Forget what you’ve heard: size doesn’t matter! Please allow me to momentarily digress...
It’s documented that bees can carry their own weight in pollen while flying; ants can lift 40 times their own bodyweight; and spider webs, weight-for weight, are five times stronger than steel.
OK, that might be enough from the ‘Ministry of Useless Information’.
Enter the 4.3m (14ft 1in) Trakmaster Pilbara Explorer — a diminutive dynamo that is small in stature but big in heart!
The ‘tale of the tape’ reveals this offroad pop-top is one of the smallest and lightest members of Trakmaster’s ‘Pilbara’ family.
Once again, don’t let size deceive you! The Explorer certainly punches well above its 1880kg Tare weight.
Amazingly, it packs a similar offroad thwack to its bigger and bulkier siblings such as the Simpson, Flinders Series, Pilbara Extreme and Pilbara S Series.
We towed the Explorer with a Mazda BT-50 through the Yarra Ranges… And let me simply say, it’s born and bred for exhilarating exploration!
And with an ATM of 2450kg, the Explorer also appeals to the mid-size SUV market.
The Explorer also has a handy 570kg payload — more than adequate to accommodate an off-grid arsenal.
My first official sighting of an Explorer occurred while judging at Best Aussie Vans 2016, where I described the sleek and stylish van as “an audacious pocket-rocket designed for resolute outback adventure”.
Malcolm Street, a fellow judge at BAV 2016, was equally complimentary: “Being a pop-top it can offer the interior benefits of a full-size caravan, yet at the same time have a lower height for towing — something very useful along narrow tree-lined tracks.”
And I can see no reason to change my mind with this latest creation which intrinsically is a clone, albeit with a couple of significant changes.
But we’ll let Trakmaster’s diligent general manager Ron Larkin best explain the noticeable differences between the Explorer circa 2016 to present.
“We have gone back to coil springs from airbags as the air was over-speccing the product," he says. "We have also moved away from the one lithium battery and on to two 120Ah AGMs for increased battery capacity.
“And in terms of offroad capability it equals the other Trakmaster products, but perhaps it even betters them due to the smaller size but equal ground clearance and high departure angle at the rear.”
TO THE EXTREME
Like Larkin, I’m also a big fan of the Explorer’s 40-degree departure angle courtesy of its Extreme rear cutaway, and increased ground clearance due to its NewGen chassis design.
A fact that also didn’t escape Street’s eagle eye at BAV 2016: "Underneath there’s plenty of ground clearance and all the pipework is strapped up neatly out of the way.” He also added: “In addition to galvanised sheeting, timber ply sheeting is also used to protect the water tanks.” Ditto the current model.
The chassis under the Explorer is the same chassis used on all of the ‘Pilbara’ caravans. It is the NewGen Extreme chassis with the somewhat aggressive 40-degree rear departure angle.
All Trakmaster's chassis are hot-dipped galvanised and manufactured in-house at the company’s factory in Bayswater, Victoria.
The chassis rails are made of 450 grade Australian milled steel and are one-piece right through the length of the caravan, from the Cruisemaster DO35 coupling back to the rear bumper bar.
Meanwhile, the spare wheel is neatly tucked away under the rear angle section and uses a ratchet system to raise and lower the wheel. Thus, no lifting required.
Suspension is the well-proven, reliable and rugged TrakOne independent coil system. This system will cope easily with the unmade road conditions and outback environment that the caravan is designed to be used in.
The sidewalls are of a full fibreglass composite construction with a 1.6mm-thick fibreglass inner, 2mm-thick outer skin and a 25mm-thick compressed high density foam centre. These walls have great strength properties as well as excellent thermal and acoustic properties. The walls are custom built for Trakmaster to the degree of even having the wiring ducts formed in the walls during construction.
Trakmaster still uses meranti timber to frame the end walls and roof section of its caravans. This framing is then foam insulated and covered over with the same fibreglass skin used on the side walls.
The cladding is a striking white sheathing, but there’s also a dark grey option. And, while the decals are showy, they’re not overstated. They can be any colour you want. I also like the fibreglass wheel arch flares.
But the Explorer’s external attributes don’t end there… On further close inspection I’m impressed with its gargantuan 660L lockable front storage locker, which will hold everything — eg sullage hoses, power cords, exterior tent, wheel brace and hydraulic jack (both standard inclusions on the Explorer) etc — except the ‘kitchen sink’. It’s also accessible from the top and both sides.
And I’m also taken by the Swift external stainless steel slide-out kitchen comprising a round-bowl sink, flick mixer tap (hot/cold water), meal preparation bench and three-way barbecue. It simply oozes an al fresco living style — where you can take in the natural environment and listen to a wildlife cacophony while enjoying your favourite camping cuisine washed down with a beverage or two. There’s also a concealed gas bayonet for supplementary outdoor cooking.
The Explorer is powered by two 120Ah AGM batteries (safely and securely stowed away in a dedicated battery locker) and two 120W solar panels, one of which is mounted on a sloped section of the front wall. And there’s also a 12V solar socket as a plug-in point for a portable panel.
A Redarc BMS1230S2 is the high-tech battery management system employed in the Explorer.
Also located on the nearside are a Camec Odyssey three-point locking entry door (with roller blind and Roman blind), a Thule single pull-out entry step, Aussie Traveller awning (Sunburst Eclipse), full-width pole carrier, LED annexe light, both 240V and 12V power outlets, external speaker, rear storage locker, and service hatch for the compressor fridge.
The offside contains an exterior shower, water fillers (for the twin 82L freshwater tanks), and a vent for the 23L Suburban hot water service. The Explorer also comes with an outdoor tent (lightweight canvas / lightweight aluminium frame), plus poles, which clips directly onto the offside wall. There’s no internal bathroom, albeit a porta-potti locker is an option. And there’s also provision for future fitment of an 80L grey water storage tank.
The rear carries two jerry can holders, recovery/tow hooks, MAXTRAX recovery tracks, the aforementioned underslung spare wheel, and high level ancillary stop/tail/indicator lights. (It’s also fitted with midway side indicator lights.) But surprisingly, it’s sans a reversing camera.
The front section of the Explorer is as busy as a beehive, with an extended A-frame (300mm), AL-KO jockey wheel (double clamped to the inside of the drawbar), Cruisemaster DO35 coupling, mesh stone shield, Trakmaster embossed mudflaps, water tap (sensibly mounted on the inside of the drawbar and further protected being behind the stone shield), 2x4.5kg gas cylinders (protected by a galvanised plate and also behind the stone shield), and a window with protector shade.
The Explorer also comes with cyclone tie-down points at each corner, and a Winegard Sensar wind-up TV antenna.
WALKING THE WALKWAY
Like its predecessor, the Explorer has a surprising amount of internal space for such a compact van. And this is emphasised by the walkway to the bedroom.
As you head inside, assisted by a footwell, an immediate step to the left reveals a plush fabric-upholstered cafe dinette and a bi-fold table, with a LED light bar above. (But beware the angled, low bulkhead!) There’s also a pelmeted Dometic S7P double-glazed front window with a flyscreen and curtain. Behind the offside seating is a deep storage compartment that’s ideal for storing winter clothing/coats and jackets/boots/shoes.
An immediate jump to the right unearths a 130L Vitrifrigo compressor fridge, with black infill, that will prove a godsend in tropical climes. There’s also a storage compartment, with three shelves, that’s perfect for holding condiments, spices etc. And atop the fridge is good benchtop space and a ventilation grille.
Adjacent to the fridge is a shelved pantry for non-perishable items such as canned food, sauces etc)
Above the fridge are a double powerpoint, antenna point, USB/5V socket, flat polished mirror, switch for the fridge fan, Redarc battery monitor, RV Electronics water monitor — plus lots of very handy shelving for small objects.
The kitchen, located directly opposite the fridge, features a Swift 500 Series cooktop/grill (plus slide-out cupboard below for pots, pans etc), Sphere digital rangehood (above which is a water pump switch, water heater switch and Clarion entertainment system), sink and flick mixer tap.
Below the sink is a cutlery drawer and a few storage compartments, while above the sink are two overhead cupboards and a two-tier chrome wire basket pull-out pantry.
And at this point I must say that the gloss acrylic StyleLite cabinetry is a highlight.
The boudoir, situated at the rear, looks ultra-cosy with a 1.96m (6ft 5in) x 1.52m (5ft) lift-up, gas-strut assisted, east-west bed (plus padded headboard and footboard), with innerspring mattress, wraparound overhead lockers (they’re small but high volume with eight in total), LED sphere light (high/low), two reading lamps, internal speaker, and two pelmeted windows with flyscreens and curtains. A Fantastic roof vent provides supplementary light and ventilation. But there’s no rear window.
There’s also an internal speaker and LED sphere light (high/low) towards the front of the van, and a window in the vicinity of dinette/kitchen on the offside.
And the waterproof laminate floor is bolted to the chassis, adding to the Explorer's strength.
In standard spec, this van is lacking the climatic comfort provided by an air-conditioner, 12V Sirocco fan, and gas or diesel heating. But this is somewhat offset by the van’s aforementioned excellent thermal insulation properties.
We tested the Explorer on a day of sweltering 39C heat and its interior, with only the entry door and pop-top skirt windows open, was significantly cooler than the blistering conditions outside.
However, it would be remiss not to mention the Explorer’s raft of options including: TrakAir airbag suspension; Hitch-Ezy 3.5t coupling; wheels to suit tow vehicle; stability control; water filtration system; grey water storage tank; 100L water tanks; inverter; lithium battery; alternate fridge; oven and/or microwave; table to form additional bed (making it three-berth); reversing/rear view cameras; air-conditioner; 12V Sirocco fan; gas or diesel heating; fold-down picnic table; porta-potti locker.
Last but certainly not least, the Explorer offers versatility in terms of its target demographic. It should command appeal to people graduating from camper trailers to obtain a little more luxury, and moving away from a set up/pack up scenario.
And I can envisag e its attraction for people, even gold prospectors, who wish to access remote locations — including traversing unmade roads, combating thick scrub, and experiencing serious undulations.
Footnote: Trakmaster offroad caravans now come with a five-year chassis and body structural warranty.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The hackneyed phrase “good things come in small packages” definitely rings true for the Trakmaster Pilbara Explorer.
Its external zest and vivacity is perfectly matched to its internal panache and verve.
And, on a pound-for-pound basis, it packs a sizeable wallop! I feel certain it would more than hold its own in any off-grid scenario.
In true Trakmaster tradition, the Explorer is strong, tough and extremely capable.
Fibreglass composite construction
Gloss acrylic cabinetry
High rear departure angle
Increased ground clearance
Lines of recovery
Mid-sized SUV friendly
Lower towing height
Gargantuan front storage locker
Underslung spare wheel ratchet system
Lacks climatic comfort
Missing a reversing camera
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 6.54m (21ft 5in)
External body length 4.3m (14ft 1in)
External body width 2.14m (7ft)
Travel height 2.55m (8ft 4in) including roof hatch
Internal height 2.03m (6ft 8in)
Ball weight 147kg
Frame Compressed fibreglass panel side walls; Meranti front and back walls
Chassis Trakmaster NewGen, hot-dipped galvanised
Suspension TrakOne trailing arm independent coil
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes Dexter 12in electric
Wheels 265/75 R16 BFG all-terrains on 16x8 ROH Octagon alloy rims
Water 2x82L, plus provision for 80L grey water tank
Battery 2x120Ah AGM
Solar 2x120W, plus point to plug in a portable panel
Air-conditioner Provision for future fitment
Sway control Optional
Kitchen External slide-out kitchen
Cooking Swift gas four-burner and grill
Fridge Vitrifrigo compressor 130L
Washing machine No
Hot water Suburban gas/electric 23L
Provision for 80L grey water storage tank
Price as shown
$92,160 (on-road, Vic);
$91,170 (base price)
To enquire about this caravan, please phone (03) 9720 0822