Photographer Bri Woolnough has always loved camping. In Novemeber she took the plunge and bought a short wheel base 1986 BJ71 Toyota Landcruiser. SWB’s are challenging spaces to camperise, effectively they become swiss army knives, that everything folds out of. You don’t live in a SWB, you live out of it.
When I was a kid, we used to go camping every summer. Get a bunch of family’s, set up camp for a couple of weeks, no phone reception, internet or power. We spent our days in the water, and the nights by a campfire (or playing spotlight). The simple joys in life, these days were so good. In my later years, I found an awesome group of like-minded people, surfers, hikers, photographers and adventurers. Some of my favourite memories are from road trips around the country; 4wd convoys to new spots, fitting too many people into a roof top tent, camping under the stars, having a couple of cheeky beers around a fire. Making home wherever we parked up.
I was originally looking at getting a van, after lockdown and travel plans to Canada were cancelled. I decided I wanted to see New Zealand and live the van life. I was introduced to 4wding and found out just how much fun these trucks can be, and how the van life could definitely be done in a Crusier. I found some inspiration from other women getting 4wds, and a short wheel base seemed a bit more of a “Bri” sized truck. I remember telling my mate, and I quote “I’ll just manifest the perfect little 4WD. I reckon yellow or tan would be super cool”. Then sure enough, a cream one (close enough) popped up in Christchurch. I bought it sight unseen and named it Sunny the 70. We flew down and drove it back to Mangawhai in two days. I had never driven a manual before so had to learn pretty quickly once we were back in Northland. The next month was spent cleaning 30 years of dirt out of him and building a camping setup.
I had a rough idea of what I wanted/needed, and had to consider the fact that I did not have a lot of space to work with at all. The must haves were good roof racks (that I can eventually turn into a tray) and a rooftop tent. Then space to put a fridge, and somewhere hidden and secure for camera gear, a drop down table and plenty of storage in every possible nook and cranny.
The back box setup was custom made by a good friend of mine (I helped a bit). We used ply for the drawers and storage boxes, and recycled deck timber for the front of the drawers. Garage carpet to line the floors and some cute little drawer handles from a hippie store on K Road. I wanted a full pantry/camping set-up in the truck, ready to hit the road at all times and live out of it for a while, and do all this plastic-free. The two drawers hold everything kitchen related, the most important being food in glass jars. I buy in bulk or at farmers markets to avoid plastic. The fridge was essential for keeping food (and beers) cold, the gas cooker is under the fridge. I had to make extra storage on top of everything for the three extra large glass jars holding pasta, rice and oats.
Over the rear wheel arches there’s a lot more storage to keep anything else like recovery gear and hammocks. There’s space behind the front seats to put camping chairs, a couple of duffle bags and hiking packs. Behind the drawers and fridge, there’s space for camera gear and electronics, and on the other side is the battery that powers the setup. Everything has its place, some of it was planned but a lot of it was also a happy coincidence when it fitted perfectly where it needed too.
It’s a very basic set-up at the moment. A trusty ol’ UE Boom provides the tunes; there is a deep cycle battery in the back behind the fridge, that runs from a Redarc BCDC 20 amp charger connected to the main batteries. I have a Brass Monkey 36L Dual Zone fridge/freezer. There’s an inverter where I can charge devices. I can be completely remote for a few days, camp set up and not moving anywhere, and I’ll still have a working fridge and power if I need it.
Honestly I don’t even want to know how much I’ve spent, but probably around the 4.5k mark (and few boxes of beer for labour haha). 5.5k including the new Maxxis Razr A/T tyres! The setup includes Front Runner roof racks, Feldon Shelter, fridge, the whole back setup materials and all the bits and bobs to go along with it, deep cycle battery and electrical setup.
I’ve had this truck since November and already we’ve seen a lot of New Zealand together. Sunny’s debut adventure after I learnt to drive him was to Tongariro, a few off road tracks and a taste of what owning an old Land Cruiser is all about. I just recently went on a 7 week roadie, literally from Cape Reinger to Bluff. Finding waves in Ahipara, Christchurch and the Catlins. Hiking in Mt Cook and Fiordland, a few off road adventures down Skippers Canyon and Macetown. Camping almost every night and only getting stuck in a ditch once. It was the most incredible experience. I had a few good friends join me for parts of the trip but a lot of it I did on my own, though I never felt alone. Meeting new people all around the country, fellow travellers, surfers and adventurers, all sharing the same stoke for life.
The highlight of that trip was the art of slowing down. Every morning and every night I had to set up and pack down the roof top tent. I managed to finesse this process and it took less and less time as the weeks went on. I started really enjoying this slow way of living. Making food from scratch, doing the dishes, watching the sun rise and set every day from wherever we were parked up. My days were ruled only by the sun and light. Time didn’t seem to exist as there was no where I needed to be, it felt like pure freedom.
I think I have a never ending list of things to do with the Cruiser, but my plan right now is to move to the South Island. Hustle for a bit and save up to get a roof tray. More storage on the roof for water, gas, recovery gear and somewhere I can keep my surfboards. Inside the truck is a little cramped at the moment. I need some good lighting and my own camping equipment, tables and chairs etc. as so far, I have just been borrowing this. I’d love to be able to live in my truck again, maybe even for a few months. Making this as comfortable as possible is the next goal. Living that alternative lifestyle full of freedom and adventure, that’s what I live for, and this is the truck to do it in.
So far, I’ve only done a few tracks, the ones mentioned earlier from my South Island trip. These were all from recommendations from people I know, or I’ve gone with others who had done these tracks before. A lot of my adventures have been alone so just from a safety perspective, I’ve never pushed my limits with unknown places. I’d love to explore more back country roads. I am still very new to this, and I have a lot to learn, but I’m so excited to see where the road takes us, and who we may meet along the way. Would love to get my hands on some old school maps, though so far I have just been relying on google maps and a good memory to get me to and from where I need to go. This will certainly change the more often I get off-road.
Follow Bri’s journey on Instagram HERE