In recent months, Australis Caravans has been refining the vans in its dedicated offroad line-up, known as the High Country.
It began with a 14ft 6in caravan that was fitted with more gear than you could shake a stick at, which was all the more intriguing considering the diminutive size of that rig. But Australis has just launched a larger and more spacious version of the High Country, the tandem-axle 17ft 6in family van reviewed here. The company is also developing plans for an 18ft 6in High Country, which will feature the layout in our review van but with the addition of a washing machine and wardrobe between the dinette and rear bunks.
A UNIQUE LAYOUT
I was immediately struck by the layout. This is, after all, a bunk van complete with a bathroom and separate shower, packaged into a 17ft 6in body length. And it’s more spacious than you might think.
Australis Caravans achieved this by opting for an east-west main bed in the nose of the van, with one cupboard offset to the nearside, at the foot of the bed. At the rear, the company fitted two bunks to the offside, filling out the rear wall with the bathroom. The cassette toilet, therefore, sits against the back wall, next to a small vanity. The separate shower cubicle is in the nearside corner. This setup, while different to many vans of similar length, works well.
Each bunk is equipped with a 12V fan and a reading light, and there’s a couple of small drawers underneath; however, the kids don’t get their own wardrobes in this layout.
There is, however, ample storage space in the kitchen. In particular, I liked the pot drawer fitted beneath the 188L compressor fridge-freezer. I also liked that the plumbing beneath the kitchen sink had been sectioned off with laminated ply. The sink, by the way, comes with a dedicated tap for filtered drinking water.
Upholstered in faux leather, the L-shaped dinette is particularly comfortable. It is equipped with reading lights, overhead lockers, and the table can shift one either axis for easy access to the lounge. The controller for the standard diesel heater is within arm’s reach, as is a 12V fan. The heater is positioned under the dinette lounge, and a BMPRO battery management system and Mini Boost 2 DC-DC charger are mounted inside an overhead locker. The DC-DC charger is a particularly welcome inclusion.
The forward bedroom is complete with overhead lockers, that side wardrobe, reading lights, and a couple of under-bed drawers. The drawers are very welcome; however, one of them doesn’t open all the way due to the dinette table’s telescopic leg, but it opens far enough for easy access.
Now, the Australis High Country is available in ‘Extreme’ format, which gives it a massive range of extra features, as seen in the aforementioned 14ft 6in version, and in standard format, which is what we have here. But that’s not to say this van is really lacking anything. Among the internal features, there’s a reverse-cycle air-conditioner, a microwave, USB points integrated with each reading light, a sound system, TV, speakers, and more. However, it’s also considerably cheaper than the Australis High Country Extreme. It’s something for customer’s to think about.
That said, I found the interior of this van, especially the overall layout, to be appealing. Two adults and two children should be quite comfortable.
BUILDING THE AUSTRALIS HIGH COUNTRY
While other vans in the Australis range are framed in meranti timber, the High Country uses an an aluminium frame clad with smooth composite aluminium and X-plate, an upgrade over the more common black checkerplate. It’s certainly a good-looking unit, with a high-riding stance an an array of external features.
It is built atop a 4in SupaGal chassis complete with a 4in raiser, hence the ride height of this van. The drawbar, however, is a 6in unit extended by 450mm, creating space for a large storage box, two 9kg gas cylinders, a mesh stoneguard, and a protected water tap. The supplied 230Ah lithium battery, which is mounted to the chassis rail on the offside, is charged when under tow via an Anderson plug, while a 12-pin is used for the running lights, brakes, etc.
The roof is a one-piece fibreglass sandwich panel, while the floor is a ‘honeycomb’ structure, effectively making the Australis High Country a timber-free van in terms of its construction – obviously, laminated ply is used for the internal furniture.
The amount of external storage space is a genuine highlight. Aside from the A-frame-mounted storage box, which comes complete with dual slide-out trays as well as a top tray, there’s a rear-offside storage compartment and a tunnel boot. Now, the tunnel boot is occupied by this van’s only non-standard feature: a slide-out kitchen complete with hot and cold water, and a gas line that need to be connected to the van’s gas bayonet. This self-supporting kitchen includes a sink, of course, as well as a barbecue.
The nearside is complete with a roll-out awning, a fold-down picnic table, some speakers, amber anti-insect awning lights, and even an entertainment locker fitted with a 12V and antenna point, along with a TV bracket.
As I said, even in standard format (notwithstanding the slide-out kitchen) this van doesn’t really want for anything. It even comes with a grey water tank, two 210W solar panels, a separate Anderson connection for a portable solar panel, and LED light bars at the front and rear. I quite liked the new Euro 2 windows in use, too, which add to the van’s sleek appearance.
Being a tandem-axle van, the 17ft 6in Australis High Country comes with a very generous payload capacity. The Tare is a reasonable 2437kg, while the ATM is 3500kg, providing 1063kg to work with.
In order to make full use of the ATM, you’re looking at a Land Cruiser or similarly-rated vehicle for towing duties. However, this van has a great deal to offer travelling families. The spec level is generous too, even in ‘standard’ format. Further, it was a pleasure to tow. I am interested to see what Australis Caravans comes up with next in the High Country range.
FIT AND FINISH –
HITS & MISSES
- A fantastic layout
- Generous spec level, even in standard format
- Huge payload capacity
- Due to the table leg, one drawer under the bed doesn’t open all the way
- I’d like a few dedicated 12V points, especially in the leg area of the dinette, rather than relying on the USB points in the reading lights
Overall length: 7.96m
External width: 2.4m
Internal height: 1.98m
Travel height: 3.1m
Unladen ball weight: 223kg
Group axle capacity: 3500kg
Cladding: Composite aluminium with X-plate
Chassis: 4in SupaGal with 4in raiser; 6in extended drawbar
Suspension: 3500kg-rated Tough Ride independent trailing arm coil
Brakes: 12in electric
Wheels: 16in alloy
Fresh water: 2x95L
Grey water: 1x95L
Battery: 230Ah lithium with BMPRO BatteryPlus 35 battery management system and Mini Boost 2 DC-DC charger
Sway control: Yes
Cooking: Four-burner cooktop with griller and fan-forced oven
Refrigeration: 188L compressor
Shower: Separate cubicle, fully-moulded fibreglass
Washing machine: No
Lighting: 12V LED
Hot water: Gas-electric
Hearing: Diesel-fired space heater
Slide-out kitchen ($2200)
Starting from $97,000