For those of you who have been lucky enough to get your teeth really stuck into outback travel, you have no doubt encountered the venerable spinifex grasses of our remote regions. Now, there are two main kinds of spinifex in Australia: an older, harder form suited to our arid environments; and a softer form, which can be found in our more tropical climates. Regardless of species, spinifex is well adapted to thrive in some of the harshest habitats this country has to offer.
After hitching the 2019 SpinifeX EpiX up behind the 200 Series LandCruiser of owner Steve Thompson at the Deception Bay HQ of SpinifeX Caravans, and chatting with him on our way to Bribie Island, it didn't take me long to realise just why he had chosen SpinifeX as the name for his brand of caravans. Just like that spiky plant of Central Australia, SpinifeX Caravans are built tough and durable to handle the best, and worst, of this great brown land.
Thompson, in his own words, is “not a van park person” and this basic premise is echoed throughout all of the designs in the SpinifeX Range. SpinifeX only makes offroad vans. Always have. Always will. They are meant to be towed down the corrugations of the Tanami Desert, ford the Pentecost River in the Kimberley and tackle the alpine tracks of the Victorian High Country. These vans are designed and built to be taken off the beaten track.
Like all of the vans from the SpinifeX stable, the EpiX Premier that we're dragging through the soft sand of the inland tracks of Bribie Island, is a full custom build. After 12 years in the business, there are a few starting layouts to choose from, but then it is up to you what goes where and what it looks like. From the colour of the leather upholstery to the Cruisemaster suspension, there are options galore to fine tune your home on wheels to just how you want it.
GET OUT THERE, STAY OUT THERE
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but in my opinion there is no sense in having a van built for our harshest of tracks (which normally aren't within an hour of our capital cities!) if you can't stay out there for more than a couple of days. Enter stage left, the EpiX Premier. If ever there was a van built for staying off-grid, then this would go pretty close to the top of the pecking order.
First up, let's talk about water. We all know that we can't survive without it, so it makes pretty good sense to carry a few litres if you're heading to the outback.
Lucky for you, the EpiX Premier is the Burdekin Dam of caravans. Over five tanks, it holds 415L of the wettest stuff around, of which there's 83L of potable water with its own filter system and pump. The other four individually plumbed 83L tanks look after your showering needs and have a separate pump and easy-change manifold system conveniently located beneath the fridge. The tanks are also fitted with their own LED gauges to keep an eye on how much water you have left. Another 83L tank takes care of your grey water requirements.
Taking a leaf out of the marine world, (yes, Steve is also a bit of a fisho!) the EpiX Premier utilises a Thetford macerating toilet. Now, as I see it, there are both pros and cons with this type of system.
In the pros column, you have a 150L capacity black tank meaning that you can go a lot longer between stops at a dump point to drop off your waste. There are also no chemicals, so if you have a septic system at home, you can simply attach the dump hose and open up the ball valve and hey presto, waste emptied. The black tank also has its own built-in flushing system for giving it a thorough clean out once you get home.
As for the cons, it's the weight of that big tank (marine grade 4mm aluminium), and then the weight of what goes in it!
Just because we go off-grid, it doesn't necessarily mean that we don't want to stay connected to the rest of the world. We need to keep our phones and tablets charged, or post a pic to Instagram to make sure all of our friends stay insanely jealous of our outback adventures. Well, this van can do all of that and then some. It boasts 540Ah! Yep you did read right, 540Ah of lithium battery power. This is backed up by 600W of solar power which is fed through a Victron MPPT digital solar regulator complete with an internal display. There's also a combined Victron 2000Ah inverter/80A charger with an internal remote plus a Redarc BCDC1240 DC/DC charger to look after the batteries while driving. Extending the range of your mobile signal in remote locations, the EpiX Premier is also fitted with a Cell-Fi-Go unit.
UNDER AND OUT(SIDE)
So we've worked out that once you get out there, you can hang around for a while and check out all the sights. But just exactly what is it that gets you there? It all starts with the chassis. If this isn't up to scratch, then all the batteries and solar in the world aren't going to help you.
The chassis needs to be strong, and no compromises have been made in this department. I was lucky enough to get a look inside the fabrication workshop of SpinifeX Caravans and watched one of its tradespeople welding up a new chassis, not long after it had been taken off the master jig. Made from 150mm single beam lightweight hot-dipped galvanised 350-grade Australian Bluescope steel, which incorporates the extended A-frame and heavy-duty single rear bar with twin wheel carriers, the SpinifeX chassis are built to take a hiding. The SpinifeX of our test unit can be plated with an ATM of between 3.5t and 4.4t, depending on the vehicle being used to tow it. So, I guess that rules out the new Jimny?
Sitting on top of the chassis is a one-piece, resin-infused composite floor, which adds considerable strength without adding extra weight to the build. Fully interlocking, lightweight aluminium framing is used for the walls and roof, with 30mm polyboard insulation being fitted to all cavities prior to your choice of external cladding being added. A new offering from SpinifeX for 2019, is the 'Whisper Grey' gloss fibreglass cladding as seen on our test van. Don't worry, they still do gloss white for all you traditionalists out there!
Completing the tough, go-anywhere look of the EpiX, is the powdercoated black aluminium checkerplate running around the bottom section of the van. Apart from looking pretty cool, it does have a practical role to play as well.
Keeping the van from misbehaving behind the tow vehicle, is the XT Cruisemaster independent load-sharing airbag suspension with twin shocks on each wheel. The XT system provides you with the ability to adjust either manually or automatically, depending on the load or campsite conditions. As an added bonus, an on-board compressor and storage tank allows for an air hose to be attached for easy tyre inflation. Depending on your tow vehicle, a range of rims and tyres can be sourced to match. Our van was shod with 285/70 R17 BFG all-terrains wrapped around five stud 17in alloy rims to match the 200 series LandCruiser.
Up front on that extended A-frame, the first thing that catches your eye is the massive shade cloth stone deflector, angled downwards to try to minimise the chances of errant rocks ricocheting into the back window of the tow vehicle. Keeping you connected to your tow rig is the Hitch-Ezy 5T fully articulating offroad hitch, while a Hopkins breakaway cable system and heavy-duty safety chains are fitted for worst case scenarios. A HD handbrake and 2t slimline jack are also fitted up front, along with the Hydrastar hydraulic actuator brake pump.
Hiding behind the stoneguard are two jerry can holders, twin 9kg gas cylinders, the nine litre tank for the diesel heater, a water tap and a large powdercoated black storage box. Extra reinforcement is also fitted to the bottom of the A-frame for those sharper creek crossing entries and exits.
As you would expect, available space is well utilised with dust-proof doors opening to reveal all manner of storage compartments and service hatches. In the nose of the van, twin lockers house the bank of lithium batteries, along with the associated chargers, inverter, regulator and fuses. At the front on the road side of the van, a small hatch with slide-out tray is designed to take up to a 2.2kVA Honda generator. Still on the road side towards the rear, you'll find the multiple filling points for water, service hatch for the toilet and a 240V socket if you ever get lost and find yourself in a caravan park.
At the back of the vehicle, behind the twin spare tyres, in what would normally be dead space, a full-width aluminium checkerplate storage box resides.
On our test van it stored the awning arms and spreader bars, but would be equally well suited for your camp chairs and table, or even a couple of fishing rods.
On the offside of the van, there are two marine-carpeted boxes with full-length slide-outs. The smaller of the two is designed for a 32L Engel, while the larger drawer would make a perfect location for an outdoor barbecue. With the fold-down lifestyle table right beside, you've got the makings of a great little external kitchen.
An AV locker houses not only the external controls for the Fusion sound system and an adjustable TV mount, but also the TV antenna connections, both 12V and 240V sockets, but also the Cruisemaster airbag controls, making levelling up the van a breeze. A massive Aussie Traveller Sunburst roll-out awning protects you from the elements at the end of the day.
THE INSIDE STORY
When it's time to head inside, a simple manual pull-out step is there to offer a hand. Or should that be foot? Upon entering your mobile palace, you'll notice the striking colour scheme used throughout. Going for an industrial look, the team at SpinifeX have used a lot of black: black cupboard doors, black leather lounge, black powerpoints and brushed black tapware and sinks. There's no gloss anywhere. Hard-wearing faux timber vinyl flooring has been used, along with laminate benchtops and splashbacks. As with every SpinifeX, it's up to you how you choose to decorate your van's interior, with Steve telling me that there has definitely been a shift over the past couple of years to the more modern finishes.
For all of you budding masterchefs out there, you'll be happy to know there's not much more you could want for in this kitchen layout. While not the biggest, it definitely punches well above its weight. For starters, there's plenty of natural light provided by a large window directly above the bench, which offers ample prep space.
Hiding beneath a fold-up section in the bench is the cooktop, consisting of one electric hotplate and three gas burners. There's even a wok attachment for the gas burner! Underneath the hotplates, there's a grill and oven for a Sunday roast.
With more drawers and a large cupboard underneath the benchtop, you'll have more than enough room for your pots and pans. A full-height pantry is located at the entry door, and the 230L fridge-freezer is within easy reach.
Overhead cupboards house the rangehood and microwave, and provide even more storage, as well as hiding the control box for the satellite TV. Speaking of TV, an adjustable wall mount is located at the end of the bench, allowing for the 32in TV to be viewed from almost anywhere inside.
Behind the kitchen is the generous C-shaped lounge area. Large enough to seat four, the comfy leather couch quickly converts to a double bed by lowering the adjustable table. Just the perfect spot for the grandkids when on tour with Gran and Pops. Hidden behind the flip-up leg rests beneath the seats are two more drawers.
To make sure your batteries don't go flat, 12V cigarette sockets and twin USB ports are located under the seats. Above the lounge/dining area, overhead cupboards provide even more storage, as well as housing the control panel for the hot water system, stereo and 12V monitoring.
Moving through the kitchen/dining area, you come to the business end of the van where the island-style queen bed takes pride of place. I would have loved to have had this van for a bit longer, as the pillow top innerspring mattress was just crying out for a full test run! Either side of the bed you'll find a handy little table, a small drawer and a tall cupboard. Making use of every last ounce of space, overhead cupboards above the bedhead provide even more storage for your clothes. Each side of the bed gets their own LED reading light as well as a twin powerpoint above the bedside table. For extra convenience, the control panel for the diesel heater is also located next to the bed. No need to get out from under your toasty doona on those chilly desert nights in this van! For those nights when you find yourself in the tropics in the middle of summer, a pair of Sirocco 12V fans will keep the chilled air from the IBIS 4 air-conditioning unit circulating throughout the van.
Just in case you still need more storage, at the foot of the bed there are two more deep drawers. Conveniently, the bed can be raised with the assistance of a pair of gas struts. It's in here that you will find the extra cushion to convert the lounge into a double bed, as well as a dedicated storage space for the TV whilst in transit.
Down the back of the van and running across its entire width is the ensuite bathroom. Complete with its own shower cubicle, toilet and vanity unit, here is where you will also find the 4kg front-loading washing machine. Conserving as much water as possible at shower time, the EpiX Premier is fitted with a Truma Aqua Go Instantaneous hot water heater. Just like the rest of the van, the ensuite has been finished in the same colour scheme and once again, there is storage a plenty.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Twelve years ago, SpinifeX was born, and in that time it has grown from a small company producing a handful of vans a year to now cracking the half century every 12 months. With a range that now includes compact pop-top vans and all the way up to the big 24-footers, its design philosophy has never waived. The team just want to build the best offroad vans for the Aussie market and provide exceptional customer service at the same time. It is your 'one stop shop' when it comes to purchasing your new van. The crew will even help you out with purchasing your new tow vehicle and setting it up so it'll tow your van just right.
Offroad, off-grid caravan
Massive water/battery capacity
Three-year Australia-wide warranty
Would love to see an external barbecue
A big van needs a big vehicle to tow it
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 9.19m (30ft 2in)
External body length 6.32m (20ft 9in)
External body width 2.34m (7ft 8in)
Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Internal height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Payload Can range from 500kg to 1400kg dependant upon tow vehicle rating
Ball weight 180kg
Frame Interlocking C section aluminium
Cladding 'Whisper Grey' gloss fibreglass for the external walls and roof
Chassis Hot-dipped fully galvanised chassis
Suspension Tandem-axle, XT Cruisemaster fully independent load-sharing airbag suspension with twin shocks
Coupling Hitch-Ezy 5T fully articulating 4X4
Brakes 12in electric hydraulic disc brakes
Wheels 285/70 R17 BFG all-terrain tyres on 17in five-stud alloy rims
Water 5x83L (1x potable, 4x non-potable); 1x83L (grey water)
Battery 540Ah lithium battery system
Solar 4x150W with Victron MPPT solar regulator
Air-conditioner Air-command Ibis 4
Sway control N/A
Kitchen Durable laminate over marine-grade ply
Cooking Swift stove (3x gas burner, 1x electric hotplate), oven and grill with automatic ignition
Fridge Upright Vitrifrigo 230L
Microwave Camec 20L
Bathroom Ensuite with separate shower/toilet/vanity
Washing machine Camec front-load 4kg
Hot water Truma Aqua Go Instantaneous
Oyster automatic satellite system with VAST satellite TV box; front and rear aluminium storage boxes; macerating toilet
Price as shown $163,995
To enquire about this caravan, please phone (07) 3888 2221