Not everyone wants a loud and dirty offroader, even if they plan to travel far. Plenty of travelling couples instead embrace the comforts of a well-equipped caravan park, as can be witnessed in the many popular venues along the North Queensland coast in winter.
The annual migration to anywhere warmer than Noosa sees thousands of colder climate couples pack the van and hit the road, and although much of the Bruce Highway is pretty rough, you don't need an offroad van to handle the trip.
I was first impressed by the Safari brand on the caravan show circuit and later found videos of their adventure vans that owners had put up on various forums. But, as well as the offroaders, the range extends to more than 20 blacktop tourers from a single axle 18-footer to a 22ft 6in version with a slide-out.
Safari vans are produced in Melbourne but have enjoyed an exclusive partnership with Trounce Caravans in Ballarat for more than 15 years. Trounce Caravans is a family run business with two brothers at the helm, and according to marketing manager Kris Bird, the Delta 21 with club lounge has been the most popular model in the range over the last 12 months, thanks to couples wanting a van that can handle extended times away while enjoying plenty of room and comfort.
Smooth composite panelling along the sides has the contemporary appeal that is so well accepted because it looks great and has better thermal properties than raised profile aluminium. The disadvantage is that the composite material is around 80kg heavier than the thinner aluminium strips in a van of this size. Still, it's also more hail and damage resistant, and in the whirl of swings and roundabouts, it generally comes out on top.
The composite continues over both ends, and a high panel of checkerplate all the way round is probably more for show than protection. Graphics of distressed wheel tracks set in dark panels of stylised carbon fibre along the sides and across the back break up the large areas of white but might be a little incongruous on a touring van.
I noticed in the yard that none of the Safari vans on display had either a front window or front boot, and this is a deliberate decision for two reasons. Firstly, these are notoriously difficult to seal against water ingress, and secondly, the front boot takes precious internal space. So instead, a tunnel boot
runs under the bed and offers plenty of functional storage.
Under the external skin is a 42-x19mm Meranti frame with styrene foam insulation, which Kris insists is the best medium for vans as long as it is properly sealed. Safari uses Bostick V60, which it maintains has superior adhesion and durability.
A 50mm AL-KO ball hitch connects to the tow vehicle, and two 9kg gas bottles sit high on the A-frame. Underneath is an FP ladder-style chassis from 150 x 50mm Australian steel with a Duragal treatment. The suspension is Simplicity load sharing tandem leaf springs rated to 3200kg, and while the system is mainly directed to main road travel, it will handle some rougher ground as long as you drive to the conditions — in other words, keep your speed down.
Brakes are 10in drums at all axles, and wheels are smart looking 15in black spoked alloys shod with road tyres.
Along the passenger side is a locking fold-down picnic table with the standard 12V TV and 240V outlets, while overhead are two bright LED lights. A single spare sits on a three-arm bar at the back, and a safety Dave rear view camera is standard.
I really like the interior design of the Safari, where the timber features blend with satin finishes for a very welcoming feel. It was only 10 or so years back that the industry moved away from the traditional build of wood to a mix of bright joinery. The current trend seems to be going back to timber highlights, and it’s a real winner for me.
The rear door layout places the bed in the most popular place — up front and away from the entry. A full-width ensuite runs across the back, leaving the central space as a roomy relaxing and dining area. The review version of the Safari Delta 21 has a club lounge along the passenger side and the kitchen opposite.
Walls and ceiling are finished in white, while dark grey cabinets and upholstery along with white cupboard faces add to the modern theme. The joinery is neatly finished, and built in lightweight ply and includes piano hinges, sturdy metal drawer runners and positive lock catches.
Because the van is longer than usual, it has enough length to include a roomy club or U-shaped lounge, which is big enough to comfortably seat five when extras call around for a drink, or for a couple to spread out when watching TV.
An optional ‘Black Pack’ consists of black sink and tap wear in both the kitchen and bathroom as well as a black tinted door at the shower. It also provides for the face of the 190L three-way fridge, although Kris tells me it’s the only colour available at present from Dometic, so all vans have a black fridge.
The bathroom has plenty of room to move and has a crisp feeling and good ventilation from overhead fans. A 3kg washer sits under the timber vanity.
Included in the kitchen is a gas/electric cooktop with grill. Bench space is limited, but the cover over the stove adds to the preparation area as usual. Storage, however, is excellent with a floor-to-ceiling pantry next to the fridge and lots of room in overhead cupboards.
The north-south bed has easy access from each side and the standard features of side and overhead storage. Storage underneath is shared with the tunnel boot but leaves enough room for extra bedding and so on.
While not a dedicated bush camper, there is enough water and power to stay off-grid when you want to. The fridge and hot water run on gas, and a 160W solar panel charges a single 120Ah battery for enough power to run lights and the TV for days.
Charging is through a solar charger and the excellent (and Aussie-made) BMPro Genius 30-35 battery management system. All the electronics are beautifully installed in an overhead cupboard and include water tank gauges and a sound/DVD system.
An added advantage of this onboard technology is that you can save a few dollars because you don't really need a powered site in a caravan park — as long as you don’t have to have the Ibis 4 air conditioner running, that is.
Weighing in with a tare of 2370kg and an ATM of 3200kg, the maximum payload is a generous 830kg — even with full gas and water tanks, you have around 600kg left to load the van. But reduce the amount of cargo, and you could keep the weight under 3t and make the van legal for several mid-size tow vehicles.
For our review, we hitched to a Jeep Cherokee with a 3L V6 turbodiesel. Before heading to Lake Burrumbeet, we had a run down the motorway at the legal 110km/h with the Delta sitting smoothly behind. The van was just as impressive along country roads and the dirt tracks around the lake, where it towed silently and smoothly without any vices.
Every van is weighed when it arrives at the dealership, so you know its plated weight is correct once any accessories are fitted. The Safari range all comes with a three-year manufacturer warranty, and by all accounts, the Trounce team has a decent reputation for fixing any issues.
The standout feature of the Delta 21 is the roomy club lounge. It adds a level of comfort and homeliness for couples wanting to spend lengthy time travelling or camped up in the van.
Price is $65,490, including the $1000 optional Black Pack. That’s good value in today’s market for a van of this size and level of quality. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that, like every manufacturer at present, build times have blown out for months ahead.
The Delta 21 will suit couples who like the idea of a van with room to move but without the weight of a big offroader. It will be most at home in caravan parks but will follow you into most coastal national parks without complaint as long as you drive to the conditions.
DON'T BLOW A FUSE
I noticed on the BMPro battery management system that only the fuse for the television was marked. When I asked Kris why this was so, he said it was the only circuit that gave trouble. Owners like to disconnect the television when travelling, so it doesn't swing around and damage the van or the unit itself. He reckons that many owners in all brands will experience blown fuses with their NCE television, which is common in many vans. The base of the panel for the various plugs is metal, and if you plug the 12V lead into its socket but miss and hit the base plate, you will short out the TV and blow a fuse. You can solve this by being more careful, of course, but more practically, by never plugging the fuse in after travel when the power is connected. The fix is simple, and it's a wonder other dealers haven't noticed the issue.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
External length 8.3m (27ft 3in)
External Body length 6.4m (21ft)
External width 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Internal height 2.3m (7ft 8in)
Travel height 2.9m (9ft 6in)
Ball weight 170kg
Frame Meranti timber
Cladding Aluminum composite
Chassis FP Chassis
Brakes 10in Electric
Wheels/tyres 15in Offroad (all terrain tread)
Battery 120Ah AGM
Solar 160W monocrystalline panel
Air-conditioner Ibis 4
Gas Twin 9kg
Sway control Optional AL-KO, Dexter or lipert
Cooking 3 gas/1 elect cooktop
Fridge 190L Dometic 3-way (compressor available at no cost)
Toilet Thetford ceramic bowl
Lighting LED lighting through-out
Hot water Swift gas/electric
PRICE FROM $64,490
OPTIONS FITTED Black pack $1000
PRICE AS TESTED $65,490 drive away
9439 Western Fwy, Warrenhelp VIC 3352
Ph: (03) 5334 8194