We take three couples with three second-hand campers on a Gulf adventure.
There’s always a lot of fun in planning a trip and when it’s to a new location then that’s even more exciting. We had bought our pre-loved Ultimate Camper and were doing it up when a Gulf adventure was suggested by long-time travel companion Denny French. Denny and hubby Mark had been to the Gulf in their camper truck and bragged about it majorly. They couldn’t get to certain spots and wanted to go back with something a little more manoeuvrable!
This led them to search for a camper whilst friends, Peter and Karen, were also looking for a good camper and researching new models vigorously. In the end we all ended up with pre-loved campers in varying conditions and the trip was set in stone. Check out Issues 19, 20 and 21 in RV Daily and read Goofin’ Round The Gulf for full destination details.
Cast and camper
Mark and Denny French ex Marks 4WD Adaptors need no introduction to the 4WD fraternity. They have been avid 4-wheelers since they were born and are certainly passionate about travelling our amazing country.
These guys are retired now and in a great position to chase the northern sun during our cold southern winters.
Mark and Denny have an Isuzu truck camper that Mark rebuilt; but they found when they did their first trip across the Gulf they were often restricted on where they could get to and camp due to the size of the rig. This led them to a camper. After months of searching and checking over our Ultimate, they found a second-hand Ultimate of their own in NSW.
Once the rig landed at their home, Mark got to work sorting it out and getting it ready for the trip. He added lighting inside, hand-crafted a kitchen shelf and reduced the large mattress panels to smaller ones – which offered them some room on the bed floor to sit a cuppa in bed. He also got the mechanicals in tip-top condition.
Peter Horan and Karen Alderson are married, also retired (it sucks that Jane and I still have to work), and have lived around the globe working for multinationals. Peter is Irish and Karen is an Aussie and these two love life! As a couple they are relatively new to 4WDing/camper trailer living and have taken to it like a duck to water. Having said that the Gulf offered some experiences that certainly tested their growing love of off-road travel!
Originally Peter and Karen travelled in a Volkswagen AWD camper van – but this meant packing up if they wanted to drive somewhere touristy, then unpacking again later, which they found frustrating. They bought a Mazda BT-50 with the idea of getting a camper that they could leave set up; then drive away and play.
After many hours of research online and with mags they settled on three potential campers. A Kimberley, an Ultimate and an Aussie Swag. In the end their decision was based on glamping and living outside and the Aussie Swag was chosen as the best match – with weight being the only drawback (but they could live with that if the unit remained robust for life).
Jane Miller and I have been travelling together for over 20 years and we both love swagging it. Jane is passionate about Australia and has been a big part of my magazine life… helping with the serious driving while I snap the pics and even writing and subbing our travel yarns.
Buying the Ultimate from Jane’s mum after her stepfather passed away was a big step for us and it’s been both a great and a frustrating journey fixing it up, getting it travel worthy, and finding and fixing water leaks and electrical problems. I want to acknowledge the amazing amount of support we have received from Ultimate Campers, Narva, Dometic and Cooper Tires in helping us get the camper up to scratch and dealing with problems as they arose.
That’s the cast and campers sorted; so what about the adventures?
During the course of our Gulf adventure we all had hiccups that needed to be dealt with. Some were easy and some were a downright pain.
Mark’s back window on the Nissan was blown out by a stone bouncing off his camper. And parts for the rear step hinge that broke from fatigue or damage from the previous owner had to be sent inland from Ultimate so the step could be fixed en-route.
The push-up pole for the lid to set up and pack away Mark’s camper also broke. This made opening (and, more importantly, closing) very tricky. Mark has since modified the lift-up pole with a knuckle at each end… so if one breaks it can be swapped and the other end used.
Mark has stated on several occasions that he wasn’t totally sold on the Ultimate as the perfect camper for him personally as it’s a tent on wheels and not quite his style; although Denny loves it. They all have drawbacks and nothing is perfect. The build quality is great and really as close to perfect as it can be; and most people’s touring style can be quite varied, so what is perfect really?
Peter and Karen had some nerve-wracking times getting bogged above the Leichardt River but after dropping air out of the tyres and with some friendly support they got out easily. They also broke two thermocouple cables on the stove due to the rough road conditions. Thermocouples control the gas flow on the stove if the flame goes out… so for the rest of the trip they only had two burners.
Even though their second-hand camper was only a few years old it was still like new and they didn’t expect any major dramas.
We personally suffered from the most annoying issues on this trip, by far. We had a fridge problem that sucked the batteries dry and we couldn’t get it cold. Our solar panel worked hard to keep the batteries charged (which was a bonus) and it was lucky this was towards the end of the trip – so we managed to keep our food edible.
We also suffered from some fatigue with catches breaking, water leaks through the boot and some fuses blowing. Minor electrical problems had to be sorted along the way with connections being damaged. The jockey wheel seized part-way through the trip, which made levelling the camper a problem. We came back with a list of mods and items that need sorting, many of which have already been done as I write this yarn. Overall, we loved the adventure and nothing stopped us from having an awesome time.
Taking second-hand products anywhere can be a problem and poor preparation will make it worse. The general advice from our crew is to sort out everything possible before you go.
Take spares, grease and tools in case; and deal with the list of issues when you get back rather than leaving it until the last minute to fix before the next trip (or worse still, head out again without fixing them).
Before buying anything new or second-hand, spend time researching where it comes from… Australian made vs imported. Look at warranties, check out forums, work out if the camper can be modified with extras such as batteries, solar, gauges and the like. With care, camper touring will be hassle-free and more than enjoyable.
Mark and Denny French
Camper manufacturer: Ultimate Campers
Build date: 2008 – Odyssey, Number: 762
Date purchased: 2016
Purchase price: $29,000
Modifications when purchased: Standard model with full awnings, kids’ room and additional compartments for storage in the boot.
Modifications after purchase: Replaced standard mattress with high density 4-inch foam leaving room on the sides of the bed for storage. Mark built a custom kitchen shelf from timber.
Trips with the camper: NSW coast, Central Australia, Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York.
What they loved: Easy set-up and pack-up, big bed, ventilation.
What they hated: Wet weather pack-up, dirt accumulating on top step whilst travelling.
Tow vehicle: Nissan GU Patrol
Build date: 2004
Modifications: 6.6L Duramax engine, 35-inch tyres (fully engineered), KONI suspension, custom bullbar, Rhino roof rack, Kaymar rear wheel carrier, rear spot lights, roll-out awning, shovel holder, front and rear diff locks, Recaro seats, Outback rear drawer system, Outback water tank, Long Range Automotive fuel tank, winch and rope, dual battery system, Garmin GPS, Hema HN7 GPS, UHF radio, HF radio.
Peter Horan and Karen Alderson
Camper manufacturer: Aussie Swag
Build date: 2014
Date purchased: 2015
Modifications when purchased: None
Modifications after purchase: None
Trips with the camper: Apart from multi-day trips, 10-week trip up the centre of Australia, east on the Savannah Way, up to Cape York and back home.
What they loved: The robustness, clever design, diesel hot water and room heating, unrestricted rear view when driving, great outdoor kitchen.
What they hated: Overall weight, packing up after rain.
Tow vehicle: Mazda BT-50
Build date: 2015
Modifications: OME suspension 35mm lift, new Mazda bar, factory rear diff lock, changed the tyres from road-going to Mickey Thompson AT, Piranha dual battery system, Safari snorkel, Power Vision LED lights, GME UHF radio, Polaris navigation integrated in-dash system.
Anthony Kilner and Jane Miller
Camper manufacturer: Ultimate Camper
Model and number: Pioneer, Number 175
Build date: 2001
Date purchased: 2015
Purchase price: $16,000
Modifications when purchased: Standard model.
Modifications after purchase: This camper has been re-built from the ground up after having travelled around Australia with the in-laws for 14 years. The suspension and stub axles have been replaced to match the tow vehicle, new ROH alloy rims, Cooper Discoverer tyres, new heavier lift strut for the lid, removable Projecta SPP120K, 120W bi-fold solar panel kit on the roof, Projecta ICD25 DC/solar dual battery charger, Projecta IC1500 240V battery charger, Exide second battery, WAECO CR-110 12/240V fridge freezer, boot carpet, mudflaps, Tregg coupling, side awning, Ultimate interior galley shelf with lighting, interior lighting, Narva reverse/work light, Ultimate outdoor galley bench, Weber Baby Q.
Cost of Mods to date: Approx $10,000
Trips with the camper: South Australia (Coorong), Gulf of Carpentaria, Victoria High Country and various overnight trips.
What they loved: Easy set-up and pack-up, big bed, ventilation, off-road ability.
What they hated: Wet weather pack-up, dirt accumulating on top step whilst travelling, access to the fridge when closed.
Tow vehicle: Toyota LandCruiser factory TD
Build date: 2002
Modifications: ARB bar work front to back, ARB air lockers front and back, ARB suspension with airbags on the rear, Piranha triple battery (2 x auxiliary batteries) electrical system, Piranha headlight loom upgrade, Narva HID driving lights, Hema HN7 GPS, UHF radio, Redback Extreme Duty exhaust system, DP Plug ’n’ Go pedal chip and a DP engine chip, LED interior lighting, tailgate timber floor, Long Range Automotive replacement fuel tank, Projecta 900W inverter, Narva LED work lamps for the roof rack.