Marie Lecocq - 2011-09-20
This is the undeniable number one companion for travellers who come to explore the Australian highways: almost 60 years after the invention of the famous Volkswagen Combi, these converted vans continue to be best sellers in the land of Oz.
A single interior space, benches that convert into beds and a few storage units – the concept couldn’t be simpler. However when the German Volkswagen designer decided to produce it in the 1950s it was unlikely he knew he was about to create a legend that was to become “the Combi.” Since then the favourite van of hippies and many others has been emulated all over the world and particularly in Australia.
A nomad’s best friend
It’s sold and bought then sold again in a ceaseless rhythm. The Australian camper van is thevehicle of choice for the young and not-so-young backpackers for a very simple reason – just like this vast red continent, it’s synonymous with freedom. But does this vehicle represent an economical means of travelling? The answer is both yes and no. Thanks to this friendly road companion you no longer have to pay to stay in hotels. Petrol costs can obviously be shared amongst friends. But here’s the rub; these vehicles have often blown up to twenty spark plugs and are real gas-guzzlers. What’s more with the prices of the highly competitive low-cost airlines, they are left far behind in terms of costs. So why are they so successful? Because of the simple pleasure derived from cruising the highways. You cannot appreciate Australia from the inside of an aeroplane. The campervan has, for so many reasons, become the main residency for travellers seeking adventure over a period of a few weeks or months.
The state you acquire them in evidently reflects the use they’ve been subjected to by successive owners. Easygoing spins along well beaten tracks or the rough tracks of national parks? Impulsive buying is not recommended. On the Austral continent the Toyota Hiace, Mazda E2000 or Ford Econovan are the trio that are most popular. These are the latest models, and the easiest and cheapest to maintain. These smaller newcomers have taken over the baton from the nevertheless eternally popular Volkswagen minibus, which continue to be favoured by collectors. How much do they cost? Prices can triple this, but you shouldn’t reckon on anything less than 5000 Australian dollars (£3200) for a second hand campervan.
“We’re sad to say goodbye to our dear friend Sally…” Most of the ads for these second-hand vehicles start something like this, without any restrictions in pathos to achieve their goal. Giving a nickname to the road companion that’s already being missed is something of a rule. In any case buying a second-hand van gives you the chance of picking up the camping paraphernalia that gets relinquished with the vehicles as the owners often return to their home countries. Besides maps and an atlas, dishes and various items of furniture you might even be lucky enough to acquire a surfboard, diving equipment or even have a couple of bikes thrown in. Another bonus is the precious advice that comes from the owners who have already spent several months on the road.
Less equipped than a motor caravan, the campervan usually comes complete with a kitchenette. Nowadays a fridge and air-conditioning are little extras that make life a lot easier on the road. That said, most people are happy with the “Esky box”, the emblematic Australian ice-box that you fill up with a bag of ice bought in a service station every 2 or 3 days. Owing to the succession of drivers the mileage counters have often done complete rounds. However certain campervan models are practically indestructible if they’ve been well cared for. Furthermore the generally dry Australian climate is relatively easy on most vehicles and tends to give them a long lifespan.
Hiring a Campervan
An Australian company has, in recent years, launched a simple yet effective concept: the rental of Wicked vans. Whilst having uniform interiors, their external bodywork has been painted by artists in street art styles. So at a minimal cost you can have a personalised van and backpackers just can’t get enough of them. Solo travellers looking for travelling companions can get together for a journey across the desert or a tour along the East coast. This is a popular way of getting around that can be arranged via the internet, in youth hostels or simply by meeting up with others along the way! It’s something of a lucky draw that can turn out well, but that can’t be guaranteed!