CookIE’s nEw VIstA rV

David Cook’s per­sonal cam­per

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PICS DAVID COOK

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.

PRE­LIM­I­NARY PLAN­NING

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.

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