Touring Australia in a 4WD Camper
A 4x4 camper is never going to offer the level of creature comforts available in a large caravan or Winnebago, but if you want to take your mobile abode into the remote and hidden corners of Australia they are hard to beat.
If you spend enough time on the highways and roads of this country you will come across every conceivable way to traverse a continent.
You will encounter thousands of Caravans, Campers, Fifth Wheelers, 4WD Campers, Motorcycles, Mopeds, Camper Trailers, Cameleers & Camel Trains, Tractors, Horses, Pedestrians, Joggers, Buses, Wheelbarrow Pushers, and every example of Bicycle ever made including the Penny Farthing.
Every mode of transport has its inherent merits (wheelbarrow pushing?) and there are pros and cons for all of them. The proponents of the Caravan lifestyle point to the fact that they travel with every conceivable domestic luxury, including a 108cm flat screen television, to be watched as another stunning sunset slips below the horizon. The humble hitchhiker will acknowledge the simplicity of his life and demonstrate how he has unshackled himself from the trappings of the modern world.
A 4WD Camper can offer most of the basics required for an extended touring journey of Australia. A toilet (excluding a portable, chemical job) is not really an option for a touring vehicle until you get into mobile apartment blocks and anyone traversing Australia will have to get used to the idea of using public conveniences or learn to dig a hole behind a tree (preferable). An excellent portable hot water/shower system can be seen here.
What Style 4WD Camper?
4x4 Campers offer the ability to go virtually anywhere a conventional 4WD can go. The only caveat here is that a fully loaded touring vehicle will be vastly heavier than a regular 4WD utility or sedan and will not handle all situations with the same ease. Having said that, anyone with the appropriate knowledge and skills, will be able to manoeuvre a proper 4WD camper, through the most difficult and unwelcoming terrain.
The word proper is mentioned because there are 4WD campervans around for sale or hire that are based on the chassis of compact, delivery style vans. While these style vehicles are 4WD and are fine for getting unstuck from a sandy car park or a day trip along a beach – long and technically difficult four wheel driving was never part of their design brief.
Some lighter campers are built on the chassis of smaller 4WD utilities. They work fine and offer all the functionality of the heavier units, however, our advice remains the same. If you really intend to take your camper off-road and want to drive it over hills and rocks and through swamps and rivers look for a touring camper based on a commercial style chassis and drive train i.e. Toyota Landcruiser, Nissan Patrol.
If you just want the peace of mind of being equipped with 4WD and the occasional excursion off the road, then small 4WD's are great. They are better than the ‘delivery van’ camper, but most of these units still don’t offer the high ground clearance or heavy duty drive train components available in the commercially designed 4WD’s.
Fixed Roof or Pop Top?
Toyota Landcruisers are universally respected as rugged contenders for camper conversion and a quick visual survey of the Australian highways will show that they are the preferred choice of most hire companies. The most common configuration is that of the Troop or Personnel Carrier. Originally designed as an eleven seater (3 in front, 8 in rear) they readily convert to a pop top configuration or with some dextrous panel work to a permanently raised roof. Another option is to add a slide on camper unit to the tray of a utility.
The usual specifications for a converted, touring camper will include air conditioning, a 12/240 volt refrigerator, sink, water storage with hot water a possibility, a gas stove, a double and single bed and various storage compartments and cupboards.
The fit out level in a 4WD camper can never be described as anything more than compact and you will quickly discover that you are not sleeping in a king size luxury bed in the Singapore Hilton. Cooking facilities are rudimentary although functional and you must remind yourself that these vehicles are designed to get you into places where regular 2WD caravans and campers will never go and do it with all the style of a well organized camping trip.
The pop top style camper consumes less fuel and is more stable on really uneven terrain but requires a small effort to raise the roof when setting up camp. The fixed, elevated roof 4WD camper can be a fuel monster with its big wind resisting front. It can also be a little unnerving to negotiate terrain that sees the vehicle lean radically, however it offers turnkey convenience and permanent head room. Conservative speeds reduce fuel consumption dramatically in any of these vehicles.
Whether you plan to buy a 4WD camper or rent one for a touring holiday, this type of vehicle presents a real opportunity to tour Australia and still be able to challenge the most demanding 4x4 terrain.
While the available space couldn’t be described as generous and the cooking facilities are not commercial quality, if you are the type of person who is willing to sacrifice some of the touring niceties, for a little adventure, then a 4WD camper is probably ideal.
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