Meet Neville & Lorraine and their Swift Challenger 580

Catherine Milford discovers that a lifetime of caravan holidays gave Neville and Lorraine Woods the knowledge they needed to buy the perfect vehicle for them.

Having spent his childhood holidaying in caravans, Neville Woods was determined to continue the tradition. In May, he bought his fourth caravan, a Swift Challenger, from Christchurch dealer Infinity Caravans.

Neville, what are your childhood memories of caravanning?

My parents were part of a caravan club, so every three weeks we’d take the caravan somewhere around Canterbury for a weekend. It wasn’t always far – sometimes it was just in a farmer’s paddock – but it was my dad’s way of escaping from the day to day of work. I loved that way of life when I was a kid; we’d go to campsites and I’d make friends everywhere we stayed. I’m in my 60s now, and I still make friends when we travel – although luckily I don’t fall out of the top bunk these days!

Have you owned a caravan before?

We’ve had caravans for years. Our first was a Crusader, which we had for about three years; our second was a 1981 Furnware which we enjoyed for 31 years. We had a Swift Ace Jubilee for four years, before buying the Swift Challenger 580 from Daniel at Infinity Caravans in Christchurch, earlier this year. 

Having a caravan gives you the freedom to go anywhere. We’re based in the South Island now, so most of our holidays have been here, but we lived in Auckland for three years which gave us the chance to see more of the North Island too. We used to love going up to Orewa, which was a great place to visit with a caravan; especially back when it wasn’t as built up as it is now. Having a caravan really opens up the country to us in a way that you can’t do otherwise. 

Swift Challenger 580
Neville’s such a dab hand at setup he’s good to go 30 minutes after arrival.

What made you choose the Swift Challenger this time?

Because we’ve been caravanning for so long, we knew what we wanted, which made buying easier. We were looking for something a little more modern, that gives us some of the comforts we’d like now we’re retired. We are keen to travel in most seasons, so good heating was important; it’s also got a larger solar panel so we can look at going freedom camping and still having a warm shower at the end of the day.


You must be pretty well versed in setting up…

If we don’t put up the awning, which we often don’t, setup is about 30 minutes. That includes levelling, water, electricity and anything else that might be needed. Then we’re good to go.

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Lorraine, what do you like about it?

I love that we don’t have to make up the bed every night! When the kids were younger and travelled with us, we’d be making up the squabs, or using sleeping bags; this caravan has a permanent east-west bed we can just drop into every night. There’s a bit more space in this caravan too – there’s an extra piece on the end of the kitchen bench that we can lift up to increase bench space. That’s useful for both of us, as I tend to do the cooking inside, while Neville’s on the barbecue outside. I also really enjoy having a proper enclosed bathroom – it makes all the difference. Having a new caravan feels like having a new house – I’m really looking forward to getting out and about more in it.

Swift Challenger 580
The extra bench space is useful when cooking.
Swift Challenger 580
The enclosed bathroom is one of Lorraine’s favourite features.

Where have you been so far?

We’ve only been able to take the caravan out twice so far, and both times we’ve gone to Kaikōura! I have three places set up on the weather app on my phone – Hanmer, Kaikōura and Westport. Whichever one has the best weather at the time is where we end up. Over the years, however, we’ve been all over the place. We usually stay at campgrounds; occasionally NZMCA camps and sometimes the odd DOC park too. The next stop for us is Peel Forest, near Geraldine, which we’re looking forward to.

NZMCD Swift Challenger 580
Having a fixed east-west bed was one of the couple’s ‘must-haves’.

Do you have a favourite spot?

We’ve been going to Momorangi Bay, in the Marlborough Sounds, for over 40 years. We had a boat, so our kids grew up with memories of fishing, picnics on the beach, adventures in the bush… all the things a childhood is made of. Neville used to go there when he was a child, then we took our kids there; now our grandchildren go there. It’s become more popular over the years, but it’s still a beautiful spot. 

If you had to pick, what’s your favourite aspect of being a caravan owner?

That it’s so relaxing. There’s no rush to get anywhere; you can stop any time you like, and there’s nothing stopping you from being wherever you want to be, at any time. And once you’re set up – that’s it. You’re there.

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