Melbournians proved they love getting out by turning up in their thousands to the recent Victorian Caravan Camping and Touring Show. Held at the ageing Sandown Racecourse for probably the last time, the show attracted most of the leading lights of the caravan industry as well as a good representation of campers and motorhomes.
Saturday’s post on the event page was telling. The show was sold out, but with a limit of 7800 people at any one time, even those with tickets were advised they might have to wait in a holding area until someone left. Another post suggested that umbrellas were welcome, something I should have heeded when showers on Thursday afternoon cleared the event pretty quickly.
The big crowd numbers and the genuine enthusiasm to check out the displays proved there is no slowing in the converts to a caravanning lifestyle now that overseas travel is still a distant dream.
By all accounts, the punters turned up to the track with open wallets, ready to place their bets on their favourite. Like they have been for the last year, sales were brisk, with some builders suggesting that it’s almost an auction atmosphere as buyers bid for the next available van off the line. It’s clearly not a buyer’s market, and those hoping for a slowdown in sales to bag a bargain later on only see delivery times continue to blow out.
A couple of trends became apparent as we wound our way around the outdoor area of caravan row. The first was the nearly total dominance of offroad and semi-offroad caravans, most of which tipped the scales at the upper end of the 3500kg limit of most tow vehicles. The second was the vast number of family vans — and the significant number of families checking them out.
I also noticed movement to larger single axle tourers. Vans around 18’ with ensuites and north-south beds in the popular rear entry style. It seems there are still couples wanting a simple van but with enough room to spread out for longer times on the road.
We had two days to devote to the caravan side of the show, and it took that long to get around them all, and to check out some of the accessory companies, most of whom were protected from the weather under the main stand. Sorry if we missed any, but it is testament to just how much there was to see.
Melbourne builder Atlantic was represented by Our Van at Rosebud. They displayed their usual range of large tourers as well as a little family van. Without an ensuite, it’s designed for stays in caravan parks, but at only 14’8” long and weighing in at only 1650kg, many smaller cars can move it around. The bunks run across the back, and there’s a compact kitchen. Listed at $49,000, it was among the cheapest on offer across the show.
With 20 caravans and 10 Motorhomes, the stand combined with sister company Golf to showcase over 50 models. They called on dealers from as far away as Queensland to find stock, and I was told sales were up 100% against the same time last year. Models ranged from a diminutive rear entry couples’ hybrid with a fold-out bed at the front through a range of mid-size couples and family vans.
Avan positions itself as a mid-level blacktop tourer with an emphasis on value. Even so, they are stylishly presented and are one of our largest builders.
My pick was the impressive 609HT family van. The message was to bring the bling because it was a special set-up with a slide-out bed, a pop-up television and a roomy club lounge. The crew was taking orders at a $4500 discount of $80,490.
Geelong’s Bellarine Caravans represents Blue Sky Caravans, built in Melbourne with a traditional Meranti frame. With a dozen different models across a range, there are touring and offroad vans to suit various buyers.
The Tundra Extreme is an 18’6” single axle offroader on a G&S chassis with 2.7T Al-Ko Enduro suspension and a helpful array of electrics and equipment. A Tare weight of 2233kg should give a payload of about 450kg, and the $61,340 drive-away price seemed pretty reasonable. A twin axle 20’6” version was available for $71,340. Blue Sky won the 2020 Iveco People Choice for Manufacturer of the year announced at the recent Caravan Industry Association Awards.
With brands like Franklin, Newland and Viscount also under their banner, Concept is one of our major builders. Dirt and formed road vans include the Ascot, Innovation and XTC and the offroad XTS fills out the lineup.
At 22’, the XTS on display will suit a couple demanding plenty of space for their offroad adventure. A roomy club lounge and a well-equipped kitchen will delight the family cook, and there’s plenty of lithium power on tap to keep things running. Tare is 3024kg, so you are left with 462kg of payload at a 3500kg ATM. Both Frankin and Newlands were represented, and they have the same DNA and attractive pricing.
For the less adventurous, the 550XTC is still dirt road capable with an Al-Ko independent suspension. ATM is 2389kg, and the design follows the most popular rear entry rear ensuite with the bed secluded up front. The interior fitout is excellent, demanding an $83,590 price point.
Out of the Queensland-based Apollo factory, Coromal offered up a stylish Adventure Seeker 216 with composite walls and a roller rocker suspension. This family van managed to fit in a north-south parents bed, a suitably sized club lounge and a set of bunks and ensuite into a modern interior. The price was a sharp $75,990.
Crusader recently announced massive expansion plans for their Epping factory as they go from strength to strength in the local market. They brought a wide range of on-road and offroad vans, including one of the smallest adventure vans at the show. The new 13’ CRV Gladiator with independent suspension packs in a compact kitchen, 110L fridge, combination shower/toilet and convertible twin bed/lounge with an infill for a queen.
Tare is 1650kg, and a monster payload can take the ATM to 2700kg if you need it. Price was $57,770.
At the other end of the travel scale, was the on-road 20’ Musketeer Palace extravaganza. It’s a twin bunk van and starts at $74,751 but was packed with options like a larger fridge, awning, toolbox and bigger windows for a total price of a tad under $81,000 drive away.
The new Mica 21’6” Van 7 Club van is a stunning semi offroader that starts at $73,990. Still, their Ballarat dealer had loaded it to the gunwales with extras like scrub bars, anti-sway control, a slide-out kitchen, bigger fridge, lithium batteries, and much more to send the price to $98,990 tow away.
Their latest CRX 161-X offroader brought a north-south bed and a rear bathroom to the range. At 17’, it weighs in at 2300kg and has a price of around $56,000 ready to go.
Elite recently joined NextGen, Victory and Roadhouse as part of the Network RV organisation. Their display on red, white and blue tile flooring was welcome in the rain and looked inviting and fresh. The brand boasts a passionate Owners Club of 688 members with 366 Elite vans between them and a network of 16 dealers across Australia and NZ.
The range is diverse as a very gnarly Dirty Harry 17’6” offroader through to the twin slide-out Palazzo 2160. Extending the bedroom out the rear and the club lounge to the side gives an enormous amount of kitchen and living area. A 42” television adds a new dimension and together with a very impressive lithium and solar pack helps justify the $129,990 price. As you might expect from such a well-equipped van, the Tare is 2987kg for about 500kg payload to the 3500kg ATM. Ball weight was quoted at 350kg.
The Pakenham builder’s range is an impressive variety of campers, poptops and caravans, and they seemed to have one of each in their display. The 1860Re has been a favourite among travellers in rough conditions with its Cruisemaster suspension and sturdy chassis. The east-west front bed adds living space, and it’s light enough for mid-range tugs like the Prado. They had a show special price of $68,990.
The more offroad branch of the Avan empire, Golf had a wide variety of 20 vans on display. They ranged from the tiny 390PT with extender front bed with separate shower and toilet, weighing only 1305 kg and selling at $48,440, to the 650HT. This big family van is a well-equipped semi offroader with Al-ko Enduro suspension and a roomy slide-out club lounge. The base price is $65,790, but I’m told delivery times are out to late 2022.
GREAT AUSSIE CARAVAN
Here’s a brand I hadn’t seen before at a show. It has an extensive range of semi and offroad vans with a choice of timber, aluminium or composite frames. The Tribal Tourer 216 is an excellent use of space with a north-south bed, a roomy club lounge and a set of bunks at the back opposite a long ensuite. The Tribal Xplora version is a full offroader with a choice of independent suspension and a heavy-duty chassis. The aluminium frame version is $80,982, which seems excellent value. With so many variations of build, layout and options, the brand is a real custom builder that takes a very refreshing approach to building vans to your needs and budget.
Built at Somerton north of Melbourne, Hilltop is a traditional timber frame van and was represented by Sundowner RV at Dingley. The vans on show were raised profile aluminium, and models were themed on mountain names. The single axle Jindabyne looked good value at $59,600, and the leaf-sprung Grampian 22 boasted a monster bathroom and plenty of bench space and a sticker price of $73,900.
Melbourne builder Lagoon sells directly from their Campbellfield factory, and their offroad 22’ Family Heaven looked a winner with chequered flag graphics. Riding on a Road Runner chassis with Austrail independent suspension, the van is composite cladding over a Meranti frame. Tare is 2400kg, and the 500kg payload takes the ATM to 2900kg to keep it Prado-friendly. The price of $65,990 puts it in a very competitive field for a family offroader.
Marketed as Supreme’s exclusive range, Leader had a good selection of medium size blacktop wanderers and an 1860 single axle dirt roader. See a trend here?
The Gold LE 21’ came in dark grey raised profile aluminium and black checkerplate over a timber frame, and despite the rugged livery, it was your typical couple’s van for formed roads due to its roller rocker leaf spring suspension. The interior looked upmarket, and it had the standard front bed rear ensuite layout with the door down the back. $74,173 will get you on the road, and tare hit 2428kg.
The Lotus team came out swinging with a huge array of dirt road and offroad vans under a monster blue big top and a large swathe of black and white flooring. The vans are impressive, from the logo cut into the G&S truss chassis right to the single-piece roofline. Like many of the vans on the Lotus stand, the Crystal River was priced in the mid-$130k range. But at 23’9” and with every conceivable option, it’s little wonder. The big van is 3125kg without any payload and weighs in at 4T when loaded, so you will need a heavy-duty tow vehicle.
Seven vans in the Majestic offering looked neat and well-priced. They had also discovered the appeal of the 18’6” single axle van with a rubber torsion bar sprung version at a tempting $68,590.
Sydney builder Millard braved it to the Victorian show with a few aluminium framed vans of note. The 20’2” Toura Bunk van had Cruisemaster CRS independent suspension for some limited dirt roading, and it was well equipped with a big fridge, solar, twin bunks and a washing machine. You also get an external kitchen, and a family-friendly 950kg payload on the 2550 ATM. Price was $76,990.
Catering for a simpler lifestyle was the M-Flow 1760 at $57,990 with a rear ensuite and a front bed on a leaf spring suspension,
MOUNTAIN TRAIL RV
Aiming to rival the more established offroad brands, Mountain Trail has grown from an innovative camper trailer builder to a real force at the top end of the adventure market.
They brought a representative range of their composite built vans which vary between 15’ and 22’.
I liked the look of the LXV 5.7, which at 18’7”, packs a lot into an impressively modern interior that includes a north south queen bed, a compact ensuite and comfortable seating. Look forward to a full review in a coming issue.
The Campbellfield builder has a fleet of 11 offroad models from a 17’6” couples van through to a 24’ quad bunk van.
The smallest model took my attention as a good value prospect for couples with a show special of $63,990, a saving of $3000. It featured 2.7T Tuffride independent suspension and a twin solar and battery pack.
A twin axle 19’6” version seemed even better value at $67,990. Its muted caramel and light timber interior looked exceptionally stylish, and again there was a handy electronics pack.
A few years back, Nova walked away from timber frames to start using composite aluminium, foam and ply walls to construct their vans. We liked the look of their 20’ Family Escape van with a north-south bed and bunks and ensuite down the back for $73,990.
Prolific builder New Age had a big range, including the new 18’ Road Owl pop-top that fits in their entry-level range. At 2100kg, it will be a good option for smaller tow vehicles and easy to store in a shed with a low roof. The van features a tandem roller rocker suspension that can be upgraded for semi offroad use and a set of bunks as well as a compact toilet. Starting at $49,990 for a standard version, the van can be upgraded for dirt road and off-grid use for $62,490.
Simply Caravans has a network of dealerships across northern Victoria. They consistently attend shows, and champion the Campbellfield-built Red Centre aluminium framed caravans, which seem both well-made and keenly priced.
Typical was their Kimberley 20’8” rear door van, clad in an aluminium composite. Three 170w solar panels, twin 120ah batteries, an Al-Ko independent suspension and an ATV 100mm chassis with 100mm riser all look the goods. Pricing at $80,490 seems pretty competitive, and the 2080 Tare weight reflects innovative thinking.
There was a lot of interest in the new Retreat building process with their RXP wall construction that uses Italian sourced polyurethane in place of timber. Voids are then filled with foam insulation for a rot-free structure. The new ERV all-electric van with the chassis-mounted 48v battery was on show, and we have lined up a full review for the near future.
Exclusive to Melbourne City Caravans to accompany their Salute brand, Provincial Caravans have three models of timber frame offroad vans. We liked the look of the 21’ Liberty that exuded an upmarket image and a spacious luxury interior with a club lounge and beautifully appointed bathroom. Tare weight starts at 2700kg, depending on options, so it will need a decent tow vehicle, but payload should be around 750 kg. Show price was $87,990.
River Caravans began in 2010 at Somerton and build a boutique range of Meranti frame customisable vans in both on and offroad versions. They had six vans on display.
The 20’ Diamantina is a couple’s touring van in the popular rear door front bedroom layout. A show special price of $71,990 was a saving of over $5000. Tare weight came in at 2360kg, and with a payload of 840kg, the ATM worked out at around 3200kg. Ball weight was 140kg.
Their offroad single axle Dominator was another of the growing number of 18’6” single axle mid door vans, but this time with a 2800kg Simplicity independent coil suspension. Two 150w solar panels feed a 100ah lithium battery, the 274L compressor fridge is a sensible size for extended travel. Tare was 2360kg with about 400kg load capacity. Show special price was $74,990; that sounds good with the expensive electrics.
Northern Caravan Centre at Bundoora represented the Royal Flair brand with a dozen varied models. Looking around the display, I got the impression that innovative designs seem to flow out of this Campbellfield factory at a rate of knots.
The Best Aussie Vans winning Piazza with the fold-down front verandah was wowing flocks of show-goers at $116,790, but at 2937 tare weight, it’s not the lightest van on display. It might be the most luxurious and well thought out. Like a lot of vans in the Royal Flair stable, it features a drop-down bed over a club lounge to allow versatile use of space.
A standout was the Razor 16’6” full offroader with a combination shower and toilet and the lifting bed over the rear club lounge that packed in an uncanny amount of space. Price was $99,389 but included a suite of Enerdrive electrics and a hefty chassis and suspension.
Trounce Caravans from Ballarat had the versatile Safari array of vans on display, and they seem to be the exclusive dealer. Riding on a roller rocker leaf spring suspension, the van is clad in composite aluminium over a timber frame. The rear club lounge in the Delta 226 is genuine leather, and it’s typical of the fine finish inside the van. Layout included a central bathroom that offers good separation of the bedroom and a very workable kitchen space. Tare weight was quoted as 2190kg and ATM at 2540kg, which seems relatively light for such a large van. Price at the show was $70,990.
Melbourne City Caravans represented Salute, and they had a range of Meranti frame offroad and semi offroad vans from the Somerton builder. I thought the 19’6” Garrison clad in white composite with silver checkerplate looked stunning, but the star of the show was a Governor Unlimited. At 22’, the family van was a full offroader with a hefty Tare weight of 2850kg and an ATM at 3500kg.
I liked the centre ensuite layout and the decent size kitchen, and the airbag suspension. Driveaway price is $96,990.
Flying somewhat under the radar, Silver Valley caravans came from a family-owned business in Craigieburn and was represented by Escape RV. I liked the look of the 19’6” Yarra, a front entry, front bed van with café dinette and a good size rear ensuite. Aluminium cladding over a Meranti frame keeps the weight as low, and Tare is 2134kg. Payload is a generous 800kg, and it was selling at $61,490.
Supreme has been around for 35 years, which places them amongst our longest-running brands. I’m told they were pioneers in offroad vans in this country. The current range includes both touring and nuggety adventure vans.
The 15’6” Territory should appeal to couples looking for a minimalist, easy tow van to get into secluded places. Sitting on a Road King chassis with Cruisemaster 2800kg XT suspension, it weighed in at 2094 kg, giving a respectable 600kg payload. Including a full-width shower and toilet, a bench style dinette, and a small kitchen is clever design. Price is $76,239.
For a similar price, you could get into their 20’6” Executive, which with leaf springs is definitely not an offroader but would make a great touring van if you wanted to keep to formed roads.
The aluminium frame Urban is getting a lot of attention amongst the offroad set. They had an impressive display, including their standout yellow Armorlite hybrid on a truss chassis with 2.7T trailing arm suspension. With a 2m width for getting down narrow tracks, it weighs 1871kg and a payload of over 800kg. Not everyone will like the east-west bed, but the littlest Urban could be an option for those wanting to attempt real offroading. Price is $77990.
Designed as a semi offroad van, the Vacationer Rough rider 209C has a modern angled exterior and an aluminium frame under a composite exterior. It has decent solar and battery power and rides on AL-KO suspension. Tare weight is 2698kg, and it’s priced at $86,980.
Also from Apollo, Windsor showed up with some independent rubber torsion suspended vans with composite bodies. The single axle 176RD has the popular rear door, front bed layout with a proper ensuite across the back. It’s another one for those impressed by light and small vans, weighing in at 1800kg when empty. Cost is $61,990.
The Genesis 220 is a 22’ 7” family van that’s both light and roomy. Tare weight is 2275kg which is impressive when you consider the club lounge, rear bunks and bathroom and the east-west queen bed up front.
Alphabetically last but one of my favourites, Wonderland had their build process on display in a scale model. These vans use a matrix of structural grade ply for their walls, but they also unveiled the first of their new vans with a one-piece composite roof and honeycomb floor, which saves weight and is much stronger. The van uses the new ALKO Enduro X independent suspension and a lighter Roadking chassis, all in the name of getting weight out of the van.
Family vans have long been a hallmark of the brand, and all six vans on display were bunk van of various lengths. A new 21’ van featured a redesign for twin tunnel boots, one of which was large enough for larger items like surfboards.
The interior design of Wonderland vans is always a treat, and the white and subtle timber colours of the big bunk van looked most appealing. The new 2100 is priced at $105,000 — good value when you look at the build quality.