Top-class quality means Kimberley-built products stand out from the crowd. We set up the Kimberley Kamper Limited Edition for a night in the bush.
Are camper trailers the new Black? It seems there's a new brand, new type, revised, upgraded or new model of flip-lidded, foldaway, lightweight, compact, open-out, pop-up, all-inclusive, slide-out, iron-my-shirts trailer appearing every other day. Fair dinks, just about every Friday arvo on the freeway north I spy a flash new camper trailer that I haven't seen before. It seems that any bloke with a welder, a garage and a weekend off calls himself a camper trailer manufacturer.
But Ballina, NSW-based Kimberley has been bashing away at its off-road camper trailers for quite a while now, with the basic design locked in during the '90s and refined ever since. Thousands have been built and the orange-striped brand is regarded by many as the top of the stack. So let's take a look.
Kimberley camper trailers are built using what the company calls a 'laser-locked' assembly procedure where each chassis component is precisely laser-cut and self-jigged to those around it before welding. The deep-sided drawbars are braced directly to the front rail/cross-member for the suspension, which is independent by trailing arms, arguably the best type for the rigours of off-road travel. They're constructed from steel box sections and ride on captive long-travel coil springs and big-bore dampers mounted behind the suspension for protection from rough terrain. With diagonal cross-braces, the complete chassis appears bomb-proof, with strength where it's needed, and not where it isn't.
As you would expect for something wearing an 'off-road' badge, the wheels are six-stud steelies with knobby tyres. The test Kamper, a second-from the-top-spec 'Limited Edition' was fitted with over-ride disc brakes with PBR/Holden calipers. The wheel bearings are enormous 50mm jobbies; the punishment of rough terrain and corrugations often smashes to pieces little box-trailer bearings.
For kitchen and room lighting, all Kampers are fitted with a 70Ah house battery and 240V charger. The system can be upgraded to 140 or 210Ah if required. All lighting is LED to reduce current draw.
Our test rig's hitch was a Treg off-road unit and Peter Hands and the lads at Express Camping set it all up to match our Toyota Prado using a taller-than-standard towbar tongue. It was time well invested as the Kamper LE felt like it wasn't even there, at any speed on gravel and bitumen.
Setting up the Kamper LE is easy, with the only requirement being for level ground. Undo six clamps and two latches and the floor frame can be lifted to vertical (it's a one-person job - but you'll need some muscles) and then gravity does the rest, pulling the hard floor up and over, dragging the tent canvas with it. Pop the internal frames into place and voila: Instant house.
It's nice and simple - and usefully spacious - inside the Kamper LE. The solid living room floor is six inches off the ground so clothes and bedding shouldn't get wet unless it floods.
The four-inch queen-sized foam mattress (with removable cover for easy laundering) is waist-height above the chassis section of the Kimberly when it's set up, so you can just about fall into bed. Two reading lamps are fitted and there's LED overhead lighting. Under the bed is a large slide-out stainless steel drawer. It's 150mm deep and more than a metre square and is intended for bedding and clothing storage.
There are three windows - front and both sides - in addition to the two doors in the living area. The end of the living area can also be unzipped to catch every skerrick of summer breeze. All are fly-screened and have clear vinyl laps to keep the rain off the zips.
As for sealing, being canvas, you might forgive Kimberley for having a few gaps here and there. Nope - even with poking and prodding in all the dark corners, I couldn't find any mozzie holes anywhere. Thumbs-up to the Australian-made (Rutherford, NSW), and Dyna-proofed 'Outback Rugged' waterproof canvas proudly supplied by WCT in Sydney. The screens are midge-proof, too.
Also on the topic of sealing, Kimberley uses quality automotive seals between the top and bottom sections of the flip-top body and in the kitchen (plus obviously good body assembly tolerances) to keep dust out. And we'd have to say it works well - our test rig was in fact a hire unit that had just returned from seven weeks in Western Australia and it was clean inside.
The usability of the kitchen is a highlight of the Kimberley and the difference between a well-specked camper trailer, and a box trailer with a tent plopped on top. The kitchen can be set up in seconds; the LE's gullwing hatches lift and the sink/cutlery drawers slide out from the side of the trailer body. The fold-out bench area is larger than in many home units and the whole lot is more useful than many caravans we've looked at. Industrial-strength easy-care stainless steel means cleaning is simply a wipe with a rag - or a blast with a garden hose after each major trip. The kitchen lies under the standard awning when set-up but with pleasant (but chilly!) weather during our time in the bush, we didn't bother.
Kimberley offers plenty of options, such as boat loaders, outboard motor racks, wheel carriers, hot water, jerry can holders and extra lighting. It can also configure the suspension to exactly match the track of the towing vehicle, as well as match its stud pattern.
At around $33K, the Limited Edition competes for buyers' attention with many mid-size caravans for price - but offers an arguably less restricted lifestyle when on the road (or off it!). In that regard, it is best regarded as a seasoned travellers' second or third camper trailer, rather than a beginners' bush basher. Does that make sense? Like the Toyota Prado it was hitched to for this test, it's hard to argue with the level of engineering, manufacture and features of the KK.
Caravan+RV magazine, Summer 2008.
Ease of set-up
Impeccable on and off-road manners
Setting up is really a two-man job