The Reality of Off Road Caravanning

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True off road caravanning is a whole new experience.

You hear all the time about how people buy an off road caravan and rarely, if ever, use it for its intended purpose. I would say that is true for a great many owners of off road caravans. Some of us actually do want to take our vans into the terrain they were designed. It sounds easy enough, just take that track to your favourite campsite and live the dream. Unfortunately, the reality is not as simple as it may seem and even a modest 4WD track can become extremely challenging with a 3t caravan in tow.

I have been towing camper trailers all over the country for around 20 years and I have done so in some very extreme off road conditions. Cape York, the Kimberley region, even some of the goat tracks around the local camps in Victoria. Some have been difficult especially with a camper trailer in tow. Others have not caused me to raise a sweat. Overall though, nothing has really given me serious cause for concern. I thought I had off road towing down to a fine art.

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We made it to our campsite unscathed but getting out at the end of the trip was going to be interesting.

Then, last weekend, we took the Safari Tamer to a bush camp in Bonnie Doon in, Victoria, near Lake Eildon. Access to this bush camp was down a narrow track, about 2kms in length. It was a little rutted and, under normal circumstances, it would not have presented a challenge. But there had been a fair amount of rain in the area prior to our visit and the track was pretty muddy and slippery when we arrived. Still, nothing I wouldn’t have thought would have been difficult at all. But put a huge 3.5t caravan on the back of the Crusier and it completely changed the situation. We made it to the campsite with no issues in the end but the experience has taught us some very valuable lessons that we will need to consider for our future off road caravanning adventures.

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The track doesn’t look all that bad but further down it was quite challenging. That rut in front of me was about a foot deep. Enough to put the van on a visually impressive angle.

First off is the sheer size of the whole rig. Lengthwise we would be approximately 12m long so that makes negotiating tight corners very challenging and when the track has even slightly deep ruts, it can be difficult to get a sufficiently wide enough turn to avoid the caravan scraping some trees on the side of the track. The van is also very tall. Low hanging branches suddenly become an major issue. Having a spotter to ensure you have sufficient clearance is vital in these situations. The van is also very wide. There were a couple of gates we had to pass through along this track where there were mere centimetres clearance either side.

Having a competent tow vehicle with strong 4WD capabilities is also vital in these off road situations. I know that sounds obvious but when you consider that we triggered the Cruiser’s traction control in some places, you can begin to understand that a less capable vehicle, although completely competent in normal conditions, may very well have struggled. To be fair, Olaf was still wearing highway terrain tyres which were always going to be challenged in really wet and muddy conditions.

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There was not a lot of room to make that sharp turn back onto the track.

When we arrived at the campsite, we were confronted with a whole set of other issues. We had to find a suitably sized, flat camp site that the van could fit onto that still had sufficient clearance to get out of at the end of the trip. With trees all around, the room for manoeuvring was extremely tight. At one time I came very close to damaging the awning on a tree trunk. It took a couple of goes but we managed to get out unscathed.

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Back on the blacktop.

I guess the point of all this is that while we had a great time with our first serious off road caravanning experience, it certainly has taught us some valuable lessons. If you’re planning on taking your off road caravan into the kind of terrain it was designed to go, you really need to be ready for the challenges that you’ll be presented with. Careful planning is required as well as a greater sense of awareness and anticipation. You cannot just blindly drive down a track and expect you’ll find a suitable spot to camp and then be able to get out when it’s time to go home.

Safe Travels

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Surviving a rainy weekend

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Rain on the awning. Very pretty…!

We spent last weekend at a very special place, Yackandandah Victoria. It was my birthday weekend and I was keen to show Kylie this beautiful little town in Victoria’s north east. Unfortunately, the weather was not so good. An East Coast Low which brought horrible weather to NSW and Queensland had ensured a steady stream of rain fell on the little town. It didn’t let up all weekend.

In most other circumstances, this would have been a terrible weekend but for us it was perfectly fine. In fact, we really enjoyed it. Here’s why…

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On any other weekend, this lush green grass would have been ideal. In the rain it got a bit muddy.

In our Resources Section is some advice on Essential Caravan Features and number one on that list is a make sure you get a comfortable interior. One that, it you do experience torrential rain for 2 or 3 days in a row, you won’t go stir crazy or feel claustrophobic being couped up inside your van or camper.

When we were looking around at caravans, we tried to imagine what it would be like to have to spend an extended amount of time inside the van.  Were the seats comfortable enough to sit in for an hour or more? Could the TV be seen from both the bed and the table at the same time? Was there sufficient windows to allow a good view outside and provide that all-important natural light? Was the bed spacious enough to accommodate both of us and the three dogs together? Could one of us still use the kitchen without getting in the way the other trying to watch TV? All the sort of things you would take for granted inside a house that, at first, don’t seem that important in a caravan or camper but become a real issue if you’re stuck inside for the duration.

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The view from the lounge. The rain kept many visitors away.

Now while we were in Yackandandah, we weren’t completely restricted to caravan park. We did manage to get out a bit and explore the area, but we did have to spend extended periods in the van while it rained outside and I’m glad to say our confidence in the Roadstar’s interior lived up to our expectations.

We were comfortable at all times and even the girls didn’t seem to mind too much being locked up inside.

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Savannah, Kassidy and Poppy are quite content to spend time on the bed and watch the rain come down.

I put this comfort down to 3 things in particular:

  • The café lounge with the extendable foot rests is quite large compared to many others and very well padded. It’s very easy to get into a comfortable position.
  • The offset layout of the kitchen in relation to the lounge means there is sufficient space to walk around each other without compromising on bench space.
  • The windows are quite large and, combined with the big skylight, allow plenty of natural light into the van.

So, just to reaffirm our advice to anyone looking for a new caravan, camper or motorhome. When you see one you like, take the time to sit in it and just imagine what it would be like to stay inside for a day or more. Try to do the sort of things you would normally do together in a house. You will soon get an appreciation for what it would be like and whether or not you could actually do it without going completely mad.

Safe travels

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Staying warm this Winter

snowWinter has arrived and, if the first few days are any indication, we could be in for a chilly three months.  Many will likely head off to the warmer northern parts of the country to escape the cold weather but some of us are not quite so fortunate.  That said, Victoria, Tasmania, SA and the southern parts of WA are beautiful this time of year so we should make the effort to see our own backyard if we can.  Heating our campers and caravans during these trips can make the difference between a bearable experience or extremely comfortable adventure.

In the article below, we look at the various options for heating the interior of our campers and vans and explain some of the dangers involved with a couple of the options.  We hope you find it useful.

Stay warm everyone…!

Heating options for Campers and Caravans 

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