Craig Thornton is one half of the Touring Downunder crew who tackle Australia off the beaten track and put some of the world's leading 4x4 products through their paces. In this blog Craig talks about his history with travelling the country and the rigs and equipment that continue to fuel his passion.
The simpler days were fun but not fancy
Since the moment I was born I’ve been traveling Australia and exploring the wilderness. My first big adventure was with my family in 1994, which began in Newcastle when my mum, dad, big sister and I drove out of town in our 1989 dual cab Nissan Navara to set off around Australia. We didn’t have the fancy setup that I do today, but we sure did have a great time.
The set up was simple, dad and I slept on the ground under the stars, whilst my mum and my sister slept in the cab. If it happened to rain, dad and I had to roll under the car to keep dry. We had a PVC pipe on the roof as the water tank as well as a gas lantern and a gas stove. We were always outdoors as kids and every chance we got we would go camping.
My first car was a Holden Rodeo but I only had it for three months before getting a Toyota Hilux. The Toyota Hilux became my first touring vehicle and because this rig was running a tub back, I installed a fiberglass canopy and my uncle built wooden slide out drawers and a bed. I was always looking for the next best thing.
The best pride and joy you could have
I’ve had a lot of different cars over the years but apart from that very first one they all had one thing in common, and that's that they've all been Toyota’s.
In total I’ve had eight 4WD’s over the last 13 years and they've all been beauties. But my pride and joy would have to be my 2012 Dual Cab 8V Landcruiser. In 2016 I began the design of my ultimate touring vehicle and with the help of some top companies my dream came true. With my Landcruiser I wanted to start doing some tougher roads and see places that people only ever dream of seeing, which meant staying in very remote locations for a number of days at a time.
But I had one problem, how do I keep my fridges running and batteries from dying without starting my engine? After a lot of research, it become a no brainer. The solution to all my problems was REDARC.
Within my canopy I run two ARB 47L fridges, LED lights, water pump and charging ports for camera and phone. Powering that equipment is the BCDC1220 DC-DC Battery Charger and after speaking to REDARC they recommended the 115 watt solar blanket with the 20amp solar regulator. It’s lightweight, compact and really easy to set up and pack away.
Putting it to the test
The first trip we tested the blanket was on Moreton Island. Everything went smoothly and the blanket worked well. So well that from the moment we got back we started planning the next trip, the Birdsville Big Red Bash in June.
We made a few modifications on the truck as it wasn’t quite right, removing the steel tray and solid mounted the canopy to the chassis. By doing this we lost 250kg! I picked up some ASL Lightstorm LED lights which clip onto a tent pole, and are fantastic to light up the camp site while cooking, talking or just to have a little light on a dark night.
After working hard and getting everything ready it was time to take off from Newcastle and head toward the Big Red Bash in Birdsville. We did two full days of driving to make it to the event and when we got there on the Tuesday it was great to finally set up camp, light a fire, sit down and relax.
The Big Red Bash is a 3-day event and I wasn’t planning on going anywhere else. So come Wednesday morning I rolled out the REDARC solar blanket and plugged her in while I went to climb Big Red. It was such a sweltering day that the fridges would have been working hard to keep the meat and drinks cold. This was a good day to test out the blanket’s capabilities.
As the sun set, we walked back to camp to cook tea, switched on the LED Light Storm lights and pulled down the ARB fridge on the MSA fridge slides and when I opened the first fridge all the meat was still nice and cold.
I left the solar blanket on my canopy roof for those three days knowing it is both durable and water resistant, leaving me to relax, enjoy the music and get into the spirit of the festival.
But it was on the Friday that I realised what the solar blanket was truly capable of because I hadn’t started the car for two and a half days. We packed up camp and took the blanket off the roof, gave it a quick wipe down to remove the red dust then headed off. I jumped in the drivers seat, turned over the ignition to hear the beautiful sound of a Landcruiser V8 engine roaring to life!
The adventure begins with the REDARC team
We teamed up with Ben, his son Mitch, and Cameron from REDARC to head off along the French Line across the Simpson Desert to Poepel Corner. The French Line was a tricky track with many steep and soft dunes but with the tyres at the correct pressure we made it to Poepel Corner in a day.
It was great to finally pull in to make camp, light a fire and relax after a long day of driving. It was great sitting around the fire chatting about the Big Red Bash, hearing the REDARC guys speak about the positive feedback they received from caravanners, especially about the electric brake controllers.
Reflecting up north
Last time I drove to Uluru it was in my parents Nissan Navara but this time I would be doing it in style, not to mention with a working air-conditioner as well.
Uluru is breathtaking no matter how old you are. It really is incredible to see this 348m high, 3.6km long and 1.9km wide rock.
In 1994 my family climbed Uluru but times have changed now and safety definitely comes first. This time I just rode a bike around Uluru to check out the waterhole, caves and aboriginal artworks.
Then it was time to head home down the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, Port Augusta and drive east to Broken Hill with a quick stop off at Silverton before the final stretch home to Newcastle.
When I got home I started to look through some old photos. It got me thinking about all the different equipment available now and how much more affordable it is to get everyone out exploring. It’s thanks to Australian built companies like REDARC that have changed camping forever, as they continue to make it possible for us to bring the comforts of home to remote camping spots for a great and memorable experience.
It’s a great relief to be able to spend the day exploring or fishing knowing that your batteries are charging with the solar blanket and your car will easily start the next day. It has turned camping into glamping with zero to stress about. The only thing left to do is sit back, relax and take it all in.