As I lean back in my camping chair I watch the sky transform in the last of the daylight. It had been an unrelentingly overcast day, but the sun was having the final word, dissipating the clouds and setting them on fire in the soupy pink light.
I take a sip of my beer and watch the campfire develop through its infancy. My trance-like state is only enhanced by the trickle of the nearby creek, whose shallow, rocky beds and clear, deep pools are at that very moment being relieved of trout by John ‘Bear’ Willis. Well, at least that was his plan as he set off an hour ago with a Coopers in hand and a rod over shoulder, disappearing through the trees with a happy swagger.
I breathe in the fresh, early autumn High Country air and spare a thought for the poor buggers many hundreds of metres below fighting an unwinnable battle with Melbourne’s peak hour. Many of them doubtlessly dump camping in the ‘too hard basket’ as an activity defined by wet clothes, cold feet and tins of spaghetti. How surprised they’d have been to see steam billowing out of the ensuite off the side of the soft floor camper merely 20 minutes prior. How confused they’d feel if they were to see my damp shoes drying in front of the diesel heater in the camper’s walkup passageway. How alarmed they’d be if they knew my sole quandary was whether to still cook the marinated lamb chops should Bear return with a fat trout, as he had so emphatically promised.
With Mountain Trail’s new Evolution camper trailer only a few metres from where I sit, not only am I almost as equipped for comfort as I would be at home, but I have the double fortune of watching fairy wrens flit in the grass from my ‘lounge room’ deep on the Dargo High Plains.
THE HIGH ROAD
We’d spent the day meandering through the High Plains in a convoy of three: myself with my best friend Bec in the passenger’s seat of the Pajero and the aforementioned Mountain Trail Evolution obediently in tow; Bear in his new Discovery on its maiden voyage, working hard towing the Camper Turtle (CTA’s newest renovation project) and transporting Ellen and Steve, the photography crew; and our local guide Dave, Bear’s brother, leading the way in his LandCruiser and kept company by Second, the 17-year-old working kelpie in the passenger’s seat.
We’d convened at the Dargo Pub the day previous and chatted briefly over a pot of beer before setting out to find a campsite beside a tributary to the Dargo River. It was here where the Evolution would woo us for the first time. You see, this aptly named camper is no ordinary soft floor, and we’d soon discover why.
NOT YOUR REGULAR SOFTFLOOR
First things first, we raised the boat rack — which on this particular camper carried a Rhino-Rack storage pod and Mountain Trail’s optional Outback Solar Pack. This process is assisted by gas struts, allowing the rack to be flipped all the way over with ease, or locked into an upright position with a pin in each side for set up. The solar panel is adjustable to take full advantage of the daylight and the rack can invert all the way to easily unload a small boat, kayaks etc.
With the boat rack out of the way we unzipped the sturdy tonneau travel cover, which was simple to get on and off with enough slack to easily accommodate the extra bedding we’d heaped on top of the queen-size inner spring mattress within.
It was now business time. From the electric brains centre of the camper, ie the front right-side compartment, I pushed a button and watched in disbelief as the camper unfolded itself up and out in a matter of seconds. Needless to say, this quickly became my favourite job and was usually followed by applause from those looking on. (Bear reckons I had Homer Simpson syndrome — “Tent goes up, tent goes down!”)
From here it was simply a matter of erecting the two interior support poles and screwing the sidebars in place. We then peeled the awning off the roof of the tent where it had been sitting flat and neat, secured by elastic loops at opposing corners.
The annex pole configuration took a little to-ing and fro-ing on the first attempt, with Bear uttering a couple of unspeakables as I held a pole in place and pretended to be useful. We (Bear) nailed it on the second day, however, and we were pulling out the fridge door for a cold drink in a matter of 10 minutes.
THE SOCIAL CENTRE
With the comfortable shade cloth floor in place, I got to work setting up the kitchen, which pulls straight out the back of the trailer on a strong drawer, supported by adjustable, gas-strut-assisted legs.
The stainless steel kitchen is functional and very well finished, with a three-burner Smev stove top and a generous sink serviced by the Webasto diesel hot-water system, which pumps out water that is as hot if not hotter than mine at home, thus making tedious dishwashing activities slightly less painful.
But as any cook will tell you, the number one thing that makes for a functional kitchen is adequate bench space, and the Evolution has it in spades. In addition to the large bench area to the left of the sink there’s a pullout bench extension on the end of the kitchen drawer as well as an extremely handy folding bench running the length of the tailgate — the ideal place to sit condiments and items you might need while cooking.
The sink and stove covers fold flat to the bench, freeing up even more bench space when not in use. The benefits of the extra bench space became particularly evident while making French toast the next morning (see breakout p38). No spag from a can here! I had the sink cover flipped down to accommodate my production line. Too easy.
There is a second drawer with an 80L Waeco fridge plus a huge pantry box where Bear decided to keep his bag of overripe bananas. “But they were so cheap!” They’d want to have been, given they were almost liquefied. Lucky the storage box is well ventilated!
Bear and I were at odds with one another not only over the bananas, but also over this pantry/fridge drawer. Bear reckoned it was in the way, given it slides out right where’d you be standing if you were at the cooker or sink. For me, however, this was not a problem — and I was the expedition’s primary chef. I simply stepped back from the stove when I needed something from the fridge, grabbed a few things out and put them on the aforementioned tailgate bench, closed the drawer and resumed cooking. It wasn’t a hassle in the slightest — in fact cooking in this kitchen was an absolute pleasure.
The sink is fed by quick-connect sockets leading to a 130L water tank with 12V pump and there’s a water level indicator in the electrics cupboard. The gas hose is also quick-connect, leading to an enclosed storage cabinet which is fully lockable and accommodates two 4L gas bottles. This is one of the sizeable side storage cabinets, each enclosed and lockable with one common key.
The tent is a healthy 2.8x4.15m, made of 12oz Australian Wax Converters canvas. There’s loads of room for kiddies’ beds on the thick, comfortable PVC floor, which zips out for cleaning should you require. Our photographer Ellen rolled out her ARB swag on the floor and we didn’t tread on her once despite the tent containing the luggage of three girls, plus all Ellen’s photography gear.
The tent is well ventilated, with internally opening windows protected by midge mesh. It comes with an insulated roof, and has two doors allowing for internal access to the optional ensuite tent. No more towel-clad nudie runs around the camp! This is bound to disappoint some, but I was not one of them. The ensuite tent has pockets for your toiletries, ventilation in the roof and a floor with drainage. The shower is fed by the aforementioned Webasto diesel hot-water system and the 130L water tank. I must reiterate how impressed I was by the high temperature of the water. This is a true luxury in the bush and the difference between a good day and a perfect day, in my opinion. I will never bemoan clean hair!
Back inside the main tent, the walk-up staircase steps are wide and secure, leading to a cavernous, marine-carpeted passageway that provides easy access to the inner-spring queen-size mattress, which is protected during travel by a sturdy cover. The passageway facilitates four huge storage drawers with LED lights, as well as the 300W pure sine wave inverter and the diesel heater, which ups the ante on the comfort front. It gets bloody cold in the High Country in winter and the shoulder seasons, and even snows in parts. Travelling in March we didn’t really need the heater, but I’d wager it would’ve got a work out if we’d travelled a month later. When the camper is in travel mode, this passageway provides a huge amount of storage space and is accessible via the lockable stairwell.
There are an additional two storage cabinets under the bed, one of which contained an optional 21.5in LCD TV/DVD. We didn’t use this on our trip, but Nick Edwards, the brains behind Mountain Trail, took the same camper to Fraser Island for a month with his young family and I wouldn’t mind betting that telly paid for itself in babysitting fees.
ON THE MOUNTAIN TRAILS
The Evolution proved its prowess offroad as we weaved across the Dargo High Plains, down bumpy tracks, across rocky creeks and up slippery, grassy banks. The independent adjustable coil springs backed up with Gabriel shock absorbers and 12in electric brakes, and a very strong chassis and running gear, saw the rig track over the wide variety of mountainous terrain with ease. The big 17x8in alloy wheels and all-terrain tyres combined well with the suspension to soften the ride on the harsh corrugations. Bear reckons this actually helped stabilise the rear end of his Disco when he took it back to Albury via the steep Mitta Mitta Road. This is a trailer I would feel comfortable taking around the country straight off the shelf. When Mountain Trail includes the words “heavy-duty offroad construction” in its specifications, it really means it.
Up front we find an extra large front storage box with pole holder and a Hitchmaster DO35 offroad coupling with hand-brake. On the side there are two jerry can holders and two gas bottle holders. And just in case you find that insurmountable pothole, there is a rated recovery point on the rear.
Mountain Trail takes great pride in its products and the Evolution is the pinnacle of the current range. It is well-designed, practical, exceptionally well-constructed and certainly capable of taking on the rigours of any track with the comforts of home.
Is camping a hassle? With a trailer like this, absolutely not.
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia #65, May/June 2013.