This isn’t what you’d expect. I’m in Robe on the beautiful southeast coast of South Australia. I’m up early, waiting for the sun to rise while the pinks and purples of that pre-dawn glow promise it will be special. Back at camp, everyone is still asleep, or at least still inside, looking for the coffee that no one remembered to bring.
But camp is two luxury holiday apartments and the campers are a motley crew from Elite Caravans. There’s 11 of us, including part owner of Elite Caravans, Peter Smith and his Research and Development Manager, Jared Pearson, along with five video and camera guys plus three tour guides from Follow Me 4WD. As I pull back into the driveway, I ask myself with a chuckle, “How many four-wheel-drives does it take to tow two Elite caravans?” There are seven parked out front.
The premise for the gathering is simple enough, though. Elite Caravans wants to show how capable its off-road models are, so has brought a Dirty Harry Stealth and Goulburn Series 2 to the beach, and plans on capturing the whole thing for a series of video clips. Where it gets strange is the plot – allegedly Peter has heard about UFO sightings in the area and is here to investigate. I sincerely hope their caravans are more solidly built than their video scripts and plot lines (Elite makes crazy videos)
For Elite, this is purely business. For us, it’s purely educational (read purely as ‘partly’ and education as ‘time out of the office’). The 11 of us don’t plan on camping out in the vans (my goodness it would be horrible with 11 of us; I bring a swag, just in case), we don’t cook or eat out of them, all Elite wants is some data on how they perform and some epic footage of it all going down. We do keep the fridges stocked though. And two 110-litre eskies. Man’s not a camel.
There aren’t many better backdrops, either. Robe and Beachport are the bookends to some of the Limestone Coast’s best four-wheel-driving and camping. In some places you scoot around the high-tide mark, turning the car to avoid the latest wave of water up the beach before turning into the dunes and negotiating tight, twisty sand tracks surrounded by scrub.
Without venturing too far from a large abundance of silicate particles and salt, you can drive the whole way from Robe to Beachport and camp at numerous places along the way. Not that many do – for most, the drive is a day trip; an excuse to go fishing; just one of the adventures around Robe. For the smart, it’s a chance to get away from some crowds and enjoy quiet nights under the stars.
But the trip shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if you’re travelling with an off-road caravan. If Elite proved one thing, it’s that you can take caravans along the beach, tackle tough terrain and even have a bit of fun. It didn’t prove that you should. Although there are handfuls of campsites along the stretch of coast, only a few are suitable for caravans, and all but one can be accessed via a normal dirt road. If you are visiting Robe, the best thing to do is pull up at one of its fantastic caravan parks and venture out, sans dead weight. Leave the beach towing to necessity – when it’s the only way to the perfect campsite.
Ricky Esser agrees. The owner of Follow Me 4WD Tours and one of the drivers towing the Dirty Harry along the beach, he is really impressed by the two caravan’s performances on the sand. But adds, “There’s certainly a skillset needed before you tow a caravan, or a boat, on the beach. You need to be really familiar with that sort of driving without the weight, before you tackle it so encumbered.”
That point is highlighted when Pearson is caught unawares by a crumbling sandbank. Even without a caravan, he’s well and truly stuck, needing the help of a winch to lower him and his Patrol to safety. A flurry of activity and shovels sees the track rebuilt, although it’s a tense moment when the vans are sent up. I am morbidly disappointed when, camera at the ready, we don’t lose a caravan over the edge. Speaking with the video crew, so are they.
Pete Smith isn’t. The relief on his face after both vans don’t fall into the ocean is plain to see. Later that night, after a town-wide blackout has forced us on an impromptu pub-crawl (The Robe Hotel has backup generators and a mean parmi, the Caledonian only has one of these things), Pete and I get talking about the trip. No stranger to four-wheel-driving on sand (Pete holidays here or the Coorong every year), he tells me, “We really took these vans to their boundaries and beyond. My customers always tell me about their trips to these sort of places – you know, like Fraser Island, but this is my first real assault at it with the vans. I am so impressed with the Goulburn, especially. After we took the Dirty Harry through the High Country, I came back and redesigned its rear bar. But there’s nothing I will change after this.”
If nothing else, though, we hope that this boosts your confidence in where you can responsibly take a caravan. Australia is an unbelievably diverse place and it is so easy to stick to the blacktop and have a great time. What this demonstrates, is that with the right equipment, the right skills and the right attitude, you can still bring the comfort and convenience of a caravan just about everywhere you go. The pictures speak a thousand words.
Here’s the video