we are almost home. a terrible thought, i know. we enjoyed the trip so much, especially the fact that we spent the entire time together and enjoyed all the amazing experiences as a family: every day, all day. is that a scary thought for you? if so we could not recommend the kimberley karavan and we’ll explain why a bit further down. but for going where no man … um: person has … ok: where very few are willing to take their rigs – the kk is a really good choice. its size means it is not only easy to tow but more importantly it is no wider than the car so if the car fits the van will fit, too. sounds obvious? well, if you look at most caravans you may be surprised to find that they are much wider than cars. as a consequence their track, the distance between the wheels, is wider as well, which is an issue in sand, as it causes additional drag.

but if you staying on sealed roads and maybe venture on well-kept dirt roads every now and then you don’t need a kk. if you want to get lost in places no-one else can get to this van offers some significant benefits.

how did it go?

as mentioned above, it goes anywhere and quite nicely, too. at least anywhere we wanted to take it, which was probably not as adventurous as i was hoping it would be. my plans to drive the oodnadatta trail or the savannah way were all voted down in the family council. I managed to sneak in a few rough outback trails by being a bit opaque about the road conditions ahead but the gibb remains the roughest we attempted. and while the gibb river road was still a real test for all of us (the tyres ultimately failed that test) maybe the most nail-biting part of the trip for me was the dirt road from pooncarie to menindee: it felt like there was hardly anyone coming through there (we didn’t see a single car all the way) and had we broken down there we would probably not be found for a while.

there were only two issues with thorny and both were not really design issues. the more serious issue was when the guys at the service installed the wrong bearings which could have (but luckily did not) led to catastrophic failure. the van definitely did not tow as it should have and there was more than one ‘code brown’ moment when I felt like losing control of the rig. the other issue was the wheel alignment. it should not be too hard but the guys in carnarvon managed to get it really wrong. as a result the outside of the left hand tyre is completely destroyed and as a result we’ll need a new tyre. we had the wheels re-aligned in cairns, i hope it’s ok now.

the bedroom.

the van is small, which is why i said that if you don’t like being in close contact with all your loved ones all the time this van may not be for you. and in truth the kk is designed for two; nat slept in the bunk bed, which is the converted long seat. it’s ok for a small to medium sized person but definitely not for anyone else.

the super special extra quality inner spring mattress (which came with the van) is about as comfortable as a concrete slab. kris sourced a bamboo topper which made the bed bearable; the same for nat’s bunk.

we only needed the aircon on a few occasions, generally the little fan we added in mildura was sufficient to keep temperatures in a comfortable range. on the other had we also used the space heater (diesel powered) on a few occasions and did not regret bringing our sleeping bags. which really highlights the key point: careful route planning is the best way to avoid dying from heat exhaustion or freezing to death.

home entertainment.

when people roll into camp the first thing that goes up is usually the antennae (for the poor people who can only afford free-to-air) or the satellite dishes (for those who take their tv serious). some like to stay on top of things: we remember the queenslanders next to us enthusiastically and somewhat noisily enjoying the ‘state of origin’ in coral bay. mind you they did get a bit quiet during the second half and i believe they went to bed early; it may have had something to do with qld actually losing the game and the series.

we don’t have a tv, we don’t need an antenna or even less a satellite dish. seriously people: it’s the 21st centrury and all the tv you want is available online. most caravan parks have free wifi (although it tends to be dodgy in a lot of places) and the telstra network is really as good as the company says in their advertising. plus we brought a big usb drive full of movies.

the kitchen.

yes, there is an inside kitchen. I think we used it once. the flash looking diesel powered glass cooktop is ok but rather slow to warm up and even slower to cool down. while it is cooling down it’s obviously important to not put anything that could burn or melt on the cooktop and given our tendency to immediately cover any horizontal surface with really important stuff this seemed like an accident waiting to happen.

and anyway, we were camping, in touch with nature and stuff. so we took full advantage of the shelter and privacy afforded by our priced bedouin awning and cooked and dined al fresco. the gas cooktop is pretty good if somewhat underpowered, which is apparently why we didn’t get spaghetti bolognese as often as i would have liked. since I plugged the sink in to the grey water system the whole kitchen feels almost like home. that is, until at dusk the mozzies start to wake up and drive us inside.

I think even kris, who really likes her amazing kitchen back home is at least at peace with the way the kitchen works. there is so much less to clean, too! now all i have to do is install vouchers over the knife drawers. stainless steel of course.

the bathroom.

did we mention we fully refurbished our bathroom at home before we left? we got the bathroom we always wanted … and then traded it for a chemical toilet in the corner of the van and an outside shower in a popup tent. shower under the stars?

in all reality we probably used the amenities of the various caravan parks more than we used our built-in facilities. yes, they work well. and since we converted our chemical toilet to nappisan (yes, you read correctly, the washing powder; it’s a grey nomad thing but these guys know how to save a buck) there is less odour pollution, too. the chemical odour, not the more natural one.

it is great to know that we carry a warm (!) shower with us at all times, and that did come in handy at the various bush camp sites we went to. those usually feature a long drop toilet, which are a lot less gross than you would think, but generally no shower. I will still look at installing an internal shower in the place it was meant to be anyway; it’s another thing for me to think about and tinker. and possibly improve the usability of our tiny home. or more likely: flood it. who knows. we’d have to change from the chemical toilet to a ‘nature’s head’ composting toilet. read up if you’re interested, I won’t discuss the mechanical details here, but the key point is that the composting toilet can be removed to shower while the chemical toilet is glued in place. inconvenient, to say the least. well, that’s for a future blog post.

I guess the bottom line is: our built-in amenities work, pretty well, actually.

power, water, gas.

and diesel, diesel, too. diesel powers the water and space heater and – if we ever choose to use it – the internal cooktop. it’s a great idea, we got hot water at the push of a button (with a little red led showing it’s on, one of my mods) and it uses very little diesel.

the gas cooktop is also very efficient, I think we used three 4.5 kg gas bottles during the entire trip. that’s about 50 dollars worth of gas for a warm meal even day, and the occasional toasted bread or pizza for natalie. we only brought one mains (240v) appliance with for the entire year: a sandwich maker. when we are in a caravan park and hooked up to mains power we use that, but we found that the ‘oven’ built into the cooktop is good enough to replace it when we are off the grid. the main complaint kris has is the size: it can accommodate two medium sized pots or pans, but if there is a larger one in play there is a bit of a shuffle going on. the built-in gas to is also pretty low energy and slow to heat up anything, luckily we also have a high powered burner we can set up separately.

electricity was never an issue. since we changed to the 360 ah lithium batteries we were never in any danger of running out of ice, not even when we were parked under the dense tree canopy of the daintree for a few days – and using solar to recharge our batteries was not an option. the lithiums area still a lot more expensive than age batteries but they are really worth the money if you are planning on being off the grid.

the best mods.

I love all my modifications. they were really fun to consider, research and implement, but i believe they also made a lot of sense. the mchitch is such an enormous improvement over the treg hitch; it is so much easier to align and hook up the van and  probably saved us a lot of disagreements. having the pico and the victron solar controller gave us all the insight we needed into our water and battery usage. the battery upgrade really gave us complete flexibility away from the grid; we were never in any danger of running out of power. the bedouin awning is amazing; it is the best awning we have seen on our trip and we were lucky to get one before kk folded.

the other is one we have not installed yet: the firewood cradle. not having to store the ‘dirty’ awning and the ground sheet inside will be a real advantage. i am sure we’ll find it  very useful; i can’t wait to install it.

what we could have done without.

that’s a difficult one, i think our tiny house has pretty much everything we need and not much more. as i mentioned before, the router was not really as useful as i hoped it would be. firstly it does not connect to most park wifi systems, secondly it was actually easier to set up a phone hotspot and connect to that. luckily it was not a very expensive mod.

the verdict.

we like our karavan. it’s been a great home for almost a year and we are continually surprised that we didn’t really miss anything.

and we are looking forward to using it a lot more going forward. we think tasmania might be a great place to take it next. with the bikes of course.