If you haven’t been able to trek north this winter, don’t sit around at home! Ditch your thongs and throw your Ugg Boots into the van, because we reckon touring Australia’s southern states in the cooler months is terrific. Discover empty freecamps, grab off-season discounts at great destinations, and lap up the romance of cosy fireside gatherings all day long. With tips on how to stay warm, enter a journey of the NSW Far South Coast, Victoria’s South Gippsland region, SA’s Yorke Peninsula and the Geographe region of WA. (Yes, we’re saving Tassie for later!)
There's little point in owning a valuable asset like a caravan or motorhome if it's only suitable for warm weather touring. With a few essentials ticked off, you can enjoy cold weather touring in comfort. Whether touring in cold or hot weather, ensure your van has sound insulation through the walls, ceiling and floor. Many cheaper vans (and even some expensive ones) don’t come with underfloor insulation. This is essential in cold conditions! Update old windows to double-glazed and add heavy-duty curtains to restrict the transfer of your precious warmth. Check door, window, skylight/hatch and slideout seals for draughts but don’t cover ventilation panels! These ensure circulation of fresh air and are lifesaving in the event of a gas leak.
Cavernous under-bed storage areas are a significant source of cold air. Insulate the underside of the bed base and lay a folded woollen blanket on top, under your mattress, to further insulate you from night-time chills. Change your summer-weight polyester doona to a winter-weight duck down duvet and throw rugs down on the floor to add insulation and take away that chilly feel. For independent winter touring away from powered sites, the installation of a diesel or gas heating system will ensure you stay toasty when freecamping.
A hotly debated topic is whether to install gas or diesel heating: we reckon diesel is the winner in freecamping rigs:
• cost and ease of installation – diesel heaters can be cheaper to buy; they are smaller, lighter, more robust, and can be legally installed by anyone. Gas heaters are bulkier, need specific positioning for exhaust ducting, and require qualified installation as well as periodic compliance re-certification
• running costs – diesel heaters are slightly cheaper to run than gas units
• ease of fuel refills/storage – a small dedicated diesel tank in your boot provides efficient storage and is easy to refill from your jerry can; diesel heating conserves your limited gas supply for hot water, fridge, stove/oven and BBQ operations
• noise and smell – diesel units are initially slightly noisier (outside the van) during the warmup period but then purr along more quietly than a gas heater (fitted inside the van); neither gas heaters nor correctly-tuned diesel heaters emit an odour
• temperature control – diesel heaters have finer thermostat settings than gas heaters
• efficiency - in sub-zero temperatures, you can prevent diesel waxing issues by adding 10% kerosene to the tank
To protect yourself from wind and cold when camping, consider solar gain: allow sunshine to pour into the van in the morning, then close blinds and draw curtains early to reduce heat loss once the sun goes down. Park in the lee of buildings or stands of trees to gain maximum shelter from those arctic blasts. Carry plenty of snuggly throw rugs to use when relaxing outside in your camp chairs. If you plan to stay in one place for more than a couple of days, set up an annex to provide extra shelter for your dogs, footwear, BBQ, camp equipment and playthings. The additional shelter dramatically reduces the amount of cold air or rain whipping through your door every time it opens. Make it cosy with a portable gas heater and lay down a flooring of lightweight foam squares or carpet underlay to reduce ground chills. A draft skirt around the van is essential to complete this useful outdoor refuge.
AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT IN COLD WEATHER CAMPING IS THE ART OF LAYERED CLOTHING
An important element in cold weather camping is the art of layered clothing. Quality outdoor clothing opens a whole new world for touring during the colder months. Dress in multiple thin layers of breathable, non-absorbent fabrics, with a wicking layer against your skin, and a wind- and waterproof outer layer. Don't neglect your head, neck, hands and feet because significant heat loss occurs from your extremities. Get healthy and warm at the same time: exercise is a great way to warm up, so if your toes are ready to drop off, get moving! A brisk walk increases your metabolism, and the energy expenditure of your muscles creates a warmth that no external heat source can match. Remember to pop a jacket on Fido before your daily walk in really cold conditions – his furry coat isn’t always enough to stave off arthritis pain in the cold. ■