Buying a caravan...
Or a campervan? Motorhome? Campertrailer? Don’t worry, we’ll help you decide.
If you reckon that the only way to camp is a tent set-up in the bush, with no facilities and no creature comforts, then you may find you are a little behind the times. Hugely popular in the sixties and seventies, the family road trip in a caravan is back. And it’s not just caravans anymore, many families are now choosing to upgrade to a motorhome, or if heading off the beaten track, towing an off-road camper trailer.
Now don’t think for a moment that making the change over to a camper trailer or caravan means you’re no longer ‘real’ camping. Anything that gets you out in the bush, surrounded by nature and gazing up at a million stars still counts in our book – and just because you’ve seen the light and would rather sleep on an innerspring mattress then on the ground next to the fire, well that may just mean you will wake up refreshed and enjoy the trip all that more.
If you’ve never done a motorhome road trip before, or towed a caravan or camper trailer, there are a few you things you may want to think about before you decide which path to go down. Top of the list is the type of family car you have (is it set up for towing?) and then, where are you planning to stop and camp overnight; i.e: bush camping in national parks or checking into a caravan park. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons surrounding these choices.
Camper trailers have really taken off in the last ten years and are now one of the most popular methods of camping, especially if heading off road with your 4WD. There are many different makes and models of camper trailers available, some suited to on-road use only, while at the other end of the extreme, some fold out to reveal all the latest mod- cons, such as solar power and hot water systems, while under the exterior is a strengthened chassis, heavy duty off-road suspension and a specialist tow hitch for extra articulation.
Of utmost importance before deciding on what type of camper trailer you need is working out where you are likely to take it. If you are staying on the main highway or decent bitumen roads, and then setting up in a holiday park for a few days (or a few weeks), then a basic on-road trailer that can be towed by most large sedans will do the job. If you take a powered site at a holiday park, then you won’t even need a 12V system to power your lights and other accessories, and you can bring all your basic appliances from home, such as your kettle and toaster.
Bush camping on the other hand will require either a 12V battery system in the camper trailer, or you can take your gas stove and lantern as you would with a tent. Once you have sorted out your cooking and lighting requirements, anything else ( yes, even hot water) is a luxury.
Other considerations with camper trailers include; a water tank underneath the trailer; a large awning and annexe to create more covered space and extra sleeping room (in most models there is only the one double or queen size bed, so stretchers or air mattresses will be needed for the kids) and possibly storage racks built onto the trailer to carry extra equipment that won’t fit inside such as canoes, kayaks or kids’ bikes.
• Extra space when packing for your trip inside the trailer.
• Usually have a full queen sized bed with an innerspring mattress for mum and dad.
• 12V power to accessories such as LED lighting, and for charging electronic equipment such as mobile phones and camera batteries.
• Off road models behind a 4WD can access some of the most remote and beautiful country Australia has to offer.
• Can take half an hour or longer to set up for some soft floor models by the time you do the annexe.
• Unlikely to include airconditioning, or many of the creature comforts of your average new model caravan or motorhome.
The age- old adage that caravanning is only for older or retired couples could not be further from the truth. There are plenty of caravans on the market that have been designed with the family in mind and include bunk beds or dining areas that fold out into kids’ beds. The advantages of caravan travel are obvious, with most new caravans fitted out with all the bells and whistles including airconditioning, full-size upright refrigerators, gas stove and oven, with some even having a washing machine. Except for being in a slightly smaller space you really do have all the creature comforts of home at your fingertips.
While these are fantastic if you are staying at a powered site in a holiday park, once you hit the outback or the bush, you will need to rely on the caravan’s internal 12V power system, and also the LPG. Always remember to switch your caravan fridge straight on to LPG if setting up for more than a day, as it will quickly drain all power from your 12V battery. The other option is to recharge your battery every day through a solar panel if one is fitted to the caravan.
• You can leave the caravan at the camping spot and explore the area by car on day trips.
• Virtually no set-up time after positioning the van and winding down the stabiliser legs.
• Family models will have comfortable beds for everyone.
• Many vans have the option of a shower and toilet.
• Very heavy and most will need a large 4WD to tow safely.
• Can be intimidating to tow, especially in regards to cornering and handling in high winds. If you are a first timer, then a towing course is recommended.
Motorhomes come in a variety of sizes from small truck to semi-trailer. With all the features of a caravan, they are a great choice for long road trips around Australia where you are sticking to the main towns and highways. There are also a few designed and built to head off-road. Motorhomes are generally considered easier to manage over towing a caravan, plus there is no need to worry about couplings, or hooking up cables and Anderson plugs to ensure signals are operating and batteries are being recharged when on the road. Most motorhomes can be driven on a regular licence; however larger ones will require a heavy vehicle licence.
• No set up time – just park and enjoy.
• You will look and feel like the king of the road.
• Can be fitted with every conceivable mod con.
• Can be expensive to buy, with top of the range models about the same price as your average house.
• No option for sightseeing around the area without taking your mobile home with you, so best suited to trips where you won’t need the use of a car at all.
03 01 Homes on the road are fun for all 02 A wind up camper can provide better rear vision while driving over a caravan 03 The perfect set up, image courtesy of Colin Broad 04 Luxury motorhome interior 05 A large 4WD is required to tow most caravans