This is a van ideal for a younger, active family keen on outdoor living with cash to splash! The Wallaroo compact is spec’d to the max and priced at $95,000 as tested. What you see is the personal van of the owner of Wallaroo Caravans, Mick Neil. He wanted to build a van that showcased, in his view, the best components available in the industry.
I spent the day with Mick, starting with a tour of his small factory in Drouin, Victoria, followed by venturing out to the southern reaches of the High Country just outside Erica, with van in tow, included freeway cruising, winding mountain roads, a taste of dirt road exploring and a good chat with Mick about Wallaroo Caravans.
Mick only needs a ‘small’ factory because his annual production forecast is ten units. Describing Wallaroo Caravans as a boutique manufacturer is probably a bit of an understatement — Wallaroo does it all, even down to fabricating the chassis.
Wallaroo was founded by Mick and his wife, Jen, in 2017. Like so many in the RV industry, Mick has a passion for the road. He has travelled Australia extensively with Jen, first in a Troop Carrier, followed by a Nissan Patrol on which Mick built himself a canopy.
Familiar with construction, Mick started life as a carpenter and has had the dream to build caravans for many years. In his travels, he had a short stint working for a larger scale caravan manufacturer and later gained further experience in caravan repairs. He learnt a lot about what he liked and didn’t like in caravan manufacturing processes, so when he started Wallaroo, he had a clear philosophy —quite simply, to build the highest quality van, matching the customer’s needs, with no compromise on components used.
OUTDOOR LIVING FOCUS
The Wallaroo Compact is geared to outdoor living, as evidenced by the abundance of exterior features and, to some extent, the absence of interior features. Don’t get me wrong, you can only fit so much inside a sub-17ft van, but more on that later.
A pivotal feature is the inhouse fabricated slide out kitchen. It features a Thetford three burner gas cooktop, sink and handy drawers. The whole thing slides out a long way for a good meal prep area without the need for a support leg. In immediate proximity is the exterior access pantry with plenty of ‘frontage’ and not much depth which means you can see everything at a glance. The nowadays obligatory awning for sheltered meal prep is taken care of by the Aussie Traveller Sunburst.
Hot water is supplied via a Girard gas instantaneous hot water service, and two 9kg gas bottles on the drawbar should keep you going for quite some time.
Compact by name, compact by nature. When you have to fit a ‘whole house’ inside a space a whisker bigger than 5 metres long by 2.3 metres wide, you need to take a minimalist approach. There is an elevated east-west queen-sized bed with pocket spring mattress at the rear of the van, allowing for good under-bed storage. To get in and out of bed, you need to step on the lounge. Personally, it is a compromise I am very happy to make to optimise space, but it will not suit everyone. The rear sleeping area feels bigger than it actually is, with a couple of nice EuroVision double glazed windows letting in plenty of natural light and whatever vista your destination dishes up to you.
Take a couple of small steps from the couch and you will be at the front of the van with two cosy bunk beds featuring high density foam mattresses. Cosy is the right word because one of the beds is 67cm wide and the other 82cm wide, making the sleeping arrangements suited to smaller kids — you do have 180cm of ‘stretching’ length though. (The upside to a custom builder is if you want wider bunks, Wallaroo will simply make you a slightly bigger van.) All of the beds have USB points and reading lights at hand, as we have come to expect these days.
In between the front and rear sleeping arrangements is a nice little ensuite with combination shower and toilet and vanity which has everything you need. The vanity cupboard door is an exterior hatch which looks kind of out of place until you realise this is actually quite a smart idea when you see that it is easily within shower spraying range of an over-enthusiastic kid.
There is no table or cooking facilities inside, emphasising the outdoor nature of this van. You do, however, get a substantial 212L Nova Kool compressor fridge just inside the door for easy access when preparing meals outdoors.
You can certainly feel the cold in the High Country, so we had the Webasto diesel heating pumping while inspecting the van. Despite having all the windows and doors open for the photo shoot, it did an admirable job, helped by the insulation properties of the shell construction. On the flip side, the Dometic Harrier Light air conditioner would be a welcome relief in the warmer weather. You can even run the A/C for limited periods with the battery/inverter system.
There is plenty of overhead storage and some useful drawers and, combined with the exterior pantry, it is ample room for a family of four. About all you could wish for is a little bit of hanging space. The decor has an understated, contemporary feel quite to my liking. Again, the beauty of a bespoke builder such as Wallaroo is you could have whatever interior colour your heart desires.
Mick describes himself as a fastidious type and it shows in the build quality. He focuses on contemporary materials that save weight and optimise strength.
As mentioned above, Mick builds each chassis from scratch. Wallaroo chassis use DuraGal rather than hot dip gal which Mick claims can save up to 50kg on bigger vans. Once the chassis is completed, two coats of two-pack epoxy primer are applied, followed by raptor coating for the final finish.
The shell is all made from composite materials. The floor is 17mm thick, one piece, poly construction with a ‘honeycomb’ type core. For the technically inclined, this stuff has a ‘feather weight’ 4kg p/sqm according to Mick. The floor is bonded to the chassis with a Henkel adhesive which has a bond strength of 36kg p/sqcm.
The walls and roof are 29mm thick composite panels with fibreglass exterior and extruded polystyrene core, well regarded for their strength and thermal insulation properties. Each panel is CNC cut to Mick’s CAD dimensions for a precision fit, and he specifies high density PVC insert material at all the fastening points for improved screw retention.
All cabinetry material is constructed with 15mm ply, with thermo reinforced plastic veneer. Mick favours this material for its contribution to an overall light weight and excellent screw retention.
The tech stuff in this van is geared to extending off-grid living. Enerdrive power management systems have carved a reputation for cutting no corners. Power is generated courtesy of 3 x 180W solar panels and stored with a 400Ah lithium battery. Delivery through an efficient 12V system is what you would expect along with a 2600W inverter for those 240V luxuries while off-grid. A dedicated compartment upfront to house a petrol generator provides further power back-up.
Two separate 130L freshwater tanks mean if you strike a problem with one you have the second at your disposal. Not that this is likely as the tanks are well shielded with checker plate. A 95L grey water system means you can enter national parks etc. with confidence.
ON AND OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
The Wallaroo Compact specs really shine and this is where you see what you get for your money. On review day, the van had around 200kg payload on board — coupled to a 200 series LandCruiser, towing was effortless.
The van is equipped with Cruisemaster running gear which is recognised in the industry as being among the best. The XT All Terrain independent arm suspension with air bags handled the conditions smoothly and using the bags for levelling the van when parked up was a treat. Compared to a standard coupling, the DO35 coupling affords additional articulation in offroad applications, makes it easier to uncouple/recouple on uneven ground and can mitigate the risk of the van rolling the car over in a nasty situation. The Cruisemaster package is rounded off 12in electric off road brakes.
The ROH rims look smart, are rated to 1.5 tonne and are matched with Falken Wildpeak all terrains. You are looking at premium wheels and tyres here, which is something not all caravan manufacturers do. Spare wheel positioning is an ongoing debate for caravan manufacturers. Underslung spares keep the weight low and are often in a better position for weight distribution. Spares hung off a rear bumper are easy to get to but not so easy to lift back up into position and put weight on the extremity of the van. Wallaroo has come up with a pretty good compromise with an angled underslung spare – easy to get to and not too hard to lift. Sure, it doesn’t help the departure angle but you can’t have everything.
The CaraFan Sahara unit provides positive pressure inside the van, designed to provide dust-free conditions which is a ‘right up there’ feature for any form of outback travel.
The stone stomper up front is a proven performer in protecting the van against the inevitable ‘missiles’ that your tow vehicle will throw up on outback roads. A healthy dose of raptor coating on the sides of the van provides further stone protection. The hydraulic jockey wheel as standard is a nice touch and the well thought out compartments in the A-frame front storage will help keep you organised on the road.
Wallaroo Caravans come with a three-year structural warranty. If you have a problem with the van you will be dealing with the owner of the company, who has pedigree in caravan repairs. Reputable component suppliers make it possible for Wallaroo to co-ordinate solutions for their owners nationwide. For van construction solutions on the road, Wallaroo works with a network of independent repair centres.
IS IT WORTH THE MONEY?
There are lower cost options out there for young families. However, with Aussies placing a greater emphasis on domestic travel and the ongoing trend towards vans being capable of getting away from crowds, this van has a lot to offer.
The Wallaroo compact features top notch build quality and contemporary composite shell construction with great thermal properties. Then, taking into account the value of premium inclusions, such as a comprehensive Enerdrive power management system and Cruisemaster rugged running gear, this could be the van for you.