Three Camping Options for Your Aussie Road Trip

nissan patrol

The original set up, Day 1 of the trip. So much stuff!

 

Jared and I talked a lot about what we would do differently if we knew then what we knew now about traveling Australia. Our original plan for this trip was to get a Troopy: a 4 wheel drive with a bed in the back and a pop-top. If we had our time again, we probably would have looked for one.

What we ended up with—a 1997 Nissan Patrol and a camper trailer—sort of dropped into our laps. Friends of ours had recently completed their own trip right when we were planning ours, so we snapped up the opportunity to buy a fully kitted-out 4 wheel drive complete with rooftop tent.

If you’ve been following for a while you know what happened. If not, here’s the short story: we sold the rooftop and borrowed Jared’s parents’ camper trailer. It was stolen and set on fire but we got a great deal on a demo model from the same manufacturer, putting us back on the road. (Read more here.)

Traveling Australia opened my eyes up to a whole new world of portable housing. People travel the country in anything from mammoth caravans down to simple swags, depending on budget and preference.

Australian camping kangaroo

Check out the swag behind the kangaroo – just a bit too cramped for me!

For our needs, a small 12-foot caravan would have been ideal, but the cost was prohibitive, not to mention the logistical challenges of towing it. For our budget, the camper trailer made the most sense.

By the time we returned to Newcastle we’d road-tested three different options. Here are the pros and cons of each, based on personal experience. Obviously this list isn’t all-inclusive, but if you’re considering your own Big Lap around Australia, it might help you narrow down your options.

Rooftop tent

Rooftop tent Australia

Literally the only photo I have of the rooftop tent and it’s covered by a ridiculous tarp.

Our rooftop tent was old. It had a broken zip, mold, and suspected leaks; that was a big reason we upgraded to a camper trailer. In theory, though, a new tent wouldn’t present these problems. It was fun while it lasted, but ultimately if we had to set up a tent we wanted to be able to drive away from it.

Pros:

  • Simple setup – remove the cover and pop it open
  • Surprisingly comfortable
  • Nothing to tow
  • Setup anywhere the car can go
  • No pegs or ropes

Cons:

  • Makes it difficult to strap things to the roof
  • Can’t leave your camp behind
  • Limited tent space
  • Access by ladder (not so fun when you have to pee in the night)

Campervan

Apollo campervan

Technically we were probably not supposed to be driving on a dirt road oops.

We rented an Apollo campervan to travel Tasmania for three weeks and I loved it. The biggest selling point for me was convenience: park the car and you’re basically done. You do have to set up the bed by laying down a plank and shifting the cushions, but it’s nothing compared to setting up a tent. Ultimately this wouldn’t have worked for us long-term, because these vans can’t go where a 4WD can.

Pros:

  • Rain and wind protection
  • Simple or no setup (depending on van size)
  • Built-in kitchen with water tank
  • Easy plug in to power
  • Nothing to tow

Cons:

  • Most aren’t designed to go off-road
  • Heavy to drive so uses more fuel
  • Carry your camp with you everywhere you go
  • Limited in size

Camper trailer

Camper trailer on the beach

There she is, at one of our windiest camp sites in Red Bluff, WA.

We had an OzTrail Ridgeline Zenith attached to a 4′ x 7′ camper trailer, purchased through Marlin Campers on the Central Coast of NSW. The setup is relatively easy, but it can be a drain to do it every few days. These tents are really well-suited to shorter holidays, because once you set it up you don’t have to think about it again. When you’re packing it up every couple of days…let’s just say it can get tiring.

 

There’s lots more storage, which meant that we brought more stuff (“because we can!”). I definitely could have managed easily with much less. It was nice to have extra space in the tent and a comfortable bed, and I always appreciated having the awning for shade protection when we got it out.

Pros:

  • Additional storage in the trailer
  • Set up the tent and drive away
  • Light to tow compared to a caravan
  • Queen-sized foam mattress

Cons:

  • Towing the trailer
  • Set up and pack up can take up to an hour, depending on the conditions and whether or not you use the awning.
  • Poles, ropes and pegs required
  • Heavy wind can cause the walls to blow around and is an absolute demon when you’re setting up.
  • Though it’s leak-proof against rain, it’s always a bit miserable to live in a tent when it’s raining.

Patrick Patrol

Pink Lake Penong SA

Patrick and Jared at one of the many pink lakes we encountered.

I’d be remiss not to mention Patrick, our Nissan Patrol. The car worked in tandem with the tents and offered extra storage; we kept all of our kitchen gear in one of the two deep drawers in the back, strapped three surfboards to the top, and loaded the rest of the car with whatever we needed (or thought we needed).

We put 40,000 kilometers on the odometer, bringing Patrick’s total to 405,000km. Having an old car wasn’t without its challenges, but it was perfect for charging through the mud, gravel, and endless red dust. We got to see things we wouldn’t have otherwise, by following dodgy-looking tracks to find clifftop ocean views or secret waterfalls.

I don’t regret our final choice of set-up, but I wouldn’t do it that way again. I’d lean towards simplicity and mobility, but it’s easy to say that now with the benefit of hindsight. You never know for sure what works for you until you’re out there traveling.

What’s your ideal road trip set up?

 

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