Caravan choice

Hi

We need some advice, my partner and I are usually campers, but as we intend on taking our 85 year old mother on a trip with us we feel a caravan may be necessary. We intend on travelling for several months. Leaving from Melbounre, going up the centre to Arnhem Land, across the Gibb River Rd to Broome, down the west coast, then home. We would like to do as much free camping as possible. We are considering a 21' 6" Lotus Freelander offroad caravan with a central bathroom. What do you think? We have never towed a caravan or anything else for that matter. We have a landcruiser.
- is this too long?
- is there much difference between towing a 19, 20 or 21.5 foot caravan?
- what about fitting into caravan park sites?
-are we better off trying to fit into a smaller van for easier towing, going bush and fitting into camping sites, or any other practical reason that we haven't thought of or should we choose a van that suits our needs eg more space for 3 adults?

We would appreciate any help or advice.


Thanks in advance


Col & Brenda
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Reply By: Athol W1 - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 21:58

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 21:58
Cole
you do not mention which model of Landcruiser that you have, but you will not find much difference between 19 and 22 ft vans behind any of the later models (4.2td or V8)

As you will be travelling with an elderly person I would suggest that you do so in a full van that is equipped with shower and toilet facilities, and the Lotus that you are looking at could be ideal.

Generally you will have no issues with camp sites with such a van anywhere except the National Parks on the East side of Australia. Where you are planning on going there are plenty of free camping sites, and also plenty of low cost camping outside of the towns.

I notice that you mentioned going to Arnhem Land, it is generally very difficult to get an entry permit to this area, however if you are in the area of Cahills Crossing on the weekend that Oenpelli hold their open day (generally late August) then you can leave your van in the at Nat Park camp ground and visit Oenpelli for normally a $5.00 donation to the Bush Nursing Service, collected at the entrance to the town.

Enjoy your travels
Athol
AnswerID: 551770

Reply By: Roachie.kadina.sa.au - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 22:09

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 22:09
G'day Col and Brenda,

Whilst I cannot give any advice on what brand of caravan to purchase..... (we own an Ultimate Off-road Camper, but I am considering upgrading to a true "off-road" caravan now that I've reached the 60 year mark!!)..... I would like to make a comment/recommendation regarding something you mentioned, if I may.

You said you've never towed a caravan or anything else for that matter.

At the risk of sounding rude.....could I strongly suggest that you take a course aimed at new entrants into the "world of towing". I can't give you any recommendations about who to contact for such a course, but given the number of "disasters" I have seen on the roads over many years, I would hate to see you become another statistic.

The "statistic" I'm referring to relates to those "grey nomads" (and no, you don't have to be all that old to fit this criteria!!!) who do exactly what you are referring to.

They buy the big van to the "BIG LAP" (as it is often referred to) and have little or no experience at towing. Such drivers are the bane of the transport industry.....professional drivers are often overheard making rude (but accurate in my opinion) comments about THEY are required to get a special license to drive their rig, but these grey nomads are able to have a large 4x4 and then buy a huge van and proceed to tootle off down the highway with scant regard to the dynamics and safety implications of how their new "toy" works.

I am specifically referring to the ability (or lack thereof) to control the vehicle/van in a variety of situations such as (but not limited to) strong cross winds, the extra turning circle required when negotiating intersections, the "wash" of a large road train and their seemingly blindness to the other vehicles who are using the road. Often, these new caravan owners will decide that it is best to drive along the open highway at around 80k/h, thus causing some very dangerous situations for other drivers.

There is also the need to know how to reverse the rig into a caravan site.....for myself (and I'm sure many other travellers), it is a constant source of entertainment whenever a "new entrant" caravaner attempts to reverse park into a site. It is usually a case of the wife trying to employ a wonderful array of hand gestures to the hapless male driver....who has no real idea of what his wife is asking him to do and probably even less idea of how to actually follow her instructions even if he does know what she wants him to do.

So, I hope I haven't killed your enthusiasm to get into a caravan....but these are things I believe you need to be aware of.

I would also ask you: what type of Landcruiser do you have? I would advise that it should preferably have a turbo diesel engine (say an 80, 100 or 200 series). If you have a non-turbo diesel you will be disappointed with the power available and if you have a petrol model you will be disappointed with the fuel economy....bear in mind that LPG is not available at many out-of-the-way places you are likely to be passing through.

Good luck,

Roachie

AnswerID: 551771

Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 22:21

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 22:21
Cole & Brenda
I second the advice given by Roachie.

One such training organisation that comes to mind is Tow Ed, no affiliation etc.
Regards
Athol
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Follow Up By: Been-Everywhereman - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 06:57

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 06:57
Heya Roachie. Hope all is well with you. I have always got annoyed when getting stuck behind a caravanner sitting on 80kmh. I am now myself a caravanner with much towing experience but my existing car "105 series with 1hz and no turbo" unfortunately I am one of these caravanners cruising along the highway at 80kmh. Stuck between a rock and a hard place I am and the worse thing is I know what a pest I am. I try and manage the traffic stuck behind me but it is hard to stop and get going every 10 minutes. It is no cheap option to upgrade tow vehicles and we know 1hzs are a weak motor for a turbo. "Shrugs shoulders"
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Follow Up By: Shaker - Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 08:15

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 08:15
It's no more annoying than getting stuck behind a truck doing 40 or 50kph up a long hill, it's all part of sharing the road & we need to allow for it in our trip planning, it isn't going to get better or go away!

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Reply By: Cole - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 10:56

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 10:56
Thanks Athol & Roachie for the information.

We have a 200 series Landcruiser & will be doing a Tow Ed course prior to our travels.

We have done a bit of outback travel. Our last trip was going up the Old Tele Track to Cape York in 2013. We have just never considered what it would be like towing a large caravan & all the implications of that. Do you have much difficulty parking in towns to get supplies or see some local attractions.

Athol, what length caravan do you Tow?

Thanks

Col & Brenda


AnswerID: 551798

Follow Up By: Member - lyndon NT - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 22:05

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 22:05
Hi Folks

Sorry to be negative but you mentioned Arnhem Land. Cross that off, you won't be towing a big van anywhere there.

Cheers

Lyndon
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Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 10:07

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 10:07
Col & Brenda
We currently have a 21 ft Jayco, however we have had a 25ft Regent for the past couple of years and before that a 22'6" Lotus Uptown for 9 weeks before it was stolen, 19'6" Lotus Sprint for about 4 years, All have been towed behind the same 200 series TTD.

We have owned 11 caravans since 1973 ranging in size from 16' to the 25' and towed by HQ Holden, Jackaroos of various models, 100 series TD and now 200 series TTD Toyotas

Yes you can have difficulties parking in some of the tourist attractions and larger towns, but generally not too much in the smaller towns.

Enjoy your trip
Athol
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Reply By: Krooznalong - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 14:01

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 14:01
Suggest you sign up to the Caravaners Forum - heaps of info and help on there.
AnswerID: 551813

Reply By: Member - John and Lynne - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 16:56

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 16:56
It is a good thing you are planning a towing course for both of you and Caravaners Forum is a good place to go for all sorts of info.
Taking an 86 year old with you will require some planning and forethought. You should certainly get a van with a bathroom which will get you up to over 20 ft with beds for 3 adults. Take your mother with you when looking at vans and make sure she can easily handle the steps to get in and out. Also check the convenience of the shower! Some off road vans have very awkward high steps and no handrails and slippery cramped showers. A slip or fall could be more serious for her than you. Corrugated roads for hours at a time will be harder on older bones and joints even for a fit older person so you may need to shorten your driving days and have more rest days than if you were alone. It is great to hear that your mother wants to go on such an adventure! Just be careful she can really enjoy it. Lynne
John & Lynne

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Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 18:32

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 18:32
Hi Cole & Brenda,

Just a word of caution.
My mate has recently bought a Lotus Freelander and it looks to be a great caravan, BUT!
He bought it for the two of them to take them to places they couldn't go with their previous Roadstar on-road van. For the two of them it has everything, but it only seats two people in comfort at the table. Any more and you need an extra portable seat.
Also, the queen size bed is beaut, again for two people. In some layouts you may be able to sleep a third person on the table, made into a bed, but you will be setting this up on a daily basis, which may become a PITA.
Just check the layouts and the table size to ensure you are getting what you think.
I was rather gobsmacked at the small size of the table and seats.

Our off-road van is a "wind-up", but we can seat 6 people around the table with ease and there is a queen sized bed at each end. The standard van has 1 queen, 1 double which is adequate in most cases and each bed has curtains to add to one's privacy, if required.
There will always be a compromise and we elected to do away with an on board toilet and shower to save room for (to us) more practical space requirements.
Being a wind-up, a little extra time is required to set up, but this is no big deal for us.
The big plus is the ease of towing and when the roof is raised and the beds pulled out, a wind-up van will give oodles of living space, although we tend to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

Take a good look around before committing and if possible, see if you can hire a van with a layout to suit your needs and try it out for a weekend or so, before buying.


Bill


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AnswerID: 551826

Reply By: Cole - Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 21:23

Monday, Mar 30, 2015 at 21:23
Thanks for the useful tips Lynne & Bill.

AnswerID: 551833

Reply By: Cole - Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 21:54

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 21:54
Thankyou all for your replies.

Athol

WE are deciding between the 21" 6" length & 8 ' wide . This van has a Queen bed at one end with a N/S orientation & a club lounge at the other, & full bathroom across the middle (shower on one side / toilet & basin on the opposite side of the van) separating the bedroom from the living area.

The other choice is a 16' length & 7' 8" wide van with a queen bed at one end with a E/W orientation & a club lounge at the other end. In this van the bathroom is in the middle but set to one side with the shower over the toilet.

We expect that we will at times need to leave the van & take the tent to access some areas. Our mother can either stay in the van or come with us. She doesn't mind camping for shorter periods.

In your experience would you choose the 21' 6" which has more living space or the 16'
for more offroad ability.


Thanks very much


Cole & Brenda
AnswerID: 551871

Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 22:32

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 22:32
Cole & Brenda
We had a full off road spec Coromal for a few years around 2005/8 in which we toured Tasmania, also the Great Central Rd, Oodnadatta Track, Birdsville track to name a few and also visited some 4wd parks in the SE Qld/NE NSW area. The total distance travelled where I would consider that the full off road van was essential would amount to something less than about 5km.

I have found that GOOD ground clearance is more essential when traversing some of our made and sealed roads where it is necessary to access vehicle ferries. It is not uncommon to drag the rear of a van, or to damage/destroy steps on vans with the door behind the wheels (been there, done that) when entering/exiting vehicle ferries along the Murray River.

My current van is a Jayco fitted with their new independent suspension to their OUTBACK spec, without all the other trim that would come with their Outback model. This gives a chassis height of approx. 125mm higher than their standard highway spec van, and I would be comfortable taking this van on any of the roads that I have previously travelled (except into some of the 4wd parks). I would of course be driving to the conditions.

Unless you are looking at something like a Bushtrakka or Kedron I do not believe that the OFF ROAD versions are anything more than an ALL ROAD van with some very limited off road capacity.

It does not matter who makes an OFF ROAD van they are all using the same fridges etc. and this is the type of equipment that is going to fail if abused.

Hope this helps.

Athol
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Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 22:42

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 22:42
Sorry Cole & Brenda I omitted to answer your question re size.

If it was me in your situation I would not hesitate at the larger van with that little more living space.

Also my reply should have read
The total distance travelled where I would consider that the full off road van was OF BENEFIT would amount to something less than about 5km and the benefit would have come from the greater flexibility of the Treg coupling.

Regards
Athol
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Follow Up By: Cole - Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 23:35

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015 at 23:35
Thanks Athol

We appreciate your help

Is there any particular caravan you would recommend?
The 21.5 ' lotus freelander we were considering weighs 2750kg, it has independent suspension and a double six inch chassis to allow for the flat floor plan (no wheel arches), which enables the centre bathroom. Do you think this is too heavy? We really like this floor plan however we will have to drop the table on the club lounge to make up a bed, probably a bunk bed design would be better suited to our needs, any thoughts?

Thanks again

Cole and Brenda
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Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015 at 09:05

Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015 at 09:05
Cole & Brenda
Lotus do generally build a good van although a little on the heavy side.
The Lotus Sprint that we had did over 72000km whilst in our possession until early 2013, and we met the new owners a few weeks back and they were very happy with their purchase of it. The only issue that we had was a locking brake, which was fixed by machine of the brake drums.

This van was their standard highway model that was fitted with straight axles (not drop axles) the standard leaf springs with rockers and shackles, which gave it a ride height about 50mm above standard. It was also a dealer demonstrator, so the actual van that we inspected prior to purchase

With any van purchase I would suggest that you should be looking at the ACTUAL van that you intend to purchase, and not an example of the one that the dealer wants you to order. There are too many stories around about the ordered van being different to the one that was shown to the customer, and in some cases the van that arrived being substantially different to the point of being un-useable. Also about there being delays in the manufacture or delivery of the ordered van.

Is the 2750kg its empty or ATM? also if buying new you may wish to have it's payload increased to closer to the capacity of the chassis, or suspension, plus the ball weight, or 3.5tonnes whichever is the lesser. An approach to Lotus may achieve this, and could remove any chance of being breached by the authorities if ever they decide to weigh your rig.

Happy caravanning.
Athol
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Follow Up By: Cole - Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015 at 22:51

Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015 at 22:51
Hi Athol

2750Kg tare weight.

What was your rationale on choosing a Jayco? & why 21'feet?

Thanks


Cole & Brenda
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Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Thursday, Apr 02, 2015 at 09:43

Thursday, Apr 02, 2015 at 09:43
Cole & Brenda
My rationale for choosing the Jayco were;
1. Composite construction, no timber frame to rot or alloy frame to crack,
2. A mass produced unit, so best chance of getting a well balanced and engineered unit that would be built to a common standard.
3. Jayco have about 45% of the Australian RV market, so they must be doing something right.
4. The standard of fit and finished has improved to equal or exceed that of the more expensive vans.
5. Their interior design is now not so outlandish.
6. The price was right.
7. Check out their web site jayco.com.au and find the video of the factory tour. Take note of the guide when he picks up a piece of the wall/roof material and belts it against the steel rail, it gives some indication as to the inbuilt strength f their products.

Why 21 ft;
1. The longer the van the more it is affected by winds, particularly the winds produced by passing heavy vehicles,
2. The layout was considered to be comfortable and workable/liveable
3. We have had a van with an East/West bed that you had to climb over or climb over the wheel arch, to get to the bathroom which was most inconvenient, however the Jayco 21.65.3 has a Slide Out for the bed which leaves plenty of room to walk around the foot of the bed on a flat floor. Yes you do have to climb over the bed, or slide it out, for the stops whilst travelling, which we dot find to be too inconvenient.
4. The slide out effectively gives a 24 ft van size but in only 21ft overall length.

If you are looking at a new van purchase then it may be worth looking at the Jayco model that we have or similar. With the carrying of a second (shorter) post for the table and some foam rubber the club lounge could serve as the 3rd bed. With either the Outback model, or the standard model with the raised suspension (as we have) then it would likely be suitable for a limited amount of easy off road (into some camp sites). I would not hesitate to take my van to Fraser Island to camp beach side, I would not even consider taking any trailer on any of the inland tracks on Fraser Island.

As this is van no 11, and I have towed several vans for others as well, and I have towed vans for over 76,000km in just the past 4 years, It could be said that I have a reasonable knowledge and experience with towing and I consider that the Jayco would be amongst the best vans that I have towed.

Hope this helps.
Athol
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Follow Up By: Cole - Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 15:53

Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 15:53
Hi Athol

It sounds like you have plenty of experience and we are grateful for your help.
We will look at the Jayco, we also like the club lounge design.

I just wanted to clarify, would you take the Jayco across the Gibb River road, or the offshoots off the Gibb?

I think you mentioned earlier that you would take the Jayco anywhere you have already been, is that right? What size wheels do you have on your van?

I wonder if you are planning a trip for this year?

We really appreciate your help

Thanks

Cole & Brenda

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Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 16:59

Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 16:59
Cole & Brenda
Depending on the depth of the Pentecost and Durack rivers I would take it along the GRR, driven to the conditions. I would hesitate to take it on any of the side tracks. We did the GRR back in 2004 with an Jackaroo towing an Aussie Swag camper trailer, and we would not take that on the side tacks. A number of the side tracks have parking areas at their entrance so you can leave your van there if you so desire.

Whilst my van has the raised suspension and the off road brake magnets from the Outback model it only gets the 195/15 LT tyres, the spare wheel is fitted flat within the drawbar (not under the rear) and there is no chequer plate on the sides.

In 2011 I did take the Lotus Sprint from Derby to Windjana Gorge (GRR), then Tunnel Creek an on to Fitzroy Crossing, which would be amongst the worst tracks that I have been on (Simpson Desert excluded). In that trip we also took the van into El Questro, and also from Roebourne via Millstream Chichester NP and on to Tom Price, then Karijini NP into Dales Gorge camping area, past Auski Road House then approx 100km north turn rightMarble Bar.

Would I take the Jayco along these roads, Yes driven to the conditions. Always remember that it is not race, and you are (hopefully) filling in time. On the rough corrugated roads do not hesitate to reduce ALL tyre pressures, by about 20% for dirt, about 50% for sand, AND reduce speed by even more. Re-inflate as soon as the conditions allow and before resuming speed.

We are planning a trip, leaving in about 3 weeks for Darwin for about 3 months, then returning home (Gold Coast) via the West Coast.

Enjoy your travels, in your new van and we may see you on the road .
Regards
Athol
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Follow Up By: Cole - Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 23:08

Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 23:08
Hi Athol

Thank you very much for sharing some of your experience with us. It is very much appreciated.


Enjoy your Easter & Happy travels

Cole & Brenda
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Reply By: martycon - Thursday, Apr 02, 2015 at 23:03

Thursday, Apr 02, 2015 at 23:03
First, you have a gem of a mother. Make every day a mothers Day. It may be hard to ascertain, but try to ensure that she is happy with what you propose.
My missus is younger and reluctant to travel these days, I am jealous.
AnswerID: 551948

Follow Up By: Cole - Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 16:37

Friday, Apr 03, 2015 at 16:37
Thanks martycon, It can be hard to know sometimes. If at any time that we think she has had enough we will come home.

Cole & Brenda
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Apr 04, 2015 at 11:47

Saturday, Apr 04, 2015 at 11:47
I cant comment on caravans, never having owned one. Nor am I your mother's age, but John and I have travelled a fair bit in remote areas so know what the conditions can be like and how they can take a toll on older bodies. I imagine that sometimes your mother would like a rest (as in lying down even taking a nap) during the day, and I wondered how practicable that would be if she was using the lounge as her bed.

I would like to think that at her age I could still go to some of those places. Good on you for taking her, may she enjoy every minute of it.

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
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Follow Up By: Cole - Saturday, Apr 04, 2015 at 19:57

Saturday, Apr 04, 2015 at 19:57
Hi Val

For those over night stops we will drop the table for her & make up the bed. When she needs to have a rest she can use the queen bed. We do however plan on taking our time & staying for several days or longer in many locations. Mum then gets the Queen bed & we will set up our tent.

We are still considering a van option with a third bed so that its always available for the reasons you mention. Not easy finding the ideal van. Compromise.

The aim is to enjoy the journey


Kind regards

Cole & Brenda

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