Feb 21, 2007

Our Camping History


After years Tenting and trying to fit everything into a vehicle that a young family needs to take along camping, but also keeping in mind that great Australian dream of travelling the Outback we started looking for a trailer that could carry our gear and be robust enough to tow anywhere. This we found in the hills of Perth, a German Engineer makes his own trailer and fulfills his travelling bug every year only to sell it upon his return and make another with a few changes. We answered his advert for "Serious Camper Trailer Purchasers Only" and were pleased with what we saw, it came with a one minute Freedom Tent and no expense had been spared in the materials used in building the trailer, this was one trailer that would be there till the very end. Nothing was going to stop us now, BUT we soon realized we were still having to erect tents and the more space we had the more we took and the vehicle was still packed out. Our friends at the time had an old windup camper and in retrospect we should not have bought this type of trailer with a young family but something like they had, if we were going to tow why not tow something we could sleep in, so the decision was made and we started looking. We traded our military style trailer on a 92' Jayco, we were very pleased we received the same as what we paid for the trailer and also got to keep the freedom tent.


We owned this camper for 6-7 years [I can never remember exactly] during that time we towed it over to Queensland and up and down the East coast, the North West and South Coasts of WA, also up along the Gibb River Road. As a family camper it was great, we loved the reasonable compact towing size but was constantly amazed at how much room we had when it was set-up with both beds extended. We had no troubles with the Jayco, but as our trip became more adventurous and the roads and tracks rougher the internal cupboards which are only stapled together started to come apart, I fixed that by building new cupboards out of 8 ply and gluing and screwing all joins, I also converted one of the seating areas into more storage space as by this time our children had grown up and stopped travelling with us. I built an external compartment and had a roll out generator fitted inside that. Dust was always a problem and the more we towed it to isolated places the more fed up we became with everything being covered inside with dust, plus there was only the two of us travelling now so we looked around for a 'fair dinkum' off road camper trailer.


After owning a purpose built off road storage trailer and then the comfortable Jayco we thought we knew what we wanted when we started to look at dedicated off road camper trailers, Because there was just the two of us and we wanted something dust proof and quick to put up and we quickly narrowed our choices down to Campomatic, Aussie Swag & Kimberley Kamper, In all honesty if your looking for that style of camper between the three of them I don't think there is much in it. The end decision for us came down to the fact that ARB Perth were the distributors for KK and I knew ARB management very well and they had a camper on display, the other brands did not have Western Australian distributors at the time so it meant buying sight unseen.

After the live on board comfort of the Jayco the KK was a bit different as basically it is a glorified tent on wheels [and I'm not being nasty by saying that] but it is simply a bed inside a canvas room, with little area to place a table and chairs if need be. The canvas flapped a fair bit in the wind and required tying down on both sides to get some tautness, the zippers rattled and drove us crazy till we taped them over, The kitchen is outside in the elements so 99% of the time the annexe needs to be erected to give shelter from wind/rain or sun, Storage space consisted of 1/2 a front mounted box and what you can fit in the sealed locker under the bed and under the bed itself. We were happy to find it was 99% dust proof and waterproof but it needs a plastic sheet over the bed to stop the canvas soaking through to the mattress when closed up wet. The suspension seemed a bit hard, certainly not a supple suspension which caused it to skip a bit on rough tracks, I had matching wheels & tires on the camper 285x75x16's and that reduced the tire to guard clearance so I made some spring packers to fit on the coils to regain the clearance, the hydraulic disc brakes seemed like an excellent design but was not without fault, One of my main gripes is the draw bar weight, It is excessive one of the reasons no stabilizer legs are needed but it places a lot of weight on the tow bar of the tow vehicle also the weight made it hard to man handle around on soft ground. I carried a 3.45mt aluminum boat on the roof rack of the KK and whilst it made it easy to flip over I preferred the Campomatic idea of laying the boat flat rather than at a 45 degree angle or thereabouts. A 9.9hp Yamaha outboard was mounted on the front, the outboard needs to be in a cover or it gets covered in mud and dust. There was negligible stone damage to the front of the KK or the rear of the tow vehicle, the stone protection screen works well but the camper suffered quite a bit of damage down the RHS from stones being deflected by the boat loader. We owned the KK for 18 months, towed it along the CSR, Holland Track, along the Ningaloo coastal tracks and also through the Kimberley's twice, we paid $23k+ sold it for $20k. The only problem we had was the brakes fell apart allowing the pads to drop out and the callipers wore against the rotors, so no brakes for majority of CSR and Kimberley trip the cause was a faulty handbrake mechanisms apparently and warranty covered the repairs. The reason why we sold was we saw friends Ultimate Camper and that convinced us we could have the comfort of the Jayco and the strength of the KK combined.


Love the look or hate it, it's certainly a sleek aerodynamic shape, The manufacturers spent years making and designing luxury motor boats and the experience in that has lead them to a similar design for an Off Road Camper Trailer. Made of composite materials it is very easy to maintain and keep looking good, it has absolute truckloads of storage space, an inside kitchen for those crappy days [though we always prefer to cook outside with campfires or gas where we can], a lounge that seats 4 easily, an inbuilt 90lt Fridge, King-size bed with 360 degree ventilation and views, excellent ground clearance, an 83lt water tank with the option of further 50lt, The chassis is BHP Duragall and the suspension is Sugar Glider Independent with Lovell springs and Koni adjustable shock absorbers, all fittings and fixtures are marine grade stainless steel. The flip over bed makes a handy shady spot underneath, we rarely put up the awning unless we stop for a few days to a week, No 240v though they are looking at that as an option and it can be requested when placing an order.
It has enough weight on the tow bar to make it tow great, but light enough to pick up the front and stand it on its bum for hosing underneath and moving around. The Ultimate is very quick and simple to set up and close up, with no problems closing it wet, the canvas is totally waterproof. You can carry a tinny on the roof but it involves removing it every time you set-up, we now choose to carry the tinny on the roof rack of the tow vehicle with the outboard mounted on a swing away wheel carrier it suits us better as we can set up camp and get the boat to the water wherever it is and whenever we want. We purchased the Ultimate in January 2003, base price was $25k, we went East to take delivery and spent 2 months travelling around, mostly bitumen apart from ten days in the Victorian High Country being shown around by a 4WD Group where it handled the conditions easily, also another two months in the Kimberley's travelling the same tracks and roads the KK did the year before. The Ultimate did suffer a collapsed wheel bearing on one isolated track that necessitated a bush repair and a new swing arm being sent over. We are the only owners to have suffered a collapsed bearing in 260 Campers I was told so I put that down to just bad luck.


Well it was just a matter of time before we decided to go for comfort plus, we found we were staying away longer and ideally wanted to be fully self contained going the solar route so we started investigating the choices we had in full sized caravans. We definitely wanted something that could handle all the roads & tracks we could throw at it, pointless having a Van if you cant take it places we thought. A good mate of ours already owned a Kedron ATV van and we started to ask many questions of it and the more we found out the more interested we became. He informed us of a couple of vans at the factory that may interest us and after seeing the photo's and specifications we made contact with David at Kedron. Dave was most helpful and we came to an agreement to purchase a 18' [16" 6" internal] Cross Country. The van had been built for a recent Brisbane Caravan / Camping show and had been spec'd up even more than its usual high standard, we had Dave add further things to it such as an extra 120w solar panel to give us three in total. Another 130a/rh Trojan deep cycle battery was added to the usual two, a larger 3 stage Centaur 40amp battery charger was fitted. The suspension and wheels were changed to suit the 100 series Landcruiser, five 60lt water tanks have been fitted. It has an external shower and hot water system, 150lt VitraFrigo Compressor fridge. The layout is a front kitchen with entry door, L shaped lounge / dinette and north / south facing island bed, gave us lots of bench space and storage.


Time to get serious with an off road van, After 12 months with the Kedron we decided that caravanning was definitely for us, but the one thing we regretted not having with the Kedron was an inside en suite, We obtained quotes from Kedron and Bushtracker for a new Van and once we compared prices we decided to visit the Bushtracker Factory and once we saw how well built they are we decided to order the Bushtracker, again it is fitted out for independent living with 4 x 125w solar panels; 4 x 105a/hr AGM batteries, 190lt 12v Waeco RPD refrigerator, Webasto Diesel Heater, Dometic A/C, full fibreglass en suite, 4 x 82lt water tanks, and has the luxury of fibreglass waterproof en suite. Plenty of bench space in the kitchen, a large U shaped lounge / dinette, and a yacht style Queen sized bed gives us the internal space of a 21' van, A 22" LCD TV, Stereo, internal and external speakers provides the entertainment. A dual axle Simplicity suspension rated for 4000kg and large 12" electric brakes. Workmanship and attention to detail is excellent, I would be lying if i said we have been trouble free but what problems we have had have been rectified by us or the factory. Since taking delivery in May 2007 we have toured Qld for 8 Months and in 2008 we spent 6 months in Northern Western Australia. In January 2009 we hit the road with no time limit.

Since writing this the van has had a few changes, some through necessity others because we wanted to. I changed the Batteries at 8 years, they were still doing the job but not as good as they could be, i gave them to my brother in law and he and his son used three of the batteries in their camper trailer's. I fitted four new Fullriver 120ahr AGM batteries which gave us an increase in 60 amps, they are heavy though with each battery weighing 36kg, when these need replacing i will definitely look at the Lithium batteries. We had an Oyster Satellite system fitted to the roof of the van, a Aluminum storage box fitted to the draw bar. The awning was replaced early with a Aussie Traveller roll out awning to make life easier, we had some drawers fitted to replace the cupboards in the rear of the van, a 90lt Grey Water tank fitted to allow us to contain our waste water when camped in places with those requirements.The 190lt Waeco fridge was replaced with a 230lt Vitrafrigo compressor fridge due to a hinge breaking and causing other damage, The air conditioner has been replaced with the latest Dometic Harrier inverter air con, to do this we had to also remove the winegard TV antenna so in its place we had a new auto tuning antenna fitted. The toilet was updated with the newer version and also the stove oven replaced with a new model. I also had a 5th 150w solar panel fitted on the front slope of the van, this has proven to be a great addition. I have recently had all the suspension swing arms replaced with the newer stronger versions and also all bearings and brakes replaced, the round steel chine bars under the draw bar have also been replaced with stronger 12mm flat bar.


Unknown said...

Hello Mick and Vickie,
you have had a great journey to arrive at Bushtracker, and the bonus is .. it's ongoing, and travelling first class.
My wife, Lorna, and I started out with a Coromal poptop offroader behind a Prado. Was good for a couple of years until ageing and no inside shower/toilet got us thinking about change.
By chance, a mate mentioned Bushtracker as the RollsRoyce of caravans. A factory visit sold us on the vans. We've ended up with a 21' behind a Silverado.
Thanks for the look at your website, safe travelling.
Dave Fisher (just down the road),

Mick said...

My apologies David, i had not noticed your comment. Thanks for the kind words, Safe travels.

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Unknown said...

The trail off the bluff and down into the wash was much easier and we followed the wash until we came to a building marked as the Mesquite Police firing range. That led to a graded road around the dump and onto a paved road.