WALKING TALL Author: John Ford
For a company that didn’t set out to build caravans, New Age has come a
long way. When they set up in 2004 as New Age Frames & Designs, the object
was to supply caravan builders in Campbellfield, Victoria, with CNC built
furniture and structural frames.
But after four years, they saw a way to revolutionise the local caravan
scene with modern aesthetics in line with inner-city apartment living. Gone was
the rustic timber look and in was a pallette of striking colours and square
finished joinery. It shook up the industry, and they haven’t looked back — they
are now amongst the most prominent builders in the country, producing 2500
caravans, pop-tops and campers in 2019 alone.
Their success led Walkinshaw Automotive Group to join the party in 2018,
when they were looking to diversify before the imminent demise of Holden.
Walkinshaw’s expertise in automotive design and engineering includes modifying
such cars as Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), running a supercar team and
converting imported Camaros and Silverados to Australian standards.
Along with testing equipment, like a seven-post rig that replicates
hundreds of kilometres of rough road travel in minutes, Walkinshaw has its own
proving ground for real-time research and development. A dedicated clay
modelling studio assists with conceptual designs and their robotic welding
equipment ensures perfectly aligned and engineered chassis construction.
Included in changes to New Age RVs are the distinctive ABS moulded rear
panels being introduced across the range. Also, in line with automotive
practice, is the mandrel-bent chassis that forms the chassis and A-frame in a
single run of steel, rather than welding the join as seen on most vans.
The van on test is the 18ft Desert Rose — there’s also a 20ft version
for those wanting a larger ensuite and more living space. Outlined in the
brochure as an explorer’s caravan designed for longer, rougher trips, the
Desert Rose has tougher underpinnings than their more sedate on-road models.
While not a full offroader, the mission is to handle those long, torturous stretches
of corrugated outback track that wreak havoc on any less solidly built van.
While it might sound like I’m contradicting what I have said about the
modern approach the company takes to design, in some ways the Desert Rose’s
exterior retains traditional elements. The new ABS rear end is there
admittedly, and it looks the goods with new black moulding incorporating lights
and spare tyre, but the raised profile aluminium sides hark back to a more
That aside, the Desert Rose is unmistakably a dirt road tourer, with the
almost essential livery of grey sides and black checkerplate skirts, high
riding stance, black alloy wheels with chunky Cooper tyres, and a mammoth
toolbox on the A-frame. If looks are any indication of performance, then the
Desert Rose is ready to go to places distant and wild.
It might surprise some that this avant-garde builder sticks with timber
frame construction, but despite reluctance amongst some buyers, a well-sealed
Meranti construction offers the benefits of light weight and flexibility needed
for offroad travel. Polystyrene insulation sits between the wall studs, and at
the front a composite sheet rides over high checkerplate for protection from
weather and flying stones.
In the interests of proper weight distribution, the second spare sits on
the A-frame alongside the vast toolbox and a set of jerry can holders.
Protected by a full-width stone guard, the box houses two 9kg gas bottles,
leaving room for pesky items like mats and sundries that take up lots of room
but need quick access.
The coupling is our favourite Cruisemaster DO-35 fully rotating hitch,
and I liked that they have included a guard for the tap and BMPro Sway control
With a full length of 150mm x 50mm hot dipped chassis and A-frame, the
has a strong foundation. Cruisemaster XT trailing arm suspension with
twin shock absorbers each side do the job of softening the ride and the 12in
offroad drum brakes help bring everything to a stop efficiently. Wheels are
smart-looking 16in alloys with 265×75 all-terrain tyres.
This setup is de rigueur for today’s set of adventure travellers and,
driven sensibly, its engineering is built to cope with some hard travel and
last the distance. Tare weight is approximately 2860kg, so with an ATM of
3460kg, you get a decent 600kg payload, even taking the 238kg of water and gas
capacity (presuming empty grey water tank) into account.
Underneath, checkerplate protects a pair of 110L water tanks and a grey
water tank from flying rocks, but I would have liked similar protection for the
PVC drainpipes. More storage is found in checkerplate toolboxes under the body,
and the two 110Ah lithium batteries are similarly placed to give good access
and save space inside.
As much as we have praised the modern interior — and we will get there
soon — an offroad van is all about enjoying the serenity of the bush. Because
of this, much of the cooking will be outside, so the Desert Rose comes with a
stainless steel Dometic kitchen and handy entertainment package.
The slide-out kitchen has three gas burners and a sink with water, and
there’s a handy keyless foldout picnic table further back for food prep. As
well as an entertainment hatch for a television, a Fusion sound panel gives
access to your Bluetooth music library. Other outside features include a
rearview camera with a bright LED light for reversing or working at the back of
the van at night, and a driver-side exterior shower and more lighting.
Entry is via a heavy-duty three-way Dometic Columbia door and a
two-stage Techno electric folding step that seemed high enough, when folded, to
avoid most offroad hazards.
Even with high expectations of how great the inside should look,
stepping inside was a pleasant surprise and the well-finished glossy black and
white interior is right on-trend — the tough exterior really contrasts with a
rocking interior that New Age invented.
Black sink and tap fittings in the kitchen and ensuite are standard
items, but otherwise, your colour choices are extensive, so there
should be an option that suits everyone e if the review van’s
combination is too stark. I have a pretty conservative attitude to interior
design, but even so, I liked the simplicity of the colour scheme, and I
particularly liked the impeccable square-finish joinery.
There’s only so much you can do with an
18ft caravan design, and the layout follows the typical trend with a
rear ensuite, front bed and a central living area. The kitchen runs along the
passenger side, placing a comfortable leather-clad cafe style dinette opposite.
Appliances are a level above most vans and include a Thetford hybrid induction
and gas cooktop, grill and oven, microwave and a 216L Dometic compressor
The dinette is a comfortable place to eat or relax, and a big window
makes the most of the view. Extensions for feet-up relaxing seem sturdy and
allow a comfortable position leaning against the wall to watch the 28in
Electronics in the van are as good as you could expect and should give
reliable power for a few days even in cloudy weather. Three 150W solar panels
on the roof charge the pair of 110A lithium batteries through a BMPro BP35HA
smart charger, and an Odyssey control panel monitors power input and usage as
well as water levels.
“Even with high expectations of how great the inside should look,
stepping inside was a pleasant surprise and the wellfinished glossy black and
white interior is right on-trend.”
The ensuite is roomy enough for most folk to move around easily and the
way the vanity curves inward for more room at the toilet while leaving maximum
space at the floating basin for toiletries is clever. Other thoughtful touches
include an easily accessible wallmounted washing machine, frosted shower door
and a soap dispenser.
ON THE ROAD
Our review took us north-east of Melbourne over motorways, winding
secondary roads, some well-kept forestry tracks and a short run over farmland
to simulate finding an offgrid campsite. The van towed faithfully over all
terrains, as you would expect from the capable suspension. Ground clearance was
suitable for the conditions, but I’d be careful on any rocky, unmade tracks,
with some of the pipes and the step looking vulnerable to damage in such
Most 4WD utes and, of course, the
LandCruiser and Patrol will make easy work of towing. The van was
unladen for our review and felt well balanced and pulled without fault,
experiencing no banging or lurching over the rougher sections, and was smooth
and stable at motorway speeds.
Tare weight is 2860kg, so a suitable heavyduty tow vehicle is necessary,
especially if you want to extend the 600kg carrying capacity to its 3460kg
limit. Check your vehicle’s gross combined limits to ensure you will be legal
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even with a price tag approaching $100k, we rate the Desert Rose as good
value. Nothing has been spared in the electronics setup for extended travel,
and the stylish interior will be a delight at the end of a hard day’s driving.
Couples who appreciate the comfort and room to move without the
pressures of a larger van will be attracted to the look and practicality of the