hamper, off the floor, and a routine washing cycle.

19-23 FEB-17: Spent the weekend and part of the week at my friend Chris’s place. Sort of a weird place for me to move from, but it taught me a bit about Kiwi friendliness. Chris owns a building company called CMV Builders and was willing to help me out with tool use and sourcing affordable materials. It was definitely an exercise in quieting the ego.  Chris was able to breeze through helping me cut down ply, organize the inside of the van, go around hang-ups, and just simplify the entire experience. So where does the ego come in? Chris is a far superior builder in skills and experience to me, but what do you expect after so many years in the game? Since my job in the Navy was actually called “Builder” it was always a point of contention that I didn’t have but, 8 months, out of almost 12 years served, actually working in as a builder. So, through all the negative self-talk that went through my head; all the incredibly violent mental self-flagellation; all the head bashing and criticism on how experienced I was meant to be, I had to come to terms that I had a friend helping me and I should be grateful.

Alright, moving forward.

What started as an empty, ex-trade van, turned into a multi-storage-offering, kitchen containing, American-sized-sleeping, Mazda ‘Bango.’ All I can say is, if it wasn’t for Pinterest and Chris, I’m pretty sure the van would only be able to sleep an average sized midget. Seriously.

Since my stay in New Zealand is only limited by a 12 month visa, I could work everyday to make it more homely.  However, I did have an Atmosphere and Brother Ali concert at the Power Plant in Auckland, on the 25th so that narrowed my window to work. By Friday, the 24th I was out of Hawkes Bay and sleeping on the side of the road, somewhere near Mount Eden in Auckland.

The new configuration was working, though it did take a bit of getting used to. As I am 6′-4,” There really is only so much room. If I slept with my head against the kitchen partition, then my feet could stick out between the front two seats, maximizing what space remained.

2-MAR-17: Finally got around to buying proper cushions for the inside. A small shop in Auckland, Carter and Co.  did a fantastic job and with less than a 24 hour turn-around, I was able to sleep more soundly tonight. At first, I was shocked by the bottomline of $520 NZD ($367 USD), but decided to push forward anyway. Mind you, it’s not the best way to do business; accepting the first quote with little hesitation. But, really, I was tired of sleeping on a droopy air mattress and what I thought was going to be an upgrade– a spongy “Kiddie” mattress, that equated to sleeping on plywood.

4-MAR-17: I’ve decided to stop working on the van for a bit. After over a week straight of pouring money into this project, I cannot stomach spending another day running to Mitre Ten Mega, Briscoes, Warehouse, or some odd second-hand shop, on the prowl for whatever random improvement I found on Pinterest. I’ve also decided to stick around Muriwai Beach for the weekend. Seriously, I didn’t know what day it was or really, how to greet someone, “Good Morning…er…Afternoon…er, Evening…’Awh fuck it.’ ‘Good Day!'”To those of you who vacation, you know the feeling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be out of sorts and only concentrate on what’s in front of you. After all, that’s what meditation is about, right? Be it that I have a limited income, the whole northland to explore, and actually take in the places I stay, it’s worth postponing anymore renovations.

So what’s next?

  1. As of the date of this post, I’m testing out a theory. If I pre-make nine meals, ration 15L of water, take cold showers,  and wash all laundry prior-to, I should be able live off the grid for up-to three days.
  2. If 1. fails, I’ll look into purchasing a three-way fridge, which would require a whole host of additional support gear, including a 9kg gas bottle and a house battery.
  3. Fully self-contained.

Below is the progression, to date.

Rear of the van at the dealership.
Rear liner, insulation, and glue removed for sub-floor installation. So much room for activities!!!
Sub-floor installed. Used 7mm Poplar non-structural plywood on top of 20mm polystyrene (styrofoam) insulation board.
Chris had a few bits of batt insulation in the garage, so we stuffed the walls, hoping to add a bit more climate control. 
Kitchen partition and under-bed storage installed.
First parts of the kitchen installed. Gas burner is fed by a 2kg gas bottle, which fits perfectly under ‘countertop.’
The ‘couch.’ Folds towards the rolling door to allow for King Single bed to be laid out. Credit to Pinterest for their space saving idea.
Full sleeping area complete. Just enough storage are on the right side for a future set of shelving or 3-way refrigerator.
Rough framed kitchen, with swing out gas burner and under counter cabinets. 
New king single bedding, provided by Carter and Co. 
After a couple coats of primer, the kitchen is functional. Gas bottle is hidden under the counter, on the left.



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