Bryony Symes
Staff Writer

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Bryony Symes
   
Meet New Zealander Kate Bruning – an author who’s combined her love of vintage caravans, crochet and family adventures – Bryony Symes finds out how

Kate and Jonno Bruning’s love of travel has led to many an intrepid holiday, both in New Zealand, where they live, and across Europe. You could say that this is an adventurous family; after all, it isn’t everyone who will take their two young boys out of school for a term to explore the world.

Travel education

“Their school has a firm belief that travel is education,” says Kate. “So we took them out of school to travel around England and Europe, staying in all sorts of accommodation from YHA hostels to The Old Forge in Dorset, where we met Tim, the owner, and his daughter Sophie.

“Sophie had just restored a vintage caravan, which we loved exploring. We spent our evenings in front of the tiniest wood burner, with Jonno and the boys, Archie and Hugo, designing their dream shepherd’s hut, while I was dreaming of my own caravan. One where I didn’t have to compromise on decorative elements, such as chandeliers and wallpaper. That was when the idea for a crochet caravan was first planted; one where I could do anything I wanted to.”

The crochet patterns that have subsequently been published in her book, Let’s Go Camping! Crochet your own adventure, (Kyle Books, £9.99 pb ISBN-13: 9780857833198) were designed to bridge a gap in the market for patterns for boys or that inspired adventurous play in girls. It is a bid to link Kate’s passion for handmade crafts to her boys’ love of the outdoors and to find something that they can all enjoy.

“Linking handmade and the great outdoors has always been a great way to capture my boys’ imaginations,” says Kate.

Jonno and Kate have fond childhood memories of touring. Kate’s great aunt and uncle would visit her family in Melbourne in a bus they had converted: “I spent hours inside the bus learning how to embroider with Aunty Shirley, feeling as if I was in a doll’s house on wheels.”

Jonno found that one special caravan

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Jonno’s family of five would spend every summer holiday in a Liteweight Five Star 1700 in Hot Water Beach, on the North Island’s Coramandel Peninsula: “They saw it as the highlight of their year, rather than a two-week game of sardines, which is testament to the caravan’s clever layout.”

In fact, Jonno enjoyed these trips in the caravan so much that he has spent years foraging on the internet for that very van, watching the prices go up every time one appeared on the market. Thanks to Kate’s publishing deal for Let’s Go Camping!, they were able to bid when the perfect caravan – a 1976 Liteweight Five Star 1700 – finally came up on Trademe (New Zealand’s answer to eBay).

“It was $8500 (£3840), with all the necessary roadworthy warrants and certificates, so we bought it unseen. Jonno and Archie took a 12-hour round trip to the top of North Island to collect it. The lights swinging up our driveway at 10pm is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen.

“It was structurally sound, but there were some unexpected repairs: some of the interior lining was badly stained by past leaks and we harboured suspicions that the fridge could cause a nuclear blast, the shower door was missing and the water pump was very noisy. It all added an element of surprise.”

Reality and fantasy

Jonno and Kate were both busy with other projects at the time, so work on the van would have to wait a while: “We are currently expressing our love for it by continuing to write many two-columned lists,one side for necessities and another for dreams.”

Dreams include wallpaper, wall clamps for seed-sprouting containers and eye-popping Marimekko upholstery. Sadly, ‘caravan chandelier’ had to be taken off the list, and the upholstery wouldn’t necessarily go with free-range boys. In fact, the vision for the interior has been somewhat hampered by budget, practicality and boy-proofing, but Kate intends to rectify this when the boys are older.

“Until then, I’m using inexpensive but gorgeously patterned cotton material that can be easily washed and replaced. Instead of the 1970s brown and orange, we will switch to fresher greens and pale wood. If it resembles my Mum’s kitchen from the ’70s in any way, I will be thrilled.

“We have a new mattress and cushions, which I am making covers for. I’m also sewing new curtains. Then we are going to paint the walls and cupboards, put in a new gas cooker and fridge, re-cover the floors using left-over flooring from our kitchen, and replace the Formica worktop. All of this should be relatively cheap, compared to what we will have to spend on the plumbing and water storage. Fingers crossed there will be enough of our budget left to respray the outside. Jonno is also going to install solar panels, but the van will be pretty basic.”

They aim to tow the tourer to the Whangamata Beach Hop (from the end of March to the beginning of April, held on Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand's North Island), so it has to be habitable in a very short time. This festival celebrating pre-1972 cars and caravans is a very apt first outing. Jonno has recently finished restoring a 1977 Ford Falcon; the perfect towing companion.

“We live on a dairy farm so we are bound to the farm during times such as calving,” says Kate, “but having the caravan will mean that when we have a free weekend we can escape easily. All we’ll have to do is throw in some clothes and hitch up. Our part of the world is so beautiful that we really are spoilt for choice.”

The boys can bring friends along

The family have been holidaying in Jonno’s parents’ motorhome since Archie and Hugo were babies, but this represents a new chapter.

“The caravan came with a wonderful closed-in canvas awning, which will help to future-proof the boys’ teenage years. They are over the moon that we finally have our own caravan; they have already claimed their beds! It’s big enough that they can bring friends on trips, and the table can fit six to eight people, which will make dinner time and rainy-day card games much easier.

“Camping trips are our favourite form of travel. We’ve already covered a fair bit of ground in the borrowed motorhome, but our absolute favourite place would be Momorangi Bay Campground in the Queen Charlotte Sound (South Island). There are few campsites around here, but this one sits right on the water. There is a little jetty where the boys can fish independently, forests plunge into the bay and a fog creeps past in the mornings, leaving golden light in its wake. That’s where you will find us in April!”

In the meantime, Kate continues to crochet. You can see more of her creations on her blog, Greedy for colour

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