Dora is a 1976 Sprite caravan, proudly owned by Deidre O’Flynn (Dee). And she has every reason to be proud – she renovated this pocket-sized camper herself.

Dee is proof that gender and age are no barriers when chasing your dreams. Dee set a goal to own a caravan and go camping before reaching 70. And she’s achieved it!

Turn back the clock to April 2015. Dee, a retired school principal, was searching on Trade Me for a 1960s or 1970s caravan. The criteria for the caravan were simple … it had to be a rounded shape, structurally sound, no leaks, and cheap! Dee had a tight budget she wanted to stick to and was determined not to break it.

Parked at an NZMCA rally

As luck would have it, a 1976 Sprite was listed in Auckland. Dee asked her niece Sharon to view the caravan as she felt Sharon had more knowledge in that field. It turned out the caravan met the criteria and ticked all the boxes. Once the purchase price was agreed on, Dee travelled to Auckland from the Wairarapa to collect her new project.

Although Dee had never towed a caravan before, she wasn’t fazed. Even when the weather turned sour and it poured with rain, Dee still wasn’t to be put off. Carterton is Dee’s hometown, an eight-hour drive from Auckland, and to break the return journey Dee decided to spend a night in Taupo – “I made sure I found a spot to park that didn’t require any backing.”

Touches of turquoise

Once safely home Dee began renovating the caravan. Her grandchildren, who are fans of the animated TV series Dora the Explorer, named the caravan ‘Dora’. It seemed the perfect name for this new acquisition.

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The first job Dee tackled was painting the exterior. After giving it a good wash down and sanding, Dee touched up areas with primer, then used a foam roller to apply two coats of paint. An aged-white colour was chosen for the upper part of the caravan, while the lower part was painted in Resene’s ‘Morning Glory’ (a watery blend of sea-and-sky blue).

Although it doesn’t look like it, the interior paint is actually ten times lighter than the exterior. When Dee was trying to find the right shade of paint for the interior, she began with ‘Morning Glory’ and kept lightening it. Eventually, with the help of Resene, the right shade was created. That particular shade had never been made before, and therefore didn’t have a name. Dee had the privilege of naming the shade ‘Dora’s Delight’.

The proud owner

To complement the caravan’s cheerful appearance (and to cover some minor imperfections), bright, colourful flower decals were added. Dee spent hours strategically placing them to create a contour of gentle swirls. A few have also been placed inside the van and even the towing vehicle has been included.

With a budget to stick to, Dee managed to purchase and renovate Dora for approximately $8000. This inspirational lady has done everything herself. She’s scrubbed, sanded and painted. She’s designed and created an awning, sewn curtains, crocheted blankets and cushions, and made cushions from scrap material. She even removed all 30 interior hinges and gave them a clean up, painted them and then reused them.

Anything Dee was unsure of doing, she researched and taught herself how. “The web site ‘Pinterest’ offered all kinds of ideas and inspirations.” When it came to electrics, gas and plumbing Dee got the professionals to help.

As it was a 1976 caravan, Dee wanted to stay with colours from that decade. Green, brown, orange and yellow were popular colours of the 1970s. Dee went with a retro turquoise hue. She chose the curtain fabric first, then matched everything else to that colour, give or take a few shades.

Dee’s creative touches enhance the interior

Fortunately the ceiling and walls were in excellent condition, so were kept original. For the flooring, black and white tiles were used, which Dee bought from Mitre 10 – “a bargain for $35”.

When you first step inside this endearing mobile home, one of many things to catch your eye is a row of dinky jars handily attached to the bottom of the kitchen cupboard. It’s a clever way to save on storage space, and a nifty, eye-catching idea. Numerous handmade cushions are scattered over the bed, most in various shades of turquoise, aqua, cyan and vintage blue.

The fridge is original and has been painted to match the décor, with a flower decal to add a splash of charm. When not hooked up to power, Dee uses frozen bottles of water to chill the fridge – “they work better than slicker pads”. When travelling Dee usually goes two days without being plugged into power and then stays at a campground for a night to use power.

Delightful storage idea

After seven months of hard work Dora was transformed. She looked like a prop from an enchanted fairy-tale scene. 
And in case you’re wondering if this charming caravan is self-contained … the answer is yes. Hidden away, beneath one of the dining seats is a portable cassette – and all requirements necessary for self-containment certification have been meet.

Unloaded Dora weighs 400kg and is easily towed by a 2L RAV4, but Dee is mindful of the caravan’s weight. “If an item isn’t useful, it’s not included.” There are, however, a few special exceptions such as her grandchildren’s precious artwork, a much-loved cranberry-red cushion, and a framed fabric painting given to Dee as a leaving gift from the Board of Trustees of Upper Takaka School.

This special little caravan is full of treasures on the inside and a visual treat to come across. Dee enjoys seeing Dora bring a smile to people’s faces as they pass by. Many people stop to chat or wave out.

“It brings me pleasure showing others that it’s safe to travel alone and anyone can do it.” Dee adds, “There are lots of kind people about only too happy to help.”

Dora’s exterior is complemented by swirling decals

Spending 28 days exploring the South Island last summer, provided many highlights but top of the list was seeing New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook. And while in the Otago region Dee took a dip in New Zealand’s longest lake, Lake Wakatipu. Dee met many tourists and says, “They were friendly and helpful. Some even helped to direct me as I parked”.

Dee and Dora seem the perfect match. They complement each other. Dora the enchanting caravan is a reflection of Dee’s bubbly personality. Wherever Dee and Dora go, they leave a sparkle in their wake. You can’t help but smile when you see them.