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See how this couple transformed an abandoned caravan into the perfect holiday home

Lynelle and Josh Olson had always dreamed of travelling through the South Island, so when the opportunity to adopt a dilapidated caravan came along, they couldn’t believe their luck

Meet & greet
Lynelle Olson (business development manager) and Josh Olson (project manager and builder).

What made you decide to get a caravan?
Since we got married a few years ago, Josh and I had talked about doing a big road trip in the South Island. We started looking into prices for caravans and, for the length of time we wanted to be away, it was going to cost us $3000-$4000. We thought, maybe we should spend that money on buying one. My husband grew up caravanning and he was keen to get back into it. That conversation was on a Friday. On the Sunday afternoon, we were at a friend’s 30th.

They live on a farm in the Waikato and there in the paddock was a little abandoned caravan in a barn. To cut a long story short, an arrangement was made and after Josh helped our friend out with a bit of building work for the weekend, the caravan was gifted to us. It was hard to believe we considered the possibility, and then it fell into our laps.

Does your caravan have a name?
We’ve called her Winnie.

What did you know of Winnie’s history when you took her on?
My husband immediately knew she was a 1974 11ft Liteweight Vagabond, a New Zealand-made caravan, because she was the same as his mum and dad’s one when he was growing up. It had been sitting in the barn for 37 years.

How roadworthy was she?
Because Winnie had been in the barn, the chassis and everything was in pretty good condition but the back window was broken and rats had taken up residence. We had to get new tyres and minor work needed to be done for it to be warranted. It had orange curtains and the rats had chewed them from the bottom and there was rat poo everywhere. It was gross. It was quite dusty and had a bit of hay, and I think it had been a dumping ground for the owners at some point. But the interior walls and everything were in really good condition.

We set ourselves a challenge to do it on a budget but do it well, so we tried to use some things we had, like tiles and framing timber we had lying around. We had a rough budget not knowing much when we went into it, of $6000. We did not make budget – it came in at just over $9500. The most expensive part was the gas fitting.

How did you go about doing it up?
We started by stripping it out before we sat down and made a plan. Because it was very small, we laid out the floor plan on our living room floor and asked ourselves, what do we want from this caravan? What do we want to put in it? How are we going to make it work? We wanted a double bed and we wanted to make it functional and modern on the inside, but we loved the retro style on the outside. My husband did a lot of research around installing hot water cylinders, wiring, gas, getting his head around 12 volts versus 240 volts. It was important for us to be able to go off the grid and be self-contained. We plumbed in a flushable toilet under the dining-room seat and installed hot and cold running water. We don’t have a shower inside but we do have one outside – we’ve used the hot water once or twice while freedom camping. The fridge runs off gas, and we have three-phase power.

What was your thinking behind the styling?
It was originally orange so we decided to keep it orange, in keeping with the ’70s. The inside was dictated by that as well, even though orange and mustard are not a colour palette I’ve gone for in the past. The rattan cupboards were also inspired by that ’70s look. We wanted it to feel light and funky and on-trend, not just all white and boring, so it has a bit of a Scandi vibe. Everything was built by Josh, and we did all the interior and exterior painting. There’s a massive caravan community in Australia, and a lot of caravans that had been done up and posted on social media inspired us. The caravan community in New Zealand is growing too.

When and where did you take Winnie when she was finished?
We were finishing right up until we drove onto the ferry on Boxing Day 2020. We did 21 nights around the South Island, so we took it all the way down to Invercargill, then all the way back again; it was a holiday of around 5000km. I’d never caravanned before and I was sold on it by the end of the holiday. It’s so nice to pull into a different location, but still be able to shut the door and you’re in your little oasis. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable but you’re in a completely different location each day if you want to be.

Words by: Carrie Bell. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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