With the never-ending rise of house prices in this country – although, even as I write this, the news pages have swung around to the gloom and doom of predicting massive price drops – it’s enough to have me dreaming of something else.
An escape from the mundaneness of the endless news cycle. Good news, bad news, indifferent news, any news really. And that is partly why I think escaping our city confines to travel this great country is so popular right now. It’s a way of thumbing our noses at our capitalist selves.
Vans are very popular for such journeys, mainly among the younger set, but certainly not exclusive to it. And if you look hard enough, you will find multiple social media pages extolling the virtues of what they call ‘van life’.
Given that popularity, it’s a surprise that there are not more options coming from the van manufacturers themselves. That could be because many people do like to go their own way, so to speak, and set up their own conversions. But what do you do if it is simply too much hassle to do your own conversion, you have absolutely no tradecraft skills or a caravan is too big?
Luckily for us, Australian company Trakka specialises in fit-out camper conversions on the popular VW Transporter van platform among others. Having an experienced outfit like Trakka convert a standard van into a functional mobile home has benefits. It saves you time, and you know that everything is engineered properly and maintains the operational functions of the car. You also get a three-year vehicle and three-year Trakka warranty. Plus, Trakka has been operating for decades, so it knows how to maximise the space in the van.
The Trakkadu 400 is one of its newer conversions. It is an all-wheel drive, pop-top van sitting on the long-wheelbase VW transporter platform. Obviously, Trakka has added a host of options, but it still uses the standard 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine providing 132kW of power. It pumps out a healthy 400Nm of torque too, which means that you could tow up to the rated 2.5 tonnes. The VW driving tech is still there, too, with the 4Motion all-wheel drive providing excellent traction on all surfaces.
While the car certainly feels a little heavier on the road than the standard van, the suspension is also standard and gives a good account of itself. Getting used to the driving position in a van is all you need to be concerned with. That and a little body roll on tight corners, but it’s never too much and more manageable than the larger styles of motorhomes.
The lights on the vehicle are good enough that you shouldn’t need aftermarket additions. You can see everything, and for me they flood and spotlight ahead effectively for any night driving you may do between spots.
The beauty of having your home and transport all rolled into one is that you never have to see the same sunset. The beauty of a van is that it can get into places the larger motorhomes simply cannot. The drawback comes for those who like to move, and move often. If you’re not in the thick of it, and you rarely want to be, you have to pack up every single time you want to go to the shops, a beach or a bushwalk. That can get painful if you do not have alternative transport, so consider an external bicycle rack.
On the upside, the Trakkadu 400 only takes a few minutes to set up. As long as you are tidy and have a place for everything, you can become quite accomplished at getting on the road quickly after a night or two.
Inside the van, the pop-top roof provides the head space to stand up comfortably at the bench. There is a glass ceramic diesel stove here (which means no open flame in the car). Obviously, you are in a van that naturally is limited in space, so if you’re running out of room, you can slot a removable table up to the bench. That same table can be moved outside, if the weather allows you to eat out there under the awning. It clips neatly into a rail on the side of the van.
Cooking inside has never been my thing, so realistically I would probably carry an additional outdoor stove. Being outside is what it’s all about, after all. You can aerate the internal space well by lifting the roof and unzipping the windows, which are lined with a midge-proof screen. There is a window behind the stove that should have a flyscreen but doesn’t, and you can open the sliding side door – again no flyscreen, so beware the ravenous bugs at dusk.
Underneath, an 80-litre fridge/freezer should keep you going for a few days, and for cleaning up there's a sink with a folding tap and glass lid that works well to maximise the bench space. Power to the LED lights is supplied from a second 100Ah battery, and you can upgrade to lithium and solar options. Trakka also fits a dimmer to some of the lights to better manage power consumption, and there are 12-volt and USB charge points.
The optional solar-charging system fitted to our test car will offer more time away from mains power. It’s an option I would tick and comes in at $1500. With it, you could be on the road away from mains power almost indefinitely. Without it, your battery will only last 2–3 days unless you religiously start the car each day to recharge the battery, leaving the car to run for a while.
The dining table can accommodate four people, so have some guests over. If you’re worried about it being a bit stuffy, the pop-top really does a great job of delivering that open feel. That and the clever design, of course.
The bed is comfortable for one, but with the girlfriend joining me after the first night, I wouldn’t say it was gloriously deluxe for two – more so accommodating. You will survive and make a fist of it, sure, but the width is slightly compromised by the required bench and storage space running along the right internal wall. Think of two people sleeping on a king single. You’ll want to be very friendly.
The bed is formed by the rear seat, which concertinas by pulling a tab located in the middle of the seat. It’s very easy compared to some I’ve seen that seem to require a degree to operate. Above is a second bed for a couple of kids, and while it’s a handy option, I doubt anyone going on a long-term trip will use it unless you start one of those arguments you can’t win. Or in my case, get involved in the cooking process and start telling the chef how to cook. This, to my mind, is a couple’s only option.
For two, this is a very usable vehicle that has excellent credentials as a mobile home. It has everything you will need. It is small enough to get to most places, and the 4Motion all-wheel drive will provide enough traction for any dirt roads heading to secluded campsites. Forget any tough tracks, though.
While our weekend away was a mere blip in comparison to what you could do with this vehicle, we came away wanting more and can’t wait to get back into another Trakka conversion.
At a quite costly $104,110 as tested, you may want to do away with the smashed avocado on toast for a while, but remember you are buying a lifestyle, not simply a car. And you can expect at least one person to say “You could buy a car and caravan for that”. And, yes, you can, but not everyone wants to tow a caravan around for days on end. It’s a hassle you don’t need and they are slightly restrictive, keeping you from potentially some of the best places a car can reach sans trailer.
The beauty of escaping, pulling up at a random spot and setting up quickly is the key. It is simple, comfortable living, and if I could give up my day job, I’d buy one.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Glen Sullivan.
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