Newbie advice on vans and beach driving in Queensland

Submitted: Monday, Jun 16, 2014 at 19:22
ThreadID: 108279 Views:7386 Replies:7 FollowUps:7
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Hi All

My partner and I are finally looking to get rid of the tent and tarp setup and buy our first van. We have a budget of around $20k and want something that we can take on the QLD and northern NSW beaches (Fraser, Bribie, Teewah, Rainbow etc), as well as some gravel/dirt track campsites. Other than that though we are not looking for a van that we can take on any really serious off road tracks or off road holidays. I will be towing the van with a Mitsubishi Pajero v6 3.6L petrol.

I'm aware that good clearance will be important on the beach having towed our trailer across some of these beaches before. Based on our research so far we believe we have shortlisted our choice of vans down to the list below..

Jayco Swan Outback (2004 to 2008)
Jayco Expanda Outback (2004 to 2005)
Coromal Silhouette 421, 422, 451 (2004 to 2008)
Windsor Rapid Off Road (2002 to 2004)

My understanding is that all Coromal Silhouette vans are off road and have independent suspension. Even though they might be a bit better in quality than a Jayco my real concern with them is the clearance in the soft sand. The same goes for the Windsor Rapid Off Road.

I would really like advice from anyone who has owned these vans before and more importantly whether you have taken them across some of the beaches I have mentioned. I would also be really interested in any known defects I should be looking out for on these makes and models of vans.

Finally if there are other makes and models of vans anyone would recommend in our budget which has 2 double beds, good storage for the wife and good for beach camping then that would be great to know as well.

Thank you in advance for your help.
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Reply By: rumpig - Monday, Jun 16, 2014 at 20:18

Monday, Jun 16, 2014 at 20:18
Hi Peter,
Taking a caravan onto the beach doesn't have alot to do with what make they are IMHO, but yes i can see the benifits of having offroad branded van over an onroad type. Time your run for 2 hours before lowtide to minumise the amount of soft sand you need to drive through, run the right tyre pressures on your vehicle and van and you'll be able to take most caravans (onroad included) to the places you've mentioned. We used to own a 13ft 1970's vintage Millard poptop onroad caravan, we had no issues towing it up Fraser Island and camping on the beach near Dundaburra on yearly holidays. The Sister Inlaw used to bring their 17ft onroad van up there at the same time also, we have both done the same on Teewah Beach aswell, but never tried taking them through inland tracks (like the Freshwater Track for instance) as we know what the result would have The only thing we had done on both vans was a spring over conversion, this certainly helped with ground clearance on the vans, but a mate used to bring their 70's vintage onroad van along aswell that didn't have a spring over conversion done and was just standard height, and they managed fine also.

In this pic below is a mates camper trailer on the right, our old 13ft caravan 2nd from the right, the SIL's 17ft onroad caravan is beside us on the left, our friends 13ft van in the left foreground, and behind the blue marquees you can't see our other friends 17ft Jayco Expanda Offroad caravan.



AnswerID: 534499

Follow Up By: JagerBroncs - Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 20:31

Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 20:31
Thank you for the advice and the pics, they look great. I have driven on these beaches before with our tent and trailer setup and I am always careful with tyre pressure and tide times.

I agree with your comments about the inland tracks and after doing the Freshwater Track once before and the Fraser tracks a few times I would certainly never attempt them towing a van.

Can I ask a dumb question though what is a "spring over conversion"? Can you explain this to me in layman's terms. Also if I were to buy just a standard van such as a Jayco Swan or Windows Rapid how much would this type of conversion cost me roughly?

Thanks again for the post.
FollowupID: 818212

Follow Up By: rumpig - Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 21:16

Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 21:16
Hi Peter,
A Spring Over Conversion is where you take the axle from above the springs and position it below the springs giving you added ground clearance height to the van. There are downsides to doing it with regards to annex's no longer being the right size height wise for a start, and some will argue against doing it for different mechanical reasons (we never had an issue though), but it's a fairly straight forward procedure and not hard to do in alot of cases.
As to cost of doing such a job...we did both our vans ourselves (each one was maybe a couple of hours work at the most not working real hard at it either), our only costs were our new u bolts we bought to do the job and they are pretty cheap to buy (can't recall how much as it was about 5 years ago now, but less then $50 i'd guess). I have no idea what a shop would charge to do such a job, alot would depend on things like the type of brake set up being used and if anything needs changing there or not for instance.
FollowupID: 818220

Reply By: gelatr - Monday, Jun 16, 2014 at 21:37

Monday, Jun 16, 2014 at 21:37

I used to have an Off Road (I use this term loosely) Coromal Magnum Camper similar to the Jayco Swan that I've took to Fraser and Cooloola Beach up near Double Island Point on occasion. I took this van across the Freshwater Track back when I didn't know better and traversed tracks across Fraser after catching the barge from Hervey Bay.

To say that there is huge difference between taking a van across an inland sand island track and driving up a beach at low tide is an under statement. Any of the vans you have mentioned can easily be dragged up a beach at low tide. The biggest issue is the soft sandy bit between the beach and your camping area! If you have luck and it rains then no problem. Or you can look for the permanently moist areas along the beach which seem to attract most vaners but for me are less attractive camp sites.

If you are driving on soft sand and towing, as in my case, about a 1 tonne then you must pay careful attention to your tyre pressures and be able to maintain momentum to get through.

As for whether you should have a high clearance van or not - well my off road van had a stronger chassis, larger tyres and higher clearance, but I'm not sure these benefits provided any obvious advantages on the beach. My experience was the extra weight associated with these so called advantages was a burden in soft sand.

Accordingly for the beach I'd be more concerned about weight and would probably be inclined to look at an Expander or something similar. If you can get a lighter van with a bit of extra clearance then I think that that is the sweet spot for driving on sand.

I personally never found towing a van on soft sand an enjoyable experience and have since given up on the idea and have gone back to a tent for beach camping. I'm guessing that I'm not a brilliant sand driver as I've seen much bigger rigs than mine camping on the beach.

Anyway I hope this helps with your decision making.


AnswerID: 534506

Follow Up By: JagerBroncs - Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 20:33

Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 20:33
Thanks Geoff for the post that's very helpful. The wife is also now looking at the Expander's.
FollowupID: 818213

Reply By: JagerBroncs - Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 20:34

Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014 at 20:34
Has anyone previously owned any of these makes of vans before and if so are there any known defects or standard things I should be looking our for when buying one second hand?

Jayco Swan Outback (2004 to 2008)
Jayco Expanda Outback (2004 to 2005)
Coromal Silhouette 421, 422, 451 (2004 to 2008)
Windsor Rapid Off Road (2002 to 2004)
AnswerID: 534553

Follow Up By: Member - Chris_K - Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 at 22:57

Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 at 22:57

We had a 2006 Jayco Flamingo Outback a few years ago - not quite a "Swan" but pretty similar. There are a couple of things to check when buying second hand:

1. Obviously check underneath for any damage or corrosion to the undercarriage (eg shockies, handbrake connections and brakes),
2. The seller will need a gas certificate,
3. The wind up mechanism needs to operate freely - any problems may indicate an issue,
4. The vents in the Jayco are not quite what I would call "dust proof". So take a look inside the cupboards to see if there is any dust or evidence of water inside. If this is the case - perhaps it's been off road quite a bit...and maybe steer clear.
5. Have a look around the wheel bearings to see if there is any evidence of leakage. If so - you may be up for replacement bearings. Not a huge cost - but a cost.

There is probably more - but that's all I can think of at present.


FollowupID: 818312

Reply By: Member - Captain (WA) - Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 at 22:59

Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 at 22:59
I had a Windsor Rapid Offroad van (~2002 model, sold in 2006) and it was a great van. It was used off-road quite a bit (to the point it had to be re-skinned on both sides!) and it held up well. Had it bogged a few times too as it was towed by a 1HZ 80 series (would have been a different story if I had my 200 back then!).

I choose the Windsor Rapid over the others and still feel it was the right choice at the time. The Swan & Silhouette are much more time consuming to set-up in comparison to the Rapid and Expanda. The Expanda of that vintage has a soft roof on the pullouts, unlike the Rapid that has hard roof & base.

IMHO, the Rapid of that era was a better design than its competitors. It had a good of-road chassis, independent suspension (a must IMHO) and a proper roll-out awning (not a bag awning type).

I have since moved on to the AOR Quantum, and while the Q is vastly superior again, its at a different price point in the market.


AnswerID: 534604

Follow Up By: JagerBroncs - Sunday, Jun 29, 2014 at 19:16

Sunday, Jun 29, 2014 at 19:16
Thanks Captain, I went for a 2004 Windsor Rapid off road in the end and can't wait to take it on our first trip
FollowupID: 819078

Reply By: Member - mike g2 - Thursday, Jun 19, 2014 at 01:58

Thursday, Jun 19, 2014 at 01:58
Hi Jager, no wish to add to suggested vehicles, as there's a variety of off road capable on market... but talk about taking vans on beach. yes there are places you can if beach firm and wide enough and/or tracks well bedded- quite a few variables at play on wether beach is navigable to vans and track damage can occur towing to and from. some inland track trips dont advise towing for similar reasons. traffic, weather, tides, aspect ( decline angle of beach from dune to sea edge) existing usage/wear pattern ( may be cut up with 4wd tracks already) and turn around space are also factors . for me ,only 'vans' seen are the smaller off roader pop ups here in WA in my time, the most are camper trailers. if you get stuck, having a van will complicate recovery. anyhow ,all the best with plans,
AnswerID: 534608

Reply By: rossy - Thursday, Jun 19, 2014 at 06:18

Thursday, Jun 19, 2014 at 06:18
A few tips for you, we tow a Kimberley Karavan to Fraser easily.
- The departure angle is great at the rear (some caravan get off the barge and rip the back off the van straight away due to the rear hitting the sand)
- The wheels tow in exactly the same ruts as the Landcruiser thus making towing under difficult conditions a lot easier.
- We have inflatable air bags in our springs at the rear of the Landcruiser (if the tow hitch isn't even with the car or high enough then getting bogged is common)
- Deflate the tyres on both the car and the trailer to about 18
Hope you have fun.
By the way there are millions of jayco's on Fraser. The outbacks are better as they have higher clearance.
AnswerID: 534611

Follow Up By: JagerBroncs - Sunday, Jun 29, 2014 at 19:20

Sunday, Jun 29, 2014 at 19:20
Thanks for the advice Ross that's very helpful, we went for a Windsor Rapid 2004 off road in the end which I'm confident will be able to do the job on Fraser.
FollowupID: 819079

Reply By: Batt's - Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 23:45

Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 23:45
Tyre choice is another thing to look at if your looking at doing a reasonable amount of beach camping how do they perform on the beach when your not towing because you don't want something that struggles in sand. Make sure you keep your cooling system in good order. I done a spring over conversion 10yrs ago on a 1986 Jayco 16.6" pop top you have to add the thickness of the axel and the spring pack together to get the height it will sit at after the lift. Mine sat level with the tow vehicle after I raised the van and it didn't affect the handling or stability it will definitely help the clearance especially when boarding & driving off a ferry. Another thing to do if you have enough clearance in the wheel arches is if possible change the hubs on the van to suit the car & run the same tyres on the car and van then you'll have more spares and you will be able to rotate your van tyres onto the rear of the car then onto the front so they all wear at the same rate. I would also look at getting 1 or 2 sets of maxtrax and a good air compressor so if you need to let the tyre right down to get into the camping site you can pump them back up when you go exploring.
AnswerID: 534715

Follow Up By: JagerBroncs - Sunday, Jun 29, 2014 at 19:24

Sunday, Jun 29, 2014 at 19:24
Thanks for the advice, especially regarding the tyres. Much appreciated
FollowupID: 819080

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