When it comes to offroad touring, the laws of physics are beyond dispute. The greater the force downward through the wheels the less likelihood of smooth forwards momentum.
If Isaac Newton were alive today he’d, arguably, be in the camper trailer manufacturing caper. I can imagine a modern-day Isaac, his verdant locks tied back to prevent them from catching in table-mounted grinding discs, off to buy a kransky and choc milk for lunch in between hammering together yet another top spec camper.
Like Isaac, most 4WD experts agree with physics. Two of the key factors in determining the offroad-ability of a camper trailer are: its overall aggregate trailer mass (ATM) and the latent power of the tow tug to which it’s hitched. Of course, this assumes the trailer is well made, with hardy suspension and chassis and the driver is experienced and skilled enough to drive the vehicle to its potential.
All that said, the Air Opus is a lightweight beast capable of heavyweight feats – at just 1200kg Tare weight, and with an added 600kg payload toting it up to an ATM of 1800kg, it’s fully capable of muscling its way over most offroad challenges.
Recently, Camper took an Opus on a multi-location test run, from coast to mountains.
WE START AT THE BEGINNING
The sun was blasting that day, my friends. It rose brightly, sparkling off gently lapping waves rolling up behind the beach at Catani Gardens in St Kilda and at the same time, about 250 kilometres north-west, struck down slender gum tree-shaped shadows up in the Victorian highlands around Mansfield. I started my commute around Beach Road, hugging Port Phillip Bay all the way from Sandringham to Port Melbourne before abruptly turning west for the steady haul upwards towards Mansfield, about three hours away. Ahead of me were a lazy few days checking out the Opus’ award-winning air-beam design, family adventure bona fides and offroad capability.
UNIQUE, AWARD-WINNING INGENUITY
It takes effort to win a best-in-class design award. After all, creating something that’s well-designed, by definition, is seldom managed. As famous American beat-mixer, DJ Z-Trip, famously says in his seminal album, Uneasy Listening, “everything you’ve done has already been done”. But through innovative design, the Opus has managed to redo the camper trailer concept – and been awarded for the effort.
The fundamental construct of a camper trailer has, to date, been pretty standard fare. A single axle box trailer with an often elaborately folding tent structure opening up to reveal a queen size bed at each end, a U-shaped dinette separating them in the middle. Outside, a slide-out kitchen and various storage compartments are added to encourage outdoor camping as much as possible. A caravan, in comparison, encourages indoor camping courtesy of indoor kitchen and plumbed-in commode. Which is fine if you’re in Finland or somewhere else with endless nights during winter. But in Australia, who wants to be inside when out in the bush?
And it’s encouragement to camp outdoors which defines the Opus’ design excellence. Oftentimes, after a quick limbering-up yoga session or something similar, there’s the tent pole ‘shuffle’ to negotiate. Without adequate stretching and prep work, this can be an arduous proposition. Even with pneumatic push-button folding functionality, there’s tent poles that have to be tightened, extended into sleeves, and fastened shut.
The Opus avoids this by using pressurised air instead of rigid poles. The push of a button inflates the tent without the need to contort yourself into impossible positions.
The beds at each end are nicely raised and the headroom above each is vast. If it took your fancy, you could sit up and gaze out the window from bed, rather than prop up on an elbow.
And outside, courtesy of a similarly designed awning structure, there’s similar high-headroom roominess courtesy of the flexibility of air-inflated beams.
POLES VERSUS AIR BEAMS, WHAT’S ACTUALLY THE DIFFERENCE?
The answer is space. With rigid poles, camper fabricators are governed by the laws of geometry. That is: the distance between node one and node two on a traditional box-shaped tent is a straight line, mimicking the shape of the poles themselves. Using pressurised air, a curved symmetry becomes possible. This curvuture means the shape of the tent can, in a way, defy gravity.
And it’s this defiance of straight-line geometry that describes the advantage of air beams over steel poles. With the air beams, manufacturers can incorporate arc into what, without the flexibility of air, would be a straight line. This arc enables greater headroom and an ability to bow interior walls slightly outwards. And when it comes to building interior quarters with a stringent set of manufacturing constraints, having the ability to incorporate more space is a massive tick.
Air beams compared to steel poles? It’s a question worth asking.
SELECTING THE RIGHT CAMPER
Coughing up the bucks for a camper only to have it sit in the driveway day-in day-out is a real concern. But as well, it’s no use hitching up and heading off into the wilds simply because the camper’s there in the driveway, burning a hole in the concrete. You simply must prepare and plan, otherwise you may as well go outside, peel fifty dollar notes from your wallet and release them into a stiff breeze.
Getting the kids up to speed as passionate outdoor-loving campers is more than half the battle.
You’ve got to weigh up the situation; accurately gauge their readiness to sleep in the outdoors with its attendent strange noises, assess their bush capabilities, their boredom thresholds, and then, square all this away with the better half.
Also, as we all know, fuel these days is expensive. It’s costly enough simply driving a loaded-up 4WD, let alone whacking another thousand and a half kegs onto the towball, willy-nilly.
Having the right camper for the job sitting in the driveway removes half the logistical effort. For a solid family camping adventure, you want the right mix of interior comfort and space alongside ride quality over bumps and ruts. There’s nothing worse than arriving at your chosen site only to discover the tent leaks, is missing a pole or two, or that dust has invaded the sanctity of the internal living space. Once a child has decided everything sucks, it’s fiendishly difficult to change momentum.
The Opus is the perfect camper in this regard. It’s realistically priced, so won’t have you staring fixedly at the ceiling wondering why you’re in bed and not out in the bush. Also, the air beams have a sort of blow-up kiddie-bouncing-castle feel about them, so psychologically, you’re already halfway there in terms of winning little hearts and minds.
With the press of a button, the Opus’ internal living quarters expand to their full glory. There’s no fussing about with tent poles doing a version of Mr Fantastic from the Fantastic Four, stretching, twisting and re-shaping your body, feeding poles deeper into sleeves or tightening widgets. No, instead you stand there, with one hand in a pants pocket and press a button.
As well as ease of setup saving your hamstrings, the Opus provides a generous internal living space. The headroom in the main dinette area is a basketball centre-accommodating 2.30 metres.
The beds at each end of the internal dinette setup are fit for little princes and princesses. During the magnificent twilight hours while we were in Mansfield, the beds at each end resembled curtained stages. What better way to win over your kids to the great outdoors than with a magical stage-like sleeping platform with loads of room for books, puzzles, teddy bears and magic wands.
As the sun set, before the kid’s bedtime, we hooked up some groovy dub tunes which beat from the Opus’ sound system, located just inside the main door just up from the outside awning area. Beside a recessed fire extinguisher is the interface unit for the entertainment system with CD/DVD and USB connectivity and two permanently hardwired speakers affixed inside. As well, to the immediate left as you stand at the dinette entrance is a porta potti enclosed conveniently in its own cabinet. There’s also ample storage under each of the padded bench seats, including mounting positions for two 100Ah deep cycle AGM batteries with 240V chargers, isolator switch, air compressor and switch gear for the trailer mover, plus twin water pumps.
A FAMILY-FRIENDLY CAMPER, WITH GRUNT
The Opus fits a wide array of possible adventures. Its light ATM and rugged underbody construction make it a suitable partner for a hardcore mud-splattered bog-fest along the Old Tele Track, from Cairns to Bamaga. A quick hose-down and a bit of a spruce-up later and the same Opus is transformed into a perfect and secure site for a family long-weekend adventure somewhere remote and memorable with nervous but impressionable young children along for the ride.
These two scenerios say it all: It’s versatile.
Tare 1340kg (tent included)
Suspension Independent coil spring
Brakes 12” electric brake & hand brake & electric breakaway
Coupling Articulating poly block
Chassis/drawbar Galvanised steel
Body Main body aluminium frame & composite panel exterior
Wheels/Tyres 235/75R15 offroad
Style 15” alloy
Tent 340g micro-weave polycotton. Waterproof and UV protected tropical roof included
Body size (lid closed) 5100 (5600 inc spare wheel) x 2100 x 1450mm
Length (lid open) 6140 x 2100 x 3200mm
Gas cylinders 2 x 9kg adjustable holders
Water 2 x 80L stainless steel tanks
Cooktop Four-burner gas with quick connect fittings and wind deflectors
Kitchen Stainless steel construction with sink, pressurised cold water, utensil and implement drawers, lighting and pull-out food prep bench
Battery 2 x 100Ah deep cycle with 240V chargers
Price as tested $28,990
Phone 03 9588 2959
Address 12 Capital Court, Braeside, VIC 3195