We take the prototype of the latest hardcore camper out for a torture test through the Simpson Desert… to see if this one can hang with the top dogs on the market.
For images and the full Unsealed 4X4 experience, read this in our online magazine.
The problem a lot of people have with camper trailers is that when you load them up and take them into some legitimate remote locations, the cracks begin to appear… sometimes literally. Spring mounts, water tanks, drawbars – you name it – can all weaken over the thousands of kays of corrugations, ruts and rocks that need to be conquered to get to some of the out-of-the-way places that a lot of us live for.
Y’see, not so long ago camper trailers were designed to be pulled to some easy-access grassy area in a scenic spot 300 metres from the freeway. But hey, we’re four-wheel drivers and getting away to the lesser-known areas over the rougher tracks is kinda what we do.
So manufacturers started building trailers that were capable of handling being dragged over whatever your 4X4 could handle. These usually came with some trick suspension, serious tyres, as light a weight as was reasonable and a premium price tag – but they opened up hardcore camper trailer touring to those who wanted to haul their accommodation over some gnarly tracks. And a whole sub-category of campers was born.
So when Mark Reu, the designer and builder of a brand new player on the market – the Terra Trek EXP, got in touch with Unsealed 4X4 a few months back and told us he was building a prototype trailer that was literally capable of going anywhere you care to take a vehicle… we were more than a little intrigued.
Mark has worked as a tour guide through the Simpson and South Australian ranges and has been 4WDing his whole life, so he knows exactly what a trailer has to be capable of if it’s going to last in the bush. And he’s taken that knowledge and put it into practice with the Terra Trek, which has a chassis and suspension design unlike anything else on the market. And y’know what? It works bloody brilliantly too!
The R&D on this thing has been extensive to say the least. The frame has been dragged through hell and back by Mark in an effort to find its weaknesses (think hitting whoops at Mach speed and towing it over terrain that’d make a Tuff Truck competitor weak at the knees) and so far has withstood everything that’s been thrown at it – which is plenty. And the aluminium body offers a huge degree of practicality, with a bunch of smart inclusions, while keeping weight to a minimum. The result? A trailer that’ll go literally anywhere the tow rig can.
With that in mind we thought a weekend run down in the State Forest wasn’t going to do if we were really going to test this bad boy out… so we packed up and struck out north and west for a gruelling couple of weeks through the Simpson Desert and South Australia. If there were any weaknesses on this prototype, we wanted to find them.
TOWING THE TERRA TREK
Before we even hitched up I spent a fair amount of time walking around and crawling under this thing. After the tough-but-purposeful appearance, the first thing I noticed was the nice long chunky drawbar. Mark tells me the single-bar design is there so you can open the rear doors of your wagon without fouling on jerry can holders and the like; you can step over it with ease and even use it as a step to access the tent cover if need be. It’s also quite long, so backing up should be fairly easy (and yes, I got bogged near the top of Big Red and had to reverse all the way to the bottom – so I can attest that this is true). Then I got down on the ground and had a squiz underneath. If desert racers towed trailers, I imagine their suspension setups would look like this.
Terra Trek calls it a heavy-duty swing axle setup. It features two parallel control arms that span the width of the frame and are supported by four trailing arms running longitudinally. Old Man Emu coils (suited to a 100 Series LandCruiser, for ease of replacement) along with Poly Air airbags allow for heaps of wheel travel while the OME Nitrocharger Sport shocks soak up wash-aways and corrugations like you’re driving on a freshly-laid runway. This is one trailer suspension setup that seriously impressed me with its ability both on-road and off-road. A whole bunch of time and effort went into it, and the result is nothing short of amazing. No matter what we drove over or how hard we hit some of the heavily-rutted run-ups to the crests of the dunes, nothing seemed to upset the Terra Trek. Believe me, I tried. Top marks here!
CAMPING OUT OF THE TERRA TREK
The roof-top-tent-on-an-off-road-trailer is becoming a popular camper configuration these days… and after spending two weeks living out of the Terra Trek EXP, both staying in the one spot for a few nights and setting up at a different campsite every arvo, I have to say that it just flat-out works. The trailer can be set up in a few different ways depending on how long you’re planning on staying in the one location. For quick overnighters simply unzip the ShippShape tent cover and pull the tent out over the passenger side of the trailer. Adjust two internal telescopic poles and you’re ready to go – two minutes tops. If you’re staying a little longer or simply want a bit more privacy then a zip-on annexe turns the overhang from the tent into a fully-enclosed room, which adds a few minutes to the set-up time but gives a great area that’s out of the wind, rain and mozzies.
If you’ve got kids, a couple of stretchers or air mattresses would easily fit in here too. Or if you’re putting down roots there’s another awning that extends out over the kitchen area with optional walls that enclose the space (in case the weather’s not playing nice).
Power is provided courtesy of two 110Ah AGM batteries that are overseen by a Redarc 1230 BMS that’s located in the forward hatch along with the 80L Trailblaza fridge (that has been specially tweaked for the Terra Trek with a custom vibration-control base mount and internal partitioning which allows it to function as both a fridge and a freezer). LED lighting is all over the shop… although there wasn’t internal tent lighting on the prototype, which I’d like to see rectified on the production units. That dimmer light panel over the kitchen seemed a bit redundant at first, but after a night or two it became one of the coolest ideas ever – and by the end of the trip I was wondering why they aren’t on all campers.
Speaking of the kitchen, the Terra Trek makes great use of the available space. Two 4.5kg gas bottles provide the juice for the twin 13,500 BTU burners (which offered the quickest water-boil I’ve ever seen on a camper), which are on a pull-out slide within the pull-out kitchen slide. This means that you have a heap of incredibly handy available bench space for preparing meals. They even managed to fit in a small cutlery drawer on the back side of the fully stainless kitchen, which also includes a sink with a 12V pump and tap fed from the underslung stainless 90L water tank. Hot water is an optional extra.
The pantry has plenty of space for your cooking gear and foodstuffs, and there’s another drop-down shelf for even more prep-space should you need it.
Pull the pin on the swing-out spare wheel carrier on the back, and open the gas-strut assisted rear hatch, and you’re greeted with a cavernous space for you to store everything from the camp chairs to the generator to a spare swag or two. There are also a couple of side areas that hold a total of four jerry cans (and that bumps total water capacity up to 170L). Meanwhile over on the driver’s side, another panel opens up to reveal plenty of storage for the awning and family room; and this is a good spot to stash your clothes and toiletries as this area is accessible when the tent and family room are set up. There’s also storage area for a second 4.5kg gas bottle in case you plan to go touring for a couple of months and need to top up the supply for the kitchen burners.
SO… WOULD I BUY ONE?
The Terra Trek EXP is hardly what you’d call an entry-level camper trailer. Priced just north of 40 gorillas ($40,900 if you’re into specifics) it ain’t no 5-grand soft-floor. But then it’s not aimed at folks who are new to the camping scene. It’s for people who are looking for a simple, reliable trailer that you can live out of for extended periods while not being limited to destinations that are accessed by well-graded dirt roads. It’s for the people who want to get to those out-of-the-way magic spots that will require low-range, mud tyres and a locker or two to make access possible. And the Terra Trek EXP will fulfil that role incredibly well.
So to answer the question: If I was looking to tackle places like the Kimberley, the Cape, the west coast of Tassie and the Gulf Country (and anything in between) while having enough comfort and mod-cons to keep the whole family happy… then yes, this trailer would be damn high up the list of potential purchases. It’s well constructed and super-sturdy. And the fact that it’s Aussie designed and built and (wherever possible) has ‘Australian-owned’ and locally-built inclusions makes it great value for money in my book.
But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself at terratrek.com.au
TERRA TREK EXP
|Chassis||Hot-dipped galvanised steel ladder frame|
|Coupling||Treg off-road coupling (D035 optional)|
|Rims and Tyres||16in steel wheels and 285/765R16 BFG KM2 tyres (plus a spare)|
|Suspension||Heavy-duty swing axle long-travel independent with OME coils and shocks and Poly Air airbags|
|Inside||Kitchen, pantry, double bed and family room|
|Water Tank||90L stainless plus provision for 4 x jerry cans (170L total)|
|Weight||920kg tare with 767kg load capacity|
|Canvas||Aussie Wax Converters|
|Price as tested||$ 40,990|