What’s more your style: camping deep in the bush or by the ocean, with no neighbours — or site 35C in Row 8 in some caravan park on Highway One? Do you enjoy the company of others, especially “sundowners” with your fellow vanners?
Most mid-size caravans, which start at about $30,000, now pack all the comforts of home, including airconditioning and ensuite bathrooms. However, if you leave the bitumen on a regular basis they will begin to disintegrate in front of your eyes.
Purpose-built off-road vans can take serious punishment, but the good ones — again, made in Australia — are expensive, kicking off from $50,000 for a small model. Several manufacturers fit a more robust chassis/suspension/wheel and tyre package on standard vans for a relatively modest extra outlay. For example, Jayco’s Outback option on its caravans and campers usually carries a premium of $3500-$4000. If you want Starship Enterprise on wheels, that’s doable — but you won’t see much except bitumen, diesel pumps and roadhouse parking bays.
Six-figure pricetags are the norm but the sticker can nudge the million-dollar mark at the top end, where 10 metre-long motorhomes require a heavy vehicle licence to drive and you get an interior that makes Las Vegas look like a slum.
You also have to drag a small car around so you’ve got transport when you berth the mothership.
It’s enough to get you off the blacktop, away from the crowd and easily and safely to into all but the most remote national parks. Given the decrepit state of many bitumen roads around the country, it’s money well spent anyway.
Remember too that, the bigger and heavier your van, the more grunt upfront you need to pull it, and the more fuel you will use. Both cost big money.
Fifth-wheelers are similarly luxurious and pricey. They’re also extremely heavy, often exceeding the 3.5-tonne maximum trailer weight that heavy-duty 4WDs such as the Toyota LandCruiser and Ford Ranger can legally tow. This can require expensive engineering modifications to your vehicle, or spending $100,000-plus on a converted US truck such as a Dodge Ram, which can pull nearly seven tonnes.
It would be a lot cheaper and infinitely less stressful to fly everywhere you want to go, stay in five-star hotels and hire a car to see the sights. WESTERN AUSTRALIA Cape Arid NP, Leeuwin-Naturaliste NP, Kalbarri NP, Woolleen Station, Millstream-Chichester NP, Karijini NP, Kimberley (Charnley River and Mt Elizabeth Station), Wyndham It’s hard to beat a small campervan for convenience, low running costs and versatility. They’re easy to drive and you don’t have to worry about towing, either.
Most are based on the Toyota HiAce or VW Transporter, fitted out with a stove, fridge, seats that fold into a bed and a pop top so you can stand up inside.
Sure, it’s a confined space, but with a rollout awning, a couple of extra chairs and a table you can spend most of your time outside, watching other couples swear at each other while they try, for the 34th time, to park the caravan. NORTHERN TERRITORY West MacDonnell NP, Finke Gorge NP, Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP, Keep River NP, Umbrawarra Gorge NP, Litchfield NP, Kakadu NP, Mary River NP, Lorella Springs Station If you want to go feral in the bush or the desert, start with a fair dinkum 4WD wagon or one-tonner ute, priced from about $35,000.
Make it outback fit with allterrain tyres, off-road suspension, bull bar, roof racks and snorkel. Put a canopy on the ute or a cargo barrier in the wagon.
Install a deep cycle battery setup to run your fridge and lights. Fit an awning for shelter. Budget about $20,000 for the fitout. Buy quality gear from ARB or another reputable brand. The cheap stuff will break.
Complete your adventure truck with a few jerry cans, gas stove, comfortable folding chairs, table, tent, swag and camp stretcher to keep you off the ground, dry and safe from the snakes. QUEENSLAND Birdsville, Burketown, Cape York, Lakefield NP, Cooktown, Cape Trib Camping, South Mission Beach, Conondale NP