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    Caravanning and RVing in Australia


This article by Lionel Mussell was first published in the U.K. 'CARAVAN' magazine - March 2001issue

'Going north for the winter?' Sounds strange - but that's what thousands of Australians do during the colder months. While Britons and Europeans head for Spain and the south of France, Americans migrate to Florida and well-off Russians journey to their dachas on the shores of the Black Sea, Aussies from the south-eastern States of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, take off for Queensland. On the other side of the vast continent, Western Australians leave Perth and flock to Broome and other north-western coastal resorts.

From May onwards the roads north are clogged with a vast army of nomads with their caravans (North American readers note: an Aussie 'caravan' is your 'travel trailer'), motor-homes, campervans, camping trailers and tents. Most have grey hair - if they still have hair at all - and the large majority are aged pensioners or early retirees who have taken the 'package'and spent some of their lump-sum severance pay-out on a shiny new four-wheel drive vehicle and luxury caravan.

The majority of these 4x4 vehicles will never leave the bitumen but are popular because of their stability and effortless towing ability. Toyota Landcruisers and Nissan Patrols are the most sought after for bigger rigs while a host of smaller 4x4s including a growing number of Land Rover Discoveries, are seen towing smaller and lighter vans. Many of these vehicles are diesel powered, often with turbo-charging, and these have a reputation for reliability with economy.

Despite the popularity of the four by fours, many Aussie caravanners prefer to tow with a large passenger vehicle with the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore range leading the field. The Falcons have 4.0 litre engines while the Commodoreís power plant measures 3.8 litres and both are capable of towing quite large vans with ease. Ford and Holden also produce V8 engines with a capacity of around 5 litres and, although expensive, these are popular with drivers who tow heavy vans.

Australian touring vans are heavy! Aussies who get a look at British and European vans or read their specifications in magazines, are astonished when they see how light they are for their size. One brave - or should that read 'foolish' - Aussie manufacturer did produce a lightweight van based on European design principles some years ago and horror stories of these vans falling apart under rugged Australian conditions are legend.

Typical Caravans
A typical medium sized Australian touring van would be one of the huge range of vans produced by Jayco - by far the largest manufacturer of caravans and campers in Australia with an output from their new modern factory of around fifty units a week. A popular 15'X 7í6", single-axle, pop-top would weigh around 1000 kgs unloaded. Add another 200 - 300 kgs for supplies and gear and we are getting close to 1.3 tonnes. It would have a heavy galvanised chassis and leaf spring suspension. Tyres are usually 8-ply light truck radials.

Inside a favoured layout is an island double bed at the front and fully equipped kitchen at the rear near the entrance door. Most vans are fully insulated to help take care of the extremes of climate encountered in Australia and some are even air-conditioned. A three-way refrigerator is usually fitted running on LPG, 240 or 12 volts although 12-volt compressor fridges have started making inroads on the once universal three-way units.

Larger luxury caravans like the Jayco Westport range are often fully equipped for self-sufficient long distance touring with their own showers and flushing cassette toilets and start at around 17' and go up to about 25'. They usually have tandem axles with leaf springs or independent suspension and light truck radial 8-ply tyres. Equipment often includes solar panels for charging batteries, transformers for producing 12 volt power for lighting and recharging the storage batteries when hooked up to a mains source, inverters for turning 12 volts into 240 volts in the 'bush' to power items like televisions, VCRs, tape-decks, torches and even lap-top computers. Most of them are fitted with microwave ovens as standard.

Examples of these larger vans are the Galaxy models sold by Scenic - a Melbourne manufacturer with a range focusing on larger vans and specialising in custom-built vans for extended touring. A typical unit of this type would measure about 20'x 8'and have a tare weight of around 1700 kgs riding on a tandem axle. Even adding about 300 kgs for loading this still puts it well within the weight allowed to be towed by a Ford Falcon although many of these rigs are towed by 4x4s. Larger units with every conceivable luxury are increasingly popular with vans up to around 25' towed by the big 4x4s.

Until recently Australian States all had their own towing regulations and speed limits but common-sense has at last prevailed and a uniform code has been adopted. The allowable weight of a trailer with brakes is now the vehicle manufacturer's specified limit or one-and-a-half times the unloaded weight of the tow vehicle ' whichever is the smaller. Nearly all Australian vans are fitted with electric brakes. These operate in conjunction with the vehicle's brakes and can be adjusted to apply the van brakes ahead of the tow-vehicle which is a great aid to stability.

Boom Time for Caravanning
Caravanning is enjoying a boom in Australia and the caravan industry produced around 9,000 new units in 1999. This has risen from a mere 3,000 units in 1990 and is expected to reach more than 16,000 units annually by the Year 2,005. With prices of medium sized vans starting around $20,000 Aus. and larger units costing from $30,000 upwards, caravan manufacturing is a major Australian industry these days.

Joan Green, Editor of 'Caravan World' - Australian's leading caravanning magazine - says, 'As we enter the Year 2001, it's apparent that the new age of caravanning has now well and truly begun and is quite unlike anything that has happened in Australia before. A well structured industry, a strong emphasis on safety and amazing technical advances in design and building have transformed RVs and the way we use them.'

The Same Neighbours
Many Aussie tourists head north for the same caravan park each winter and their neighbours for four or five months are often the same people they meet up with every year. This still entails a journey of two or three thousand kilometres each way.

Others head off for much longer trips with a great number doing 'The Big One', the trip right around Australia - a journey approaching 20,000 kilometres! This takes in a great variety of landscapes like the lush jungles and green cane fields of northern Queensland; the mountains of the Dividing Range; the harsh beauty of semi-arid deserts; hundreds of square kilometres of wild-flowers; the tall timber of the south of Western Australia; sheep country; cattle country; vast wheat-fields and other crops - and always stretching ahead and beckoning - the endless strip of bitumen that means you can travel right around Australia these days without ever leaving the sealed surface.

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