We get lots of correspondence from readers of Caravan World suggesting we pay too much attention to the larger and more expensive end of the caravan market. While we try to deliver a mix of models, there’s probably some truth in the criticism. In our defence, and you might agree, when you look at the range of vans in most yards, I think you’ll find the bigger, more upmarket ones are predominant.
This review van may not be amongst the smallest vans out there, but its simplicity and price will appeal to many entry-level buyers.
The team at custom builder, Billabong, out in the Victorian RV enclave at Campbellfield, has noticed a section of the market that seems to have been neglected, and their latest offering is a trip back to the future that’s proving there’s life in a simple family van.
The common assumption over the last few years has been that a van without an ensuite will sit unloved at the back of the sales lot and, even worse, will have a poor resale value when the owner wants to move on. However, Billabong has discovered a new section of the market who want to holiday in caravan parks and, just as relevantly, turn their noses at the idea of a loo that has to be emptied. They might be on the right track here, as I notice Cathy Anderson’s piece on buying a family van in this issue touches on the same theme.
Billabong is a custom builder with loads of variations across many levels of luxury and ruggedness plus more than 25 layouts. The van on review is in the entry-level Matilda series and delivers most of the standard features families will need. Nevertheless, buyers can choose from an endless list of options to make the van their own.
As a boutique builder, concentrating on one or two vans a week and with an experienced crew, most of whom have been with the company for years, Billabong puts the extra effort into getting things right.
Construction is the traditional Australian method of a meranti frame clad with lengths of aluminium. Styrofoam sections are cut to fill the voids in the frame for insulation, and the roof is a single aluminium sheet. The Wanderer sits on a 100mm G&S chassis and A-frame with a strengthening truss upfront for added strength in this high-stress area.
With a 5.5m (18ft) body length, the van looks compact and light, so it shouldn’t be too daunting for those new to towing. Despite a grey exterior with black stripes and dark windows, simple graphics avoid the current offroad look, so it’s no pretender to more than being mainly a blacktop tourer. Suspension is an AL-KO tandem leaf spring setup delivering a generous 800kg payload, so there's plenty of opportunity to load up for the holidays.
Upfront, the van connects to the tow vehicle through a simple 50mm ball hitch, and there’s a 12pin plug and an Anderson plug for powering the three-way fridge when travelling. The A-frame tap has a metal guard, and the regulator for the pair of 9kg gas bottles is high out of harm’s way.
Unusually, the Billabong has both a front boot and a full-width tunnel boot. Most builders don’t manage this trick, which takes advantage of the small void forward of a tunnel boot for some extra storage. In the Billabong range, as well as storage for smaller items, the front boot houses an impeccable electronics installation, freeing up space inside the van where they're usually installed (in a cupboard or under a bed).
A full-length awning rolls out to cover the exterior on the passenger side, and there's a locking picnic table and points for 12V, 240V and the 24in television, which is an option.
To keep clean after a hard day’s relaxing or to freshen up after a swim, there’s an external shower with hot and cold water on the driver’s side.
Two 60L water tanks under the van have galvanised sheets for protection, and it’s obvious Billabong has upped the quality of its electrical and plumbing installation, because all cables and the water lines are well-protected and professionally fitted.
The spare tyre sits on a lightweight bumper bar at the back, and the wheels are smart looking 15in alloys shod with 235/75 Federal all terrains.
STEP INSIDE THE WANDERER
Entry is towards the rear and, being a touring van, it’s accessible even without a fold-out step, though some might like to add a removable version.
Immediately inside to the right is a set of double bunks and ample open space, with a queen bed up front and the living area in the centre. The front bed and lounge area have huge windows which combine with two roof-mounted hatches to offer loads of light and ventilation in this space.
The colour scheme is a modern mix of greys and gloss white on the overhead cupboards, and the storage options include a set of handy cabinets and drawers at the entry. Storage under the bed is divided into two sections, and it was a surprise to see a handy light here.
Without an ensuite across the back, it’s surprising how much room there is inside. Bunks run across the back for the young ones or for a couple of mates on a fishing trip. Also pleasing is the extra bench space at the kitchen and the large L-shaped lounge with enough room to seat four comfortably. It might sound obvious that a family van needs adequate seating for the whole family, but you don’t have to look far to see that’s not always the case.
The bunks run across the back, and both beds have their own window and light as well as USB points to keep the devices topped up.
The kitchen runs along the driver's side, and cooks will appreciate the relatively good-sized benchtop for food preparation. A 150L three-way fridge is a sensible size for family appetites, but the microwave up top isn’t
my favourite place when younger children are about.
There’s a Swift cooktop and grill for cooking, and it sits over a large pot drawer. Being a custom builder, Billabong can install a bigger fridge, move the microwave and add a full oven, depending on your preferences.
The dinette is a beauty. As well as having all that usable seating, the table is a generous size, and it slides out to ease access and drops down to make an occasional bed for an extra guest.
The main bed has a bolster that extends it out to 1.9m (6ft 5in), and we see the usual mix of side tables and overhead cupboards. A window at the bedhead is a bit unusual these days, and it gives even more light and a cross-flow of breeze, which will be helpful in summer. Even so, front windows get a bad rap for leaking, so keep a close eye on maintenance.
Because the Wanderer aims to spend time in caravan parks, the off-grid ability is pared back. A single 120Ah battery gets its charge from the tow vehicle when travelling or 240V power when hooked up in the park or home. This amount of energy will run lights and the water pump for a night in the bush, and there’s plenty of water for drinking and washing-up for a couple of days.
Solar is an option, and the BMPRO system is pre-wired to make installation easy.
Weighing in at 2100kg empty, the Wanderer 18 will tip the scales at 2900kg if you load it to its 800kg capacity. That will suit some of the mid-range utes and the family favourite, the Toyota Prado.
Vans in this size that have a rear entry and rear bathroom can struggle with balance because of the added weight at the rear. The review van, though, had an excellent weight distribution, which showed in the ride.
In keeping with its touring intention, we stuck to the blacktop for our review, and it behaved perfectly behind Billabong’s Mazda BT50. It was well balanced and towed faithfully, with no pitching or wallowing.
A five-year warranty on the manufactured side of the van is amongst the best in the business. Appliances have their individual warranties, and the Billabong team are keen to have any issues fixed promptly.
Priced at $47,390, the van seems excellent value. This one is sold, but lead times mean, at this stage, you could get one for the Christmas holidays if you are quick enough.
The Wanderer 18 is undoubtedly a van for these times when numerous families are looking to the caravan lifestyle to get away on holiday. I’m tempted to say it’s a great entry point to caravanning, but there’s nothing wrong with a future enjoying the hundreds of caravan parks on offer in some of our best locations.
WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS
Overall length 7.8m (25ft 6in)
External body length 5.9m (19ft 6in)
External body width 2.5m (8ft)
Travel height 3m (9ft 8in)
Internal height 2.1m (7ft)
Payload 800kg (calculated)
Ball weight 180kg
Cladding Raised profile aluminium
Chassis 100mm x 50mm SupaGal
Suspension Tandem leaf spring
Coupling 50mm ball
Brakes 12in drum
Wheels 15in alloy, 235x75 tyres
Water 2 x 60L
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control No
Cooking Swift cooktop and grill
Fridge 150L three-way
Bathroom No (external shower)
Washing machine No
Gas/Electric hot water system (electric standard
PRICE AS SHOWN
51 Randor St, Campbellfield
Ph: 0434 862 015