Advice need on suitable retirement van/tow vehicle to travel around Australia

Submitted: Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 20:27
ThreadID: 96918 Views:6112 Replies:11 FollowUps:1
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I am new to this forum and caravanning but am starting to think about caravan travel as my wife and I approach retirement. We have had done the camping thing with young children in a 60 series Landcruiser up to Cape York and other Queensland destinations in our younger years and currently have a Prado 2005 petrol to tow our 1.5 tonne boat/trailer. All our working life we have talked about travelling around Australia (not necessarily in one go) and as a part of our retirement financial planning are trying to work out the type/size of caravan and towing vehicle to suit our requirements. Based on my reading of forums and articles I think we have the following needs:

• A full height caravan so that we can pull over and eat drink through the day in comfort, less setup/pull down time and warmer in colder destinations/times of year

• A separate shower and toilet (full ensuite) so that that there is more privacy and a dry location for dressing and toiletry requirements

• A reasonable dirt road/off road ability so that we can see most of what Australia has to offer but don’t expect to tackle terrain as shown in the Kedron/Gall Boy videos (

• If possible able to be towed by a Toyota Prado but would consider going to a Toyota Landcruiser if more practical/fuel efficient

• As we live in Far North Queensland it may be more convenient to deal with Queensland companies/dealers but have been led to believe that if that if one is looking for a 2nd hand van that down South e.g. Sydney has more to offer

I welcome your opinion on a suitable caravan/towing vehicle to suit our needs
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Reply By: Motherhen - Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 22:17

Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 22:17
Although you have given some ideas of what you want, there are still many unanswered questions. We all choose very different rigs to suit our tastes and needs, and the best one for you is the one that you both like.

You are dragging around just a bedroom and a bathroom - the whole of Australia will be your living areas. Personally i think to smaller you can do this with the better - so do not favour a separate shower and toilet, as nice as they look, unless it is your sole home.

I agree with a full height van and having an on board bathroom. I also have always been keen on solar power.

If looking either new or second hand - consider anywhere in Australia to get what you want. The cost will be a small part of the purchase.


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AnswerID: 491112

Reply By: splits - Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 23:10

Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 23:10

I agree with Motherhen regarding size. I have seen questions like yours in the Q and A sections of caravan magazines and the answer is always choose the smallest van that will meet your needs.

Other points are don't stretch the tow car to its limits. Choose a van that is below its maximum towing capacity in order to give it something in reserve. The maximum advertised towing capacity of cars is usually the maximum possible in good highway conditions. It should be reduced on rougher surfaces.

If you want to be able to stop anywhere overnight then make sure the van has not been designed to be connected to all the services in a caravan park and is not much use outside one.

If you are thinking of large heavy vans then read through the links below. It is not how much the van weighs, it is where the weight is located in it that matters. The last two links show a couple of the far too many caravan accidents that occur each year. Having a good idea of how some big vans can behave in certain conditions may stop it happening to you. Note the comments below the first one.
AnswerID: 491115

Reply By: Member - Toyocrusa (NSW) - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 07:05

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 07:05
Hi.The other two replies advocate smaller and lighter. I would look at what you require in the areas of sleeping, eating and showering/toilet. We are two 66 year olds and for us it worked out to be a 22ft van with a separate shower/ toilet ensuite. The van also has a slide out bed. The layout we have (front kitchen,dining,bed and rear bathroom) has been very practical, easy to keep clean and a pleasure to live in even in the few wet times we have experienced.I looked for a good 2nd hand van for 12mths and our one came up in SA (we are in NSW) at 5mths old and $12K under the sellers purchase price. It is near the maximum tow limit of our 05 Prado but in over 15000km of towing it has been extremely stable in all conditions,Wet,Windy,Animals and Dirt Roads and the Prado has handled it without any problems apart from fuel(petrol) consumption. I would look at Diesel next for a tow vehicle, possibly a 150 Prado. Cheers,Bob
AnswerID: 491122

Reply By: Member - John and Lynne - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 11:00

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 11:00
An on board bathroom is a great thing, especially if you want to get Outback, away from caravan parks and public facilities. For dirt roads you need a decent clearance and sturdy build - check how well the cupboards and other fittings are built and attached to the frame. Full height will be much more convenient and comfortable in all weather, especially cold. For long trips you will need reasonable storage space but beware of carrying too much stuff - there are shops almost everywhere! Solar power is great and it is best installed during manufacture. You need to chose between a compressor and a 3 way fridge - each has its good points. A compressor fridge will require a more elaborate solar system. We live in Queensland and chose a Qld manufacturer for our current van so we could deal directly with the factory and this has worked for us. As Motherhen said, if buying secondhand you need to be prepared to go anywhere for what you want.
Several m anufacturers are now building vans for people like you (and us) who want to get off the highways and away from caravan parks without looking for extreme conditions. ((The Kedron boys have a manitenance team tagging along and they don't have to pay for repairs!) We have found our Sunland Patriot to be excellent for comfort with rough dirt road capability and an excellent warranty and back up service! If you option it up with extra water tanks, more solar etc it might become a bit heavy for a Prado.
Enjoy your search. Lynne
AnswerID: 491131

Follow Up By: Member - Wamuranman - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 19:10

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 19:10
Yes I agree with Lynne.
WE are on our first trip after picking up our new Sunland Patriot 6 weeks ago. A very good van that tows well (cruise master independent coil suspension with 8 shock absorbers) and is not as heavy as some other off road vans but will equal them in every aspect.
If you can afford it have aloof at the Sunland Blue Heeler or Winton models. We had to resort to the "poverty pack" Patriot SE !!!! But we are very happy with what we will last us for decades.
FollowupID: 766598

Reply By: Gerard B2 - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 14:50

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 14:50
Hi Scottie
We have had off road ultimate camper , selling soon and getting their new nautilus camper which tick all the boxes for us . check them out and all the others before the big decision is made, good luck
AnswerID: 491144

Reply By: Member - Bruce C (NSW) - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 17:51

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 17:51
Hi Scottee,

I think you are spot on with your requirements there.

In 2006 I was thinking of updating our old van which we had owned for 35 years and was a little worse for wear and my brother advised me to get one with a loo on board. I said why?

He explained that in 84 when he did the centre that he had left Alice Springs early evening and was heading north. He drove for as long as he could before pulling over to camp for the night just off the road about 20 metres or more and set up the campervan (half canvas, half caravan) and went to bed. When he woke the following morning his eyes were bobing, so to speak, so he got up and dived out of the van and to his dismay he was surrounded by people who had done the same thing. Not a tree in sight.

So you see, on board loos have an advantage.

Like Toyocruiser (Gidday Bob) we have updated to a 23 footer and just love the extra comfort it provides. It is not everybodys cup of tea but it sure suits us. It has all the things you are looking for. A 21 footer will have them as well so look for what you have suggested and want and you will not go wrong nor will you be dissatisfied.

At our age (66) we are built for comfort, not for speed. LOL

See you on the road Scottee,
Cheers, Bruce.
At home and at ease on a track that I know not and
restless and lost on a track that I know. HL.

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AnswerID: 491156

Reply By: Member - Wamuranman - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 18:55

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 18:55
Hi Scottee,

Yes go for the full van with ensuite. You will appreciate it to no end.
Many of the free camps are simply roadside stops and many have smelly toilets, have run out of water for flushing etc. etc. Some are very unhygienic (there are some that are quite clean and good as well). But there is nothing like your own private ensuite to use. Dump points are everywhere to empty the cassette. Also thing about a small 2.2kg washing machine in ensuite. My wife thinks this is the best part of our new van - she can't stop washing something every time we stop!
Many manufacturers are now using new sandwich panel which can make the van lighter (but still robust).
Our 20ft 6 in van with full ensuite, 2 water tanks, solar panels etc etc has a tare of just over 2000kg (ours has fibreglass and sandwich panel construct).

You have probably worked hard all your a little indulgence. Don't compromise ...get all the luxuries (necessities ?) that you can afford. But definitely get a full van and full ensuite.

If you can get to Brisbane area the top 5 van manufacturers are all located within about 100km -- Kedron, Bushtracker, Spinifex, Sunland, Phoenix. Do a factory tour of each with the same list of questions. It will be worth the travel expense to make a wise choice.

Best tow vehicle available in my opinion is the 200 series Landcuiser (inter cooled twin turbo V8 diesel). A very comfortable and powerful vehicle that will tow your new van with ease.

Good luck and happy caravanning.
AnswerID: 491161

Reply By: PeterInSa - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 19:51

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 19:51
We have a Sat dish mounted on the front of our caravan, if buying a new van again would look at having a roof mounted Sat dish, ensure the van has all LED lights and an LED TV/DVD running on 12v, Have the sola cabling to the roof, even if you are goung to install it yourself, ditto the cabling for a reversing camera.

And if you are going to do a fair amount of free/bush camping i would suggest a 3 way Frig.

If possible have similar tyres on your van to the Tug.

Re MH's comment about separate shower we have a shower/loo and more cupboard space, but I am the one who has to wipe domn the shower after use, its a bu.... Having said that it suit us. However for resale purposes I believe a separate ensuite with w/Machine would be easier to sell and at a better price.

To me with a Prado you are limited to a 20ft van with a good chassis for a bit of travel off the Tar. Of course you need to check the ATM etc of the proposed van.

It may pay to deal with a Vic Van manufacturer/dealer, have come across a number of WA vanners who buy in Vic and travel across to pick up there vans. With more competition, these mexicans may give you a better price on a great van.

AnswerID: 491165

Reply By: Member - Broodie H3 - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 20:14

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 20:14
We went through the exercise about five years ago in Perth, it took us two years to find the van that we now own a 23ft Roadstar 1996 model, good van separate toilet and shower,can't complain about it , we have thought of upgrading her to a newer model, but for why we have everything the new vans have. and I agree you do need the full van, as most of our friends had pop tops but have all gone over to full vans now. When we're all out together it is a hoot to think of the problems they used to have with wet canvas and packing them away. As for a towing vehicle we now have a Nissan pathfinder ti550. 3.5.tonne towing capacity. the van weights 2.6 tonne fully loaded. averaged 14.9 l/hklm on our recent trip to lake Eyre and Back. we traded our Toyota Hilux as it did not have the required towing capacity and we didn't want to go into a land cruiser. Hope this helps
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AnswerID: 491166

Reply By: graham B9 - Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 21:48

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012 at 21:48
Hi Scottie,
I have been living in a combination of caravans and motorhomes since 2006 and done the lap around the country 2 years ago. They were sprinter motorhome, 19ft lotus, 22.5 ft Kedron and a 25ft Retreat. So here are some thoughts:

Biggest problems travelling around Australia are water and power. The killers of camping. Both also add lots of weight to your caravan but make life much easier.

Water is very heavy but water tanks are not. So have water capacity of at least 300 litres but the ability to isolate the tanks and fill and drain individualy and quickly. (go and look at a kedron for this). Use snap on connectors for filling.

Solar panels are best for power and the new panels are much better and lighter.

You do not need anything bigger than 18.5 ft now with the new designs. Bigger is weight and weight is fuel and this is money and this means less places to go and see.

You needs to be able to control the van on the Pacific Hy in a rain storm while passing a B double going the opposite direction. This is my judge for a towing vehcile. Can your tow vehicle cruise while towing the van at 95Km at 2100 revs of lower on flat level sealed highway.

Never get a slide out. Lots of weight, sealing problems and reduces storage.

Make certain the carvan suspension has shock absorbers as a min. Independent is better but heavier and costs more as well. Air bag suspension is the very best. Crusiematers is good as well. Google vehicle components and look at their you tube videos as this will explain all this.

Buy second hand and not new. It is not like a car. Most van owners are retired people that are dropping like flies these days (I am a retired person so I understand). They look after their vans and sell for a fraction of the new price while still being almost new.

You might want to have a look at a River as my friend uses a Prado to tow his and it is a good van.

Good luck
AnswerID: 491172

Reply By: Upo - Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 18:39

Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 18:39
We hava a 22 ft Supreme with full ensuite and washing machine, east / west bed and full width wardrobe across the front. SWMBO loves it and it will be home for a few years shortly. The bed is raised which makes storage there much more functional. Slide-out pantry is also worth getting. It has standard roller suspension and we tow it with the new BT50. At 90 - 95 km/h we get 16 - 17 litres per 100 km and don't know it is there. The BT 50 is one hell of a tow vehicle and a lot cheaper than a 200 Landcruiser.
Enjoy the search.
AnswerID: 491251

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