CookIE’s nEw VIstA rV
David Cook’s personal camper
The crunch came for me and my wife Jan at a camp with friends. We were at Lostock Dam, on the northern edge of the Hunter Valley, NSW. It had been fine and sunny but then the rains came, and it became wetter and wetter. Pools formed on the saturated ground, with some campers left wading in up to 5cm of water. It was cold, the canvas was wet and we were facing a day at home with the camper opened out to dry. For the first time ever, we envied some caravanners nearby who could retreat inside.
As we huddled around our table eating dinner, Jan said to me, “Should we be looking at buying a camper that’s a little more comfortable?”
At the time, I was approaching 65 years of age, with Jan only a few years behind. Where once we relished the ‘adventure’ of the processes of camper trailering, we now found ourselves drawn to an easier way of enjoying this wonderful country.
Our Aussie Swag rear-fold hardfloor camper had served us well. With judicious upgrades, it had stayed close to state-of-the-art, it was quality throughout, and it had taken us to so many great places we’d lost count. But it was 12 years old, had been with us for nearly 10 of those years and we needed to move on.
To be honest, I’d been toying with the idea for a while; but now it was matter of when.
For someone who tries out all manner of campers and talks to the manufacturers as a
job, you’d think it would be easy, but I had little idea where to even start.
In my early deliberations, I ignored purchase price. I wanted to see where my rationale led, and consider the results from there. Who knew what our circumstances would be like when we came to make the decision? As much as I was going through all of this by myself, when it came down to it, this was to be a joint decision; I knew my wife had to come to it as enthusiastically as me or it wasn’t going to work. After all, we’d be sharing the times together.
So I thought about what would suit us and established a preliminary survey below:
• Minimal canvas (save an awning for extended stays)
• The shortest possible set up and pack up time
• Australian made
• Quality engineering
• Genuine offroad credentials
• Outside kitchen
• Access to the interior and storage at any time without opening the camper
• The bed able to remain set up from when we started in the morning to when we arrived at camp
• No need to unhitch to set up camp
• Sufficient clearance to open barn-door rear door of our Pajero while hooked up.
Obviously, our personal parameters will differ to yours. If you didn’t have a barn-door tow vehicle, for example, that condition wouldn’t impact you. And if you had kids, then you would add the need for storage for all the stuff they would need and so on.
I was still left with an awful lot of possibilities. So I drew up another list of things that might negatively impact the way we enjoy camping. Others will and do make different choices and I respect that. A camper is something you have to live and every one is a compromise: add a second water tank, for example, and you add to the weight to tow around; add extra ground clearance and you increase the number of steps in and out.
I knew we wouldn’t want:
• A winch-up roof, where you have to pull a bed out the end, to minimise the heat loss
• To carry a heap of storage tubs inside, so it needed to have sufficient areas where items can be stowed
• Anything wider than our Pajero, to avoid knocking the corners around in the bush
• Nothing too small (not enough room) or too large. After all, if I wanted to tow a caravan, I’d buy one, and have a much greater range of choices
• And definitely no rooftop-style tents, to avoid climbing ladders in the dark.
All these no-nos combined with desirable features crossed brands and models off the list and, almost overnight, I was down to a choice of three.
I focused on the Vista Crossover XL, as it best suited us. I first saw one at the Sydney Caravan and Camping Show and I liked it a lot, but I wasn’t looking to buy at the time. I simply walked around nodding approvingly, and, as with so many other nice campers out there, I had not lusted after one.
I’d previously interviewed the owner
Louie Cretella, and ran into him at the Sydney 4WD Show in 2013, where the Vista RV was on display. Later, the Crossover XL was one of the campers we were asked to assess at CTA’s ‘Camper Trailer of the Year’ at the end of 2013, in Robe, SA. The more I looked at it, the more I liked it. Fate seemed to push me towards a Vista RV. And here it was on my shortlist, after eliminating so many others.
One of the three possible brands, which I’d thought was made in Melbourne was, in fact, made in China, and while I see ever-better campers coming from that part of the world, I knew I wanted to invest our money locally, so then I was down to two.
HOMING IN ON A DECISION
Taking my time, I looked at the Vista RV Crossover in detail during the 2014 Sydney 4WD Show. I photographed the details to study them, asked questions and wrote notes. I began to accumulate information and articles. I Googled the brand and found a number of online videos and plenty to read. I looked over and over the company website. I found an owner’s online chat site (forum.australia4wd.com/index.php?/ forum/166-vistarv-crossover-owners-group) which gave me plenty of insight into the brand.
In the meantime, I looked over the second camper on my list. It was an excellent brand and there was a lot to like, but we felt the internal bench and eating area were too small for our needs. The external fridge also meant we’d be compelled to put up an awning in bad weather, plus it was heavier and cost more.
It was still, though, in the race.
Having done more research on both campers, I drew up a set of pros and cons in contrast to our old camper. In the case of the Vista RV, there were a few cons, including accessibility to the spare wheel; the awning must be reattached each time; heavier weight; reduced vision in the rear-view mirror; no internal access to the shower tent; and a kitchen didn’t swing around. But the pros list was much longer, with 44 positive gains. That was all well in the Vista’s favour.
Then came the Lostock Dam trip.
When Jan posed that Dorothy Dix question, I told her I thought the Vista Crossover XL best suited to us, though there was the possibility of another option. She had looked over the Vista RV with me several years before but now I could show her the computer file I’d created on it, with downloaded videos and images and all my reasoning, pros and cons list and other material.
To my delight, after going through all the material she said, “Okay, when can we look at one?”
The next opportunity was at the upcoming
Sydney 4WD and Adventure Show, the following October. We turned up early on the Saturday and began. Based on my extensive reading of the owner’s forum I came armed with three pages of questions, 82 in all, plus a tape measure and notepad. We must have driven Louie and Tony nuts, from 10am to
4pm, crawling over and under the campers on display. We got to speak to several owners who turned up through the day and received positive feedback from each.
I explained to Louie that we were interested in another camper brand as well, and we hoped to give it as serious a look-over in the next month as we’d just given his camper, and I would let him know of our decision.
As we walked away Jan said to me, “We aren’t really going to look at this other camper are we?”
We spoke further about it in the car going home, feeling increasingly confident that this was indeed the right camper for us, so that night I typed up a specification for the Vista Crossover XL that would fulfill our needs.
ADD-ONS AND SPECIAL REQUESTS
While I admired the standard camper, there were some changes I wanted to make. I wanted a BOS jockey wheel, which I thought much better than the more traditional design on offer. I wanted a Redarc BMS30 battery management system. I wanted bigger batteries than the two 100Ah options on offer, and was assured that I could get two 120Ah AGM batteries in the cabinet, giving me greater capacity. I wanted an inverter in the electrical cabinet with outlets above. I wanted greater solar capacity, and had decided that 200W of thin film solar on the flip-up roof would work for us. All of this, I offered to source and supply.
We ticked the boxes on most of the factory options, including:
• Second water tank
• Internal wall pockets
• Internal fan
• Light in roof
• Ensuite with rear light
• Shelves in the wardrobe
• Extended drawbar
• Roof hatch/skylight
• Draught skirt
• Locking door to the side hatch and full awning.
In addition we added other changes to the standard trim:
• Matching the wheels to the Pajero
• Vinyl flooring rather than carpet
• A larger door pantry
• External 240V mains power outlet
• A clear window in an extended front wall of the awning to create greater light and room at the front of the kitchen
• DO35 hitch
• Additional external lights (near the door and on the driver’s side, as well as in the adjacent main storage locker)
• And, at the last minute, a Webasto hot water/space heater combos just being offered as an option by Vista.
When we’d finished typing this up, I looked through it and flinched. This was asking a lot, and was going to cost more than I’d originally thought, but I bravely took it back to Louie at the show on the Sunday afternoon and suggested he take it home and send me a quote. To my surprise he said, “go and look at some other displays and come back in an hour and I’ll have a price for you”.
His price was more than generous, considering it involved a lot of out-of-the-way requests, but I stayed cool and just thanked him and said I’d let him know. As I walked away I rang Jan and told her.
“Well, you said yes didn’t you?” she said. “No, I thought we’d sleep on it,” I responded. Sleep on it we did, for a week, but then we rang and said we’d go with it. We emailed through a formal confirmation of order – three pages of written material and three pages of drawings – and sat back to wait impatiently.
The following November, after completion of Camper Trailer of the Year at Dargo, Vic, I dropped into Vista RV’s factory in Bayswater, Vic, and got to see the bare chassis sitting on
a jig, and to look over Vista RV’s workmanship on a string of partly-built campers which filled me with confidence. The following January,
Jan and I drove down from Sydney to drop off most of the component parts we’d promised to provide and go over any questions anyone had.
At the beginning of March, we arrived to pick up our camper. There it was, all set up in the showroom and we spent several exciting hours going through the mass of systems and instructions on how things worked.
We left in peak hour traffic with drizzling rain and slick roads to drive across town, our hearts in our mouths most of the way, to a caravan park where we’d booked for the night. We worked until midnight packing away the dozens of items we’d brought with us in the back of the car. That was an exciting time.
“I don’t think I’ve enjoyed myself so much in years,” Jan revealed.
The next morning, we headed off for a week in the Grampians testing out all the systems. Then it was back to Melbourne for a few minor adjustments and then off on our way home, via the Dandenong Ranges, Gippsland, then up over the mountains through Omeo and Mitta Mitta and home to Sydney.
Since then, we’ve been camping in the
Vista RV several times – it would have been more but we’ve been busy with other pressing priorities – but we are convinced that we made the right decision, thanks to thorough research and a bit of (very enjoyable) work. The Vista RV Crossover XL has delivered everything it had promised, and more. And I continue to be impressed with the level of engineering and standard of finish.
We’ve made a few changes, but nothing major and mostly based on experience with it rather than having made mistakes in specifications. It wasn’t cheap, but we were in the fortunate position of being able to justify it, and figured that this would probably be the last camper we’d buy and, if it adds a few years to our camping life, let’s go for it.
Buying a new camper can be among the most exciting moments in your life, at any price. And when you’re having it custom built and have to wait five months, it can be among the most impatient. Just make sure of what you want and how you want to go camping and I’m sure you’ll be equally as satisfied.
Top: Vista RV Crossover XL hits the road. ABoVE: Ample clearance for offroad touring.
top: David and Jan are very pleased with their choice. ABoVE: Jan with the Vista RV mid-way through construction.
CloCkwise from top left: Jan inspects the partially completed shell; A visit to the clean, organised factory reassured David and Jan; All rivets and adhesives are aircraft grade; The new Webasto water and space heater option permits water to be drawn from the camper’s tanks or from external sources.
clockwise From top leFt: David expects the security of a hard-top camper to add years to their camping life; The bed converts to a lounge for a wet weather retreat; Plenty of cupboard space and a Waeco 80L upright fridge; The Crossover XL’s stainless steel kitchen is roomy and strong, with two large drawers, two storage tubs and a storage bay.
above: The main quarters set up with the bed is serviced with reading lights, a shelf and roof hatch above.