A king bed lifts to the ceiling at the flick of a switch revealing a spacious club lounge underneath and adds almost two metres of living space to this innovative 21ft family bunk van from Willow RV.
Willow’s move into a vast 2500sq m purpose-built factory last year marked a huge step forward for the relatively young Willow brand. Owners Eddie Wills and Ian Jow turned years of caravan-building experience into their own line of innovative caravans and combined their surnames to create the Willow name.
The pair had a total of 45 years of caravan building behind them in the UK, South Africa and Australia when they set up shop in a Pakenham factory in 2018. Both had been critical of the traditional ‘stick and tin’ construction method applied locally, so it was no surprise that their vans were a sturdy composite construction from the beginning.
Eddie and Ian share their roles across the business with Eddie specialising in design and development and Ian overseeing the 20-plus staff in the production, purchasing and sales departments.
After design on analysis software, the build starts on a 150mm x 50mm Australian steel chassis from Rollcraft. The Willow team’s experience results in a chassis strong enough for Australian tracks but as light as possible to minimise overall weight. You can see the studied engineering in a mix of heavy-duty cross members and lightweight C-sections to support the floor. The hot dip galvanised ladder construction includes four locations for 95L water tanks so they can be located for best weight distribution. Our review van had two 95L freshwater tanks as standard, and a 95L grey water tank optioned on. Suspension on the Waratah is AL-KO’s Enduro X independent trailing arm system with twin shock absorbers at each wheel helping make it suitable for offroad travel.
The build continues with the floor bonded and mechanically fixed to the steel chassis for minimum flex over uneven ground. Again, strength and weight saving are a priority. The 37mm-thick floor is a composite panel comprising a polyurethane frame and high-density foam construction with ply top and bottom and a durable bitumen moisture protection on the underside.
Unlike many builders who construct the caravan frame and then build the furniture inside, Willow does the opposite. The interlocking furniture is built on the caravan floor to allow completion of all plumbing and electrics prior to the walls going on. This is both more efficient and delivers a neater and more accessible finish.
The walls are designed by Willow then locally sourced with durable polyurethane frame and high-density foam composite construction.
This is bonded between 3mm ply sheets and a single-piece aluminium external panel. The team then secures the furniture to the walls, fixing each piece solidly into the polyurethane frame matrix within the wall. This is further strengthened when the composite roof is fixed over the walls. The joins are sealed and fitted with an aluminium covering cap.
You might recognise that the build method isn’t unique and while it has similarities to some European brands, that’s only to be expected. The difference is the robust build that’s designed to withstand the rigors of rough road travel. The Waratah weighs in with a tare at 2612kg and for a 21ft family van with all the right equipment, that’s an incredible achievement that only comes from a lot of thoughtful engineering.
There’s no escaping the bulky look of this big family van where big panels of white aluminium dominate the sides. The swept-back entry and a square rear end lend a boxy and angular impression, while adding to maximum on-board space. The body of the van rides high on the chassis which is visible from the sides. This high-riding stance, along with the raised wheel arches, adds to the offroad intent but in a very conservative-looking van. Low sections of black checkerplate along with black windows and a door break up the expanse of white, which is the signature Willow colour across the range.
At the pointy end of the extended A-frame is an optional Cruisemaster DO35, which remains the go-to option for offroading due to its reliability, safety and excellent articulation over extreme ground.
A full-width optional stoneguard protects twin 9kg gas bottles and the van from damage. I’m of two minds around having the gas in an open area like this. It’s not the most visually appealing, but it gives maximum ventilation and prevents owners piling things inappropriately around bottles in a dedicated bin.
Two storage hatches run across the front, and I like the thoughtful approach taken. The doors have automotive rubber seals to help weather protection in this notoriously weather-vulnerable part of the van and they are fitted with catches to hold them open for easier access. Splitting the front boot into two also makes sense as, with the drawbar in the way, it can be hard to reach the centre section of a full-width boot. I also like the places set aside for the jack and other tools.
Along the kerb side I noted a hatch deep and large enough for some camp chairs, a fold-down picnic table, 12V and 240V power points and a gas bayonet for a barbecue.
Goodride 235/75 tyres are mounted on 15in Prime alloy wheels and the single spare is mounted on arm bar at the rear. The Willow branded wheel centres add a cool touch. Looking for a more macho look? Then 16in wheels and higher profile All-Terrain tyres are an option.
More storage options towards the back include another generous-sized hatch and a smaller through boot for longer items. The battery mounts in an external box on the chassis so it meets the latest compliance requirements and is quick to access for any maintenance issues. It’s worth highlighting that Willow was among the first caravan manufacturers to meet the new RVSA guidelines and they were ready for the initial deadline in 2022, making them way ahead of the pack. So, congratulations.
A beautifully moulded ABS door sits just forward of the wheels. It folds forward to be less damaging in the unlikely event of it coming open when driving and has a strong magnet to keep it in place when camped.
Interior design took ideas from Gemma, our new Van Roam’n columnist, who has been travelling in a Willow with her family for the past few years. The colours follow the current trend, with light-toned timber and dark grey furniture playing against muted white walls. Your preference might be for lighter colours, but the interior design of the review van should be homely and welcoming for years.
We have agreed that the Waratah is a relatively big van and it feels roomy and luxurious when you step aboard. And, unlike nearly all the range of offroad family vans, there is plenty of room at the wrap-around club lounge and dining table for parents and children. It might take a while if you aren’t in the know, but it eventually dawns that there’s no bed for the parents. The kids have their own nook up front with a set of bunks, but that’s not enough, surely?
The answer is a bed that lifts up to the ceiling on electric rollers to reveal the club lounge and drops down to a king bed for sleeping. So, you have either a monster lounge or a large bed at the flick of a switch and I think it’s a really smart idea in caravan design. Fair enough, Willow might not be the first and we owe some credit to motorhome design, but the team has executed the layout perfectly. Either configuration looks like it belongs and the switch between the two is simple.
In some respects, the design adds nearly two metres of usable space because to achieve having the bed and lounge side-by-side in a van would make it 28ft or so long. Another benefit is the space where the lounge would normally go — opposite the kitchen — is now extra real estate and Willow takes it up with kitchen benches either side of the central walkway which is an especially welcome move in a family van.
The entry door is as far from the main bed as possible, so privacy is high. Although, if you are worried about neighbours seeing an unmade bed then a flick of a switch will have it hidden away. The mid entry gives near direct access to the ensuite which is tucked in the front driver side corner opposite the bunks. You have a choice of either three or two bunks, each with a Sirocco fan, window, light and USB port. Storage is excellent with a generous space under the bottom bunk and a full height cupboard on the front wall.
Appliances include a good size 170L fridge, a cooktop and grill and a sensibly located microwave under the bench. Also standard are a reverse cycle air-conditioner and a washing machine.
The bathroom layout is practical and roomy enough for a family and includes a swivelling toilet and a full-size moulded shower with a roller style door.
In standard configuration the van has a single 170W solar panel, a 100Ah deep cycle battery and two 95L freshwater tanks. While that setup would suit short overnight stays off-grid, it’s more a blank canvas for owners to customise as they wish.
The van has a tare weight of 2612kg and a 3200kg ATM, so it will suit a big range of 4WDs. Our review was through ARV Caravans in Eden, NSW, and Brian had his new chopped 300 Series LandCruiser on show. We headed north out of town and the combination barely dropped any speed up the steep Bellbird Hill. The van towed faultlessly at highway speed, and I saw no undue roll or pitching over rougher tracks and winding tar roads into the forest for our photos.
The bottom line
Pricing starts at $105,289. As tested with options like a bike rack, grey water tank and DO35 hitch the new Waratah is $111,120 which is good value in today’s market. Innovative design, current engineering and the composite build are all value propositions. To my mind, Willow is a leader in local caravan ingenuity and construction and while they might fly under the radar somewhat, they deserve to be on your shopping list if you seek endurance and quality.
HITS AND MISSES
- Composite construction
- Sensible weight
- Space-creating drop-down bed
- More carrying capacity would be good
Willow Waratah 6249 Ratings
VALUE FOR MONEY
Good value for such innovation, size and build quality
Well balanced on the road, suitable for most mid-range 4WD vehicles
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
Room for the family and suitable for offroad travel
High-quality, well-engineered chassis and modern composite construction
The drop-down bed is a game changer for families looking for more room
Limited off-grid equipment as standard — upgrade to your preferred level
Three-year factory warranty and excellent service from ARV
While not the first with the bed, the idea still impresses
Conservative looks but it’s what’s going on inside that counts
WILLOW WARATAH 6249 SPECS
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
|Body length||6.6m (21ft 8in)|
|Overall length||8.8m (29ft|
|Width||2.4m (7ft 9in)|
|Height||2.9m (9ft 4in)|
|Ball weight (at tare)||308kg|
|Ball to tare ratio||11.8%|
|Chassis||150 x 50 x 3mm hot dip galvanised|
|Suspension||AL-KO Enduro X|
|Brakes||12in drums all wheels|
|Wheels||Goodride 235/75 x 15in (alloy)|
|Water||2 x 95L freshwater, plus 95L grey water (optional)|
|Battery||1 x 100Ah deep cycle|
|Solar||1 x 170W|
|Gas||2 x 9kg|
|Fridge||Thetford 170L three-way|
|Hot water||20L gas electric|
Willow Waratah 6249 price from $105,289
- Cruisemaster DO35 hitch
- Bike rack
- Full-width stoneguard
- 1 x 95L grey water tank
Willow Waratah 6249 price as tested $111,120
To enquire about this caravan:
Eden NSW 2551
THE NEXT STEP
The sellers will be happy to help and answer any inquiries you may have about the products advertised for sale.