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Advice for someone new to camping.. but desperate for (idea of) a Cali?

Borris

Borris

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The Beach suits many people but as an Ocean owner who sticks to the wild wilderness areas in bad weather conditions the Ocean comes into its own. Others can disagree but the layout and practicality of the Ocean reigns supreme as a campervan.
Having owned an SE I agree that the SE/Ocean is the gold standard in camper-vans. I am certainly not suggesting otherwise. One day when our circumstances have changed we will have another full fat VW camper.
However, for those that don't use all of the facilities provided or need the vehicle to be more than purely a camper van, the Beach is well worth considering. There is nothing that you currently do in wilderness areas in your Ocean that you couldn't do in a Beach. It's just that you'd have more room to do it in.
It comes down purely to personal needs and preferences.
 
Borris

Borris

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Many thanks, all -

Borris, you make a very good argument, and I'm going to look more carefully at the Beach.

We dismissed it initially, on the basis that we'd probably want everything the Ocean provides, so why not get it packaged nicely by VW? Especially since we don't have kids to move about, and so we seldom need quite as much people-and-luggage-carrying flexibility.

However, it's an interesting idea that we might want everything the the Ocean provides, but not necessarily in the layout that VW offers, and that the Beach plus some accessories might let us do that, save money, *and* sleep in a 5ft-wide bed! We might have to rent one of those for a couple of nights to try,

The two-seater bench looks like the one to go for - it's a pity they make the bed not only wide but also very long. Sadly, I need width more than length! :) And I would value the lost floor space. Perhaps a Beach with a shortened rear shelf would be the perfect combination...
The ocean is a splendid, superbly packaged vehicle but the down stairs bed is a tad on the narrow side for two bods to sleep in. The two seat Beach employs the same rear two seat bench as the Ocean and an optional same height padded storage box to fill the gap that the kitchen/wardrobe occupies on the Ocean. This provides a very large flat double bed. The three seater rear bench in the Beach in combination with the VW Multi-flex board also provides a very large double bed. This combo is higher off of the van floor than the two seater arrangement so there's slightly less headroom if the roof isn't up. If you do hire three seater bench version don't be tempted to sleep on it without the optional VW Comfort matress deployed as you will find it very uncomfortable due to the contoured seats. The Comfort mattress evens out these contours to provide a perfectly flat bed. You may also require a topper as well because VW mattresses aren't the softest in the world.
 
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cazmatt

cazmatt

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39
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Hertfordshire
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T6 Ocean 150
As the original poster for this thread and having just got back from our 3 night rented cali trip over easter I can finally report back!

I must say that I am smitten and I can totally see what the fuss is about. Isn't it the greatest toy ever? We took it down to cornwall, parked up by some sand dunes, popped the roof up and had a cuppa with the dogs lounging on the bench in the sun.

As a first trip, the conditions weren't ideal; very windy and wet 2 of 3 nights, extremely boggy ground conditions, overnight temps of around 3-5 degrees. Only one mishap that I had to google the forum for advice on, which is the alarm going off in the night while we were inside... Put that down to our stupidity :)

Main observations are...

1) Upstairs bed surprisingly comfortable, and with a 13 tog duvet and the heater on, incredibly warm. Didn't stop the pouring rain and wind keeping us up though, nor the local sheep bleating, nor our dogs who have forgotten how to sleep through the night of late - but I can't blame the Cali for that.

2) Upstairs bed surprisingly noisy - appreciate it's only a tent, but it's a tent right next to your face getting battered by wind and rain- we slept much better the day it didn't rain! Downstairs much quieter and cosier, although sleeping with 2 dogs standing on top of you also has it's challenges.

3) Toilet is going to be the biggest issue and I can already see that some portapotti / tent combination is going to be a must for enjoyable trips in the future. Early morning trips in the dark, cold, wet, boggy campsite were nearly a holiday ruiner

4) Driveaway awning that we hired was invaluable in the rain - albeit it left a "dog escaping" gap between the van and tent, I wonder if there are others that solve this problem?

5) Surprisingly easy and pleasant to drive; On the A/B roads, hauling the van around the rolling cornish hills even with the 150ps manual was a doddle and it cruised very peacefully and comfortably. It struggled on motorway hills though and it's been a while since i've had to change down 2 gears to get up a hill on a motorway, but in fairness, it wouldn't put me off getting that model.

So thoughts on next steps.. which we need to go and think about...

A) Do we hire more.. or just take the plunge and buy one, given that we did enjoy the trip subject to a few niggles, my gut feeling is that you can only really tell after giving it a good go, and buying the accessories that suit you personally ... from the look of it they depreciate around £0-£5000 over the first 5 years slowing as it goes, so if it really "costs" say £2000 a year in depreciation it will close the gap to what it costs to keep hiring trials

B) Is it worth trying other conversions, i'm not convinced by any of the different layouts and have looked at a few with toilets but they seem to really compromise living & lounging space, and all the "standard" layout conversions I think compare quite unfavourably on price - 2nd hand Cali's start to overlap in price very soon..

C) Practically what are the model differences, We hired a 2017 T6 150 Manual Ocean - with a few extras like parking sensors, heated seats, metallic paint, I think something like £55k new. I'm tempted by the second hand 2012-2014 180ps T5s in the £40k region. Other than refinement, All I can ascertain that changes in terms of camping experience is the upstairs and boot lights (admittedly, I did like both of those), better dash storage, new windscreen blinds (FYI I found the T6 window blinds to be fine!), and something about the roof fabric. I need to investigate this all more but a second hand T5.1 might be easier for the Mrs to accept!

thank you everyone who replied to the thread with useful ideas of what to bring & do!
 
I

itguy

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Brilliant write up and great to see you were making the most of it, despite the weather we've had down here.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with the T5.1 vs T6. The T6 does seem to have a lot of 'car' type updates, ie availability of adaptive cruise, better radio/nav, dynaudio option, new 'comfort' dash, new steering wheel design, side scan option etc etc. None of these things change how it is when you park it up and camp in it.

I've seen differing opinions on the T6 roof fabric vs T5.1. I've only ever really seen the T6 one and have never camped in pouring rain with just the fabric protecting me (always used a topper) so that wouldn't bother me in the debate. The LED lights - well yes, they are nice but there are other remote control options that can be easily retrofitted as needed. There are 12v sockets in the roof and boot to power things off easily.

One reasonable difference between a 2017> T6 and what has gone before is the split worktop on the kitchen, so you can leave the sink top down when cooking, preparing etc. This also came with the under cupboard lightening (long LED strip) that is dimmable and lovely at night. The cupboard lights in the wardrobe and kitchen cupboards also came along with the 2017> vans too, along with the larger mirror in the wardrobe and a nice little plastic carry pocket under it. These do make a difference when camping, in my opinion, but again, nothing that can't be retro-sorted in a T5.1.

So apart from that you're really in to considerations about warranty, roof corrosion awareness (search the forum), colours, spec, wheels etc etc.

We hired one first, then had a loan one for 6 weeks, then got our own. Having your own is totally different in terms of feeling. You can put your own stuff in it properly, arrange it how you like. It gives a real sense of belonging :)

Happy searching!
 
GillianC

GillianC

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Basingstoke
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T6 Ocean 204
Excellent write up and thanks for reporting back.
If you enjoyed your weekend in such awful weather and in a hired van then I think there is no doubt at all that you need to get your own ASAP! Look out for one that takes your fancy and buy a bog in the bag. Excellent solution to the toilet issue.
Expect to see you on club meets soon
 
Ocean Spirit

Ocean Spirit

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Whether you should hire again first or take the plunge is the first thing for me.
I'm feeling you should perhaps hire again.
You are right ....
1) It is the best toy ever.
2) The upstairs is a different experience than downstairs (so would you be happy to accept this long term?)
3) Porta potti & tent or bog in a bag are personalised alternatives to the dreaded early morning trip (but leave you with another chore)
4) A DSG model may offset the changing down experience even though it may end up n the same gear (worth a try)
5) Conversions can be cosmetically fabulous as a novelty. But I find homogeneity in the California that can't be matched and is simply worth the extra. Then there is the mess of any warranty claims should things go wrong (just something I wouldn't want to have to think about).
6) 2 dogs will always compromise your experience in a space this size (I know you love 'em to bits, so are there more advantages than disadvantages having them in a rolling home?)
 
Borris

Borris

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T6 Beach 150
Hello Cazmat,
Great write up. Having owned a T5 SE and a T6 Beach can I add two comments?

1. A Brandrup internal liner will improve the upstairs experience by about 150%. It will make it darker, warmer, cut out draughts, reduce noise a little and keep it completely dry.

2. The T5 Cali is a splendid vehicle but I would advise going for a very late 2015 model if you can find one. Most of the serious roof corrosion issues had been sorted out by then.
 
C

CSaville

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27
Location
Dorset, England
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T6 Ocean 204 4Motion
Hi,
I'm new to this forum, but for a while now my wife and I have been toying with the idea of getting a VW California. We have two medium dogs, and mainly like the idea that we can go away with them at any time without having to arrange dog-sitting, etc and go and visit parts of the country we've never been able to get to before. A friend of ours had an old T25 camper for years, and still goes on about how amazing it was. Following many people's very good advice on this forum, we have decided to hire one for 3 nights in a few weeks time first...

The one slight issue is that neither of us have ever even gone camping before... so the whole idea of it is a complete unknown! (OK: I went when I was 14!)

So my question is simply: What advice does anyone have, in order to best enjoy & experience the 3 day camping trip, for someone new to camping (let alone in a campervan?). Anything we should take / do? (I'll be honest: I'm more worried about the wife's reaction than mine..!)

The practicalities of dog ownership I anticipate being a challenge (they are well behaved so don't expect them to be a pest at camp sites, but they are needy, excitable, muddy.. and many other joys of dog ownership) but also the realities of camping are an unknown for us (night time toilet trips?).

There is so much else I want to ask... about choosing a California and everything else.. but I am trying not to get too caught up in it unless we've had our hire trip in case it doesn't work out.

I have looked around for similar posts but most people seem to have at least some idea of what they are getting themselves into! This is a really informative and useful forum by the way and so glad that I have found it - thank you.

We were in a similar boat to you, we have 2 great danes and really were not looking to buy a Cali. We were looking at vehicles which would comfortably fit our two as they are rather large! when looking around we saw our only option was a VW transporter type, then we were introduced to the Cali by the VW sales man and we fell in love. And to be honest it was simply because of the space for the dogs and the ability to have posh picnics after the dog walks. However we decided to plunge on inand get it and hope that like you we would use it to take the dogs on holiday as we find it so difficult to find suitable dog sitting for them due to so many people not having the facilities to cope with their size.
We did lots and lots of reading on this forum, but the key advice we were given was do not over buy before your first adventure. the Cali has so many inbuilt features that you need very little extras for it to be sleep able in.
We went for three 1/2 night adventures at really basic campsites no more than 30mins away from home at first to suss out what we need and what we don't need.
One of the features we like on our cali is the shower attachment for the boot. Its not amazing powerful but it works well to wash off the excess mud for the dogs.
The thing we found we needed sooner than we thought we would need is a way to enclose the dogs in the evenings, at first we used windbreaks round the awning, and now we have a lovely drive away awning that we love.
One tip we found is prepare to take lots of towels if your dogs love to get muddy because there is not very easy ways to dry off the towels well in this "beautiful" English climate we have!!
However like you we are newbees to camping and we are still leaning lots every visit, but we have met some really lovely people at the campsites and have had lots and lots of help! we had a very comical moment putting our drive away awning up for the first time away from home and we ended up have too lovely couples helping us, and we then sat with them after we had got it up and drank some wine/beer and enjoyed the sunshine. Don't be afraid of being new and just seeing how it goes.
 
Dee 07

Dee 07

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8
Location
Formby
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T6 Ocean 150
All good advise, only thing I would add is perhaps consider a dog dry bag, if its wet and muddy its nice and easy to pop them in the bag and straight into the Cali to dry off, the bag keeps all the mess at bay, might be an expense you could do without for your hire experience but might be worth bearing in mind if you do decide to take the plunge
Hi sorry to interrupt, I’m new to the club could I ask you a question please ? Oh it’s Dee 07
 
cazmatt

cazmatt

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39
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Hertfordshire
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T6 Ocean 150
Welcome Dee 07! Always welcome to ask questions. I’m only new myself to be honest - joined the club back in March. Been on one day trip and four overnight trips so far and loving all of it


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Dee 07

Dee 07

Messages
8
Location
Formby
Vehicle
T6 Ocean 150
Welcome Dee 07! Always welcome to ask questions. I’m only new myself to be honest - joined the club back in March. Been on one day trip and four overnight trips so far and loving all of it


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Hello cazmatt,
I only joined ytd, but haven’t had a chance to chat to anyone . I bought my van in March and haven’t used it to camp as yet !! But looking to book a few days in the lakes, any advice where I should book ? Want to be able to walk into the town or villages and lakes .
 
cazmatt

cazmatt

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39
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Hertfordshire
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T6 Ocean 150
Do you mean around the Lake District? Sadly I haven’t ventured that far north yet - Wales, Cornwall/Devon, and Suffolk have been on the list so far! I would recommend getting VIP forum membership and searching - I have gotten some excellent tips from the helpful people here




Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Dee 07

Dee 07

Messages
8
Location
Formby
Vehicle
T6 Ocean 150
Do you mean around the Lake District? Sadly I haven’t ventured that far north yet - Wales, Cornwall/Devon, and Suffolk have been on the list so far! I would recommend getting VIP forum membership and searching - I have gotten some excellent tips from the helpful people here




Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Yes Lake District, yes have joined the vip just trying to find my way around the site, thanks for the advice
 
Bellcrew

Bellcrew

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1,207
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Lymington
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T6 Ocean 150
Yes Lake District, yes have joined the vip just trying to find my way around the site, thanks for the advice
Keswick CCC site is fabulous, on banks of Derwent water, short walk into town, you probably need to book as it is very popular.
 
S

Solis

Messages
50
Location
Essex
Vehicle
T6 Ocean 204
We have found that Helinox make very small, very comfortable and stupidly expensive chairs, beds and tables. We needed to save the space with two children and tent, cooker etc in the back of a car in the years BC.
We travel with four Helinox Chair 1's permanently in the back of our Picasso MPV where they fit in the floor gap behind the back seats. They look ridiculous but they are perfectly comfortable as the only chairs for a two week camping trip. The only trouble with them is that they are so low to the ground that you then also need to use a Helinox table or a table with adjustable legs.
https://www.helinox.eu/chairs/chair-one-2982.html
Tick for helinox. Yes expensive but a great investment in my opinion. I have a sunset chair and a maxi cot (camp bed). Terrific. Lightweight and small pack size.
 
S

Solis

Messages
50
Location
Essex
Vehicle
T6 Ocean 204
All ve
Having survived week long holidays with 5 plus a dog, a few other points:

In wet weather an awning - whether drive away or just sides on the roll out one, is the place to leave a wet dog, towels, coats , shoes etc.

Cooking - the hob in ours is used for egg & bacon sandwiches, boiling water for coffee, heating up soup & the occasional pasta. In summer the barbecue comes out. In winter we tend to end up in the pub for dinner. One of our main selection criteria for choosing a site is where can we walk to for dinner.

My Mrs idea of a holiday does not include trying to cook for five on two small gas rings!

Did you try dragging the downstairs topper up to the upstairs bed ? might have given you the best of both worlds.


In the Bilbo Nexo the Single rib seats still use the cab seats to form part of the bed, I can't see that being a more comfortable basis for a bed than the cali. Whilst you are left with more space at the rear of the van theres no large storage area when the bed is up. If you need to carry an awning for example if you leave it on the floor at the back you can't use the kitchen.

I looked very closely at Bilbos prior to buying our Cali 4 years ago, I don't know what spec base vans they are using now but when we looked they were using the smallest engine basic van & by the time you had upgraded the engine, & wheels & body coloured bumpers etc it was coming out more than the cost of a cali.
All very relevant points and a good read. One must not forget also the absolute cool factor of driving an iconic vehicle and being part of a ‘club’ that only a genuine VW camper provides.
 
BayCatOne

BayCatOne

Messages
238
Location
Sweden
Vehicle
T6 Ocean 150 4Motion
So how do you all go about finding good wildcamp spots and what do you try and avoid as much as possible?

When hiking you just roam until you find something but with a car it's a little more limited because of the roads. It's not really harder than driving off in to the woods/hills and hope there's a semi flat spot where you can park, done this while driving through Poland and the Czech Republic, pretty much hit and miss. But what are good reference markers to look out for? What are your best tips and tricks?
 
KiwiCali

KiwiCali

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100
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Auckland New Zealand
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T6 Ocean 204 4Motion
Hello All -

Some thoughts a week after our 4-night trial in the LTH T6 Cali... and it was a bit of a trial, because it rained every single night and quite a few of the days too! Drying things was a bit of a challenge. At the end we agreed that if we'd known about the weather, a VW campervan isn't the accommodation we'd have chosen! On the other hand, the fact that we lived in something not much larger than a car for four days in that weather, and were still married at the end of it, says something for the California :)

Overall, it performed excellently, but there were a couple of things that didn’t work so well for us.

Firstly, my wife wasn’t too keen on having to do all the cooking sitting down. Yes, you can stand up, but the worktop is really a bit low for that - it needs to be, to give you the view out of the windows (and I really did like the almost-360-degree view when we were having lunch on the quay at Brancaster Staithe).

More seriously, the beds weren’t all that we’d hoped. The top one we found uncomfortable, and the bottom one, though with a much better mattress and topper, was rather cramped for us. Rose, who has a few back problems to contend with, got about one good night’s sleep out of the four. I got about two and a half. I think we could make it work if we carried around a good mattress-topper for upstairs, and probably if we slept one-up and one-down. (Anyone ever tried an inflatable mattress upstairs...?) And of course, just getting more used to the environment would also help. But we do feel that if we’re going to buy a van, then looking forward to getting into bed at the end of a long day is important!

Lastly, everything was a bit cramped inside for two of us plus wet coats plus dog plus moist towels for all three of us, when we were unable to do very much *outside*. The Cali was great for day trips or weekends with a night or two in good weather, we felt, and that is, after all, mostly what we're looking for, but it made us consider alternatives again.

So on Saturday we went down and spent most of the day taking a much more careful look at Bilbo’s offerings, and we liked what we saw. Having searched this site for all references to them, I do understand the pros and cons compared to Calis - they are probably as expensive, some things like the heating are not as well integrated, some people don’t like their unusual roof (though I think we prefer it - it’s certainly extraordinarily quick to raise and lower), the trim isn’t quite as plush, it doesn’t have the flexibility of a big and expandable boot space and yes, you can’t take it to any VW van dealer for habitation stuff. I get all of that.

Against all of that, however, is a kitchen that works a bit better for us, a much greater ability to customise things to our needs, a firm with a very good and long-lived reputation, and beds that are more spacious and quite a bit more comfortable than the Cali's, even without toppers.

The Celex has a bed which is slightly shorter but noticeably wider than the Cali’s and (as a result of also losing the chair storage in the tailgate) leaves a comparatively huge amount of available floor space when the bed is down, including lots of room *under* the foot of the bed itself. Particularly handy for dog sleeping space! We found the cupboards and sliding doors worked better than the Cali’s timbre ones, and were easier to open and close when in bed.



We’re mostly tempted, though, by the Nexa, which has two RIB single seats that turn into single beds, leaving a gap down the middle so you can still walk up and down the van while both beds are down. During the day you can have one of them down and put cushions along the wall giving a bench seat with a view out of the sliding door. And there’s also an option where the seats will slide together, with a fill-in at the side, to make a double bed that, at 5’2”, is even wider than our one at home! The kitchen (at the back) is great for our needs. There is a loo, which we probably wouldn’t even carry because if you take it out there’s a good side cupboard, but if you did want one, it’s more discretely tucked away at the back. And if you want more space in any of their vans, you can just order a LWB version. Because of the Nexa’s layout, you can even have sliding doors on both sides if you want!

I think the key things I’d miss from a Cali are the large boot space - there’s probably just as much storage in the Nexa but it’s distributed in smaller chunks - under seats, in cupboards, etc. This would be an issue if we wanted a more general and flexible load-carrier. And I would miss the Cali’s neat table-and-chair storage - we’d have to work out an alternative to that (we have some ideas, but any recommendations for good compact packages welcome!).

Anyway, we haven’t yet made a decision, but I thought others might be interested in our feedback so far. I realise, too, that I’m posting in a Cali forum - I don’t think there’s a Bilbo’s equivalent where I might get the other point of view! - but you guys seem pretty good for balanced and constructive suggestions! Thanks for your help so far!
Hi, re making 'upstairs' more comfortable..... I found that I prefer to be upstairs though it's a bit uncomfortable compared to downstairs. However, we use two single camping inflatable (self inflating type) under the upstairs mattress and it makes a big difference. We also leave them up there (though make sure they valve is open - so they are not inflated.
 

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