Recently, I stayed a few days at the Department of Conservation (DoC) camp at Uretiti Beach. The camp manager was living in a fifth-wheel (trailer) and after talking to her it was easy to understand why fifth wheels have become such a popular option for those living aboard RVs full time.
"The caravan I had before was very cosy," she explained, "but the trailer has so much more space. When it is your home the extra space makes all the difference. I like my home comforts, comfortable seats, separate dining area, private bedroom and a large bathroom and this has it all. We don't move very often, but when we do, my husband hitches up the truck, and off we go."
These thoughts were very much in my mind as I set off with the proprietor of Kiwi RV Imports Ltd, Milton Kilgour, and one of his customers, Dave Turner, to put the Springdale 242RL-SSR through its paces.
The tow vehicle, a Mazda BT50 turbo-diesel six-speed manual king cab ute, belonged to Dave and he used it to pull his own Springdale 242RL-SSR. Although I didn't get to drive it, the Mazda seemed to handle the fifth wheel on Whangaparaoa's undulating roads quite comfortably; the way the trailer-axle system handled judder bars was very impressive.
Unhitching the trailer was a simple procedure: Milton lowered the electrically powered front legs one at a time taking the weight of the trailer off the tow hitch. He then released the hitch retaining mechanism, allowing Dave to drive the Mazda away. Milton then adjusted each leg to level the trailer. Hitching up was just a case of reversing the procedure.
The Keystone RV Company, which makes a huge range of fifth-wheel trailers and caravans with many different brand names, manufactures the Springdale range in America. While the Springdale being reviewed (8m long, 2.46m wide and 3.5m high) looked big to my eyes, it is in fact one of the smallest fifth-wheel trailers that Keystone builds. Nevertheless, the 4.3m long slide-out in the opened position combined with the high ceiling creates a huge lounge living space. No wonder 5th wheel trailers are the first choice of many who live aboard their RVs fulltime.
The settee and dinette are contained in the slide-out. There is no shortage of extra beds when the need arises. The settee converts to a double bed using a novel air mattress that is both inflated and deflated with a built-in electric air pump.
"These air mattresses were introduced a couple of years ago," says Milton, "and they are rapidly becoming the standard in RVs in America."
The freestanding dinette table lowers to create a coffee table that also forms the base for the infill cushion when the dinette is converted to a double bed. The two armchairs at the rear of the trailer face the 26-inch LCD TV at the far end of the lounge. This TV has a DVD player and Sky card slot built-in.
The upholstery fabrics used are less floral than those seen previously and, combined with the cabinetry's solid-timber-framed panel doors, the interior has a mildly formal look.
Foodies will love the L-shaped kitchen: it is spacious and hosts all the amenities found in a residential kitchen, including a 186-litre Dometic-model 2652 double-door fridge/freezer, a three-hob Thetford Triplex oven, a range hood and a Sharp inverter microwave oven. In the corner of the L-shaped bench is an enormous single sink and there is plenty of storage for crockery, utensils and the supermarket shopping. An air-conditioner unit is fitted in the ceiling but there is no roof hatch. However, with a window over the kitchen bench and the access door right alongside, ventilation should be fine.
In the bathroom, the spacious theme continues with a small bath forming the tray for the separate shower that is curtained off from the vanity/toilet area. The full-size Dometic-model 310 porcelain toilet is pedal operated, dumping into a 128-litre black water tank – a good feature for freedom campers. In the ceiling is a fan-equipped hatch to power away steam and a most effective solar dome for lighting.
Compared with a caravan, the fifth-wheel trailer can be built right up to or even just past the hitch point (the tow ball on a caravan) so that an 8m fifth-wheel trailer like Springdale is no longer than a caravan with a 6m body and a 2m-long tow bar. Because this 'additional' floor space has less headroom, manufacturers use it as bedroom space. In the Springdale, there is room for a large bed that has a shallow storage space beneath it, with access to the bed and a hanging locker each side.
While there are plenty of lockers for personal effects and clothing, your barbecue and golf clubs may have to travel a back box on the rear bumper if they won't fit into the front locker or the locker under the dinette.
The Springdale walls, floor and ceiling contain insulation foam to ward off summer heat and winter cold, and the Coleman-Mach gas-furnace-ducted central heating keeps the interior toasty warm when snow is deep on the ground. "The radiant warmth also stops the underfloor water tanks and pipe work from freezing," adds Milton.
Fitting the hitch and setting up the ute can take a day or so and Milton suggests buyers new to the Springdale product spend a night or two at nearby Gulf Harbour, giving themselves time to learn where everything is, how it works and soak up Milton's accumulated wisdom on the finer points of the Springdale.
The Springdale 242RL-SSR retails for $115,000. It is extremely well appointed with many items regarded as extras by many included in the price.
For more information contact Milton, ph 021 336698 or visit kiwirv.co.nz.Pluses:
Ease setting up
Value for money
Lack of exterior locker space
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