My Brother is moving from the sandy suburban blocks of Perth to the wild wilderness of Tasmania, all the outdoor activities you could ever hope for are about to become easily accessible to him. Hiking, mountain biking, rafting, climbing it’s all there, but how do you get from your home to the location of said activities? Well, you get a vehicle. But what if it’s a long weekend and you want to go away for a few days? Well, you get a camper van! For most Australians, the concept of owning a camper van is not all that foreign, especially these days when we’re being constantly spammed by people living the ‘vanlife’ on Instagram. Australia could be the ultimate country to travel in a camper van, everyone from 18-year-old German backpackers to the army of Grey Nomads is doing it, and why wouldn’t you? Australia is an amazingly diverse country with so much to see and do and owning a camper van is probably one of the best ways to do it.
So when my Brother called me and asked what would be the best van to convert into a camper van I thought to myself ‘that is a very good question’ and today I hope to give you the answer to that question. Because let’s face it, Australian’s love vans. There are vans for sale everywhere of every shape and size, and in every price range, some of them are good to convert to a camper van and some are not. Whether you’re coming to Australia for a year long trip or you’re a weekend warrior looking for something to escape the city in – this article is for you. I’ve owned a total of five different vans over the years and only one of them will make this list (and it’s not even really a van), but we’ll start with it. The vehicle I’m referring to is the mighty Toyota Landcruiser Troopcarrier! So here we go!
This could be THE BEST vehicle to convert to a camper to travel Australia (in my humble opinion) but I could be a little biased because my mother owned a Troopy when I was growing up and I spent two years traveling Australia in a Troopy. But it is an epic touring vehicle nonetheless. Troopy’s can be expensive and there are a lot out there that have done A LOT of kilometers. If you’re looking for a Troopy with a budget of less than ten thousand dollars expect to be looking at vehicles that have done at least 250 thousand kilometers. That can be hard to get your head around if you’re coming out here from Europe – Yes, it is possible to drive that many kilometers but the good news is that a Troopy that has been well looked after will do twice that amount easily. Troopy engines go for a LONG time, they are incredibly resilient machines and that’s one of the reasons they are so good to convert to a camper for traveling Australia. But what else makes them a good choice?
You’ll see more with a Troopy, Australia has plenty of hard to reach places that are only accessible with a four-wheel drive and being able to reach these places in a camper that carries all of your equipment is very satisfying.
They have LOTS of room in the back, that’s because they don’t have rear passenger doors so they are perfect to convert to a camper by simply building a bed with storage underneath. There is a good chance that you could find a Troopy that already has had this done.
Some of the downsides of owning a Troopy is that they are big, heavy, slow and usually uncomfortable to drive. But when you’re driving through the center of Australia on a 40-degree day and everyone else is breaking down all around you, the Troopy will get you there. Oh yes, it will be hot, it will be slow and it will be noisy. But you will get there in style!
If you own a Troopy I recommend joining the Troopcarriers of Australia Facebook group, they are a great bunch of people and it is a huge knowledge base that you can tap into.
This was my most recent van, it was actually my sister’s van but I drove it every day for a few months and that included a trip up the East Coast to the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival. It was a 1985 diesel Hiace that had a very simple camper conversion, it cost six thousand dollars and it had done 130 thousand kilometers which is a pretty standard price for something of that age with those kilometers. The Hiace is the classic van to convert to a camper, when someone says ‘camper van’ and you picture one in your head, there’s a good chance that you’re picturing a Hiace. Used Hiace vans are in abundance in Australia, they can be cheap, they are generally very reliable and they are easy to convert to a camper.
I would recommend buying a long wheel based version if possible, they are excellent to convert to a camper because of the extra room which can be ideal for building a bed in the back with storage underneath and a small kitchen/cooking area towards the front. The back is just the right width for a double bed mattress which makes the conversion easy. If you find yourself in the situation where you need a quick, cheap and easy solution to convert a Hiace into a camper van a good way to do it is to get half a dozen milk crates, put them upside down in the back, slap a bit of ply on top and boom! You’ve got yourself a bed. These vans are literally everywhere in Australia so it makes parts easy to come by. If this van breaks down it’s generally inexpensive and easy to find parts.
A good mate of mine has just finished converting one of these into a camper and let me tell you they are fantastic! I’ve seen people live out of these vans very comfortably for years. The beauty of these vans is that you can fully stand up in the back, that gives you plenty of options when doing the camper conversion. There is ample space for storage even after you’ve built your bed and kitchen, there is even enough room to build bunk beds, perfect if you’re traveling with a friend that you’d rather not cuddle every night. There are a lot of these vans for sale in and around Australian cities and they can be very affordable. They come with petrol or diesel engines but I would recommend buying a diesel if possible.
One of the downsides to these vans is that they are very large. Although I think what you gain by having such a high van outweighs the downsides. You just won’t be entering any underground car parks in a Transit van
These vans were manufactured during the 80’s and 90’s, there is not a lot of them around for sale but they do come up from time to time. They are mean little machines that have plenty of character. I included them on this list because they are one of the only 4×4 vans available in Australia. There are other 4×4 vans but none that will fall into the low price range that the Mitsubishi Express can be found in. These are for those of us that want the space and conversion options that a van can offer but still want to be able to go off-road. Although I should say that these vans are not known to be terribly capable off-road, mainly because they have a high center of gravity. Having said that I do know of one guy who took one of these up the Telegraph track in Cape York, for those who don’t know what that is – it’s a very famous four-wheel drive track in Far North Queensland which is of high difficulty, if the Mitsubishi Express can go up the Telegraph Track, it can go anywhere.
The VW Transporter, this van is the happy medium between the Ford Transit and the Toyota Hiace. It’s large, but not too large. These vans do come in 4×4 although I haven’t seen many of them around, some have a sliding door on both sides which is a nice feature, they are very comfortable to drive and the newer models have excellent fuel economy. For Europeans planning a trip to Australia, this van will give you a little taste of home. You’re probably the only people that won’t mix up the indicator and windscreen wiper levers the first time you drive it. These vans are great to convert to a camper because they have a lot of room in the back, they are wider than your average van and generally come with 5 seats. You could pull the rear seats out or incorporate them into your bed by fixing some ply to the back of the seats and folding them down. These vans are an excellent option for a camper conversion, they are not as readily available as a Hiace van but there are still plenty around and they can be bought cheap.
One of the downsides is that parts for European vehicles are harder to find in Australia and are more expensive. So if you do have van troubles at some point it’s going to cost more to fix.
The Toyota Townace could be the best van to convert to a camper for those of you who are living in the city. This is due to the size of the Townace, it’s small, not the smallest van out there but it’s close. This van could be described as the Hiace’s younger sibling, although the shape is fundamentally different from the Hiace. Aside from being able to fit into carparks and zip around the city with ease, one of the bonuses of this van is that the engine is in the front, not under the seat. This makes everything from checking the oil to changing the head gasket (I know because I replaced a head gasket in my old Townace on Christmas Eve many years ago) much easier. Other reasons to convert this van to camper is that there are plenty of automatics around, they are very reliable and they are more economical to run because of their small size. This van holds its resale value quite well, if you’re looking for a Townace with less than two hundred thousand kilometers on the clock, expect to pay between six and eight thousand dollars.
The Delica is the ‘other’ 4×4 van manufactured by Mitsubishi. Although I’ve never owned one of these vans personally, I would say that they rate 6/10 on the best van to convert to a camper scale. They are tough vans, and quite capable as a 4×4, but they can be expensive and hard to come by. The interior of these vans is set out for carrying people, much like the VW Transporter, they can carry up to eight people which can be very handy on camping trips. These vans are available with a turbo diesel engine which is great for those of you looking to drive on sand. If 4×4 is a must, the Delica could be the best van to convert to a camper for you. Although buyers beware, I have heard from reliable sources that these vans blow head gaskets often (roughly every 5 years) and parts can be difficult to source. Replacement of a head gasket on a Delica could cost up to $2500
I’m not sure if ‘reliable’ is the right word to describe the Ford Econovan, this van will go for several hundred thousand kilometers and possibly more. But like many Fords, little things will break, it will make plenty of strange noises, it might overheat one day then be fine the next, these vans have a personality of their own. One good thing is that being a Ford, parts will be easy to find and relatively inexpensive. The open layout makes these vans a good option to convert to a camper. They are commercial vehicles, like the Hiace, the back is completely open which makes the conversion easy. These vans are also cheap, although Econovans with low kilometers are getting more difficult to come by. If you’re looking at buying one of these vans, a long test drive is recommended. Econovans are known for getting blockages in the cooling system, and radiator trouble. A lengthy test drive will expose any cooling issues.
The best place, in my opinion, to find used vans in Australia is on Gumtree. So which van is the best van to convert to a camper for travelling Australia? I’ll leave that up to you. Good Luck!