with Michael Osborne While sitting around the campfire recently at the beautiful Wellington Caves in western NSW, the eternal question was raised once again.
Which is better for touring Australia – a caravan or a motor home?
As the sun set over the wilderness of the Catombal Ranges and kangaroos and wallabies came down from the hills to feed on the sweet grass of the nearby golf course, the camping battle of the ages was in full swing.
There were two sides to the argument roughly divided between the grizzled, bearded veterans who loved their vans and those “haughty newcomers”, the swanky motor home brigade.
Of course there was no perfect answer, but it got me thinking about my own experiences in Australia and overseas.
Modern motorhomes are great for one nighters
It all comes down to how you plan to travel. Will you be spending one night in every town, or will you stay for a week? Will you be simply driving to North Queensland and parking near a beach for the whole winter?
If you plan one nighters, the motor home is perfect. If you plan longer stays, I would go for the caravan option.
I had a motor home in New Zealand some years ago and it was a great way to get around. The major drawback was the amount of time it took to get anywhere. The small diesel engine was unable to go much over 80kph and going uphill I was passed by joggers heading in the same direction.
Traditional caravan is ideal for longer stays
A big bonus was the fact that the design had seatbelts installed in the back so you could sit around the table and gaze out the big rear window as New Zealand passed you by.
It was annoying having to pack everything up when you left the camp site to drive into town, so we made sure we did our shopping along the way.
Motor homes are also smaller inside than most caravans. However this allows them to park in a normal car space at shopping centres and in towns.
The answer is to sell the family home, spend the kids’ inheritance and buy one of those big rigs that have plenty of room inside and allow you to tow a car behind.
A luxury motorhome with a car towed behind
However I’m told the fuel bill can be horrendous and they are slow to drive and hard to park in town.
Another thing you have to factor into your camping trip these days is the high price of overnight stays in major caravan parks. This has grown rapidly from $15 a night in a powered site to more than $50 in some parks. If you are on a six month journey, that works out at a costing of just under $10,000 for camp sites.
One answer is to stay at free camp sites or cheap council sites such as showgrounds.
Free camping is well catered for in some areas of Australia, particularly the Northern Territory. However, they normally have pit toilets which are horrendous and have no water supply or electricity. The garbage often sits for days before being collected.
Local councils often have cheap camp sites like this one at Yeoval NSW
Something to also consider is the re-sale value of your motor home or caravan. Motor homes hold their value much better in my experience.
I had friends who bought a good second hand van in Los Angeles for $28,000. They toured the USA for six months and sold the van for $30,000 at the end of their trip.
Caravans are economical if you buy a second hand one. I have seen excellent vans for around $15,000.
However you need rear wheel drive and preferably a 4wd vehicle to tow them and this can be quite pricey.
Step out of your van and on to the beach .. one of the joys of camping
Finally, at a campfire somewhere in Australia tonight the eternal question will be asked once again. And once again there will be as many viewpoints as there are people. I hope I have helped you make up your mind.
Words and images by Dallas Sherringham