2019 A New Caravan: Above – Delivery Day!
After five years on the road our old Windsor Statesman had served us very well but was showing signs of age as it was now 18 years old and in need of regular maintenance like Keith here (left) repairing the awning arm! We had decided some time ago that our next van would be “off road capable” and had looked at several brands at the Brisbane Caravan Show in mid 2018. Having looked at a budget of maybe $80,000 there were a very small number of possibilities and talking to owners that we came across provided further information, both positive and negative. I won’t go into what these models were but they did not include Sunland which had been above our budget at a perceived $100k+.
Further discussions between us resulted in deciding that, after 5 years and really only scratching the surface of the Eastern States, we want to do this for another 10 years, health etc. permitting. As a result we decided to increase the budget for the right van. We came across a couple of Sunland “Blue Heeler“ models which are much lesser known than the “Patriot” product which everyone knows; also there was a two year old Patriot being sold on consignment at the factory for $90,000 and an ex show model Blue Heeler at $85,000. Both vans had items we needed to change (such as wanting a full oven and Lithium Battery package) and so discussions with Tarrot Wyss at Sunland resulted in them building us a new Blue Heeler with our options at a total cost of under $98,000 with the “show” discount and a few low cost extras.
Construction started early December and we were able to get some photos sent to us by Andy, the Marketing manager, and before Christmas visited to take more for ourselves.
At left the chassis is almost completed; manufactured in house to Sunland’s original design and using the very popular Cruisemaster coil suspension with a 3.7 tonne rating.
Below the floor has now been bonded to the chassis and the lower rear panel is being constructed.
Construction: We had the option of an all-composite body (except front and rear) or Sunland’s more traditional aluminium frame construction. After a discussion about our usage the composite makes for a better “living” van with superior insulation properties and slightly lighter weight. The aluminium frame is arguably a little stronger if you want more of an “explorer’s” van; while intending a lot of “off bitumen” travel we are not planning to travel the wildest tracks of Australia!
So here is the next stage with the side walls bonded to the floor and the partial rear wall in place and cabinetry being installed. Sunland have their own CNC equipment to cut everything on site and the cabinetry is made in the second shed across the road from the assembly factory and offices. The main roof panel can also be seen sitting on trestles to the left of the van below.
The build was completed on schedule ready for our collection on January 4, this was the first Sunland van to roll out of the factory for 2019. As you can see we had included a little promo signwriting for Sunland (part of the small extra discounts deal) and for Full Range Camping for whom Keith does part time work for the last three years. The inclusion of the FRC Logo of “Freeda the Free Range Chook” lead to our van being known by the factory guys as “the chook van”! We were given a full “tour” of our purchase by Michael, Sunland’s Operations Manager, including a test drive taking the rig up to 100km/h on the nearby highway to check towing stability, and braking adjustments. It was interesting to note that we did not need to connect our WDH which had been an essential on our old van, such is the balance of the Blue Heeler.
Inside and around our Sunland Blue Heeler: So what did we get in and around our new van? The standard Blue Heeler as built for the November Caravan Show had basic features such as a cooktop and grill, fabric upholstery, single AGM battery and solar panel all of which we wanted to change. We opted for the full oven, leather trim, and dual 100AH Lithium Batteries with dual solar panels.
In addition we included factory options of outside speakers, a grey water tank (135L), dual slide out drawers under the bed, a Sirocco Fan and a 2.5kg Washing machine. In addition, for our own special requirements we had extra 12 volt outlets fitted, a 12 volt power feed under the bed for our own diesel heater; and a HDMI cable to the outside TV box to allow for connection of the sat TV decoder when the TV is taken outside. None of these were too much trouble to ask for and be included, some at no cost.
So Why Sunland?
The above summarises what we got for a sub $100k caravan, but why a Sunland caravan? The Sunland Patriot (now reborn as the Phoenix for 2019) is one of the most recognisable vans on the Highways and back tracks of Australia with it’s (usually) distinctive Aussie Flag logo. That logo is still available and we could have had that on our Blue Heeler but opted for the artwork map by indigenous artist Jimmy Deen.
The Blue Heeler was first introduced by Sunland in 2005 and has now been re-introduced as their compact off road van in the range and at a price point where many more manufacturers are now trying to compete with so called “off road” models. The things which stand out for us in buying Sunland are:
Reputation for quality build almost entirely in house including chassis
The inclusion of the facilities and features that we wanted
Longevity of manufacture (well over 15 years)
Warranty of 5 years on build and 20 years on chassis
Weight and Payload – an outstanding 1100kg of payload on our van, without compromising strength
After Sales Service and Support well documented by customers
Value for money compared with other vans at the same price point when including all of the above.
Keith’s Note: 9 months on:
We have now been traveling Tasmania since mid February and are here until March next year, while not exercising the Blue Heeler’s true off road capabilities we have well and truly settled in to living in our new “home”. Would we have done anything differently if we were buying a new van now instead of almost a year ago? (November 2018) Quite simply – “No”, with reaching the true limits of our budget (in fact exceeding it a little) we believe we have bought the best value for money v. featured off road van that Australia has to offer and it is very rewarding to see Sunland producing new Blue Heelers at a continuing rate and new owners joining our Facebook Group on a very regular basis.
…and 3 Years on..
After the first 12-13 months in Tasmania, Covid lockdown at Eden, returning to Brisbane by August 2020 we then spent most of 2021 visiting the top end of the NT. The van was serviced when we returned to Brisbane from Eden in October 2020 and again in January 2022 when returning from the NT. There have been no warranty issues with the van itself and the factory service was impeccable in covering everything including adjusting latches and locks. The van has no appearance of having been lived in 24/7 for three years and has reinforced our choice for Sunland.
.. and 4 years on .. 2023
The van as it stands, after being lived in for 4 years, is a true testament to the build quality; no warranty issues, 2 fridge faults fixed by Dometic service agents including a major coil replacement just inside the 3 year warranty expiry; a full service of the stove after the failure of 2 thermocouples and a new set of tyres. Full service at the factory replaced all wheel bearings and corrected the wheel alignment.
With rising prices we are even more glad that we chose to upgrade when we did as the same van has increased in price by over 30% leaving ours worth at least what we paid.