Four wheels and two cameras


Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia are three provinces of Canada where our first vanlife experiences began. We put two mattresses in the trunk of a car, took a gas stove, some clothes, and our cameras, and headed out on the open road. Drawn by the roads and landscapes of New Zealand, the opportunity was too good to pass up, so we decided to spend a year living in a converted vehicle. Between mountains and oceans, beaches and meadows, this is our story, that of Carnet d’Éclaireurs.

David and Claire from @carnet_declaireurs standing beside their SUV with the trunk open, overlooking the serene Okanagan Lake in Canada. The calm lake reflects the distant mountains and clear sky, capturing the peaceful and scenic essence of their vanlife adventure. The image showcases the beauty of Okanagan Lake and the couple's love for travel and exploration.
Claire & David at Okanagan Lake in Canada - @carnet_declaireurs 06/2024

In 2021, David dreamed of travel and adventure. He always had a camera in hand and imagined himself on the long roads of Canada, traversing the vast landscapes of this immense country in a 4x4 or an American van. Claire was finishing her studies and also had a desire for discovery. Naturally, when they met in Toulouse, a city in the south of France, they decided to set off together to explore the world.

First step: crossing the Atlantic and landing in Quebec. One year of living with the rhythm of the seasons and discovering the region known for its maple syrup and harsh winters. It was here that the call of the open road began. Every weekend, every available holiday was devoted to exploration. Starting with a Dodge Journey and then a Jeep Cherokee, the comfort was basic, the setup nonexistent. Quilts, suitcases, and camping gear— everything seemed ideal for bivouacking, with the only difference being that the nights were spent not under the stars but in the car. The conclusion was undeniable: the total freedom of choice and movement, the autonomy to go where we wanted, when we wanted, at our own pace, everything seemed ideal! The sensations were new and appealing. The more kilometers we traveled, the more our love for adventures on wheels grew.

Claire from @carnet_declaireurs setting up a camping stove and preparing a meal at the back of a white SUV during a camping adventure in Canada. The vehicle's trunk is open, revealing camping gear and supplies, capturing the essence of mobile travel and outdoor cooking in a parking lot in Canada.
Claire preparing a meal at the back of their car in Canada - @carnet_declaireurs 06/2024

Following various itineraries, the months passed. Winter set in, bringing a pause to the road trips for several months. Then it was time to change provinces and venture into the Rockies, but especially the Pacific coasts of British Columbia. Same pattern but different vehicles; it was in a Dodge Grand Caravan that the regions of Okanagan and Vancouver Island were discovered. We went on multi-day road trips, where landscapes passed by, as did the kilometers. It was a rhythmic life of finding a quiet place to eat, a safe place to sleep, and a discreet place to wash. This mode of travel convinced us; we loved living in our vehicle and discovering entire regions this way.

As photographers sharing our work on social media, we increasingly saw content coming from New Zealand. Travelers showcased extraordinary landscapes, living year-round in their cars, vans, trucks, or converted buses. It seemed to be a country synonymous with vanlife.

With our work visa expiring in Canada, we decided to next explore the land of the Kiwis and the filming locations of The Lord of the Rings. This time, we would have our own converted van too!

September 2023, Auckland. We browsed and studied every ad for a converted vehicle on sale. After a few unsuccessful visits, we finally found our steed: a fully equipped 2004 Ford Econovan. It has a table, which converts into a bed, a kitchen with a sink and a gas stove, and a fridge powered by a battery which is charged by a solar panel. In short: autonomy would be the key word of this adventure. The engine maintenance was recently done, so we started our journey in this country with peace of mind. It’s a Ford, it is red, and it is reasonably sized for a van in this part of the world (Asian vans are smaller than European or American models). Its previous owners affectionately named it Clifford, like the big red dog. We kept this nickname since we found it amusing, and so for a year, with Clifford, we explored every road of the two islands, discovering their differences and many points of interest.

David and Claire posing with their red Ford Econovan named Clifford, parked on a gravel path amidst lush greenery in New Zealand. David gestures enthusiastically towards the van while Claire leans out of the passenger door, showcasing their adventurous vanlife journey. This image captures the spirit of exploration and travel photography by the authors, @carnet_declaireurs.
David, Claire and their van Clifford in New Zealand - @carnet_declaireurs 06/2024

While the North Island is lush and dotted with hills, its bigger sister, the South Island, is mainly composed of yellow, dry grasslands. Primarily mountainous, the alpine chain offers breathtaking landscapes for hundreds of kilometers. The North Island features Mount Taranaki and the volcanic chain of Tongariro. There is no large mountain range in the North, but the landscapes are equally as impressive. Vanlife in this country is ideal although highly regulated. There is a norm certifying that vehicles are authorized to use the country’s many free campsites. At these sites, one can stay from one to several nights depending on the location. Often equipped with toilets and sometimes showers, it’s one of the many ways to spend nights under the stars. Other alternatives include campgrounds and campsites run by the country’s Department of Conservation.

Red camper van parked in a scenic mountainous area of New Zealand, showcasing the vanlife experience. The vehicle is set against a backdrop of lush green hills and rugged mountains under a partly cloudy sky, emphasizing the adventurous spirit of travel photographers exploring the natural beauty of New Zealand.
Four wheels and two cameras - @carnet_declaireurs 06/2024

Thus, for a year, almost no road was left out. We discovered incredible landscapes while also discovering ourselves in this lifestyle, which is very different from our usual ways. Thanks to vanlife, we could take the time to fully explore entire regions. We stayed several days in the same place, all while having the freedom to move around. We have definitely fallen in love with this lifestyle. The entire experience satisfies us, and we will leave this country with our heads full of vanlife ideas, ready to continue discovering new destinations in Europe when we return home!

About David & Claire
Claire & David, @carnet_declaireurs (The Pathfinder's Notebook), are passionate travel photographers who explore the world in their van. They have documented their journeys across Canada and New Zealand, sharing their love for vanlife and adventures.
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