You can get into some pretty interesting conversations around the campfire about what constitutes an off-road caravan. Does merely fitting high ground clearance suspension and a bunch of solar panels qualify? Or is there more to it? For my money, there are only a few genuine off-road vans produced in Australia, and I’d have to classify the Bushmaster amongst them.
Terry Ryan has spent a lifetime owning, towing and studying caravans and as the head of Bushmaster Caravans, he builds very tough vans. The Ironbark on test is the toughest of the range, taking its name from the checkerplate cladding, which covers the entire body, not just the lower sections seen on most off-roaders. It might add a few kilos, but it wins hands down for the bulletproof looks.
Bushmasters are built at Campbellfield on the outskirts of Melbourne in a factory dedicated to exclusively making extreme go-anywhere caravans. In a separate showroom and office, Terry guides prospective owners through the process of creating a van to suit their needs, and while Bushmasters are extremely strong, there is plenty of optional electronic wizardry from which to choose. Then there’s the choice of steel or alloy chassis, timber or alloy frame, various cladding options and a broad palette of colours.
Our test van sits on a 6” G&S reinforced box section alloy chassis for a weight saving of about 150 kg over a steel version and brings in a weighbridge certified tare mass of 2460kg. Connection is via a new Hyland Hitch style 3.5T AL-KO offroad coupling, which offers the wide articulation needed for extreme creek crossings and rock scrabbling. Set on the 6” A-frame is a versatile alloy toolbox with a variety of compartments including a top box for tools, hoses, leads and chocks, side units for jerry cans, and a front section for twin gas bottles.
There’s more storage in a full tunnel boot up front, a passenger side generator box at the back and a smaller hatch opposite. An open rack across the rear for firewood and bikes is used so that owners aren’t tempted to overload the rear end and throw the balance out when travelling. Batteries are stored in boxes attached to the chassis, and with two-100ah Delcos each side, there is an impressive amount of power on board. They are topped up by two roof-mounted 130ah solar panels through a 40amp monitor.
At the heart of the Ironbark’s adventure destination capability is a tandem G&S Control Rider twin shock, trailing arm suspension, while wheels are beefy looking MPC alloys, shod with General Grabber 265x75x16 All Terrain tyres, each rated to 1450kg. Off road 12″ brakes are fitted to all four wheels giving exceptional stopping power, which is essential when the van is loaded to its full ATM capacity of 3500kg.
Fresh water is plentiful with three 95L tanks, and there’s also a 60L grey tank for those national parks that require them. So even with the tanks full, the 1040kg payload still leaves capacity for all the extras we like to take with us on a big trip “just in case”.
Like a lot of vans, the Ironbark has a rearview camera that helps when backing into a site and to keep an eye on the following traffic, but the test van also includes side vision cameras mated to a 7” screen on the tow vehicle dash. It’s an innovation that Terry recently installed and speaks to both his innovative approach to safety and his passion for electronic gadgets. Further evidence of the latter is the electric wind out awning that might seem a little incongruous in such a robust van, but when I saw it in operation, I had to admit it was pretty cool.
Our test van was built as a display model and included experimental colour combinations that were as much about capability as eye-catching design features. The two-tone cabinet doors and the bright blue leather seats look stunning but might not be everyone’s cup of tea. No problem – there’s a vast choice of tones for fabric and cabinetry.
Entry is towards the front where I found a queen size island bed with a quality innerspring mattress and sets of hanging cupboards, side knick-knack pockets, reading lights and drawers. The layout in the living area is functional, and for a mid-size van, there is room to move and plenty of storage options. The passenger side café dinette has robust extensions for relaxing and a trifold table. At first, the window looked small, but I realised it’s positioned to not be blocked by the entry door when it’s open. Smart thinking and something a lot of builders seem to forget.
The upside of the kitchen is that you get a 190L two-door Waeco compressor fridge, a floor to ceiling pantry, stainless steel sink with a drain and a stove with oven and cooktop as well as a Whirlpool Cook and Crisp microwave. The downside is the limited bench space so that the dinette table will be needed for Masterchef extravaganzas. A couple of features I especially liked were the corrugation proof, heavy duty lock on the microwave with a bench below it for safer transfer of hot food.
For climate control, as well as two AL-KO Remis roof hatches there’s an Ibis 3 reverse cycle air conditioner.
Features in the full-width ensuite at the back include a ceramic bowl toilet, Dometic 3kg wall mounted front load washing machine, elegant vanity with large mirror and floating china sink with a designer high-rise tap. A full-size shower cubicle has adequate ventilation and lighting, and I noticed a handy storage hatch to the rear in the space over the generator box.
According to Terry Ryan, the Ironbark is capable of being towed anywhere your four-wheel drive can lead It, and in the course of the afternoon, we dragged it through creeks and across wombat-holed paddocks to prove the point. At one stage we got stuck on a steep bank, with the rear end resting on a steep gravel bank, but we were soon underway searching for more obstacles.
With the AL-KO Electronic Stability Control fitted as standard it tracked smoothly both at speed on the freeway heading out of town and over rough, winding country roads.
If you are looking for a van that can be confidently towed over rough ground to a destination well off the beaten track, then the Ironbark will meet the task. It has exceptional carrying capacity, abundant off-grid power and water, adequate refrigeration and the reassuring comfort of an easily accessible north-south bed and a full ensuite. It’s a van for the hard road and extended time away. There isn’t anything wanting, making its $82,600 price tag great value.
- Very well built for off-road travel
- Huge battery power and water capacity
- Well-appointed interior
Find Out More
Model: Ironbark 18’10”
Overall length: 8.1m
Body length: 5.73m
Travel height: 2.84m
Internal height: 2.1m
Tare weight: 2460kg
Ball weight: 224kg
Water tanks: 3x95L fresh water, 1x60L grey water
Price as reviewed: $82,600
28 Production Drive
Campbellfield, Victoria 3061
Phone – (03) 9357 5222 – 9am to 9pm
Fax – (03) 9357 5211
Terry Ryan phone 0408 194 481 – all hours