How to choose your perfect camper
It took Kath and Scott Heiman nearly two years to join the camper trailer fraternity, but the effort was well worth it.
We took a similar approach to purchasing our camper trailer as we would for a new car. We read tech write-ups, spoke to owners, read online forums and we took a few ‘test drives’. Accessing the technical specs was easy. Glossy brochures and manufacturers’ websites dazzled us with the overwhelming utility of all kinds of campers. Happily, Camper Trailer Australia magazine and social media provided more balanced reviews.
From the outset, we knew we didn’t want a rooftop tent or a caravan and, when it came to campers, we didn’t want one with canvas that folded up, potentially wet, on to the mattresses. We also didn’t want levers and other complicated folding devices that could fail, or a setup riddled with air gaps to soak in bulldust off the beaten track. Importantly, the camper needed to set up quickly when we were doing long-haul travel between destinations. Anything more than 15-30 minutes to settle into a quick overnight halt would be too much.
Most of all, we wanted to avoid being stuck with twisted axles. We don’t do a lot of hard-core rock climbing offroad but weren’t prepared to let our camper impact our choice of travel routes, either.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Test-driving was a must for us when considering a camper purchase, and we’re very glad we did it.
Our search took us to a local outfit, Independent Trailers in Chifley, ACT, which had a rental Tvan Canning available for our maiden road-test in late March 2012. The Tvan has a deservedly high reputation for its rugged offroad capabilities and clever design. Having received the highest ranking for its category group in CTA’s Offroad Camper and Camper Trailer of the Year awards in 2009, 2011 and 2015, it’s no surprise its distinctive design has been so admired. If we’d seen it
at a show, we could have easily concluded that this was the camper we needed.
But we took our time and we put the Tvan to the test. For our first outing, our destinations were Seal Rocks on the New South Wales mid-north coast to catch up with our best mates, followed by a trek across to Mildura, Vic, via the back roads for an archery competition.
The Tvan was a very welcome addition to our trip. Key features that appealed included the streamlined design, the suspension, the simple fold-out annexe with its solid floor and the simplicity of the configuration. We liked the big queen-sized bed with comfy mattress, the hassle-free drawer slide with a sink and stove, the space for a cot in the annexe and the camper’s storage compartments. We could justify the price on the basis of our commitment that if we were going to invest in a camper, we were going to do it once, and do it right. But we knew we owed it to ourselves to fully understand what we needed. So we continued to browse the market.
ANOTHER SHOW, ANOTHER MODEL
On our return home, in late April 2012, we visited the Rosehill Racecourse for the NSW Caravan, Camping and Holiday Supershow. There, we spied a camper that looked like it had been manufactured for the sole purpose of meeting our needs. The South African-built Conqueror UEV-440 offered the extra space we thought we might need, without adding too many bells and whistles. We liked the look of its rugged powder-coated shell and its simple canvas-covered storage compartments. Importantly, we saw an interior layout with a double bed up-front, and an additional sleeping compartment at the side for our little girl.
Appealingly, the UEV-440 looked like it belonged in the rugged outdoors, so we weren’t surprised to learn that Conqueror had built trailers for the South African Army for more than 15 years.
But, after testing the unit during two separate long weekends in Queensland, there were some features that clearly didn’t suit us. The model we tested was high, which meant that even at 6ft 3in, one of us needed to stand on a milk crate to fasten up the canvas awning when it was closed down. Also, the UEV-440 required internal adjustment prior to setting up at night. The interlocking mattresses that faced us as we opened the back hatch were understandable, but not desirable. We also spotted some gaps between the canvas panels and the main structure on the test unit, which looked to provide a way in for midges and ants if left unchecked. With a Tare weight of 1350kg, the UEV-440 fitted our HiLux’s towing capacity but was heavier than what we were willing to tow. With a height of 2.2m, the UEV-440 sat higher than our tow tug, too.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
By the time we revisited the Canberra Home and Outdoor Leisure Show in October 2012, we’d developed a sound understanding of what features we didn’t want to see in a camper trailer and which features we did want to see.
Enter the Echo 4x4 Kavango, on display at the show. We’d finally come face-to-face with a camper that effortlessly combined the features we loved about the Tvan with those we’d liked in the UEV-440. First conceived by a South African aircraft engineer and former rally driver, the Echo 4x4 was clearly space efficient, rugged and well thought-out. Echo 4x4’s pedigree was reassuring, too. The firm has been making camper trailers for nearly 30 years, and tents for more than 40 years, for South African conditions that have many geological and climactic similarities to the harsh Australian outback.
Although the option of renting wasn’t open to us, having spent the previous two years thinking about our needs, we felt confident we could assess the merits of the Kavango without it. It ticked most of our ‘wants’ list, and when it came to those that were missing, the sales team at Echo 4x4 worked with us to achieve exactly what we needed.
As the saying goes, all things come to those who wait. It took several months before the camper was ready, which is not unusual for a model of this ilk, especially since we had requested several customisations. When we headed off to Alice Springs in March 2013, our Kavango was still on the production-line, so we rented a Tvan Murranji.
While we still liked the Tvan, the time we spent on the road re-affirmed our decision to buy the Kavango with its designated second sleeping area. We knew that as it was, the Tvan wouldn’t work for us when our daughter got bigger and wanted a bed space of her own. Where would she sleep? If her bed space took over the annexe, where was the standing space for the rest of us? And how would we get in and out of the camper without waking her late at night?
We were delighted to finally take delivery of our Kavango in July 2013 – and we haven’t looked back. Our camper has now joined us for rides through Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. After numerous short stints and long-haul trips, the Kavango has racked up about 30,000km in three years, suffering only two faults: a blown shock and a stripped wheel nut, which could have happened to any other camper in similar conditions.
Our decision to buy camper didn’t happen by accident – and it’s proven to be the right choice for us.
Check out the full feature in issue #101 June 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.