Favourite Rough Road Caravans

CW Staff — 2 July 2020
We look back at three of the most impressive full-size offroad caravans we’ve had a chance to review recently.

BUSHTRACKER 19

 IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR TRUE OFFROAD MUSCLE, THERE'S NO POINT BEATING AROUND THE BUSH — JUST TAKE A LOOK AT BUSHTRACKER'S LATEST CUSTOMISABLE OFFERING,

Bushtrackers are built like tanks, tough enough to endure the harshest Australia has to offer. The company’s 19ft offering is distinctly Bushtracker, with its 45-degree departure angle, and front nose cone providing an excellent spot for the spare tyres and twin 9kg gas bottles to hide. The clever nose cone also gets you a bonus 275mm inside the van. So your 19ft van effectively becomes 19ft and 11in. 



Almost everything is customisable, from the type of suspension to whether you want an extra 75mm added to the internal ceiling height, and pretty much everything in between, so you get a van that ticks all your boxes.

I’M GOING IN

Speaking of options, you’ve got a choice of two themes when it comes to the interior. For the more traditional look, you’ve got ‘Timeless Timber’ featuring solid Tassie oak timber doors, or ‘Modern Choices’ with durable laminate-finished cabinetry. Our test van has the Modern look and I’m a fan. It’s bright and airy and it just looks clean and sharp.

The queen sized island bed pushes up the front of the van, so while you may lose a little bit of headroom due to the angled front design, you get it back in spades when it comes to floor area. Raised platforms on either side of the bed make getting in and out a breeze, and there’s incorporated clever under-floor storage. More storage under the bed also allows access to the spacious front locker. Even more storage again can be found at the end of the bed and in cupboards either side, so you won’t lack for space for an elaborate wardrobe.

Next to the bed, conveniently located double USB charging ports provide power for your power-hungry devices, as well as the switches for your LED reading lights. Completing the bedroom package are a couple of Sirocco 12V fans, a large skylight above and a Dometic Ibis 4 air conditioner.

TIME FOR A FEED

The galley-style kitchen has ample bench space either side of the stainless steel sink and the four-burner gas cooktop/oven, with a massive window above the bench for a view while you cook. A fold-down splashback over the cooktop provides additional space.

Every good kitchen needs a rangehood, and you’ll find it hiding in the overhead cupboards, along with extra LED lighting for the benchtops. Under-bench storage consists of a large under-sink cupboard and a bank of four drawers to its right. There’s a pot drawer under the oven, and three deeper drawers to its left. 

Also hiding under the kitchen bench is the Camec 4kg front loading washing machine. Making use of every millimetre of space, another cupboard is located above the microwave hutch. Completing the look of this modern kitchen is an easy-clean, white tiled splashback.

KICK BACK AND RELAX

Opposite the kitchen is the lounge/dining area. It’s an open and inviting space to kick back. A small coffee table, with storage below, sits between the two seats. By night, the area easily converts into a cosy dining room by attaching the quick-release dining table conveniently located beneath the bed. 

Mounted to an adjustable swing arm above the kitchen bench is a 24in flatscreen TV. This enables you to watch the TV wherever you are: in bed, on the lounge or in the kitchen. As an added extra, the TV can be mounted externally to the AV locker. 

Above the lounge/dining area, overhead cupboards provide more storage, as well as housing the control panel for the hot water system, stereo, 12V monitoring and circuit breakers. The 190L two-door Bushman fridge is located next to the lounge to allow for easy access from either the kitchen or lounge area. 

Running full width across the back of the van, and residing behind a frosted glass door at the end of the kitchen is the ensuite bathroom. No combined shower/toilet cubicles here, as you not only get a separate shower (with roof hatch) and toilet, but a vanity as well. As you’ve come to expect, there’s storage galore. 

THE NUTS AND BOLTS

It’s no use having all the pretty things inside a van if it’s just going to shake to bits at the first smell of a dirt road. Thankfully, the team at Bushtracker only build offroad vans, so they really know how to put them together. 

Let’s start at the very bottom with the suspension. This van employs a tandem axle, fully independent Simplicity load sharing suspension system. With 300mm of travel (150mm up and down), it’s designed for the worst the Aussie outback can throw at you.

The A-frame is fully incorporated into the heavy-duty, hot-dipped galvanised and laminated double chassis, which is sprayed with a body deadener to further protect the underbody and provide added dust and water sealing. As is the case with all Bushtracker vans, the A-frame can be extended by 300mm if you need extra room for a firewood rack or generator box. 

Our test van was fitted with the new pivoting front storage box, enabling much easier access to the twin 9kg gas bottles mounted to the A-frame. At the pointy end, there’s the Fastway Zip breakaway cable system, Hitch-Ezy 5t fully articulating hitch, HD handbrake and 2t slide stand along with both potable and non-potable water taps.

Providing the structure for the one-piece, resin-infused composite floor to be bonded to, and mounted to the top of the chassis, is a galvanised and fully welded sub-frame with full-width cross members to maximise support. 

With a slab/floor and stud wall construction, these vans are built tough. External wall frames are made of structural aluminium, either 2mm or 3mm wall thickness, with 5mm on the joints, which are then bolted through the composite floor to the sub-frame below. 

For maximum strength and structural integrity, all corners are through-bolted and welded together. There’s no timber in this frame, meaning that traditional caravan problems such as water damage and dry rot just won’t exist.

Before your choice of exterior cladding (aluminium or fibreglass) is fixed to the frame, every little crevice is filled with 25mm thick cooler-board insulation for the walls and 75mm thick for the roof. For added protection and durability, aluminium checkerplate is fitted to the bottom metre of each van.

TUFF ENOUGH

Due to the 45-degree rake at the rear of the van, when entering or exiting steep creek crossings, there’s far less chance of making an expensive sacrifice to the offroad gods. A full-width steel skid plate and rear chassis provide extra protection as well protection for the Narva LED tail-lights and a pair of HD chassis-mounted recovery points.

Underneath, everything is mounted up nice and high. Electrical, water and gas lines are run very neatly along the chassis rails as high as possible. Galvanised steel plates are used to deflect rocks, with convoluted split tubing providing extra protection.

There’s 90L of potable water, 180L non-potable and 90L grey water, which should be plenty for getting into far-flung campsite. The grey water tank comes with its own internal cleaning system to make flushing it out a very simple procedure.

To make the most out of your off-grid exploits, there’s 450W of solar panels on the roof feeding energy to 300Ah of lithium batteries. A 60A 240V charger gets your batteries to full capacity, while a 30A DC/DC charger will keep the power topped up while driving via an Anderson plug. Low wattage LED lighting is used throughout the van, to make the most of this.

On the offside, a large electric rollout awning offers shelter from the elements while you kick back. External LED lights are mounted along the outside along with marine grade external speakers and an external AV locker with TV mount to keep you entertained.

Bushtracker vans don’t mind going for a bit of a splash every now and then. Thanks to their external watertight door, they have a wading depth of 1.2m. Being waterproof means that your van will be dust-proof as well. 

THE LAST LAUGH

Bushtracker continues to produce custom built, offroad vans to the highest standards. Not one to follow the crowd or use the latest gimmicks, you know that when you buy a Bushtracker, you’ve got it for a darn long time. Or until you want to sell that one and buy a bigger one!


SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Length 5.79m (19ft)    

Width 2.4m (8ft)

Height 2.95m (9ft 8in)

Tare 2760kg 

Payload 740kg

Price as shown $157,420

More info To enquire about this caravan, please visit bushtracker.com or phone (07) 5476 5833


HIGHLINE APOCALYPSE

IT'S OFFICIAL — THE APOCALYPSE HAS ARRIVED. BUT IT DOESN'T MEAN THE END OF DAYS, RATHER THE ABILITY FOR ROBUST, EAGER TRAVELLERS TO REACH FOR THE FAR ENDS OF THE WORLD.

Highline Caravans fly under the radar, but regularly turn out quality vans through a loyal dealer network. This Victorian boutique builder is one of the quiet achievers, producing top-class offroaders with a long list of standard features.

At $95,000 for a well-equipped full offroader, the Highline Apocalypse seems like excellent value. 

As soon as we stepped inside, the wow factor was high. It’s hard to impress jaded caravan reviewers and picky buyers with something different that still works across a big range of tastes. However, I think Highline has satisfied all angles with the moderately macho exterior and the softer touch of the interior design team.

TOUGH AS TERMINATOR 

Construction uses a traditional meranti timber frame but departs from current trends by filling the void between the wall studs with high-density Jackodur insulation and using a composite honeycomb floor, under-slung with checkerplate protection. Single-piece fibreglass roof and composite sheets are sealed at the corners. 

Underscoring the offroad package is a 150mm x 50mm hot-dipped galvanised chassis and heavy-duty 3500kg tandem suspension. Highline promotes itself as a custom builder and it is happy to increase the ATM of the Apocalypse to 4.4t for higher carrying capacity than the standard 500kg. On the other hand, there are weight-saving options that will reduce the Tare weight by modifications including changing to a lithium battery, using a Supergal rather than hot-dipped chassis and reducing under-chassis checkerplate. These options will add to the carrying capacity without having to resort to a bigger tow vehicle.

The 17in alloy wheels, shod with 265x70 offroad tyres, add to ground clearance over uneven terrain. They also give the Highline a tall stance, showing off the undercarriage to its best from the sides.

A Cruisemaster DO35 hitch suits the van’s offroad aims and the heavy-duty top-wind AL-KO jack is centrally located for ease of use. A full stoneguard protects two 9kg gas bottles squeezed between two substantial jerry can holders.

Most owners will enjoy cooking outside, so the slide-out stainless steel barbecue will get a good workout. A fold-out picnic table is handy to the kitchen and a second hatch further back has 12V, 240V, and outlets for the standard 22in television. High LEDs light up the night and a 5.5m (18ft) Dometic awning will fend off any dew.

Three 100Ah batteries are housed in a driver-side box attached to the chassis. Charging is through a smart REDARC battery management system and a 40A BP-400 regulator by way of three 170W solar panels on the roof or the tow vehicle’s alternator when travelling.

The single spare sits high out of the way on a two-arm bar, and I liked the addition of a set of plastic recovery tracks bolted below. You would hope you don’t need them, but it’s an example of how Highline like to go that bit extra for customer satisfaction.

ZOMBIE-FREE LIVING

The popularity of vans in the 6.4m (21ft) plus range seems to be growing, and the extra liveability must be a real motivator. Without considering the heavier towing weight, it would be easy to see how the extra space is a big attraction.

Traditional methods flow through to the interior of the Apocalypse, where furniture is built from lightweight poplar ply on a timber frame, which is double screwed and glued to the caravan body. The creamy smooth leather lounge and trim accents, ultra-cool matt finished surfaces and subway tile splashbacks all fight for attention as you take it all in. 

Appliances include all the right brands. Dometic 190L compressor fridge, Swift 500 full oven, grill and cooktop, NCE rangehood, Gree air conditioner, full-height pantry, washing machine, gas hot water, microwave, Finch roof hatches. Tick, tick and tick. 

The bathroom is equally noteworthy with a floating slate-coloured bowl and mixer and the same colours in the roomy shower hardware. The toilet is a ceramic cassette type, and with hatches in the shower and the main room, there is proper ventilation.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Our review took us away from the suburbs out towards the hills north-west of Melbourne, and I found the Isuzu DMax twin cab was a good match for the unladen van. 

The Highline towed smoothly and predictably on the blacktop and on dirt roads. Travelling through the trees on bush tracks highlighted the size of the van and one of its drawbacks — it’s not as manoeuvrable as a camper trailer, that’s for sure. Highline has targeted the Apocalypse at touring couples who want comfort and space on roads less travelled. It might not be at home on the fire trails of the high country, but get it out on big journeys over long and dusty corrugated roads and you will be glad it’s there for you at the end of the day.


SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Body length 6.5m (21ft 4in)

Body width 2.33m (7ft 6in)

Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)

Tare 3000kg

ATM 3500kg

Price as shown $95,000

More info To enquire about this caravan, head to Highline Caravans at 3/87 Merola Way, Campbellfield, Vic 3061; phone (03) 9357 9092; email info@highlinecaravans.com.au; or visit the website at highlinecaravans.com.au.


MILLARD BREAKAWAY

MILLARD IS ONE OF OUR ORIGINAL CARAVAN BUILDERS, HAVING BEEN AROUND SINCE THE LATE 1940S, BUT THIS CAPABLE OFFROADER HAS ALL THE MODERN FLAIR NEW BUYERS DEMAND. 

If your memory goes back far enough, a Millard could have been one of the first caravans you ever saw. They’ve been around since 1947, proving to be one of our most enduring builders and one of only a few to have survived in NSW.

While Millard has a set of standard layouts across their range of Toura (semi-offroad) and Breakaway (full offroad) vans, they are essentially a custom builder, happy to fill customer needs. Having said that, even their standard packages are very impressive. Our test van is a 19ft 6in Breakaway with a vast array of standard features that make it a ready-to-go package most couples would be happy to hook up as is and head off to far horizons.

Like all the vans across the Millard range, the Breakaway features an interlocking aluminium frame braced with steel gussets at corners and stress areas. The construction is rigid, durable and rot-free, and has been a signature construction method perfected over many years and through generations of different models.

The Breakaway has the assertive, high-riding look we have come to expect from an offroad style van. I like the tough but restrained impression it creates, without going over the top. 

Up top is a 25mm composite lightweight sandwich panel roof, which ensures waterproofing and temperature control. Underneath, the floor sits on 4in risers over a 6in chassis that is built-in house from Australian steel. The ply floor has a metal sheet bonded underneath for added protection, and in keeping with its rough road ambitions, all plumbing and electrics have been led out of harm’s way.

Cruisemaster’s very capable XT suspension softened the ride and allowed the van to track surely on our travels. Adding to the rugged package are sets of brushed silver and black 16in Primal alloy wheels, shod with aggressive-looking 265x75 offroad tyres.

A Cruisemaster DO35 hitch provides extreme articulation over undulating ground. Accessories include AL-KO Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and a stoneguard protecting a full-width aluminium toolbox, which in turn adds a second level of safety to the gas bottles.

PUTTING ON THE RITZ

A fold-down step aids the big jump up to the caravan interior. No serious offroader would order such a step, so if impressions are important, just order a removable plastic one, because the fitted version will last five minutes on any challenging track and it’s a dead giveaway that you haven’t blooded your rig.

The layout sets the full-width ensuite at the rear and the bedroom up front, leaving room for cooking and relaxing in the central living area, brightly lit from large windows and overhead hatches.

The living space includes a curbside dinette with deep cushions. The kitchen is located opposite, well equipped with quality appliances, lids over the sink and stove, and enough usable bench space to get by. As in so many caravans, it concerns me that the high microwave is a potential danger with hot liquids.

Millard has managed the right balance between maximising available space inside the 19ft 6in footprint and installing a bathroom with room to move. At the same time, they have utilised every skerrick of possible space in the ensuite for storage. To the right end of the vanity, a lid lifts to reveal an NCE top load washing machine secreted underneath.

BUSH RETREAT 

You can spend extended time off-grid with onboard battery power and a good supply of water — well, as long as you remove long showers from your daily routine. Twin 95L water tanks are ample for drinking and cooking, and the pair of 100Ah batteries charged by two 150W solar panels will keep electrical items running indefinitely with frugal use. A 95L greywater tank allows for camping in national parks and RV areas. Add in twin 9kg gas bottles for cooking and the good times just keep rolling on.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Over the last ten years, the demand for more rugged caravans has blossomed, and lots of vans now fight it out in the offroad space. Millard has been upfront along the journey with its Australian-made ethic for well-built and reliable products. The Breakaway will suit couples planning to get away from the blacktop and into the heart of our country where roads might see a grader once in a blue moon. 

It’s well equipped, solidly built and well worth its price tag as tested, of $89,270. 


SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Body length 6.1m (20ft)

Body width 2.5m (8ft)

Travel height 3.2m (10ft)

Tare 2600kg

ATM 3500kg

Price as shown $89,270

More info To enquire, call (02) 9829 2055, visit millardrv.com.au, or email info@millardrv.com.au

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Review Compilation Full-size Offroad vans

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