Tennis and camping, in no particular order, are two of my favourite leisure pursuits.
I’d just come off the back of a week’s tennis in country Victoria at Yarrawonga – where I’d played harder off the court than on it. I was part of the Mud Island Lawn Tennis Club team, a self-styled sobriquet due to the fact that most of its members hail from Geelong, the Mornington Peninsula – and even a blow in from Tatura! Mud Island actually lies 7km north of Portsea and 9km east of Queenscliff, Vic.
It was tough out in the heat – and in the bar! And celebrating my eldest son’s Paul’s 21st birthday on day one didn’t help!
So I was ready for some R&R when I headed away, along with photographer/videographer Stu Grant, for a weekend break with Bushmaster Caravans’ 18ft 10in Ironbark offroader to Bushmaster head honcho Terry Ryan’s 59-acre property at Strath Creek, Vic. Terry also runs a herd of cattle, including one bull, and knows them all by name. Funnily, they were all pretty nosey during the photoshoot but none more so than a super-inquisitive cow called Daisy who, on several occasions, came up close and personal for a sticky beak.
Situated in the Murrindindi Shire, Strath Creek is a natural paradise of rolling hills and an ecological habitat with a vast array of fauna and flora, plus a number of cattle and sheep farming properties.
Just over 100km north of Melbourne, it’s also in close proximity to Kinglake National Park and the Yarra Valley wine region.
During our short break in Strath Creek, Stu and I were cordially invited up to Terry’s newly built home for a sumptuous steak and salad dinner (our busy schedule made things too late for camp cooking) but later in the evening we still managed to revel in some relaxed banter around the ‘bush TV’ and some starry-eyed stargazing with Terry and his two youngest children – Forest, 12, and Art-Maree, 11 – alongside the King Parrot Creek which meanders through the property. And we all received a Galileo-like rundown on our constellations from shutterbug-cum-astronomer Stu, who talked us through the southern night sky.
Later, I enjoyed a comfortable night’s slumber in the Bushmaster. As for Stu, he didn’t get the ‘executive suite’ and had to nightcap with a simple configuration of mattress and doona in the back of his Troopy.
RUNS IN THE FAMILY
On simple inspection, the Ironbark is typical of the Bushmaster breed – I’ve previously reviewed a 17ft Ironbark Off Road and a 20ft 10in Bluegum Off Road, and they’re also as hard as nails on the outside and soft as silk on the inside.
The all-checkerplate clad Ironbark, not surprisingly, has a ‘steely’ look, and you get the impression that it would be unyielding in a punishing offroad environment. I’ll get to its external attributes in a moment, but it’s also got plenty of ‘hidden’ qualities such as the chassis and suspension that further qualify the Ironbark as a bona fide offroader.
The lightweight G&S aluminium chassis is matched with a G&S Control Rider TS suspension – it’s a rugged and proven configuration offering, Terry believes, long-term durability. Interestingly, about 40 per cent of all Bushmaster vans Terry builds now have a structurally engineered aluminium chassis. But, naturally, customers also have the option of a galvanised steel chassis if they prefer.
Yes, the Ironbark’s full checkerplate armour adds a little weight to the van but the lightweight aluminium chassis has a counteracting effect on the van’s body mass. With a Tare of 2510kg this is no lightweight van, however, it’s at the low end for a purpose-built offroader and it offer a huge 990kg payload capacity due to its 3.5t ATM. But with an unladen ball weight of 210kg, you’ll need to be wary about what you pack up front.
FILL ‘ER UP!
The Ironbark’s off-grid capability is quite substantial – it features a quartet of 120Ah AGM deep-cycle batteries, dual 130W solar panels, twin 95L and twin 60L freshwater tanks, and a single 60L grey water tank. Like all Bushmasters, the Ironbark has a clever water tank filling system – a plug-in arrangement for the individual tanks operated by a manifold procedure. And with these volumes, you’re not going to be left stranded like a castaway while out bush! I find it hard to imagine a scenario when you’d need more power or water capacity than that, and a grey water tank as standard is a very welcome, and still too rare, feature.
The van has a 450mm extended A-frame which holds what I call a toolbox on steroids. The side sections are ideal for jerry can storage, the vented front section holds two 9kg gas cylinders, and the top section is a massive toolbox.
An Ark coupling and Trail-A-Mate stand/jockey wheel/jack make hitching and unhitching a breeze. And there’s also an AL-KO ESC unit on the drawbar, plus a worklight and two LED lights on the front wall. I noticed the absence of a stone deflector, but Terry assures me that it comes standard on the Ironbark; it just wasn’t fitted to this test unit.
Meanwhile, a full-width tunnel boot, along with a rear generator hatch on the nearside and a small hatch on the offside complement the beefy toolbox in the external storage stakes.
The Ironbark has a drop-down picnic table, two marine grade external speakers, two external lights and a 240V outlet and 12V outlet on the nearside. And the electric 12V awning is a more simple operation than rolling out a manual equivalent. I found it easy to tether down and annexe walls are easily attached.
The rear of the Bushmaster has a reversing camera, a spare wheel, and an LED. A blue Alucobond strip midriff breaks up the monotony of the checkerplate. And I can attest to the usefulness of the wood carrier, positioned above the two-arm bumper bar – I got a bit carried away stocking up with firewood for my weekend camped by Strath Creek! The bumper can also hold two bikes by attaching mounting points either side of the rear wall.
Similarly to the 17ft Ironbark I’ve previously tested, it’s slightly bigger sibling has interesting external decals featuring iconic Aussie landmarks such as Uluru, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Oodnadatta Track, Simpson Desert, Katherine Gorge and Twin Falls. If those images don’t get your travel juices flowing, nothing will!
ACE OF SPACE
The Ironbark’s interior décor is as elegant as the exterior is tough. It has glossy grey acrylic cupboard doors and a splash of blue including the genuine leather café-style dinette with footrests, and trim along the bottom of the cupboard doors and overhead lockers.
The kitchen is a no-nonsense affair with rolled-edge benchtops (25mm lightweight ply with a black and silver pearl laminate), loads of storage, plus all the requisites for a camp chef: Swift 500 Series four-burner cooktop, grill and oven, rangehood (with water heater switch and water level indicators above), Whirlpool Cook and Crisp microwave (above the sink), huge family-sized 231L Waeco compressor fridge/freezer, and five-stacker wire basket pull-out pantry.
The microwaves gets a further tick of approval from me for not only at a sensible height but bolt locked so it won’t come open while travelling. However, I thought the kitchen had slightly limited benchtop space and its small window doesn’t offer a particularly panoramic outlook.
The Ironbark’s genuine blue leather café dinette is hip, and the glossy grey cupboard doors (16mm lightweight ply), with arthritis-friendly handles is alluring. As is the norm throughout the van, there is abundant ceiling and LED strip lighting, storage (four overhead lockers, and two cupboards underneath the trifold table) and adequate ventilation. There is also an AL-KO overhead hatch between the kitchen and lounge.
The lounge also has good storage under the dinette seating, a Sansui entertainment system with Bluetooth connectivity, two reading lights, a double powerpoint and 12V outlet, and a switch for the 12V awning. There’s also six downlights in the kitchen/living zones, and a magazine holder above the dinette seating on the rear ensuite’s front wall. But, like the kitchen, the window above the dinette doesn’t really offer any great vistas.
The Ironbark has two internal speakers: in the kitchen/lounge zone, and towards the front of the bedroom.
I spent a night in the Ironbark, and I’m relieved to say I slept like a baby courtesy of the caravan-queen-size island bed with back support mattress. The homely front bedroom also has on both sides: mirrored robes with plenty of hanging space, dressers with slide-out drawers and cupboards, reading lights, double powerpoints, leather-padded magazine holders and good-size Ranger double-glazed push-out windows with flyscreens and privacy blinds.
There are three overhead lockers, four downlights, a corner cabinet on the offside, a 24in Finch RV LED TV on the offside (which can also be viewed from the dinette), a ProStar 30 solar charge controller on the offside wall, and another AL-KO overhead hatch directly above the bed.
A Swift Ecotherm gas heater, which would normally sit under the front bed, wasn’t installed to this unit but comes as a standard inclusion. It works directly off the Suburban 23L hot water system, with no external fluing or vents required. The unit is compact and installed inside the van, thus eliminating dust ingress and potential for damage.
The rear ensuite is sophisticated, underlined by the china bowl vanity complete with mirror, flick mixer tower tap and copious storage. Immediately to the left of the bathroom entry is a Thetford ceramic bowl toilet, hatch with a 12V fan, window, and a front-loading 3kg Dometic washing machine – a rolled-gold addition when on lengthy stays off the bitumen.
And then a jump to the right is a fully-moulded one-piece fibreglass shower with a flexible hose and mixer, soap holder, and hatch with a 12V fan. There’s also a sliding door for privacy (bolted top and bottom, plus also latched), plus a towel rail and toilet roll holder fastened to its back.
BEATING AROUND THE BUSH
After brekkie, I took the Ironbark on a tow test-cum-sightseeing tour of the area. Terry tow tests every van he manufactures before it hits the showroom floor. And, to that extent, I found the Ironbark to be extremely agile and manoeuvrable. This was hammered home when I put the Bushmaster through its paces around Strath Creek, including a quick dip in the King Parrot Creek which runs alongside the property and then through the undulating Valley of a Thousand Hills.
There were even times I didn’t realise the Ironbark was being tugged along by my Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI AMG 4 Matic tow vehicle. It just glided along as smooth as a flamingo lands on water. And making the tow test all the more entertaining was that music buff Terry played everything from Ian Moss to Slim Dusty along the way!
After our weekend with the Bushmaster, and prior to returning to Melbourne, Stu and I stopped off at the turn-of-the-century Flowerdale Hotel for a cleansing ale to celebrate a fine weekend of camping. It was a fitting finale to our Strath Creek sojourn.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After my weekend with the Bushmaster Ironbark, I’ve come to the realisation: caravanning and camping serves up an ace to tennis!
Time to hang up the tennis racquet and enjoy more adventuring, I reckon!
The 18ft 10in Bushmaster Ironbark is the ultimate go-anywhere van. It uses strong, lightweight features to offset heavier-duty offroading elements and you’ll be arriving at your destinations in complete peace of mind courtesy of its offroad muscle and, I dare say, comfort and style given its internal elegance.
Field of Dreams
Our tow test around Strath Creek landed us at one of Strath Creek’s major tourist attractions – the Village Green & Pavilion (aka the Hume & Hovell Cricket Ground Est 1994).
Actually, it’s quite surreal and had me ruminating on the 1989 American fantasy-drama sports film Field of Dreams. I recall the famous line: “If you build it, he will come.”
Okay, we didn’t sight ‘Shoeless Joe Jackson’, but while we were there a group of Year 8 students from St Monica’s College in Epping were enjoying the amenities.
Also an accommodation destination, the property is owned by John and Ros Rogers – parents of Chris Rogers, a former left-hand opening batsman for Australia. The former Sandgropers fell in love with their own ‘Field of Dreams’ just over three years ago after travelling around Victoria.
John and Ros also host family and group holidays, school and cricket camps, weddings and special events, corporate day-outs and bus tours.
The ground – based on the famous Lord’s in England – is encircled by white picket fencing and there’s also an architect-designed pavilion with a myriad of cricket memorabilia. John is in fact a former CEO of the WACA in Perth. And the property even displays an historic turnstile (circa 1880s) from the South Melbourne Cricket Ground, which several Test captains have passed through.
For the record, Chris Rogers scored 2015 Test runs, at an average of 42.87, from 25 matches and 48 innings. His highest Test score was 173, and he notched five centuries and 14 fifties during his Test career.
• Remarkable off-grid capability
• Raft of standard inclusions
• Plush and pragmatic interior
• Ultra-tough exterior
• Limited benchtop space
• Some windows undersized
• No external kitchen
• 5.74m (18ft 10in) offroader
• All-checkerplate external cladding
• Purpose-built Bushmaster
1. VALUE FOR MONEY 4.5
2. TOWABILITY 4.5
3. LIVEABILITY 4.5
4. SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 5
5. LAYOUT 4.5
6. QUALITY OF FINISH 4.5
7. BUILD QUALITY 4.5
8. CREATURE COMFORTS 4.5
9. INNOVATION 4.5
10. X-FACTOR 4.5
Bushmaster Ironbark 18ft 10in
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 7.69m (25ft 3in)
External body length 5.74m (18ft 10in)
External body width 2.46m (8ft 1in)
Travel height 2.85m (9ft 4in)
Internal height 2.05m (6ft 9in)
Ball weight 210kg
Chassis G&S 6in aluminium
Suspension G&S Control Rider TS
Brakes 12in electric
Wheels General Grabber A/T 265/75 R16, with 16in alloys
Water 2x95L & 2x60L (freshwater); 1x60L (grey water)
Battery 4x120Ah AGM deep cycle
Air-conditioner Aircommand Ibis 3
Sway control AL-KO ESC
Cooking Swift 500 Series four-burner cooktop, grill and oven
Fridge Waeco compressor fridge/freezer 231L
Microwave Whirlpool cook & crisp
Toilet Thetford ceramic bowl
Shower Fully moulded one-piece fibreglass
Lighting 12V LED
Hot water Suburban gas/electric 23L, with combined Swift Ecotherm gas heater
PRICE AS SHOWN
$82,000 (on-road, Vic)
To enquire about this caravan, please visit www.caravanworld.com.au/spec or phone (03) 9357 5222