KEA NZ’s little campervan packs a lot of versatility into a small and affordable package...
By Malcolm Street
I was planning a few days on the NZ ski slopes around Lake Wanaka, in the foothills of the Southern Alps, and needed a vehicle that was a bit more than a car but not necessarily a full motorhome. So I decided on one of Kea's VW-based 2+2 Flip-Top Deluxe campers.
If you are wondering about the 2+2 bit, it refers to the fact that although the camper is really designed for 2 people, it can seat 4 and even sleep 4. However, in the latter situation, two really have to be small children.
Kea Campers in New Zealand builds a range of vehicles, from two berth campervans to six berth motorhomes, mostly for the rental market but also for private buyers. A slightly smaller range is available in Australia. The 2+2 Flip-Top Deluxe might seem a strange choice for a snow skiing holiday but do please read on.
This is one of the few rental campervans based on a Volkswagen T5 rather than one of the Japanese or Korean vans. It comes with a 103 kW 2.5-litre turbo-diesel that drives through a six speed DSG auto gearbox. That's the VW bit; Kea of course makes a few more changes. The most obvious being the flip-top roof, which is hinged at the rear with rubber clips above the driver and passenger doors to hold it down when driving. Apart from the roof, there's a water filler on the nearside, gas cylinder bin, complete with 4.5 kg gas cylinder on the offside and also a power lead connection socket. Note for Australians here: The power lead plugs and sockets are considerably larger than those used in Australia and certainly cannot be used around the home. Have to say I think the socket is much neater than some I have seen on small NZ van conversions, many of which look like an stuck on afterthought.
On the Road
One of the reasons I opted for the Kea Flip-Top Deluxe was because of its Volkswagen T5 base vehicle. The 2.0 litre turbo-diesel was ideal for NZ mountain roads and delivered plenty of power when needed. Driving – or should I say rolling – down the mountain, the engine braking in tandem with the DSG gearbox was very functional. Being slightly wider than its Toyota HiAce equivalent, the VW T5 is also a more stable proposition on steeply winding roads. Another asset, not that I had to use them this particular trip, is that being front-wheel drive, it's much easier to fit snow chains (being able to turn the wheels). The additional benefit of course is that both the traction and steering are on the chain-fitted wheels. Because of a misread kilometre figure I was unable to get an accurate fuel consumption reading but can tell you that we drove from Christchurch airport to Wanaka and return (a distance of circa 600 km) on considerably less than one 80-litre tank of fuel.
Being a relatively small vehicle there isn't a great deal of internal space, but Kea has done a good job with the layout, particularly as it's designed to transport four people: two in the front and two in the belted day/night lounge behind. Most of the offside wall is taken up by kitchen bench top and fridge in the front area, and general storage towards the rear. In the rear area itself, the cushion-fitted shelf area acts as both bed and storage.
For general sitting around both the cab seats swivel and the day/night lounge also seats two comfortably. For dining, the single pole table looks to be slightly oddly located, but it meshes well with the swivelled front seats and by flipping the rear seat cushion over, it too can be used. For me, if this was a private vehicle, I'd be thinking about an any-which-way fitting (like a Zwaardvis) to give the table a bit more positional flexibility.
Generally, the interior light level is good, especially with the roof raised and the three canvas windows open. By night, there's a fluorescent light on either side, which means the lighting is basic but adequate. Just about all the electrical controls, along with both 240 and 12 V sockets, are located on a panel behind the driver's seat. A tad awkward to get to unless the driver's seat is pushed fully forward, but having them all centrally located is definitely convenient.
Naturally, this little camper does not have an on board shower and toilet. On their website Kea makes the point that Freedom Camping is not allowed as the vehicle is not fully self contained. I did find it odd, therefore, that a rival company's campervans – clearly sans both shower and toilet – had a sticker that claimed "This vehicle fully self contained." Hmmm. Full marks to Kea for being honest!
Still on the topic of self contained; apart from the shower/toilet bit, this vehicle is self contained in every other respect, being fitted with a grey water tank and solar panels for keeping the house battery up to charge when mains supply is not available.
Time to Eat
In a rig this size the catering department is going to be quite simple, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Fitted into the minimal benchtop are a two burner cooktop, avec lid, and a stainless steel sink. Completing the picture is a 90 litre Vitrifrigo compressor fridge. The sink has both a standard hot/cold water tap and filtered drinking water as well.
I should point out that since this is a rental vehicle all the necessary cooking and eating utensils are supplied. That includes two wine glasses and a coffee plunger: those simple items adding an effective touch of class. All of the gear, except for the wine glasses mounted in their own wall rack, take up the shelved cupboard space and two drawers.
As you’d rightly expect, making up the main bed is quite a simple affair. I know that because I have actually camped out in one of these vehicles in times past. It's a matter of folding down the day/night lounge to give a flat bed (in conjunction with the cushion in the rear) and making up the bed with the supplied pillows, sleeping bags and blankets. When laid out the bed measures 2.0 m x 1.3 m (6 ft 7 in x 4 ft 3 in). For two people it is possible to leave the bed made-up when travelling and just use the front seats for everything else.
Many people don't believe it but there is a second bed in this van, in the roof area. It measures 1.8 m x 1.3 m (5 ft 11 in x 4 ft 3 in) and will either suit two young children or one small adult. It's a bit tricky to get in and out of, so the sleeper(s) need to be a bit agile!
What We Think
I have to say that although one of my favourite Kea rigs for accommodation purposes is the four-berth motorhome, my very favourite for just about anything else is the 2+2 Flip-Top Deluxe campervan, because it is a very versatile vehicle. It can certainly be used for its intended purpose of camping, but it can be equally well used as a people transport, load carrier or even the way I used it: as a sort of day vehicle. Ideal for two people, it can easily carry an excessive amount of luggage like ski gear and has facilities such as the fridge and cooktop for meals when out. Anyone who has bought lunches at ski field restaurants will understand the good economics of those latter features! It's external dimensions also make it ideal for an around town vehicle. All up, a very flexible and user friendly vehicle.
- Well fitted out
- VW T5 base vehicle
- Swivelling front seats
- Rear bed easily made up
- Generally good internal storage space
- Minimal light fittings
- Top bed awkward to get into
- Single pole table mount.
Click HERE to visit KEA's website
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.
Kea 2plus2 iMotorhome Roadtest 2013 (1358 KB)
KEA NZ's little campervan packs a lot of versatility into a small and affordable package...