Four vans later… will this ultimate Blue Heeler last the distance?
Words & images Mark Allen
“I’m gonna warn you right from the get go,” says Tarrot Wyss, proprietor of Sunland Caravans. “The owner of this van doesn’t beat around the bush. He thrashes his vans and if he doesn’t like something… he’ll tell you.” Admittedly, that kinda’ had me shifting my weight from one cheek to the other as I waited for a busted, bent, filthy Blue Heeler caravan to turn up for what was supposed to be a new, clean caravan review.
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Once I’d unknowingly ambled past the much-anticipated van a few times, admiring the non-black over white commonality, I was asked: “Do you like it, what do you think of the colours?” Now, as much as I like to keep things clean, this well-used van was spotless and thankfully devoid of damage… surely it’s had an easy life sitting in a caravan park while its owners sipped on freshly-squeezed juices under the huge awning?
Nope, it had been high-pressure cleaned from top to bottom and it had, in fact, just returned from a three-and-a-half month, 15,000-kilometre hike from its Queensland south coast home, up to Townsville, across to Broome, down to Perth and Kalgoorlie and across the Nullarbor, through to Broken Hill, Lightning Ridge, Hervey Bay and back home.
Owners Des and his wife Hilda indeed spent little time in caravan parks; preferring to make use of the well-sorted independence built into the van – which was a high priority throughout the customised build. Des is not one to accept standard specs if they don’t suit him… remember ‘he’ll tell you if he doesn’t like something’? Des tells RV Daily he spent time discussing with other caravan manufacturers his exact requirements – and the team at Sunland were the only outfit that would give him an ‘open slather’ at designing his dream van… along with plenty of their experienced suggestions.
If there was something new and groundbreaking on the market, then Des wanted to give it a go and wouldn’t settle for anything less. He even chose the Mist Grey top colour over Desert Sand lower section, making for a pleasant change to the current black on white trend.
And the much-anticipated question regarding how he’d managed to trash his first three vans was somewhat of a disappointment. No tales of jumping them over canyons, drowning them in salt water or jack-knifing at Northern Territory speeds. Nup, all previous vans had been Blue Heelers and they were simply traded in on newer versions as new equipment became available. Des is a long-term customer of Sunland Caravans and his wealth of real-use experience has been invaluable for feedback and improvements. If Des can’t break it, they must be on a winner.
Admittedly, I have a hankering for engineering, machinery, metalwork and all things that make products function – so I was impatient to crawl under this Blue Heeler to check out the work-of-art aluminium chassis. All completed in-house, the engineered design is said to save about 150kg in weight and offer improved strength over a standard steel chassis. This weight reduction combined with higher strength allows a higher payload, making it safer (and legal) to cart all your toys while travelling about the country.
Vehicle Components (of Queensland) supply the Cruisemaster independent suspension system upon which Sunland manufactures a steel cradle to accommodate within the alloy main rails. A galvanised steel drawbar is the only other non-alloy section under this van, which is multiple-braced and bolted to the chassis resulting in a highly-rated and approved system via the Vehicle Safety Bulletin (VSB).
Rather than powder coating alloy checker plate for the lower wall protection, Sunland opts for Raptor Coating which eliminates the extra weight, doesn’t need polishing, protects the van from stone strike and (if hit very hard) can be reapplied over the initial coat at the damaged section. The use of moulded fibreglass resin-core panels over aluminium welded framework offers excellent hail-resistant strength as well as brilliant temperature control because its cavities are filled with Coolite insulation.
Underneath, Des has opted for a huge 190-litre general-purpose poly water tank, plus a 60-litre filtered drinking water version, plus a 130-litre grey water tank – all of which are 10mm thick poly tanks (negating the need for additional stone guards). Given they are all fitted as central as possible, the van responds reasonably consistently regardless of full, partial or empty tanks sloshing their liquid contents.
Tucked away behind the twin spare wheel carriers is a no-holds-barred 12-volt electrical system comprising multiple lithium batteries with a LiFeP04 charge system, Projecta pure sine wave 3000W inverter, a gaggle of fuses and an umbilical cord of wiring running to the van’s internal creature comforts. The rear of the onboard washing machine and continuous hot water system can also be seen within this huge rear boot area. Potentially, the only downside of this storage set-up is the need for a spanner to release the twin wheel carriers; but as Des explained, he wanted it like that to negate any movement while on rough tracks rather than relying on over-centre latches to retain the weight of two CSA alloy rim and Maxxis off-road tyre combos.
You’d be forgiven for presuming you were in a five-star compact resort room when first entering the Blue Heeler. While the Australian cattle dog that this van takes its name from may be fairly rambunctious, the luxurious interior is far from so… having everything neat and orderly and tastefully styled. Des conceded his Tassie oak cabinetry is a little heavier but loves the look and quality, so nothing else was going to adorn his van’s interior.
The 12-volt-only Dometic fridge, Dometic air-conditioner, microwave and all cooking conveniences have been designed (in conjunction with the roof-mounted solar panels and lithium battery bank) to run seamlessly without the need for LPG or 240-volt supply. Des tells us that while they do book into the odd caravan park, most of their time is spent remote from power points; and provided the sun does its thing on the three 200-watt panels, they can camp in comfort indefinitely.
The generously proportioned rear-mounted ensuite allows easy and total cleansing of body and clothes with the hot and cold shower, clothes washing machine and full flushing commode. The front north-south island bed effortlessly lifts on gas struts to expose a compartmented under-bed storage area, while the numerous drawers and cupboards allow for all the necessities during those long months on the road. Multiple blue/white ceiling lights cater for mood settings, while huge tinted windows enable welcoming breezes as well as wide-angled scenic views when perched in the leather-clad cafe dinette.
So, having met and spoken with Des, I can see he’s a hard man to impress and that he’ll
accept nothing but the best. Given Des’s enthusiasm and praise for his latest Blue Heeler, I can see that he’s fulfilled his dream of creating the perfect van and he has nothing but praise for the mob at Sunland Caravans.
I can’t imagine how Des could make Blue Heeler number five any better… and given his history of changing his vans frequently, I’m guessing Des doesn’t take full advantage of the three-year off-road manufacturer’s warranty and exceptionally long 20-year chassis warranty.
This Blue Heeler is a standout in many ways; total self-sufficiency, luxurious internals combined with rugged underpinnings; plus it looks great with the ‘different to the norm’ exterior colour choices.
Body length: 6.70m (22ft)
Body width: 2.46m ( 8ft, 07in)
Tare weight: 2810kg
Price as tested: $148,990
- Self-sufficiency via solar panels and lithium battery bank
- Rugged off-road suspension
- Engineered aluminium chassis
- Stylish and rugged exterior finish
- Tasmanian oak cabinetry
- Rear wheel carriers need spanners to open, making access a little time-consuming
- Not cheap, but you get what you pay for