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A caravan for the big lap: Real advice from real people

Taking your caravan around Australia or doing the ‘big lap’, is a dream many people harbour, but it’s a trip that requires careful planning, a lot of time and a good bit of money. Naturally, central to getting around the place is your accommodation – your caravan or camper trailer. It’s your place of residence for weeks or months on end, so getting it right is crucial.

There are some obvious features that caravans and camper trailers should have: a sensible layout, good appliances and reliable running gear. But we wanted to speak to people who’ve done the big lap to find out what mattered to them.

Equipment

Jill Malcolm is a New Zealand-based travel writer who has made the trip to Oz a couple of times. Jill and her husband spent four-and-a-half-months touring the country in an 18-foot tandem axle. One of Jill’s recommendations was an outdoor barbecue and kitchen. In addition to enjoying the outdoors as you cook, “it meant the cooking smells were kept outside – that’s important in the small confines of a caravan”.

Air conditioning was “absolutely essential” for the Malcolms as they toured the Top End. It meant they couldn’t free-camp as much as they needed powered sites for the AC, but the payoff was comfort. Unfortunately, as their AC was rather noisy, they couldn’t hear the tropical rains destroying their awning. Some caravans now come with split systems, so the compressor is out of earshot, just like in a home system.

Karin Monk took her husband and two young children on the road in a camper trailer for two months. They relied heavily on their fuel cell to keep their batteries charged when free camping as they sometimes found there wasn’t enough sun hitting their solar panels. A 10-litre methanol cassette can last from one to three months under normal conditions.

Andrew Gallop, managing director of Hardings Swift Caravan Services in Kilsyth, Victoria, has taken his family on the big trip. With his expertise in caravan maintenance and servicing, Andrew recommended Independent Rubber Suspension (IRS), which uses the torsional resistance of rubber instead of springs and, with fewer moving parts is, “better and far more reliable” than common types of suspension. Andrew recommended IRS, “especially for off-road”.

For those running leaf springs, Andrew even suggested taking a spare spring in your inventory. They’re cheap and don’t take up too much space. If you break one on the road you won’t need to wait for a shop to order the part in.

Organisation

For Karin and her family, adequate storage was a big issue. “Everyone got a box each for the clothes and toys.” When looking at new caravans, it’s good to have an idea of how much gear you’ll be taking on the road.

Maintenance issues

The folks we talked to didn’t have too many major maintenance issues on the road, but they did offer some nice tips. Jill flat-out recommends a tandem axle caravan, not just for its load-carrying capabilities, but when changing a flat she and her husband were able to rely on the tandem’s three good wheels to assist with lifting the flat off the ground and keeping the caravan steady. “It was so much easier to change the tyre.”

Andrew notes that rot is an issue – even in new caravans – and recommends running silicone along the joins in the wall-cladding even before you detect rot. “It’s always cheaper to seal first than deal with rot later!” Dust ingress through the wall was an issue for the Malcolms – they used duct tape to cover-up gaps, but applying silicone before they noticed the rot, as Andrew recommended, would probably have fixed this issue, too.

Taking a partner or a whole family around the world’s largest island (all right, technically we’re a continent) is no small feat. Caravanning around Australia requires preparation, the right frame of mind and, most importantly, a caravan or camper trailer that will serve as a solid base for your adventure.

Now’s probably a good time to look at the best car to tow it with.

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