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Inspired by a Netflix documentary, a Joburg family set out on the ultimate road trip

Image: supplied.

Image: supplied.

Published Aug 15, 2020


Inspired by the hit Netflix documentary, Expedition Happiness, a Joburg family is setting out on the ultimate road trip.

This morning, Rheinholdt and Sonja van Niekerk and their four children will say their final goodbye to their old house before setting off on an adventure across South Africa in their newly renovated mobile home.

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For the past year, the couple, both teachers, have been hard at work renovating a run-down old double-decker bus they bought a year ago. After plenty of hard work and dedication, the bus, for which they bought for paid R35 000 for, is finally ready to hit the road.

Just like in the documentary Expedition Happiness, where a film-maker and his musician girlfriend attempt an epic road trip with their dog, travelling across North America in a refurbished school bus, the Van Niekerks will be attempting something similar.

Their dream is to travel across South Africa and eventually, further up the continent. As a bonus, if they could, they also want to attempt to cross over into Europe by ferry.

The couple were massively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sonja was running her own preschool, which she had to close because most parents were not able to pay school fees.

Image: supplied.

“The lockdown actually came at an ideal time,” said Sonja. “Financially, we were greatly impacted, but it gave us time to focus on getting the bus ready.”

The initial plan was to leave in July, but delays with mechanical work and other issues such as road-worthiness approvals forced the couple to delay their trip by a month. However, with everything now having fallen into place, the Van Niekerks will be setting off on their journey today.

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“We plan on travelling through South Africa in the first year with the bus,” said Sonja. “We’ve always said we would take the first year easy, and see how it goes. We need to see if we enjoy the lifestyle, and are able to cope with the changes.

“As a practice run, we’ve been living in the bus for the past five weeks, and we’ve really enjoyed it. It hasn’t been a major adjustment with the space or anything.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic, our plan is to just stay safe at all times. I did visit the police station to find out about the rules with travelling during the lockdown. All we needed was a permit to move. We hope we won’t have major issues.”

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The Van Niekerks said their plans to travel across the country had nothing to do with the lockdown. “It has everything to do with being together as family,” she said. “My husband and I have always loved travelling, but having four children makes it difficult in a plane, for example.”

The bus, which didn’t have a roof and was severely run down when they bought it, now has a fully equipped kitchen with a gas stove, full-size fridge, a bathroom both upstairs and downstairs with composting toilets, a bedroom upstairs and a lounge area downstairs. “When we got the bus, it was basically just a shell. The chairs had already been removed.

Image: supplied.

“The owner wanted to convert it into a tour bus, so there was no roof. It has been standing outside for quite some time, around fifteen 15 years or so, and so the rain had damaged it.

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There was a lot of rust damage. We had to basically strip everything. There were no windows.” Most of the work was done by Rheinholdt, with Sonja doing all the decor and finishing touches.

“We’ve got a room for each one of our children. It’s more of a bunk bed with a toy box and storage unit. We got our bedroom, too, and we also have some storage space.”

With plans for an indefinite travel adventure, their kids will be home-schooled on the bus. “We have our home-schooling room and play area. It’s an open floor space for the kids. Downstairs is the kitchen that works with the gas stove and a gas geyser that heats our water. We have a lounge that also doubles as a guest sleeping area.”

Van Niekerk says her four children, all aged under 6, are incredibly excited for the journey. “I don’t think it has much to do with the travelling, but rather to see the different places we will be visiting.

Image: supplied.

“This past year has been really hard on our family. We have been renovating and were also busy with school, and had little time to enjoy quality time together. “There are so many things on our bucket list, like doing meditation, going for Zumba, doing fishing together, so we are excited.”

The couple have no plans to return home any time soon. “We have to give it the first year and get a good feel. We made sure the kids can fit into their beds and grow into them. This may be our lifestyle forever.”

You can follow along with their adventure on their Facebook page.

The Saturday Star

Related Topics:

travel and tourism