TESTED: DESERT TRACKER CARAVAN
Iain Curry tests its muster in Tintinara, SA
It’s not unusual for camper trailer owners to succumb to temptation and eventually buy a caravan. After all, most of us start to prefer a bit more comfort and practicality on trips away, especially when getting older or if the kids come along. But giving up the camper trailer doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of the off-the-beaten-track lifestyle. And Desert Sky’s Desert Tracker offers a happy compromise between the camper trailer and caravan experience.
This offroad caravan is a new venture by Adelaide-based Desert Sky, which after many successful years of producing camper trailers has decided to tap into the go-anywhere-in-comfort market.
Some caravan companies are quick to claim their offerings as offroad, but in some cases this can simply mean offroad tyres have been fitted to an on-road van. A true offroad caravan needs to be able to handle rougher stuff than a few kilometres of unsealed road, and that warrants specialised suspension, a robust build and an interior design suited to plenty of shaking and knocking around.
The owner of Desert Sky, Rudi Vester, is an active member of a 4WD club, has completed many offroad adventures throughout Australia and always thoroughly tests his camper trailer products in the wilds himself. In other words, he’s qualified to know what is required of an off-road van and has built the Desert Tracker accordingly.
"It is ideal for the four-wheel-driver who is tired of the tent side of things that come with a camper trailer," he says.
The Desert Tracker is far from a big van; it’s a lightweight tow and fairly simple to manoeuvre. Its body length is just 4.5m (14ft 9in), and with its spare wheel and 900mm drawbar, its overall length of 5.7m (18ft 8in) will make it appealing to those with limited parking space. However, Rudi advises that future models will have a 1.7m drawbar with a built-in toolbox.
At just 2.2m (7ft 3in) wide, it is the same width as many large 4WDs. And with a nameplate Tare of 1360kg and ATM of 1800kg, small 4WDs will be more than happy dragging the Desert Tracker through the rough stuff.
The Desert Tracker’s chassis is of laser-cut galvanised steel. It sports a sealed galvanised floor for protection during water crossings. The van’s offroad credibility is enhanced by the Cruisemaster independent suspension with Gabriel shock absorbers, which nicely help to iron out the bumps. Brakes are electric 10in drums.
The frame is standard meranti timber with an aluminium-clad body, and there’s a good amount of checkerplating down the sides. At the front, checkerplate extends halfway up the van and over the front storage area. Personally, I’d be keen on getting an additional stoneguard fitted, considering the offroading that will be done with the Desert Tracker, but Desert Sky is happy to add this and other options.
COMFORT AND FEATURES
Camper trailer owners will love the step up in comfort that the Desert Tracker represents. During our overnight test in SA’s rural Tintinara, the rain clouds moved in at around 7pm and dumped their load throughout the night and into next morning. It wasn’t the ideal night for a tent, so the new Desert Tracker proved its worth straight away.
Its standard awning provided ample shelter for four people as we cooked up the evening dinner, while the wild weather and cold were kept at bay thanks to its insulated walls. Although sunshine was in short supply, the Desert Tracker demonstrated its self-sufficiency: two 80W solar panels are standard, while a pair of 100Ah sealed batteries and two 90L water tanks indicate that this van is one for the wilds and not just caravan parks each evening.
With the caravan’s small dimensions, space is at a premium inside. That said, the way Desert Sky has used it is rather impressive. There is no space for a shower/toilet, of course, and there’s little in the way of overhead storage and no wardrobes at all. "When you’re out in the bush things fly around and clothes on hangers fall off," Rudi says. "We’ve made sure the storage is at floor level and flat-packed to make it more relevant for bush travel."
What storage there is can be found under the double bed (with innerspring mattress), beneath the two lounges and in the front exterior compartment. I believe this would be ample for two people, especially as most will be towing with a 4WD and can store stuff in there as well.
The trade-off inside the van is excellent space for the dining area. The two lounges are huge for a van of this size, and we comfortably sat four adults around the swivel table at mealtimes. The kitchen also makes fine use of the space available, with a Smev three-burner and sink combo, each with fold-down lids.
There’s enough space for an LCD TV on a swivelling bracket above the kitchen counter, while a 12V, 110L fridge should prove enough for two people on most trips away. There are the usual cupboards and drawers that are needed in a kitchen, and there should be space for a microwave to be fitted at the expense of some food preparation area if one was required.
Everything in the van runs on 12V, from the TV to the DVD, radio and LED lights, but there is also a pair of handy 240V sockets on the front wall. An external 240V plug means you can power up on a caravan site if required as well.
The windows all feature attractive Dometic blinds with built-in flyscreens behind, while the general feel inside is relaxed and stylish thanks to the wood veneer finish and a mix of LED and halogen lighting. There’s not a huge amount of head room, but overall there’s ample space to eat, relax, sleep and cook, and those are the things that are ultimately the most important.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are larger and vans on the market for the Desert Tracker’s asking price of $45,000 (tow-away, SA), but not necessarily with this little van’s talents. Its serious offroad abilities combined with a well-equipped, cosy interior will prove tempting for those wanting a step up from a camper trailer.
Rudi at Desert Sky also says he can build the Desert Tracker with two sets of bunk beds to accommodate four people if preferred, and can tailor other parts of the interior to individual demands. This all adds to the appeal of this ‘grown-up’ camper trailer, where the offroad fun can continue with a bit more comfort and practicality.
Source: Caravan World May 2010
- Desert Sky, 476 Main North Road, Blair Athol, SA 5084, (08) 8262 5500 or 0409 288 895. For more information, visit www.desertsky.com.au