This rugged hybrid, which lives up to its namesake, comes to Australia via British ingenuity.
Over the years, hybrid pop-tops have established themselves as major players at the serious end of the Australian offroad market, offering adventure-seeking 4Wders an alternative to camping under canvas.
The Rhinomax name stands alongside Kimberley, Australian Off Road, Northcoast Campers, Track Trailer, Complete Campsite, Trakmaster and Vista RV in this popular market, all offering variations on a common theme: hard-walls with a pop-top hard-shell roof, based on rugged, high-riding underpinnings.
But the problem for many buyers is that these hybrids have always been pricey for a small unit, especially if you get enthusiastic with the options.
But Rhinomax found another way. Rather than offer customers a pre-set package, the Queensland company’s 2015 Discovery offered customers a basic-specced, but beautifully built hybrid poptop for a low entry price, and then buyers could choose the layout and equipment that suits their particular needs.
What you get is a rugged, 4.5m (14ft 10in) poptop with thick fibreglass composite body panels and Tig-welded aluminium framework for its interior fixtures, sitting on a full-length Supagal galvanised steel chassis fitted with sturdy trailing arm independent coil spring suspension and 12in electric brakes or, in the case of this review model, optional disc brakes.
Inside, there’s a full queen-size north-south bed with a portable toilet drawer below, a large centre dining area with seating room for four and a fullwidth rear cabinet that, in its basic form, houses six huge stainless steel drawers.
That’s the basic 2015 Discovery ‘canvas’ and Rhinomax then allowed customers to start painting from a palette of options.
MAKE IT YOURS
Each 2015 Discovery was custom built, so if customers wanted a rear corner internal shower/ toilet ensuite, Rhinomax would fit one.
Ditto, single beds instead of a queen, or an internal
kitchen with gas or diesel appliances, if required.
While the Discovery made waves when first released in 2014, what was truly surprising was that Rhinomax co-founders Steve Punton and Andy Dean were not seasoned outback warriors, like many of their fellow manufacturers.
Instead, both hail from England and became mates after meeting 10 years ago, and then business partners when they found that they enjoyed camping together.
They mightn’t have brought an Aussie twang to the table, but they did have something more valuable: a combination of top-end British engineering expertise and marketing savvy.
However, their initial collaboration was not remotely associated with campers or hybrids. Andy did his time at Rolls-royce in the UK, and his and Steve’s first project, hatched seven years ago while camping under the Southern Cross, was a hydraulic manhole cover lifter.
This deceptively simple but labour-saving device was immediately welcomed by road authorities and local councils and, on the back of its success, the pair turned their focus to their personal passion – camping.
Tired of tenting it, they looked for a camper trailer, but couldn’t find the high quality they sought at the price they wanted to pay.
“The choice then was cheap box trailer-based campers, or expensive top-end Australian models, but we wanted the low price with real engineering integrity, so we decided to build our own,” Andy explained.
MAKING A DISCOVERY
So around six years ago they built two, sold one at the Maryborough Show, put a half-page advertisement in MHCT’S sister magazine Camper Trailer Australia introducing themselves as Rhinomax (“it sounded strong and durable”) and then went into business together to produce their Outback Warrior hard-floor camper.
The pair then saw a similar demand for hybrid campers, and invested $20,000 on new engineering software and designed the Discovery, which was launched in 2014 to a welcoming market.
Employing the same Supagal one-piece chassis, drawbar and in-house Supagal steel trailing arm independent suspension as the Warrior, the Discovery employed the same basic marketing idea: high quality construction at a lower-thanexpected price.
The aim, quite simply, was to gain a foothold in this competitive market, then to build on it with other models and variations in the future.
The weather was perfect for hybrids when we encountered this 2015 Discovery at the beautiful Borumba Deer Park camping ground near Imbil, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland – that’s to say it was pouring with rain!
I say ‘perfect’ because the ability to make camping comfortable in all types of weather is one of the big reasons why more and more travellers are drawn to hybrids over canvas campers.
The Discovery can go most places that a regular camper trailer can, unless height is a consideration, and it can be set up and levelled with the aid of chocks or rocks on uneven ground, on its own footprint. As reviewed, it measured a manageable 1550kg Tare.
After popping the top and winding out its standard Fiamma awning, you can be camped, dry and comfortable in just a few minutes. In our case, the bubbling Yabba Creek was right on our rocky doorstep and, when the sun made a brief appearance, it was a magical setting.
With a body length of just 4.5m (14ft 10in) and a width of 1.9m (the same as a Landcruiser, plus awning), the Discovery doesn’t demand a lot of real estate.
And like many of its hybrid rivals, it has a steeplyraked rear cutaway to allow it to get across creek beds and rough terrain easily.
However, instead of taking full advantage of this body cut-away to house the spare wheel underneath the rear, Rhinomax has mounted the
wheel vertically upfront on the A-frame, where it serves as the first line of defence against stone damage to the twin 4.5kg gas cylinders and their regulator.
A mesh stone shield behind the spare protects the large checkerplate toolbox and its twin outrigger jerry can holders, while there’s further checkerplate covering the lower half of the front panel. It is, perhaps, a bit of overkill.
However, the air compressor for the optional Al-ko Sensabrake and its pipes, which delivers power to the test Discovery’s optional disc brakes, was mounted vulnerably in front of the spare wheel.
The body employs European-sourced 30mm-thick composite fibreglass wall panels that are secured where they meet the front and rear panels by external ribs that form a design feature. Rhinomax also used the same 30mm fibreglass sandwich panel in the Discovery’s pop-top roof, offering what I believe to be excellent insulation.
As you would expect from a Queensland builder, the focus with the Discovery is on outside living, when the weather allows, and this is well catered for by adjacent slides for the top-loading fridge and stainless steel kitchen with three-burner cooktop, both of which emerge from under the bed at right angles to the Discovery’s body, leaving enough room under the awning to shelter from the rain or the sun.
There’s also good storage space in other lockers on the offside for tables and chairs, etc, while the rear-most one houses the portable toilet that can live under the bed inside during the night. There are additional angled storage lockers adjacent to the wheel-arch on both sides for storing messy things, such as muddy boots.
Inside, Tig-welded aluminium framing is used for the frame of the front-mounted bed and the cupboards and fittings to ensure the entire structure is extremely robust.
There’s no front window, which I think is a good thing, as this is always a potential source of water leaks on any caravan-like structure – and the fullheight rear door means you don’t have to stoop.
Plus there’s a mountain of headroom once the poptop roof is raised on its gas strut-assisted scissor lifts.