A semi-permanent slice of Heaven
  |  First Published: March 2005

Ever wonder how people come by those neat little on-site vans with annexes, gardens and all the frills? Read on…

SECTION: camping




Australians are strange creatures when it comes to their holiday habits, which are somewhat different from most other cultures around the world.

There aren’t many of us who haven’t packed the tent in the car or hitched up the van and headed for the coast, dam or river and set up camp for a week or so in the local camping area.

For many the ritual is repeated year after year as they head to the same spot for one reason or another, be it the scenery, the solitude or the activities like great fishing. They set up camp in their selected spot and when the holiday is over, they pack up and head home.

Some people fall in love with places and end up moving there in retirement. Or before retirement they purchase an on-site van and set up an annexe. These people pay to keep their sites 365 days a year so they can take a holiday whenever they like and not have to pack everything including the kitchen sink each time they travel.

Every van park and holiday park has permanent on-sites and they are the bread and butter for park operators who have huge fluctuations in visitor numbers over the year.

Clusters of permanent on-site vans can comprise a mini-community within the park, with their own rules and regulations. In some of the more desirable locations it can be virtually impossible to acquire one of these prime pieces of real estate unless you are born or marry into a family with one, or you are lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right time to purchase one of these plots. Many of the regular campers aspire to be on-siters.

Many of the on site vans bare very little resemblance to vans at all, jacked up off concrete slabs and fringed with large aluminium annexes, well-kept gardens, lush lawns and even garden gnomes!

It all sounds great but have you ever wondered how you go about keeping a van on site or what is involved in acquiring your own small piece of paradise?

First you have to inquire at the park caretaker’s office to see if there are any vacant lots. This is very rare in most of the popular destinations so you then have to see if any of the existing vans are on the market or leave your name in case one comes up so you can be informed of the opportunity.


You then purchase the van at the asking price, which is set by the van owner who must get the caretaker’s permission to sell, usually a formality.

This can vary from park to park and van to van, with some prime positions going for $30,000 or more. There are always bargains but good vans and annexes will usually set you back $15,000 or more in popular spots and quite often these are prime waterfront real estate.

It is a bit like buying a house without the stamp duty, solicitor’s fees, real-estate commissions and all those other money-swallowing fees that go with a house purchase.

There are a few rules you have to abide by when you sign a lease, about 20 pages in fact, but they are just the everyday contractual obligations between you and the park managers that go with most contracts.

Seeing that these vans virtually never go on the road there are seldom registration fees that go with them so there is another saving – but that is not to say there are not any fees.

For the average park the yearly fee is around $3000 to keep your van on your allotted piece of dirt. There is usually a one-off administration fee of around $500when you first purchase your site.

For your money you have a maximum allowable usage of 150 nights per year with a maximum continual usage of 30 nights and this is only for your nominated family members.

If you want visitors to stay at your van there will be an extra charge which is set by the park management.

For this you will still have to queue in line for showers and toilets in very busy times like Christmas and Easter and you will still have to use the coin-operated washing machines and dryers. And in all the parks I have visited no pets are allowed.

On the upside, you don’t have to pay rates, electricity or water. If you have sewerage available to be connected to your van it will be an extra charge, which is rare. You also have the luxury of not having to book ahead at peak season and all your gear is already on site so you can travel light, bringing just the perishables with you.

You also have the advantage of taking a holiday any time and know there is a vacancy for you.


The other great thing is the friendships with the other on-siters in the park. Everyone is there with the same sole purpose in mind – having a good time. The kids particularly enjoy this and with so many things to do, heaps of friends and so many eyes keeping watch on them they seldom get into mischief and Mum and Dad can have some quiet time too.

There is one fee I missed which is part of today’s world and that is the cost of public liability insurance. You have to cover yourself for at least $10 million, which is another $200 or so, but if you insure your van the public liability premium is automatically included so that is the way to go – insure the van for about the same price as public liability so the van insurance is virtually a freebie.

So there it is, a quick insight into what is involved in acquiring and owning an on-site van. It may not be for everyone but many wouldn’t have it any other way.

The site fees alone could well pay for an overseas holiday for the family each year but what could be better than owning your own little piece of prime Aussie waterfront real estate for less than 20 grand?

You can always sell and get your money back later but once you become an on-siter, chances are you’ll be hooked for life.

How’s this for a good spot right on the water’s edge? On-site vans often command the best positions in the park.

This group of on-site vans looks more like rows of small cottages and the position is perfect, with beach on one side and the lake on the other – no more than a minute’s walk.

Conventional camping is great but it requires you to set up camp and pull it back down again each time and you have a tonne of gear to carry with you.

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