Have you ever wanted to explore every nook and cranny Australia has to offer? To go and find those hidden gems deep in the outback that few travellers ever get to experience? But are you also a bit of a sucker for comfort and want to travel in a caravan with all the luxuries of home? We reckon the Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme might just be what you’re looking for…
If you have ever looked into buying an off-road caravan, you have probably heard the name ‘Trakmaster’ once or twice. Renowned for the durability and reliability of their custom off-road caravans, Trakmaster has decided to venture into the fray of the pre-designed off-road caravan market.
Luckily for us, we were fortunate enough to take Trakmaster’s latest endeavour, the 2017 Pilbara Extreme, their new flagship model, out into the Dandenong Ranges and Doongalla Forest for a test.
Assisting us in our review of the Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme was Ron Larkin, General Manager of Trakmaster, and Michael Canny, Sales Executive for Trakmaster.
Who is it for: Anyone who wants to explore the deep, dark reaches of the Australian outback in arguably one of the most capable off-road caravans ever built, while still wanting all the luxuries of home in a comfortable and reliable package.
What we like: The overall quality of the Pilbara Extreme is exceptional. The attention to detail is clear in every aspect of the design and build of this fully off-road caravan.
What we don’t: Some optional extras such as the grey water tank and reversing camera should be part of the standard package at this price.
These specifications are for the 2017 Pilbara Extreme 19’6” we tested. It does come in different sizes but we will get to that further on.
Height: 10’1” (3.1m)
Internal Length: 19’6” (5.9m)
External Length: 26’9” (8.2m)
Internal Width: 7’6” (2.3m)
External Width: 9’ (2.75m)
Tare Weight: 2787kg
Ball Weight: Roughly 200kg (just under 10% of the caravan’s ATM)
Suitable Tow Vehicles: Anything with a 3.5 tonne tow capacity (eg. Landcruiser 200 Series, Mazda BT-50, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Ranger, etc.)
The Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme comes in four different sizes.
- 15’10” (4.8m) with an internal ensuite
- 16’10” (5.1m) with a combo shower-toilet
- 18’6” (5.6m) with an internal ensuite
- 19’6” (6m) with an internal ensuite (which is the size we tested)
The first thing we thought when we saw the Pilbara Extreme at the factory was how striking the special green, ‘extreme exclusive’ decals looked on the white fibreglass walls. The green reminds us of fresh spring grass and is extremely eye-catching. With this colour scheme, everyone in the national park you roll up to will instantly know what this caravan is.
Another feature you notice straight off the bat is the immense ground clearance and rugged chassis. Some manufacturers prefer to hide their chassis under the body of their caravan, but not Trakmaster. These guys prefer to show it loud and proud to showcase the thickness and seamless welds of the structure.
Although not totally unique to Trakmaster, the aggressive rear cutaway makes it obvious this caravan is designed to go where others would struggle.
Differences between the Pilbara Extreme and Pilbara S
If you have been considering the Pilbara Extreme, you may have already looked at the Pilbara S, the slightly lower-specced, more affordable mid-level off-road caravan in the Pilbara range.
“Although they both appear similar, the Pilbara S has a few different features compared to the Extreme. They both use a similar chassis, fibreglass walls and internal amenities, however, the S features the standard ‘Trak-one Trailing Arm Coil Suspension’, which is still a great, reliable suspension system, rather than the airbag suspension. The S also features the Redarc AGM battery system rather than the lithium one on the Extreme”, says Ron Larkin.
Another difference is the colour scheme of the decals, as the Pilbara S only comes in the earthy-orange colour rather than the green.
The Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme is a comprehensive package, full of everything you need to explore some of Australia’s most remote areas. But, there are some key features of the Pilbara Extreme worth mentioning that separate it from the rest of the Trakmaster range and other off-road caravans.
Trakair Airbag Suspension System
We reckon the Trakair Airbag Suspension System is one of the best airbag suspensions on the market right now. The system follows a simple, yet extremely effective design, similar to other ones made by a few different brands, with each wheel having its own dedicated airbag complimented by dual shock absorbers. This allows each wheel to operate independently making for a more stable and safe ride.
“Each airbag can be adjusted as needed, so when you’re camping on uneven ground, one side can be lowered or heightened to stabilise the caravan. The airbags also work to diffuse the stress and vibrations that are typically placed on the caravan’s chassis and walls when going over corrugations. There is even a small light that can be viewed while you are driving with the Extreme, that shows when the airbags are being reinflated by the onboard air compressor.”
The Trakair suspension really comes into its own when you leave the bitumen behind. When we headed off-road into the Doongalla Forest, we were met with some fairly tight and bumpy roads. The Trakair performed extremely well and we have no doubt it will perform well on any cross-country journey.
“We have actually had people hang their tea towels up on the oven, spend all day on corrugated roads and the tea towel hasn’t moved an inch when they pull up at the end of the day,” says Larkin.
Enerdrive 200Ah Lithium Ion Battery System
Although lithium batteries have been around for awhile, until recently, they were seldom used in caravans. Not only is the whole system far lighter than the AGM deep-cycle batteries found on most caravans, they are designed to work better when used alongside a built-in solar system like the Extreme has.
From maximum charge, the lithium battery system will last up to four or five days, depending on what appliances and lights you will be running. That being said, you will likely be recharging the system frequently with the roof-mounted solar panels while in remote locations.
Fibreglass Sandwich Walls
Unlike Trakmaster’s other off-road caravans, the Pilbara Range is the only one to feature fibreglass sandwich panel walls. These are made from two whole pieces of fiberglass hand-cut to the template for each caravan that is made. Between the ‘buns of fibreglass’ is a thick patty of insulating foam with built in wiring ducts surrounding a timber frame. This equates to a fibreglass sandwich wall roughly 40mm thick.
You may be thinking, ‘why is an off-road caravan of this premium-calibre using timber instead of aluminium or steel?’
Well, timber isn’t subject to corrosion or electrolysis (decomposition of the material). Not only that, but it allows furniture to be back-screwed into the frame, rather than being pop riveted on a metal frame. This gives the frame greater structural strength. You will also find timber is more flexible, allowing it to better soak up rough corrugations compared to a stiff metal frame.
Although the enemy of timber is moisture, Trakmaster believes that if a caravan is built correctly and maintained appropriately, moisture won’t be able to penetrate and rot won’t be a problem.
“The fully galvanised, hot-dipped Newgen chassis with draw bar made from 450-grade steel, was designed for strength, durability and most importantly ground clearance – hence the cutaway back. We have actually put the flooring ribs across the top of the chassis instead of being sunk down inside it. That gives it extra strength, height and durability. I feel that this proven design compliments the suspension well.”
Although the chassis as a whole looks extremely impressive, my favourite aspect has to be the cutaway back, which gives a huge 45 degrees of ground clearance at the rear of the Extreme. Not only does it look great (we’re surprised other off-road caravan makers don’t do it more), it also means no more scraping the rear heading up steep embankments. The cutaway features a spare wheel on a ratchet underneath it, which is far simpler to access when you’re in a hurry than a rear-mounted spare wheel.
“We have a saying that so far we have never been let down on, which is, ‘our caravans are always capable of following the tow vehicle in front – it won’t be the caravan that let’s you down.’ More often than not, the ground clearance on the Extreme will be equal to or greater than your tow vehicle’s ground clearance,” says Larkin.
With the chassis, you will also get a DO35 articulating off-road hitch as standard, a truck mesh style stone guard that come with two short lower flaps, an external tap on the outside of the drawbar and larger mud flaps behind the rear tyres.
Overall finish of the Pilbara Extreme
One of the best parts of the Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme is the quality of the caravan inside and out. Everything is the best of the best, from the appliances to using high quality screws that hold the cabinetry together.
All the seals, hinges, soft-closure mechanisms, locks, LED lights, nuts and bolts, even stitching on the furniture is of the high quality you would expect from a premium off-road caravan that costs as much as this. The hi-flow scupper near the doorway helps pressurise the cabin while driving, stopping dust from entering the inside while you travel. It’s aspects like this and the design consideration that went into building this van which make it Trakmaster’s flagship model.
The interior of this caravan is the culmination of years of customer feedback and experience building custom off-road caravans. The overall style is very contemporary, with the model we tested having a high-gloss white with dark gunmetal grey colour scheme. The internal 19’6” by 7’6” area is spacious, and packed full of storage, luxury appliances and a comfortable furniture.
Since this is one of Trakmaster’s ‘pre-designed’ caravans, you are limited to two different layouts, with the only difference between the two being either two single beds on each side, or one double bed in the middle. Other aspects such as the positioning of the ensuite and kitchen is fixed.
The L-shaped seating area is fairly spacious, with seating for four if you don’t mind bunching up. However, if it’s just the two of you staying in the caravan, there’s more than enough room.
A Swift 4 burner gas, grill and oven, Evakool 146L compressor fridge freezer, wireless lighting system and a sizable kitchen sink all come as standard. The full-size model we tested also came with a microwave located above the sink. There’s also plenty of bench space and power points to plug additional appliances in.
However, one strange addition to the Pilbara Extreme is the addition of the Winegard Sensar TV Antenna, as the Extreme does not come standard with a TV. However, it does come with all the internal fittings pre-installed so you can connect your own 12V TV to the system.
The CD and radio sound system works well too, with two roof-mounted speakers that provide great sounds throughout the cabin. However there are no external speakers, meaning that you’ll need to crack a window or open the door if you want to hear the tunes outside.
The Truma Aventa Roof Mounted Air Conditioner provides great cooling, as we discovered on the boiling hot day of the review. But like most caravan air conditioners, it is fairly power hungry.
The style of bathroom you get will depend on which size Pilbara Extreme you choose. The smaller models receive a combo shower-toilet while the larger ones, such as the 19’6” we tested, have a larger, internal ensuite.
It’s fairly spacious for a typical caravan bathroom and features heaps of storage and a contemporary sink. The shower is generously sized too with a water saving shower head.
Other internal features
A couple of other internal features worth noting are the Dometic double glazed windows, which provide further insulation, Dometic entry door that features safety mesh, a blind and four-point locking system, power-saving LED ceiling lights and sizable skylight by the entry. The double bed in the model we tested was comfortable with its inner spring mattress.
The exterior of the Pilbara Extreme is rugged and tough, while at the same time being sleek and modern. The white fibreglass walls contrast well with the bright green decals. Aside from the Trakair suspension and Newgen chassis, the Extreme has heaps of great features making it more than ideal for remote outback exploration.
As standard, the Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme features BF Goodrich 265/75 R16 All-Terrain KO2 tyres fitted to 16 inch CSA Monster Alloy Rims. These provide a great balance between off-road traction, highway stability and fuel economy. However, if you plan on travelling mostly on corrugated roads and will be tackling some pretty severe terrain, it may be worth investing in some more aggressive tyres.
On the other hand, if you won’t be taking the Pilbara Extreme off-road (which seems like a waste), the standard AT tyres should be swapped out for something better suited to the tarmac, since they aren’t designed for highway touring.
Two 150W solar panels are fixed to the roof of the Pilbara Extreme, with the possibility of adding a third solar panel if desired. There is also an external socket to plug a portable solar panel into the system too. We didn’t get to see how the solar worked for very long during our test, but it did work efficiently while we were parked up at the Doongalla Forest picnic grounds.
Welded straight onto the chassis cutaway, the rear bar has two jerrycan compartments and a firewood holder. Above them is a pair of Maxtrax recovery tracks in the same matching green as the Extreme’s decals.
Something not found on other off-road caravans is the two rated recovery points on the rear cutaway of the Pilbara Extreme. We (luckily) didn’t have to use them in our test but they appear to be of the same standard you would find made by a reputable 4×4 accessories manufacturer.
The Dometic 8500 series awning is extremely simple to set up and doesn’t require any separate polls to set up. Simply pull it out and lock the arms into place. It covers a generous amount of space where you could set up a small dinner table or swag underneath it.
Most of the Extreme’s storage is located within the caravan’s cupboards under the bed. However the exterior does feature a large front boot, a pole carrier (which is perfect for fishing rods) that runs the width of the caravan near the front, and a few other smaller compartments scattered around the sides.
The A frame holds two 8.5kg gas bottles and has room for another jerrycan. You will also get two huge water tanks with a capacity of 82 litres each in the Pilbara Extreme.
As required by a caravan of this size and weight, the Pilbara Extreme comes with electric brakes as standard. However, Trakmaster hasn’t stopped there and has included the Dexter Anti-Sway Control System. This feature applies the caravan’s brakes to prevent unwanted sway.
The ARB Onboard Air Compressor (found in the front storage locker) is a nifty little device included on the Extreme, which allows you to inflate and deflate the tyres when you are heading into the mud or onto the sand. The air compressor also features a six metre hose that is able to reach your tow vehicle’s tyres too. We feel this is a great, underrated feature that more off-road caravans should have.
Although Trakmaster is known for their custom off-road caravans, the Pilbara Extreme is fairly rigid in its customisability options. Aspects such as decor, furniture finishings and colours can be selected from a small range available. The rear bar can also be slightly modified to store different items if the dual jerry can set up is not your cup of tea.
The Pilbara Extreme does offer a fair few optional extras for those who want to further add to the standard package.
Here are a few of the optional extras:
- Water filtration system
- External shower
- Grey water tank
- Additional solar panels
- Diesel or gas heating system
- Reversing camera
- Upgraded lithium battery system expanding the capacity up to 300Ah or 400Ah
We are a little disappointed a few of these ‘extras’ aren’t included as standard. The reversing camera is almost a must for any caravan of this size. Also for a caravan that is designed to stay off the grid as long as this one, an additional 150W solar panel and grey water tank is much needed. The diesel or gas heater is another feature you will need if you plan on using the Extreme in alpine conditions or staying in remote areas.
Now you may be wondering how much it costs for what is the ‘Rolls-Royce of off-road caravans’. Well, two words describe it well – not cheap.
The smallest size (15’10”), starts at $112,000 for the base package, while the full-size version (19’6”) starts at $135,000 for the base package. If you want a completely specced out, full-sized Pilbara Extreme with every optional extra added to it, expect to be paying upwards of $140,000.
Now, this amount may be a large pill to swallow for some, since you’ll also need to buy a tow vehicle with a 3.5 tonne tow capacity to haul the beast. But with such an extensive list of features, appliances and overall high quality of the Pilbara Extreme, you would be mad not to expect such a high price tag.
The Good, Bad and Mixed
- Trakair Airbag Suspension provides an extremely smooth ride
- Fibreglass sandwich walls provide great insulation and acoustics
- Newgen chassis is extremely sturdy and the rear cutaway looks great
- Spare wheel is easy to access under the cutaway
- Onboard air compressor is a great idea
- The extremely high quality of every aspect of the caravan, only the best products used in its design
- The addition of many smaller details such as the mud flaps and scupper vent show how much Trakmaster cares about their customer
- Great range of high quality appliances
- Solar system is great
- Full ensuite is spacious
- Lithium battery system is far better than its AGM counterpart
- Phenomenal ground clearance
- Resale of Trakmaster caravans is generally extremely good
- After sales support and the Trakmaster Club is exceptional
- You can visit the factory and watch your caravan being made.
- A few particular optional extras should be included in the ‘standard package’ (eg. grey water tank and reversing camera)
- Some people may not like the compulsory green decals
- Limited internal layout options
- Fairly heavy and will require a 4×4 vehicle with a tow capacity of 3.5 tonnes to pull it.
- While the ground clearance is huge, the height of the caravan may pose problems when travelling under low bridges or hitting low-hanging branches
- The price is quite high but the overall product you get is one extremely capable off-road caravan
- Each Trakmaster is hand built from the ground up, but does take roughly twelve weeks to create each one from start to hand over.
Where can I view the Pilbara Extreme?
You can view the Extreme and the rest of the Trakmaster range anytime at their Bayswater, Victoria, headquarters. They will also be attending the Queanbeyan 4WD Spectacular on the 3rd and 4th of February, 2018 and the Henty Machinery Field Days on the 18th, 19th and 20th of September, 2018.
Overall, the Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme is one of the few off-road caravans we think could follow us anywhere on our cross-Australia adventures. Not only that, the other perks such as being a part of the ‘Trakmaster Club’ and the exceptional after sales support is what really put Trakmaster and the Pilbara Extreme among the top of the off-road caravan pyramid. However, a few optional extras missing from the ‘standard package’ and the high price of the Extreme may be off-putting and out of many would-be buyers budget.
We would like to thank Ron Larkin and Michael Canny for showing us around the Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme and joining us in our review. For more information, check out their website andFacebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Trakmaster Pilbara Extreme in this review was supplied by the brand. We thank Trakmaster for sample provided and sponsorship of the article.