Off road vs conventional caravan

Am planning to hit the Melbourne caravan show next week in the hope of deciding what type of van i should purchase in order to head off to see lots of Oz for an extended period of time. Does anyone have any thoughts on how many more places/treks I can access with an off road van as opposed to a conventional van. I know that this will not be answered easily but some thoughts from experienced travelers may help as we have not ventured far into the more remote parts of the outback before.
We have a Prado 2010 model to use as a tow vehicle.
Thanks heaps for any thoughts.
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Reply By: Motherhen - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2011 at 23:24

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2011 at 23:24
It all depends on where you want to go Kenmar. A Prado would not be suitable for the true off road (read rough road) vans as strength comes at the cost of a heavy van (Bushtracker do have a new lightweight model which could be pulled with a Prado). Unless you want to take routes such as the Great Central and Plenty, Tanami or Savannah Way, you can go to many places for a few days with a tent. The top of the range brands may not be represented in caravan shows. Many brands put out an off road model, which when you read the fine print is suitable for bitumen road travel, and dirt tracks for a short way eg to a camp ground.

A few more hints on choosing can be found here:Choosing your Rig


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Follow Up By: Kenmar - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:29

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:29
Thanks for your thoughts Motherhen. I had a look at the site you mentioned and found it helpful.
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Reply By: mike39 - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 08:32

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 08:32
If you are considering REAL off road venturing it is a situation where size really does matter. (too large)
Most dealer yards will have several vans of different manufacture which are promoted as a "real off road van"
But if it is 18+' long x 7'6"+ width and full height it sure aint going to go where you may want to.
Its main feature is that it "should" survive long distance travel on the notorious outback corrugations.

Our van is 15' long x 6'6" width, low profile with pop top, long travel independant coil spring suspension and has proved itself in all varying road and off road conditions.
In fact there have been circumstances where we could not tow it, had to unhitch, turn the vehicle round and winch it through.

What you may well find is that a van properly suited to the extreme outback is going to be more capable than your Prado which will suffer a few bumps and knocks. Perhaps some compromise of your expectations is indicated.

Just some more thoughts to add to the mix!
AnswerID: 447741

Follow Up By: Kenmar - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:33

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:33
Thanks Mike. Don't know how one half of the team would cope with extreme outback so was probably looking for ideas to cover lengthy stretches of corigated dirt road and sand dunes.
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 09:16

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 09:16
Maybe you are putting the cart before the horse? Before you settle on a van I think you need to get a better idea of where you want to go and what you want to see. Do you really need a van, or is some sort of camper a better option - depending on how you answer the what and where questions?

There is any amount of wonderful places and treks but many of the better places are off the beaten track and even an off road van may not get you there. Then there are places where even a trailer is not a good idea.

Sure you can go around and never go off bitumen, and if thats what you want then go for it. But you wont see many of the "best bits". Also because of the distances involved leaving the van at a van park and doing day trips doesn't always work either.

There have been a couple of similar threads on here in the last week or so, suggest have a look at them. Also dig into some of the blogs on here that tell you about the places people have been but also have photos to show you the kind of country and road and track conditions that you may face.


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Follow Up By: Kenmar - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:36

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:36
Val we would like to be able to get off the beaten track to some extent. I guess that was the point of my initial question. What do I need to see lots of the "best bits" ?
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 09:51

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 09:51
If you are in a position to spend the extra $, you could opt to buy "rough roads capability" simply to open up more options when choosing your routes. Resale $ for capable, quality vans seems good so you should recoup most of that extra outlay, later. This was my thinking 2 years back on our van project - still happy to date !
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Follow Up By: Kenmar - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:38

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:38
Thanks Darian. Cost is a consideration but having said that I am sure that what we finally spend will far exceed my initial estimate.
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Reply By: John P - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 10:08

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 10:08
Hi Kenmar. We have just done all of the research that you are currently doing. We are travelling Australia with our two kids once our house sells. We want the modern comforts of today, so have settled for a caravan. Deciding on what caravan involved looking at where we wanted to travel and what we wanted to be able to see/explore. We have to get one with bunks so our van will be of reasonable size. We have decided on a 21ft Kedron Top Ender, a full offroad van. My way of thinking was that an onroad/semi-offroad vans are virtually meant for the black top with a little Dirt road driving, ie National Parks. A full off-road van like Kedron or Bushtracker can do both on and off road. Like my wife said, when travelling and you see a sign posting waterfalls, river side camping etc but off road track only, it would be dissapointing not to be able to go and see/stay in these type of places. I am sure there are plenty of them too.

Like you, we went to the Adelaide Caravan Show looking at caravans. There were no Kedrons or Bushtrackers but plenty of semi off-road. There was one that maybe worth a look at Made by Aussie Wide Caravans called the Bundera. They class it as off-road, (I think Semi) but the thing that stood out with these is that they have 5 year warranty covering offroad. Most of your other caravans that they class as offroad only have say 12months warranty and will not cover you if you go offroad. Even though they class it as offroad. They allow you to do a little dirt road and thats about it.

From making the choice of van, we went a head and have choosen a Toyota 76series Landcruiserr for the tow vehicle. Full offroad vans are very heavy because they are built so well/tough to be able to handle offroad. With these you need a least a Landcruiser or F250/350 to be able to tow them.

We have and still are, putting so much time/effort and not to mention money into this trip. We want it to be the time of our lives and something the kids will remember forever and hold all that time with their parents close to their hearts. We have no time restraints and all going well, could be travelling for ever. So with this in mind that is why we settled for a full offroad van knowing that it's gonna stand the test of time.

I think you need to work out what you want to be able to see and where you want to go. From there you can research what type of terrain you will be going over etc. The other thing to consider is if you want to be self sufficient by bush camping or not, Off road vans are set up to do this very well with still being able to have the modern luxurys. I believe that research (and lots of it) is the key. With your Prado, you are limited to what you can tow beacuse of the ratings. Keeping all this in mind, Good luck with it all!! John
AnswerID: 447750

Follow Up By: Kenmar - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:48

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:48
John, Thanks for the detailed reply. Our kids have long gone (although you are never rid of them) and this trip will last for a very long time we hope. We would like to be able to travel to many out of the way places. I realise that we will not be able to attack the truely off road 4 wd country. but would want to more than drive up a dirt road for a few hundred meters in order to access a park.
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Reply By: Crackles - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 10:44

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 10:44
"how many more places/treks I can access with an off road van as opposed to a conventional van"
Ken to put it into some perspective so you can compare, if you consider a well set up 4x4 will go anywhere in Oz then a full offroad camper (eg: TVan) will get to 95%, a small full offroad van (eg: Topaz) will get to 85%, a large offroad van (eg: Pheonix) 70%, a large regular van with offroad pack, 60% or a regular road going van may get to just 40%. This of course is a subjective view which will vary greatly between brands as you'll find at the show, not all are created eaqual.
As has been mentioned, there are places to leave vans so you can day trip some of the remote destinations but in reality most people in this case just bypass these as it's often too much trouble to secure the van. That's fine as there are stll plenty of places to keep you busy on the sealed roads just for me I would find it very frustrating to have driven half way around Oz to be held back by my van for the last 10 km.
If you decide you want to go to Cape York & the Bungles then a light full offroad van will be the go. If happy with areas like Ayres Rock & Kakadu then a road going van will be sufficient.
Cheers Craig.........................
AnswerID: 447752

Follow Up By: Kenmar - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:53

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:53
Some very helpful suggestions Craig. Thank you. I will keep searching/researching and will no doubt become more confused but that is half of the fun is it not.
FollowupID: 720063

Reply By: Member - barbara M (NSW) - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 19:30

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 at 19:30
Hi Kanmar,
You now have lots of info, I suggest you think where you would like to go and work from there, we have gone for a Topaz by Track Trailer as I suffer from insect beites terribly so I decided that I need to be able to get away from the blighters and if the weather is not good I can cook and inside, Think if you need a shower options are an internal but we have gone for an external as we wanted to keep our van small so we vould go anywhere, you just either shower outside if noone else is around or put the ensuite up either way you still have hot shower, this decision needs lots of thought but if you make the wrong decision just sell it as you will most probably not loose any money and your needs may change, I know ours has don't ask me how many vans we have had. We are now kidless so that opens more opportunities
AnswerID: 447787

Reply By: Member - Alastair D (NSW) - Thursday, Mar 10, 2011 at 12:13

Thursday, Mar 10, 2011 at 12:13
My suggestion is to do your homework as you are now and look at many models. Make a best guess and then see if you can hire one for a trip. Many places hire vans & trailers. It would allow you to try it out and get the feel of what it is like to tow a big van over rough tracks. Personally I would base camp with the van and then use a tent if you really want to go into rough areas.

I once came across some folk in a brand new Kedron pulled off the side of a rough track in western NSW. They had freaked out. They felt it was going to roll over in many of the wallows and washaways and take the Prado with it. We stayed the night at the same camp spot and I ended up towing it out for them behind our big heavy LC100. They towed our camper trailer.

They had done a lot of work choosing the van but had never tried towing something like it before buying. I heard from them 6 months later and they had sold the Kedron and bought a hard floor camper trailer.

Good luck.
AnswerID: 447849

Follow Up By: Crackles - Thursday, Mar 10, 2011 at 22:02

Thursday, Mar 10, 2011 at 22:02
You make an excellent point Alastair. While the Kedron looked exactly what they needed going by the brochure & video, they simply didn't have the vehicle or experience to tow it where they wanted to go. Hiring the exact van you want to buy may be all but impossible but travelling with people that have one is the next best thing & was the way I selected the type of camper that suited my needs.
"They had done a lot of work choosing the van"
Perhaps if they'd done a touch more work choosing the van they would have found the Kedron was overloading the Prado. No wonder they were being pushed around.
Cheers Craig................
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Mar 14, 2011 at 00:33

Monday, Mar 14, 2011 at 00:33
Alastair's story shows the wisdom of getting the van first then the tow vehicle to suit.

Also while it may be legal to tow a loaded van heavier than the tow vehicle, if the van gets a wobble up on a loose surface, on the edge when pulling over for an approaching road train or any other reason, the heavier end wins the tug-o-war, which can all too easily result in a roll-over.


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