Bush

This rugged hy­brid, which lives up to its name­sake, comes to Aus­tralia via Bri­tish in­ge­nu­ity.

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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.

HY­BRID WEATHER

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.

LIFE OUT­DOORS

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.

Clock­wise from top left: The Dis­cov­ery is built to han­dle all kinds of road con­di­tions; the pop-top roof pro­vides plenty of height; easy ac­cess switches by the door­way; con­ve­nient bed­side stor­age; the rear in our test model fea­tured sev­eral stor­age drawer

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