TESTED: EAGLE CHEROKEE CAMPER
The Eagle Cherokee hardfloor camper gets the Cape Jervis treatment.
I would love to be an eagle. Imagine the life of one of nature’s apex predators, gliding the thermals of the high country, or riding the upwellings of majestic coastal cliffs. You could fish in mountain streams, hunt the grassy plains and soar well above the tree tops of our great forests. The Cherokee Indians had a mystical affiliation with the great eagles. Their wonderful lifestyle was built upon an enduring respect for the land, its natural flow and interaction with all animals.
Well, maybe I’ll get to feel the freedom of the Eagle in another lifetime – who knows? But for now we can all soar the countryside with an Eagle Cherokee camper.
This budget-minded Cherokee won’t break the bank, and makes no apologies for its imported beginnings; it brings a terrific combination of design features to the Australian market, complemented with a large selection of standard componentry.
The hardfloor camper keeps you off the ground, and features a large undercover area, queen bed, a sofa-style convertible dinette with drop down table/double bed combo, a stainless water tank, power and storage and much more, all for under $20,000.
Kitchen appointments include a slide-out fridge compartment, four-burner gas stove and stainless plumbed sink.
REAL WORLD TEST
I like the basic concept to the Cherokee. The package is enclosed and looks smart on the road. The steel componentry on our unit was painted an attractive blue and offset with grey canvas and the aluminium checkerplate roof.
I also like the way the Eagle unfolds its wings. It has a solid top hinged forward with the aid of a pair of gas struts and a strap-style boat winch.
For our overnight test, we perched high on a cliff face at SA’s beautiful but windy Cape Jervis with views across to Kangaroo Island. Our destination looked good on paper, but on arrival we were concerned as to whether the hinges would survive the 25-knot (45-50km/hr) thrashing. The winch strap, usually reserved for closing the unit, did a fine job supporting the body.
The main body of the tent unfolds with the queen size bed. Three tent supports cantilever to give the main shape, and it’s a simple matter to get into the camper and extend the arms to tension the canvas.
I was amused when Eagle Campers general manager Mike Bradley demonstrated the operation and told us with a grin, "It’s a tent, not an apartment so the walls should be taut, not rigid!"
The queen bed folds over the drawbar, but not past it, so you can assemble the main structure for an overnight stay with the tow vehicle attached. Extendable awnings fore and aft provide temperature control, but if the tow tug’s attached you have to leave the one over the drawbar closed.
The imported 14oz canvas rating is light compared to others I’ve seen but seems reasonable, and the tropical roof automatically pops up as you tension the camper providing an air pocket to keep you cool in the hot sun. Midge proof flyscreens provide ventilation all round, but we did encounter some problems with the zips.
I love that the camper is high off the ground. The fold-out staircase works a treat but the awkward canvas surrounding the doorway is time consuming to fit and the press studs could be of better quality. That said, you can easily stop assembly right here in around five minutes.
Inside the camper is a horseshoe-shaped lounge with a drop-down table and cushion infills for another double bed. The table is independent and can be carried outside. The dinette/bed area is appropriate in this style of trailer, LED lighting illuminates the tent and the kitchen, and there’s storage under the side seats.
For extended stays, or the more energetic assemblers, the Cherokee comes with a 4.5x2.2m annexe complete with walls and floor. As with many campers it’s best to zip the annexe roof onto the main body before it’s erected, unless you carry a step ladder. We put the annexe up with fewer problems than expected for first timers; I did break and bend some of the tent pegs in an outcrop typical of the Fleurieu Peninsula, although we’d forgotten to take a hammer and were banging ’em in with a rock.
Under the trailer we find quite a strong-looking independent suspension system with coil springs and shock absorbers. It towed a treat out on the highway, through the rough tracks and even down on the soft sand at Morgans Beach behind a Pajero. I was a little concerned about a very steep exit from the track to Blowhole Beach but the Pajero/Cherokee combo took it all in an
The Eagle Cherokee is fitted with a 360º poly-block offroad coupling, Anderson plug, 10in electric brakes and a handbrake.
The chassis appears strong and suitable and is hot-dip galvanised for longevity. The standard unit also comes with attractive aluminium rims and 15in all terrain tyres. The stoneguard is attached with two unsupported welds and I expect they will fatigue, however, it would be a very simple and inexpensive matter to brace them. There’s also a pair of jerry can holders
and a plumbed gas bottle and a spare gas ring with regulator in a secure rack.
Under the trailer an 80L stainless steel water tank with aluminium shrouding and an electric pressure pump feeds to the sink outlet. The water tank filler is on the driver’s side and is lockable to keep out the vandals and children (my brother filled a fuel tank with red berries as a child). The rear compartment also houses a 100Ah battery. Four fold-down stabilisers level and support the stationary camper. Around the back we have LED trailer lights and a mounted spare wheel.
All of the lockable compartments have automotive dust seals and there is generally a place for everything. The lockers are large enough for all of the annexe sheets, as well as the multitude of poles and a pantry. Up front on the passenger side has a large compartment that held an optional Evakool fridge on the demo unit. Sliding tracks improve accessibility. At the rear we find a pull out kitchen complete with drop-down legs, although I felt the locking clip was a bit weak.
There is a four-burner AGA cooktop and a large fold-out screen to shroud the burners from the wind. There is also a stainless steel sink with drain board and a tap that had me mystified as we couldn’t find how to turn it on. It seems the tap is part of the tilting mechanism and you simply point the outlet down for on, and up for off. Silly us — it ain’t rocket science, is it?
There is LED lighting, a 240V inlet with an outlet next to the kitchen, a Projector 240/12V battery charger and quick detachable couplings for the water and gas. These fittings seem a little exposed but we are told this is a requirement for gas compliance.
Overall, I quite liked the Eagle Cherokee. It’s got plenty going for it at a very competitive price. I felt that Eagle had gotten the main body right but let itself down on some of the easily rectified items like locks, zips, press studs and tent pegs.
The guys at Eagle Campers do a thorough pre-delivery inspection, and have already given some of these items their attention. We certainly thrashed them out in extreme conditions: I guess that’s what we are here for.
With some tweaking, the Cherokee has the ability to soar like an eagle.
There’s a debate among camper trailer manufacturers regarding handbrakes. Some won’t supply a trailer without one, and others leave them off their standard list of specifications and fit as an option.
The reason? Many people leave their handbrakes on without realising. This can not only lead to damaged brakes or reduced shoe life, it can cook the bearings, welding the cones to the axles with the heat — or at worst, snap a stub axle and lose a wheel.
Now for my humble admission: we had two press vehicles for our visit both graciously supplied by Mitsubishi. One was a Challenger and the other a Pajero. In my haste to hook up the Eagle Cherokee to the Pajero 4WD for photos on Morgans Beach, I drove onto the sand with the handbrake on. As I was unfamiliar with the rig and driving down a steep rough track I felt very little resistance until I began to turn around, when the horrible sensation of losing steering hit as I sank into floating sand.
Don’t tell my wife I admitted it, but this was all totally my mistake. Thankfully, the Challenger was ahead of me and I was safe in the knowledge I had a mate in town with a tractor should worse come to worst. We dug around the wheels, reduced the tyre pressures and with the help of climbing ladders slowly but surely drove out of the bog in time for our sunset snaps.
CAPE JERVIS, SA
Cape Jervis was the setting for this review, and as usual it didn’t disappoint. Located on the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula 100km south of Adelaide, the Cape is the main port for the ferry across to Kangaroo Island.
The area is defined by vast hills rolling down to the Southern Ocean, with amazing views over the Backstairs Passage to Kangaroo Island. The town itself is a quiet fishing hamlet with a wharf, a general store and a pub — everything you need.
Get away from civilisation altogether at the nearby Deep Creek Conservation Park, where you’ll find beautiful coastal bushland, waterfalls and an abundance of native wildlife. Blowhole Creek Beach and Boat Harbour Beach are both located here, and there are a couple of decent 4WD-only tracks leading down to Blowhole Creek Beach with great views over to Kangaroo Island.
The park has two campgrounds which can facilitate camper trailers, Trig and Stringybark. The former is an open grassy area with toilets and 25 camp sites, while the latter has 16 sites among bushland, and has toilets and hot showers. Sites are available on a first come, first served basis, and will set you back $23 per car, per night at Stringybark, and $13 per car, per night at Trig.
Alternatively, Cape Jervis Station has powered and unpowered camping sites with toilets and hot showers, as well as a range of accommodation options in the gentrified original buildings that once made up the settlement in the 1840s. It is a working sheep station with a restaurant, a bar and warm country hospitality. It is also pet-friendly, with appropriate prior warning.
> Cape Jervis is on the Fleurieu Peninsula in SA, about 100km south of Adelaide.
> Visit www.environment.sa.gov.au for more info on the Deep Creek Conservation Park.
> Visit http://capejervisstation.com.au/ for more info on Cape Jervis Station.
> Overnight assembly relatively easy
> Good simple kitchen
> Full chassis
> Headroom in tent and annexe
> Stainless water tank
> Forward tilting operation
> Independent suspension
> Budget pricing
I WOULD HAVE LIKED
> Sturdier finishing componentry
> Fixed jockey wheel
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia #64, April 2013