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CAMPING - BUYING ADVICE

CAMPING THROUGH THE YEARS
One couple's camping gear history that may help your decision making.

These two Aussies are Outback Travel Australia devotees who gladly offered their camping experience as a guide for people who are just getting into outback travel, or who are part-way along the gear-upgrade path.

 

Pauline and Rob A recently delivered their Australian Off Road (AOR) Q+ cross-over camper trailer to its new owners in Denmark WA.  They were pretty sure the new owners will get as much enjoyment from it as they have over the last almost-three years of ownership, covering more than 40,000km of outback touring. 

We’ll let the ‘A’s take up the story:

“Before leaving, the buyers asked how we felt about heading home without our tagalong friend in tow,” said Rob. 

“Pauline and I looked at each other and came to the same conclusion: we felt a strong sense of loss that our amazingly capable and comfortable camper was no longer part of the family.”

We’re pretty sure that having to wait 10 months until their brand new AOR Matrix would be ready didn’t help the mood either!

“The return trip gave my wife and me some time to reflect on over 40 years of travel together, exploring our wonderful country,” said Rob. 

So, this story is ours, but we reckon many others will read and nod in agreement with a lot of the content, as it may relate to your experience as well.

“Our adventurous spirits were created long before we met,” said Rob. 

“As country kids we had the freedom to explore and do stuff that, in these PC times, may be seen as parental neglect. 

“We survived some interesting challenges and became better from those experiences. “

After university, Pauline moved to London for several years with some of her girlfriends and hitch-hiked around Europe and the Mediterranean, getting as far East as Iran. Not something you would think about today. 

“I joined the Army and spent 22 years carrying my house on my back,” said Rob.

“ That taught me to ‘pack light’ and I still look at a toothbrush as ‘heavy’ if it has a long handle!

“ So, before we met, we’d both covered a great deal of the world and garnered some amazing memories. 

“But no experience had diminished that sense of adventure and wonderment arising from seeing and sharing something that is new and beautiful.”

 

Outback Australia

So, back in Oz once more; where did Pauline and Rob start their ‘Down Under’ Odyssey? 

As with most of us, their drive was strong curiosity, but with limited specific knowledge. Being members of a 4WD club certainly helped, as there was a ready-to-hand pool of experience in all things outback travel. 

So, they began to plumb those knowledge depths as they went on club trips and then were emboldened to try solo travel, as Rob recalled: 

“All we could afford was a tent… and a small one at that! 

“Over many trips we refined our cooking, sleeping and sitting kit, with the focus on having as many dual use items as possible. 

“Along with that went the need for gear that was lightweight, compact when packed and quick and easy setup and pull down.”

As well they learnt how cold it can get I the desert at night, so layering of, and the type of, clothing became another factor. The need for everything to be durable and reliable was apparent before the end of the first of many crossings of the Simpson desert.

After around five years of tenting they began to feel, on those really cold desert mornings, that it was starting to become a long distance from the self-inflating mattress to the vertical and fully clothed position. Time to move on, but to where?

“The next step for us was camper trailers,” said Rob.

“We didn’t want to lose the ability to travel in demanding and rough territory, so our idea was to find our ‘tent on wheels’.

“We spent a year looking at the market and realised that there was plenty of choice but not much that would do what we were looking for. 

“And then we found and purchased, firstly an X-Trak then an X-Plor – and both of these are with new owners who are enjoying them as much as we did.”

Why did Pauline and Rob settle on Ultimate camper trailers? They wanted something that was light and strong, carried a decent amount of water, was comfortable to sleep in and quick to put up and down – as well as being able to be towed by their Prado at the time. 

“We had a ball towing our ‘Ultis’ across the Simpson; to Cape York; the Victorian High Country and the Kimberley,” said Rob. 

“For relatively short duration travel we reckon they were fantastic.” 

But, while their first Kimberley trip started with superb weather up north, from Broome south, down the West Coast, then home via the south-west of WA and the Nullarbor, the weather was nasty. Even the locals were apologising for the screaming gales, flooding rains and cold that seemed to be everywhere they went. Their planned forays into the Pilbara had to be cancelled, because the place was flooded out: “ For another time,” they said.

“By the time we got to the bottom of Western Australia we’d bought a small 240V heater,” said Rob.

“We were staying in caravan parks, so we could use mains power to keep warm, and their camp kitchens for somewhere dry to cook and relax a bit. 

“By the end of that trip we were well over ‘canvas’!”

After five years of great travel in soft-top camper trailers it was time for a change!

Also, by this time, their needs were changing. Retirement was closer and they wanted to spend more time travelling. So, a home on wheels was what they began to research, with a deep well of experience to plumb. They had their wants and needs well and truly sorted before they began to talk to the few manufacturers on their demanding list. 

“Being able to cook inside and out was a must have,” said Pauline. 

“So one maker fell away quickly, after saying: ‘Sorry, none of our customers want that feature.’”

 “Weight was a key requirement, so one more was gone: too fat and the washing machine, microwave and limited water capacity saw it off the list.”

By good luck the couple who purchased their ultimate XPLor lived in northern NSW – not much more than a day’s drive to Caloundra and the AOR showroom.

After spending a day handing over the Ulti they headed to Caloundra, for a factory visit and to spend some time grilling the helpful AOR sales team. Over a couple of days Pauline and Rob were satisfied that AOR understood all the things that were essential for them. 

“Seeing the build line gave us an appreciation of the quality of materials, workmanship and overall build of each product,’ said Rob

“It also allowed us to ‘touch and feel’ the models we were interested in.

“We finished our visit by ordering a Quantum Pop Top.”

 The inevitable six-month wait for delivery was exciting, but also very informative.  AOR gave them unfettered access to the owners forum: a resource that Pauline and Rob found it impossible  to value. 

“It was filled with 15-plus years of owners’ experiences, good and not so good, along with new model development discussions and ‘how-to’ info on things like the marine macerator toilet that we had no idea about,” Rob said.

“Time spent on the forum helped us finalise our build, plan our running-in trip around Queensland and map out a 7000km familiarisation route through the Northern Territory  and South Australia, on the way home to Adelaide.”

In two and a half years Pauline and Rob towed their AOR Q+ over 40,000km, experiencing outback regions in great comfort and safety. 

Being fully self-contained and having large water capacity; a 110l-litre black tank plus 70-litre grey tank; 300Ah of LiFePO4 batteries and plenty of solar ensured they could stay remote and off the grid for a long time. 

The icing on the cake was having a decent size fridge and freezer, very comfortable queen bed and pretty much all the comforts of home: all wrapped up in a light, strong and well insulated package that was easy to tow wherever they wanted to be. 

“Being somewhat larger and heavier than our ‘Ultis’ wasn’t a problem with the Q+,” Rob said.

“We knew in making the move that our days of dragging campers across the Simpson and into other ‘interesting and challenging places’ were behind us. 

“The future for us would be the journey itself and ‘being there’. 

“The change for us is that we’re able to be where we like, for longer and in greater comfort, regardless of the weather.”

Pauline and Rob’s new AOR Matrix Full Height (MFH) is due for hand-over in September 2020. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis they were hoping that they would be able to drive to Caloundra for the handover and start their next ownership experience with a running-in trip followed by another interesting journey back to Adelaide.

Why the MFH?

“As we now spend three to five months each year travelling and exploring, we expect to be even better equipped to park up for extended periods, to explore and to deal with the sort of wild weather that always seems to find us,” Rob said. 

“The MFH has better internal cooking and, also, we don’t need the AC circuitry and cupboard space, so we can use that locker to more stuff for extended touring. 

“Apart from that, we both suffer from arthritic joints and, despite the AOR pop-tops being pretty easy to lift and lower, our eyes are on the future, so it’s time for a full height camper.”

As before, Pauline and Rob have been using the AOR forum to get hints and tips from Matrix owners on their fit-outs and ownership experiences to help them refine the build. They know AOR has the willingness and capability to provide the degree of personalisation that they appreciate. 

OTA’s thanks go to Pauline and Rob A for their frank exchange of experience and ideas. We wish them well for their future travels and we’re delighted to present them with a set of test driving lights to brighten their way. 

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