No­mad life­style

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Cover Story -

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

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