What do you do if you want a mobile home, but you can’t find one that ticks all your boxes? You build one yourself!
That is exactly what Lloyd and Laura Jerome decided to do in early 2019. “We’ve always loved roadtrips,” says Laura. “We can’t remember where exactly the idea for a campervan came from, but we’re so glad we made it a reality.”
The two of them call beautiful Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands home but wanted to see more of the country. And what better way to do so than in a campervan. From the beginning, they knew they wanted to do the build themselves. “We are pernickety! We wanted something that fitted our needs, and nothing ‘off the shelf’ worked for us.”
In April 2019, they bought a 2015 Mercedes Sprinter LWB van with a high roof – a former Toll delivery van – and went to work. Their goal: to have a van ready for full-time living by the end of summer 2020.
They saw converting the van themselves as an opportunity to do it exactly the way they wanted, including making sure the insulation would suit living in winter and hot northland summers, and creating the layout they wanted. Another big plus is that they now know their mobile home inside out. “It’s really comforting to know that, if things go wrong, we probably know how to fix them,” explains Lloyd.
What might surprise many, especially after seeing the beautiful, high-end van these two ended up with, is that neither had any relevant experience. As Laura says, “We owned almost no tools, so we had to buy all that right at the start. We learned everything on the job.”
So how did they go about learning what they needed to know? YouTube! By watching videos from others who had converted their own van, as well as experts on the various elements of turning an empty shell into a home, they were able to figure things out – though it wasn’t always easy. “It was an incredibly steep learning curve, and we made a lot of mistakes. But we’re pretty good now!”
Lloyd and Laura knew from the beginning that they wanted to build their own home on wheels.
So the two bought a retired Toll delivery van and went to work. After stripping out everything old, the van was ready for the new – starting with the insulation and covers of the walls and floor, followed by a custom-designed kitchen, shower and toilet, a large comfy bed, a small seating area, solar on the roof and, of course, those small personal touches that make a home.
Lloyd and Laura did most of the conversion themselves with a bit of help from friends when needed. Having had no past building experience, the project was a steep learning curve. But thanks to YouTube videos and a can-do attitude, the couple were able to create a beautiful mobile home for themselves.
Knowledgeable friends were also a key ingredient in the success of the project. From an electrician to a plumber and several other handy people, the couple were lucky to find them through their network. And with the deadline looming, they enlisted extra help. “We met a boatbuilder who was absolutely invaluable in getting us across the finish line.”
The result is nothing short of impressive, but getting there was not without its challenges. From building while parked on a sloped driveway, to finding and securing the right materials in the somewhat remote Far North, the pair had to overcome a few obstacles. Add to that their lack of experience and exhaustion once the deadline loomed. The build also wasn’t cheap with the total cost, not including the van, adding up to roughly $35,000. But they definitely don’t regret their decision. “We seriously love everything about our van. It’s freedom, comfort, and a warm home in a wild landscape.”
When asked what advice they have for others who are considering building their own mobile home, Laura says there is no need to be scared. “If you want to do it, just start on day one and take it step by step.” She also points out that people will give you different advice and tell you what you should be doing, and it’s important to remember this is only their opinion, and in the end, you have to make your own decisions.
“Planning is key,” she adds. “We spent months planning the layout and details before we even bought a van.”
With the build done, it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labour. But first, the van needed a name. Lloyd came across the definition of ‘coddiwomple’ – to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.
“Immediately we thought, this is what we want to do, so we named our van Coddiwomple, now often shortened to Coddi,” says Lloyd.
Over the winter of 2020, Lloyd and Laura enjoyed full-time life on the road. Being confident that Coddi was able to take on a South Island winter, they spent most of the time exploring – and falling in love with – the south. “Golden Bay, the West Coast, Wanaka … We loved it all.”
And everywhere they went, they discovered amazing campgrounds and freedom camping spots. A standout for them is the freedom camping site at Lake Ohau in the MacKenzie District. “It’s so beautiful, so isolated. Everyone needs to stay there at least once.” Other favourites include the NZMCA Park at Port Tarakohe in Golden Bay, right on the edge of the water, Gentle Annie campground north of Granity on the West Coast, the NZMCA Park at Lake Tekapo and the freedom camping spots around Lake Pukaki.
Although moving from a house into a van might seem like a big step, it didn’t take them long to get used to living in such a small space together. “We took to it like we’d been doing it forever – which is weird as neither of us had,” says Laura. Some things are just meant to be.
After four months on the road, Laura, Lloyd and Coddie returned to Kerikeri for work. They now make the most of time off to explore closer to home, and are counting the days till their next long trip.