Full disclosure: I’m what might be termed a “city slicker”. I break out in hives if I find myself more than three kilometres from my favourite coffee shop, and I’ve always thought that Tow Bar was the name of that pub in the city, you know, the one with the awesome craft beer selection?
Still, for all of us - even inner-city types like me - the lure of adventure can be strong. I think it’s known as “The Call of the Wild”, and it’s a siren song that even the hum of Sydney life outside my tiny apartment can’t quite drown out.
The only problem? I didn’t really know how. But when the chaps at CarsGuide Labs presented me with a caravan, and a tough-as-teak Ford Everest Titanium to attach it to - along with the promise that I’d find both far easier to operate than I had previously imagined - I knew it was time to finally answer that call.
As it turns out, the timing couldn’t be better. With international travel now off the table, and Australia being as big, beautiful and diverse as countries can get, setting off to explore our own vast backyard seems a no-brainer.
The key to not looking like a complete newbie, of course, is to make sure you’ve got the right gear before embarking on an off-road expedition. To make the job easy and pleasurable, you’ll want a vehicle that’s a bit like a steel-toed boot - all the tough stuff on the outside, but with an interior that’s soft and comfortable.
Enter, then, the seven-seat Ford Everest Titanium, which more than fits the bill in this regard, and lives up to its mountainous name with a powerful 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine that can tow up to 3100kg* (plenty for your caravan, boat or jet-ski). It’s also got a Terrain Management System* that’s essentially idiot-proof, and makes 4WD off-roading a breeze, with a simple dial that you turn to maximise traction and stability whether you’re on snow, mud, grass, sand, rock or tarmac.
Yes, 3100kg is a big number - and to the uninitiated (like me) it sounds like it’s capable of taking your house on holiday with you. Turns out that’s not quite correct (houses are quite heavy) but it can certainly make taking the next best thing, a caravan, breezily easy. Better still, it means you’re not struggling with a tent when you get there.
It also comes with a plethora of bells and whistles - Active Park Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian protection*, Panoramic Power Sunroof with Power Blind* - but it’s still designed to be user-friendly and completely inviting to newbies who are fresh to the world of off-roading.
Our choice of caravan - which is not a sentence I’ve ever used before - is the Blue Tongue XH13, a rugged, compact hybrid that’s more than capable of off-roading through treacherous terrain.
While that may make it sound like a concrete bomb shelter on wheels, the truth is it comes with all the mod cons you could wish for - an electrically operated pop-top roof, fold-out extended bed, all-weather kitchen, fridge, shower, toilet and TV (just in case you need to watch old episodes of Russell Coight's All Aussie Adventures for inspiration).
Being kitted out properly is one thing, but knowing what you’re doing is another kettle of fish entirely. Before planning your 4WD caravan adventure, seek the advice of an expert - or, if you’re like us, invite one along for the journey to be your own personal off-roading Mr Miyagi.
Our esteemed travelling companion is Brendan Batty, publisher at Exploring Eden Media and author of Australia by Caravan & Motorhome, 6th Edition, a man who is to four-wheel driving, caravanning and camping what James May is to cars. Calmly knowledgeable, and seemingly unflappable.
Brendan guides us through hooking the caravan up to the back of the Everest, an incredibly simple and straightforward process that involves nothing more challenging than winding a little handle.
We’re hooked up in seconds, and we’re on the road and heading to our destination - the historic gold mining town of Sofala in the Central West of NSW - Brendan happily sharing some key knowledge on the dos and don’ts of towing a caravan behind a beefy 4WD that every off-roading newcomer needs to know about.
“If you’ve never driven with a caravan before just remember you’re learning a new skill - it’s not as simple as just hooking up and driving off,” Brendan says.
“Train for it and build your confidence up by starting with easy trips - don’t go far, don’t drive for ages. Don’t go somewhere with really narrow, windy roads.”
Helpfully, the Ford’s got a few more tricks up its sleeve to make my initiation a little easier. A clever Dynamic Stability Control system helps deliver extra grip when tackling corners or overtaking, and even reduces trailer sway by braking individual wheels or reducing engine power if necessary*.
Three hours of comfortable driving later, we arrive in the tiny town of Sofala, its narrow streets making us feel like pioneers rolling into town with a giant wagon full of supplies. Then off again in the Everest we go to set up camp by the Turon river.
Despite a surprising amount of other caravaners about making prime riverside spots a little scarce, we manage to locate an idyllic spot off the beaten path that the Everest gets our caravan to with complete ease, despite some steep and rocky unsealed roads.
Handily, Brendan gets the caravan set up within minutes, and before too long we’re singing We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel (spoiler alert: we actually did start the fire), and cooking some snags over some flames (or the “bush telly”, as Brendan calls it).
With nary a sound other than the gentle flow of the river and the odd bit of wildlife - hopefully not the type that wants to kill and eat us - we settle in for the night to soak up the serenity. Caravans, it turns out, are extremely comfortable places to sleep.
The next morning we’re up at the crack of dawn to drink some questionable coffee before setting out to put the Everest and Blue Tongue XH13 through their paces on some narrow dirt roads, rough tracks and water crossings.
It’s here again that our Everest reveals some sleeve-hidden tricks to make my life a little easier. We know about the Terrain Management System, of course, but the big and now bush-bashing Ford also delivers Torque-on-demand, which will automatically send power to the front or back tyres - or even a single wheel - should you lose traction.
There’s also an Electronic Locking Rear Differential*, which is a boon for series off-roaders, and will send full engine torque to the rear wheels, even if one is off the ground.
Hill Descent Control* is like some sort of dark wizardry, with the Everest’s on-board brain essentially controlling your speed when descending a hill off-road, leaving you free to concentrate on steering, while Hill Launch Assist makes starting on a hill without rolling backwards a breeze.
Oh, and FordPass Connect is very clever, too, and uses an embedded modem in the car to connect to your phone, so you can lock or unlock your vehicle, and even start the engine, remotely. You can even use GPS to locate your vehicle wherever you left it.
To our delight, the Everest tackles these tracks, challenging corners and water crossings with ease, our confidence growing to the point where we make repeated trips through rivers, going a little faster each time (if you haven’t driven an 4WD through a body of water and made some sizeable splashes, you truly haven’t lived)*.
We’re having the time of our life, but Brendan rightly sees an opportunity to impart some important wisdom: don’t turn into a speed demon when you’re towing a caravan. It turns out there’s also one button in particular inside the Everest that’s worth memorising the location of.
“It’s a good idea to learn where your brake-controller button in your car is,” says Brendan. “If you press the button it’s an override so it just turns on the caravan brakes so if your caravan starts to sway, which they can do, the best way to stop it is to turn on the brakes on the caravan.
“If you know where that button is, you can find it without having to look for it every time.”
Sensing the perfect opportunity to ask Brendan to drive us back to Sydney, I switch over to the passenger side to spread out - thankfully there’s a lot of space inside an Everest - and start to daydream about where to take the fabulous Ford and the Blue Tongue XH1 on my next off-road adventure.
Oh, and to figure out how to pull off the whole Extremely Rugged Man thing a little more convincingly (note to self: don’t accidentally brush your teeth with face moisturiser - twice - next time).
Escaping the city? Sorted.