Seems a cliché, but one of the best things about camping is the amazing people you meet along the way. After a few minutes chatting, typically, you’re in their campsite swapping stories and comparing gear. Before you know it the kettle is on or you’re being passed a beer. It can be a curse too, however, as you’ll ultimately walk back to your own campsite with stars in your eyes, wondering how you can ever be happy again with your slightly more basic setup.
On our last camping trip to central Victoria, we were the envy of our friends as we set up our camper. This changed rapidly when we befriended a family next door and watched them set up the main part of their soft floor camper, with gas struts if you don’t mind, in a matter of minutes. They happily explained other benefits and showed us their inbuilt kitchen, 12V capacity and ample storage arrangements.
Packing up to leave, we realised if we were to embark upon our bucket-list four month trip through Aus — which would undoubtedly comprise a fair bit of packing up and packing down — without a simpler canvas-folding system, there was a fair chance we wouldn’t make it through the outback with our solid family bonds intact. An upgrade was on the cards.
THE (OH SO FUN) RESEARCH
There is a labyrinth of information to wade through, especially for those new to the camper trailer world, which can make it difficult to determine where to spend your hard-earned cash.
We spent hours sifting through internet sites, reviews, blogs and dreaming of $25,000 campers on flashy websites. Once reality hit and the amount of time we’d spent idling through websites became ridiculous, we sat down and got serious. We asked ourselves some fundamental questions: what’s our budget? How are we going to use our new camper? What type of trips do we wish to take? What do we love (and loathe) about the camper we have?
Sounds easy, but answering these questions became increasingly tougher the more we saw and the more we chatted to people about envy-inducing experiences. For instance, I was honestly amazed at the number of people who told me they had sold their houses to purchase incredible camper trailers for their laps of Australia, only to then sell them when they returned. While I totally understand the desire for some of the great features on price-is-no-object campers, I wanted to be able to afford both my house and camper trailer, and planned on doing as many trips as possible while the kids are still keen to hang out with mum and dad.
List in hand, we eagerly headed to a variety of showrooms to get an idea of what was available and whether our budget stood a chance. It was an eye-opener and we left feeling a little overwhelmed, but at the same time, eminently excited at our options.
After many a chat with friends, forums, and reading reviews, we eventually settled on a 2013 Camel Campers Bushman Extreme. It satisfied our wishlist plus had heaps of water storage, inbuilt 12V electrics and better organisation options on the main trailer compartment.
The Camel surprised us. It had some features we weren’t looking for but happily embraced and was lighter and more compact than what we had become used to. After watching many demonstrations, I was nearly convinced on the idea of a hard floor, but we do love the lightness of the soft floor camper, and being relatively active and young, we figured we were still capable of putting it up and down ourselves. I can see the appeal of the hard floor, but it’s a little way off for us yet.
The canvas on the Camel is super tough. We’ve learned over the years that one of the most expensive components of a camper trailer is the canvas, so we were happy to go for an Australian-made product this time, deducing this would make inevitable patch-up jobs a bit easier.
BRINGING IT HOME
The excitement was high as we bought it home. We tested on our front porch (much to the amusement of the neighbours). The kids gave it the ok and we practiced the set-up and pack-down a few times before handing the reins to our eight-year old, who was able to pull the main part of the camper trailer out on her own. Confidence was immediately high and we felt ready to get this new show on the road.
Off we go! Our first trip was down to the Victorian coast for ten days to a favourite campsite of ours near Aireys Inlet. After a classic false start to which most campers can relate — losing the keys to the camper and having to turn around to go home and find them — all went well. It was easy to tow, was straight and steady and stuck to the road without bouncing all over the place.
The setup — ah that sweet setup! Ease of setup was the final decider on whether or not we’d made the right decision. With two restless and eager kids in tow, we decided to time the setup and get them well-involved from the start. After all, when we travel through Australia, we’ll need all hands on deck. We managed a basic setup in eight minutes. Sure, we needed the canopy later-on, and there may have been some creases in the floor, but the added trick of using a drill to push the pegs into the ground made the whole process smooth and we were stoked, to say the least. We were, to employ a well-used expression in the correct context, happy little campers.
We quickly settled-in, enjoyably pottering around exploring the features of our new home. Our camper friends were impressed. We were now that family with the coolest setup. It was exhilarating.
The Victorian Coast is stunning at any time of the year, but it’s especially a favourite place in summer. The crystal waters and beaches that make you feel like you’re the only ones there. Affording accommodation during summer, however, can be tough, but being in a fully-bling camper definitely makes holidays easier on the wallet.
THE BEST PARTS
Despite being a 2013 model, we found our Camel’s build quality to be exceptional. With all-Australian materials and highest quality canvas and fittings, we immediately felt the difference in the product itself.
The 135L water storage was completely necessary, especially after we were told the water supply at our campsite was not fit for drinking. In our new Camel, we managed to provide water for our whole group and realised, from that moment, what an important feature it is on any camper.
A huge issue for us in our last camper was managing storage of clothes and other such gear inside the main section. The Camel felt like the Taj Mahal in comparison, plus there was loads of extra room for the kids to store games and books and to play-in during windy days.
The most exciting part was the kitchen. To me, camping is all about being outdoors and immersing yourself in the environment. And that means not spending too much time cooking and doing the dishes. We love the storage area and the integrated fridge-slider unit. Our new stainless-steel bench that folds-out was a bonus we didn’t know we needed. And a sink — I never thought I could love something so basic as a sink, but I absolutely do now. Perhaps it’s all those years of traipsing to the camp kitchen with a huge tub in arms that has made us so appreciative. Either way, we’re never leaving home again without a kitchen sink.
Although happy, we wouldn’t be true campers without the never ending list of improvements on the trailer. But it’s now a lot shorter and we’re spending more time enjoying our time actually using and enjoying the camper, rather than making lists. If things continue, we’ll no doubt be looking to upgrade yet again at some stage in the future.