Was it a success? Well, nothing failed or permanently fell off the Kia Sorento or Swift Explorer; we did some spectacular bush walks (more than 30km in total, with eight and ten year olds in tow), while introducing the family to quintessential red centre delights such as bush campfires, red rock sunsets and icey cold swimming holes (before rushing to the sanctuary of our gas ducted heated caravan)…
One of the aims of the trip was to see how the two tonne-rated, diesel-powered Sorento and UK-built but modified for Australia, Swift caravan would fare in typical Aussie terrain and in a ‘real world’, muddy boots and all, family test.
Not surprisingly, we felt the odd one out in the red centre, with big off-road wagons and rugged dual cab utes the tow vehicles of choice and with seemingly every second one a Toyota Prado or Mitsubishi Pajero.
But with bitumen access to 95 per cent of the attractions, and only the odd graded dirt track, the $50,000 top-spec Sorento Platinum Auto was rarely left behind. And while comfortable, spacious and well-equipped for all-day driving stints, the biggest relevation was its fuel efficiency.
Towing around 1800kg, it got as low as 11L/100km on the return trip from Alice Springs to Melbourne, and averaged 14.5L/km while battling headwinds on the trip up. Try getting that in a LandCruiser!
The only blight in a rock-solid performance was the otherwise excellent infotainment system, which occasionally got a bit confused when recharging an iPhone while streaming music via another phone.
And while the all-wheel drive system offered plenty of traction in slippery conditions, we had to bypass at least a couple of sights that only serious four-wheel drive vehicles could access.
Unhitched, the Sorento was a user-friendly and enjoyable proposition around town, while still providing plenty of interior space, including loading up the ‘boot’ with firewood (and we didn’t get a puncture the whole trip!)
Despite its UK origins, the $65,000 Swift Explorer 620 was also more than a match for the many Aussie touring caravans in the red centre, with its enhanced 'free camping' capabilities including 130 litre water tank, two 105aH batteries, two 9kg gas bottles, 130W roof mounted solar panels, and big 185 litre fridge.
And with gas ducted heating along with air-conditioning, we never felt the cold at night unlike some other caravanners.
With Al-Ko stabiliser hitch and ATC stability control, the lightweight 21ft tandem axle van towed like a dream on the highway, while the raised and reinforced chassis and proven Al-Ko suspension held it in good stead over some corrugated and potholed dirt roads.
The only evidence from off-road excursions was minor dust intrusion from the solitary gas vent under the fridge, and some non-structural interior trim working loose (it was easily screwed or wedged back into place).
A little bit more road clearance to clear larger, off-road speed bumps and service station driveway 'dips' would have been nice, although any hits were absorbed by the beefy Al-Ko wind-down corner stabilisers.
‘Mark II’ Explorers soon to hit the country should go some way to rectifying this with 5cm more clearance.
Highlights of the trip?
Walking around the base of Uluru before returning later for the unforgettable ‘lightshow’ at sunset; toasting marshmellows around a roaring firepit just metres from the van; sharing stories with fellow 'nomads' and, believe it or not, driving for hours on end through this unique country of ours with such a stable, well-behaved rig...