DAY 3 - WEDNESDAY
With all 11 vans and their representatives onsite by this morning, we were at full capacity! The day started early, and all vans were hitched up and ready to roll by 7.30am. We sent the vans off in convoy in their category groups down the Great Ocean Road towards Apollo Bay for the public showacse.
Getting the vans organised and in order and ready to move at the same time is a little like herding cats - it never gets easier! But our head photographer Ellen had everyone well-briefed and event manager Rhonda kept everyone on track.
Weather-wise, it was cold and drizzly in the early morning but we quickly learned, the worst was yet to come! Upon arriving in Apollo Bay, the heavens opened. The vans were ushered into the Apollo Bay Foreshore Reserve and the manufacturers got started on setting up - in the pouring rain. But they were troopers and everyone kept going with smiles on their faces.
There was a little excitement when Sunseeker's Chris Michel was called upon to help drag a school group's mini bus out of a boggy campsite nearby. But with a heavy duty electric winch on the front of his fourbie, it was a quick job!
Unlike the past two days, when the rain liften regularly, it appeared to be set in for the day. There were few moments of respite from the wind and rain and everyone huddled under awnings or inside vans which had their heating going! Despite the weather, there was lots of interest in the vans from members of the public who also braved the weather to come and check out the best vans in Australia.
The crew took their limited opportunities to get some more shooting done, and we judges looked over the final van from the first two caetgories that we hadn't seen yet - the On The Move Vortex. This 10th anniversary van, decked out in black and green, is a real eye-catcher, that's for sure!
However, the weather took its toll and, by midday, we had to call it quits before everyone froze half to death. So while the vans in the first two categories said their goodbyes and headed home, the rest of us hitched up and headed back to the BIG4 Wye River. Arriving back early gave the crew the opportunity to get a headstart on the rest of the week's work, which was welcome.
The weather cleared in the afternoon - unfortunately it just hadn't happened fast enough for the Showcase! In the late afternoon, most of the manufacturers and crew assembled at the Wye General Store for canapes and drinks and to hear from BIG4 Wye River about what the event meant to a region which had been so badly hit (by fire, floods and landslides) in the past 12 months. Then it was off to the pub for dinner, some games of pool and red wine to celebrate another successful, if a little wet, day!
DAY 1 - TUESDAY
Tuesday dawned in a similar way to Monday - cold, wet and dreary. The rain gave way to brief periods of sun, but they weren't enough to warm our cold bones!
It was a quiet morning for our judging crew, as most of the vans were being videoed or photographed, so some of used the time to catch up on other work, while some of us went back to bed! After another delicious lunch, it was time for the judging to recommence.
We started with the Kokoda Veteran XLi Platinum in the $50-65K category and we were interested to see and hear about its RV WiFi set up. I really liked the interior style of the Kokoda as well. Credit to Chloe and Shenoa Mamo, Kokoda owner's George Mamo's daughters, who put it together.
After that, it was over to the Sunseeker Desert Storm - a big bold offroader in the $65K-$80K category that was hard to miss! With colour matched decals, wheels and suspension arms, the Desert Storm is a striking van and it was great to hear Chris talk with such passion about his van.
We've been doing the videoing of the judging a little differently this year. Once we've judged the van, the four judges congregate outside the van and discuss our first impressions and thoughts for the cameras. The group discussion format is working well, as it allows us to bounce ideas and conversation off each other.
In the evening, the manufacturers from the final two caetgories started arriving with their vans and once they were settled, we all headed off to the Wye General Store for the AL-KO sponsored 'Manufacturers' Dinner'. The food was out of this world - roast chicken, slow cooked lamb, cauliflower cheese and crispy roast potatoes. Delicious! Plus the odd cocktail or two, if I'm completely honest!
DAY 1 - MONDAY
The first day of BAV 2016 kicked off nice and early in Wye River, Vic, with the crew and manufacturers of vans in the first 2 categories assembled in the camp kitchen at the BIG4 Wye River Caravan Park.
The coffee was hot but the weather was not playing ball - all day, it alternated between huge wind gusts, heavy rain and blazing sunshine. At times, we felt like there was a little storm cell just circling the skies above Wye River!
The crew includes four judges (Laura, Mal, Phil & Peter), two photographers (Ellen & Nathan), three videographers (Anna, JP & Alex), a video presenter (Max), our saintly event manager Rhonda, sales guy Bernie and manufacturer representatives from Jurgens, New Age, Kokoda, Sunseeker, On The Move, and Trakmaster. Other manufacturers and crew will join us later in the week.
The BAV finalists in the first two categories are:
- Kokoda Veteren XLi Platinum
- New Age Manta Ray 18ER Special Edition
- Jurgens Lunagazer J2405
- Trakmaster Pilbara Explorer
- On The Move Vortex
- Sunseeker Desert Storm
Our Sydney-based judges Mal and Phil were delayed slightly so the full program, with the exception of the judging, kicked off around 10am. The vans were scattered around the very pretty caravan park and the video and photo teams went to work. Once Mal & Phil arrived, we four judges set off to judge our first van, the Trakmaster Pilbara Explorer.
Trakmaster's Russell Seebach (the "fully retired, partially involved" Trakky founder!) showed us around the van and explained that the little van was designed to bridge the gap between camper trailers and caravans. It weighs just 1765kg and has a heap of interesting features like TrakAir suspension with load-sensing abilities, a lithium battery set up, external barbecue and slide-out kitchen as well as full internal kitchen and a wind-up/down spare wheel.
As we assembled to film our judge's comments for the camera, the sun suddenly disappeared and, out of nowhere, a hail storm started. Before we could say "Is that really hail?" a huge wind gust tore through the park and threatened to pull off the Trakky's awning. All available hands jumped on the awning arms to hold it down while Mother Nature had her say. True to form, five minutes later, we were back to blue skies and sunshine.
Next up for the judges was the Jurgens Lunagazer J2405, a contender in the $50-$65K category. Built in true Jurgens style, the Lunagazer is a very lightweight but still remarkably strong touring van with some dirt road capabiilities. As we inspected the inside of the Lunagazer, some of our number found the lure of Jurgens' prop packet of dark chocolate Tim-Tams too much to resist (Max, we're looking at you here!).
With some time to spare in the afternoon, we then headed over to check out the New Age Manta Ray which we'd been unable to judge in the morning due to a lack of judges! New Age rolled up with 3 representatives including two guys from the factory and BAV stalwart Terry in his iconic New Age-emblazoned tow truck with roof-topper tinny! All the judges agreed New Age was one of pioneers of the sleek, modern interior look of the vans that we see so often today. The Special Edition Manta Ray includes lots of features requested by New Age customers including silver cladding, black checkerplate, big front toolbox, protected gas cylinders, and larger fridge.
Later in the afternoon, we attempted some more "Facebook Live" video streaming and I streamed Max filming his video walk-through of the On The Move Vortex. We're still getting the hang of it but everyone's having fun playing around with it.
CALLING IT A DAY
After that, it was time to warm up with a hot shower and a cold beer in the camp kitchen followed by lots of cheese (thanks Rhonda!) and a seriously impressive and warming roast pork dinner from our camp caterers. Happy hour in the camp kitchen is a good time for everyone to relax together and talk with the manufacturers and other members of the crew, and it's a part of the day everyone looks forward to.
In what has become a Best Aussie Vans nightly tradition, Max Taylor presented his award for the "Best Sport of the Day" (the name of the award changes every day but the prize is usually a bottle of red wine!) toTrakmaster's Russell Seebach for taking it in his stride when his awning was nearly ripped from his van in the wild weather.