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Australian Truck Camper for the Birds

Australian’s Irwyn and Rosemary Doherty bought an imported 2015 Lance 825, mounted it to a VW Transporter diesel flatbed, and converted it to a 6×4 lazy axle.  Bush camping anyone?

Australia Truck Camper

Other than the 2015 Lance 825 and a set of Torklift tie-downs, there’s almost nothing about Irwyn and Rosemary Doherty’s rig that will be familiar to readers in the United States and Canada.

For starters, we can’t even get the Volkswagen Transporter truck.  They are available in Mexico, but they’re not for sale in the United States or Canada.  Technically, you could import a Volkswagen Transporter from Mexico, but you would have to pay the infamous 25 percent “Chicken Tax” that dates back to 1963.

Making the VW Transporter even more unobtainium, it’s diesel, a flatbed, and has been legally converted with something called a “lazy axle” into a 6×4 truck.  Wait, what?

In Australia, they can legally add an additional axle to their trucks to add 2,000 pounds to their GVWR.  This is how a VW Transporter with a 1,300 pound payload can haul a 2,722 pound (wet and loaded) Lance 825.  In Australia, you can simply add a lazy axle and bingo, a VW Transporter with a 3,300 pound payload!

What follows is the story of how Irwyn and Rosemary Doherty discovered truck campers, bought a brand new 2015 Lance 825 in Australia, and mounted it to a 6×4 Volkswagen.  You’ll also enjoy their truck camping lifestyle down under.  Bush camping anyone?

VW Transporter Truck Camper, Rosemary and Irwyn in Australia

Above: Rosemary and Irwyn with their VW Transporter and Lance 825

TCM: Tell us about your camping experiences and lifestyle over the years.

Rosemary: We were migratory beekeepers for forty years before we retired four years ago.   We would take our beehives to southwest Queensland for the winter; 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from home.

For those winter trips, we would be away from home for two or three weeks at a time.  We stayed in our caravan (trailer) which we kept on the property with our bees.  So camping and being in the bush was not new to us, and we knew it was what we liked to do.

Irwyn: As a teenager I did some camping with a friend.  We had our favorite bush spots, but we just camped on the ground under a tarp.  Rosemary and I knew that, in our retirement, we wanted five star camping, not 5,000 stars.

Volkswagen Truck Camper dirt road Australia

Above: North of Wisemans Ferry, New South Wales

TCM: How were you first introduced to truck campers?

Rosemary: When we retired and sold our beekeeping business, we had to make a decision as to which direction we wanted to go.  We wanted to see more of Australia and decided motels were not an option for us.  We didn’t really want to tow a trailer, which is the most popular choice in Australia.

We had heard of slide-on campers, so we started to search on the web.  We already knew there was very little offered in Australia.  Then we came across Lance Campers in the United States.  We were immediately impressed.

To our surprise, we found an Australian dealer who was just starting to import Lance Campers.  A Lance truck camper really suited us and ours was in the first batch he imported.

TCM: Did you have your VW Transporter before you got your camper?

Irwyn: Yes, we already had the VW Transporter from our business, and we liked the comfort of it.  Meanwhile, we saw a photo online of a VW Transporter with a Lance Camper, and we liked the look.

Lance Camper on Volkswagen truck

Above: Lightening Ridge, western New South Wales

TCM: How did you know that your truck would be a good fit for your truck camper?

Irwyn: When we first loaded the camper, we realized it was just over the GVWR of the truck without any cargo.  To fix the situation, we had two options.  First, we could buy another vehicle with the payload capacity we needed.  Or second, we could add a lazy axle to our truck.

Volkswagen Transporter lazy axle

TCM: What’s a lazy axle.  We don’t have those in the United States or Canada.

Irwyn: A lazy axle is an additional axle with pivotal suspension, brakes, and tires that go behind your rear wheels.  These systems are legal in Australia, but they have to be engineer certified.  They add another ton to your truck’s GVWR.

TCM: That’s going to make a lot of American truck campers envious.  While tag axles were employed by some truck campers in the late 60s and early 70s, nothing like that is available now.  We have to buy heavier duty trucks.

Irwyn: A lazy axle was the cheaper way to go, giving us the extra payload, extra breaking power and much more road stability.  We decided on the extra axle over dual rear wheels as the extra axle would make the rig more stable on the road.

An added bonus of the two axles fitted with straight airbags is the ability to adjust the rig height with air pressure for more driving comfort – with or without a load.

Lance Camper off VW Transporter Truck

TCM: I see in the pictures that you have taken your camper off when you are out and about.  How hard is it to load and unload the camper with your truck?

Irwyn: Most of the time it only takes us five to ten minutes to load or unload the camper, especially with the remote operated electric jacks.  If we are staying on a site for more than one night, we usually take the camper off, freeing our vehicle to further explore the area.

We have received comments when loading or unloading from people who say that they once had a slide-on camper.  It seems on further discussion that it was the mechanical as opposed to electric jacks that put them off.

Lance 825 off truck in storage

TCM: Yes, we hear that comment from folks here in the United States as well.

Irwyn: A big advantage of the electric jacks and the truck airbag system is that we can level the camper when we’re camping on an un-level site.

TCM: We have used our jacks to level the camper on occasion.  Tell us about your tie-down system.  Did you have something specially made for your rig?

Irwyn: The tie-down system was the choice of our importer who fitted the camper to our VW.  It’s a Torklift system with a cam over quick action.

Lightening Ridge, Black Opal Country, Australia

TCM: Tell us about the storage boxes/railings on the side of your truck.

Irwyn: We have a flatbed truck with three gates.  We take the back gate off and clamp it to a side gate when the camper is loaded.  Then we replace it when the camper is unloaded for the truck to operate normally.

Lance 825 on flatbed VW truck

Above: The back gate is removed when the camper is on the truck, Bowen, north Queensland

We don’t have any storage boxes, but we utilize the side space for loose storage.  So far we haven’t needed lockable storage as we have the dual cab to keep things secure.

VW Transporter truck camper boondocking

Above: Chinchilla Dam, Queensland

TCM: What’s the bar structure in front of your camper and behind your cab?

Irwyn: The bar structure is the original loading board on the tray, and the space came about when the tray had to be moved back about 180 millimeters (7 inches) to balance over the axles.  This space then allowed us to store two spare tires.

VW Transporter going on ferry ride in Australia

Above: Ferry crossing at Myal Lakes, New South Wales, Australia

TCM: What led you to choose the Lance 825?

Rosemary: With the original single axle arrangement we were concerned about weight, so we chose the Lance 825.

We also liked the floor plan of the 825 because it had better kitchen bench space than some other models.  We have found that the overall size of the 825 is quite adequate for two adults.  It was also important for us to have toilet and shower.  Not having a dry bathroom area has not been a problem to us.

Kayak rack roof truck camper

TCM: I notice that you bring along a kayak.  How do you secure it to the camper?

Rosemary: We have a kayak that rides on the camper’s roof rack and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference to our fuel consumption.   We just have to remember that we have it on as it makes us a bit higher.

Getting the kayak on and off the roof was a concern that we needed to address.  So Irwyn built a detachable frame that clips on the roof racks allowing the kayak to slide up and away from the camper using a small electric boat winch.

Kayak on Lance Camper in Australia

Above: Wyangla Dam, New South Wales

TCM: What is the height of your rig with and without the kayaks?  Our hard side truck camper rigs are typically 11 to 12.5 feet tall (3.3 to 3.8 meters).

Irwyn: Without the kayak our camper is 3.1 meters tall (10.2 feet).  We have not measured our height with the kayak loaded, but we did attempt to go under a 3.3 meter (11 foot) rail bridge and the top of the kayak began to scrape.  That’s good to know for future situations!

Camping with Lance 825 in Australia

Above: Camping at Chilligoe Caves, western Queensland

TCM: That’s a neat solution for the kayak.  What is the frame made out of?

Irwyn: The frame pieces are made from 20 millimeter (3/4 inch) hollow steel tubing.

Being a double kayak weighing 38 kilograms (83 pounds) we realized that we needed a mechanical method to lift the kayak onto the our camper roof.  We did find some online, but they were either too bulky or too expensive.  So I set about designing and developing my own.

Kayak on Lance 825 truck camper

The main challenge was to be able to winch the kayak up and over the the camper’s roof without touching the camper.   To assist with this problem, I designed the side pieces to keep the kayak from hitting the sides, and a pivoted arm anchored on the roof to guide the kayak over and onto the top of the camper.

The electric boat winch was $85 Australian ($62 USD) and the steel and struts were $120 Australian ($87 USD).  We are retired, so we don’t fill in time sheets, but it did take a couple of prototypes to get it right.

Metal frame modification for getting kayak on roof of truck camper

TCM: Where does that detachable frame go when you are traveling?

Irwyn: The frame dismantles into three pieces that clip onto either side wall under the camper body, thus taking up minimal storage.

TCM: Have you made any camper modifications other than the kayak frame and winch?

Rosemary: Apart from the vehicle modifications, we did address the inside storage by utilizing lightweight calico boxes for clothes storage.  These fit neatly along the sides of the bed and on the storage rack above.

In the two kitchen cupboards we put wire storage baskets making shelf space to fit in more stuff.  Heavier items are stored in the outside storage space.

Volkswagen Truck Camper fits in parking spot

Above: Shopping center car park, Cairns, Queensland

TCM: In the United States and Canada, we sometimes call truck camper rigs Family Emergency Vehicles for their ability to flee man made and natural disasters, and help with medical situations.  From your emails, you had such an experience.

Rosemary: Last year when we had to stay in the middle of Sydney for three months for post-op daily follow up.  During that time we were able to make good use of our camper.

Our camper, being relatively small, meant we were able to off load it in a friend’s backyard, making city accommodation possible.  This was very convenient for us because it gave us our independence and economical accommodation for this period of time.

We live in Mudgee, which is four hours northwest of Sydney.  We made only one trip away in our camper before my operation, so it gave us the opportunity to realize what things we wanted in our camper on a trip and how we wanted everything stored.

Bird watching on the road

Above: Rosemary and Irwyn enjoy bird watching while they travel

TCM: That’s fantastic.  Now that your rig is ready to go, what do you enjoy doing when you go truck camping?

Rosemary: Our main interest on our travels is birdwatching and, of course, using our kayak.  For birdwatching, we like to see as much a variety in Australia as we can.  We like to visit National Parks and bush areas.  Australia has over 700 different bird species and we have seen 280 so far.  So, we have a lot more traveling and a lot more places to go.

Our kayaking is mainly on still waters like dams, lakes, and gentle flowing rivers.  Kayaking helps our birdwatching as it takes us away from main campsites to where we can see even more birds.

Volkswagen Transporter Truck Camper on the lake

Above: Black Lake Reserve, Bombala, southern New South Wales

TCM: Most Truck Camper Magazine readers would probably love to visit Australia in a truck camper.  Should we get the chance, where should we go?

Rosemary: Australia is a vast country with a great variety of destinations.  We have only traveled parts of Queensland and New South Wales in our camper so far, so we have lots more to see yet.

Campground in Australia

Above: Free camping at Carcoar Dam, New South Wales, note the wind turbines in the background

Australia is similar to United States in that we have tropical areas in the north and colder climates in the south.  We also have extremes of high snow country and remote arid desert areas.  All offer a different array of birds and places of interest to visit.

Generally we will visit the tropical north in the winter and southern high country in the spring and autumn.  We actually like to stay home for the summer months.

TCM: We often stay home during the peak summer months as well.  Do you see many truck campers in Australia?

Irwyn: Not really.  In Australia caravans are the most popular camping vehicle.  Then, motorhomes and some fifth wheels.

We do see a very small percentage of truck campers.  We call them slide-on campers here.  Recently we have seen an increase in Australian made slide-on campers.  Ben, our Lance Camper importer, is now marketing his Lance Campers as ‘A motorhome you can take off’.

RV Park Australia with Slide-On Camper

TCM: That’s funny.  If we called truck campers motorhomes our readers wouldn’t be too happy.  We like our truck campers!  Are there lots of campgrounds in Australia or do you have to mainly go dry camping?

Rosemary: Nearly every town has one or more caravan parks and national parks have paid campsites.  There are plenty of dry camping sites or what we call free camping.  Some travelers only use these sites but, if we’re not remote camping, we do like to support the country towns by utilizing their caravan parks.

Having said that, we have found that some of the free camping sites are in good locations along rivers or near waterways, and we like the isolation and space these sites offer.  We don’t like free camping close to towns since you need to arrive early to get a spot and we find they are usually very cramped.

Bundoora Dam, Queensland, Australia

Above: Bundoora Dam, Queensland, Australia

TCM: Many truck campers in America feel the same way.  They prefer to boondock (dry camp for free) away from people whenever possible.  What are your truck camping plans for the future?

Rosemary: We have lots of places to go and lots more birds to identify.  In February we are planning on a trip south, down the coast of New South Wales, into Victorian high country, and then we’ll be traveling back through some of western New South Wales in the drier areas.

VW Transporter Slide On Camper

Above: Eucalypt Forest near Wollembi, New South Wales

Our winter trip, starting in June (Australia’s winter runs June through August), will take us north into Queensland again, but this time going further west than last year.  So once we have covered Eastern Australia, we will be keen to explore Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Rosemary and Irwyn’s Rig
Truck: 2007 VW Transporter, Dual Cab, 6×4, Diesel, Long Bed, Single Rear Wheel, Dual Axle
Camper: 2015 Lance 825
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift Fastguns
Suspension Products on Truck: Air Bags on both rear axles

 

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