Meet Brook James
When he’s not working as a photographer in Melbourne, Brook James can be found traversing the coasts of Australia and his native New Zealand with Brittany Hart and their Volkswagen Herman the German. Documenting the lush landscapes they come across on their many voyages on Instagram, James, Hart, and Herman are three of the many vagabonds and vehicles profiled in our new book Hit the Road. We spoke with Brook about their adventures on four wheels. Read it below, or find a handful of insightful profiles in the book, which is also available in German.
You both grew up in New Zealand, which is an area known for its luscious natural landscape from the coastline to the forests and the mountains as well. How did you find the move from New Zealand to Melbourne? And why did you move?
Sure thing, New Zealand is stunning. We moved five years ago when I was 21 after I finished studying graphic design in a smaller city called Hamilton. We felt it was time to get up and try something new with greater opportunities that wasn’t too far from family, so Melbourne made sense for us. We already knew a heap of people here too, which made the move easier. No regrets so far, we still love it here! We try to get back to New Zealand a couple of times a year to see family and do some exploring.
How did you and Brittany meet?
Of all things, we were actually neighbors growing up in our family homes in a small neighborhood.
What drew you to go explore with your van? When did you buy your first van?
I reckon the whole #vanlife trend appeals to me because it takes me back to when I was a kid growing up: We would make forts in the lounge with the cushions from the couches, then try to camp out in them for as long as we could. As we got older, it progressed to outside tree huts and forts in gullies. It was just a form of escape from reality, so I guess the van for me is just a modern day version of this. It's also probably not wanting to grow up too.
We were on a road trip in our old VW Polo–a tiny thing–up the east coast of ’Straya during summer a couple of years ago when we saw a hand full of T3’s with young people camping part time or living out of them full time. It took a solid year maybe more to find the right van that ticked all of our boxes, but we managed to track one down late November 2015, which was right before we had planned to go up the eastern coast again for the summer. The timing couldn’t have been any better.
Cooking and preparing food in such a small space can be difficult—what are your favorite meals for the road?
We seem to manage with this fairly well. With the roof up, it frees up a heap of space and is better than hunching over. The kitchen in Herman is fairly well laid out and pretty functional compared to some other camper conversions, so we don’t have any issues really here—the only annoying thing is the cooker doesn’t have a grill, which can be limiting but we always seem to eat as well as we do at home.
Australia’s broad coastlines must offer some spectacular views. Any favorite spots from the road?
Our first trip was like a week or so after we got the van, from Melbourne to Brisbane. We had heaps of fun, and learned a heap about the van and what modifications we needed to make. After that, our second trip was a goodie and probably our favorite was Tasmania. I flew down there for a shoot for a couple of day, and once I had finished, Brit brought the van across from Melbourne on the ferry and picked me up in Hobart. We managed to get around the entire island and then through the middle, so we covered some distance and saw a heap of places and sights.
How do you handle breakdowns and repairs? Do you spend a lot of time on these kind of things?
Being handy with mechanics, I usually diagnose what is wrong pretty quickly and then start to see if we can fix it with what we have in the van. Generally speaking though we haven’t had too much go wrong, bar things like replacing the water pump and the rear main seal, but that’s totally expected with classic car ownership. Worst to date was a burnt exhaust valve, which required some labor-intensive head work that cost a couple of thousand dollars. She’s purring now though and getting pretty good fuel mileage too for one of these, which are known to get terrible fuel economy even for a van.
What have you learned from your many expeditions with Herman the German?
Not sure we have learned so much–I was always pretty handy with mechanics and fixing things, but I guess I have improved with that since having the van. I guess just to fret the small stuff and get out in the van as much as we can to keep a balanced life from the inner-city rush.
Where are you heading next and what do you hope to find?
We are keen to take it to Alice Springs next, I think, and check out Uluru. We’d need to take a decent chunk of time off, though, so we will see. In the mean time, we will keep doing short trips away I think. We were over in Olinda the other day and thought that place looked nice for an overnight camp, so we might hit that up. Wilsons Prom is on the cards again with our other van buddies, and that is a super nice national park that’s just about 3 and a half hours from Melbourne.