When Barry Nicholson, from caravan builder Jayco's Dandenong South, Victoria, Service Centre and Andy Anderson, a Ringwood East 'bushie' mate of ours who owns and uses a camper trailer and a caravan, offered to help us get to know camper trailers we said yes please!
Barry and Andy have a common interest in recreational vehicles and they share the kind of calm self-control that often goes with practical people who learn from experience.
Both Barry and Andy contributed their experience to the Now don't forget feature on camper trailers under Information on the GoSeeAustralia site.
Barry gave us an introduction to the ups and downs of camper trailers when we picked up the Jayco Dove from the Service Centre.
So after Barry's base course, plus a test run with Andy before leaving home and our own practical touring experience with the Jayco Dove camper trailer, here is what we know.
Size up your camp site and provide enough room to extend the campers, roof, beds and annexes to the full. You don't want to tangle with trees, fences or the neighbors. Handle this right and there will often be enough space to keep your tow vehicle handy too.
Go for level well drained sites with power and water close. Check that your mains pressure water hose and electricity lead will go the distance. Look for shade from the afternoon sun, but don't get too close to big trees. They can drop limbs.
Position the camper on site, set the campers manual brake and chock the wheels. Make sure the brake is on the fifth or sixth notch. Use the dolly wheel adjustment and a spirit level to make sure the camper is level. A small 'bulls-eye' level came with the camper which we used.
It is important to set your camper trailer world level. Please take the trouble because if you do the camper roof will not bind as it goes up and down, the refrigerator will run properly, the sink will drain completely and you with sleep better on level beds.
The handles to wind the stabilizer struts and the roof winch are in the big boot at the front of the camper. Wind down the four stabilizers, but not too hard. They stop the camper capsizing fore and aft when you climb into bed, but they are not intended as jacks. Apply too much force and they can bend out of shape and if that happens they are not covered under the manufacturer's warranty.
They do a good job on a firm surface, but if the ground is soft four wide, flat wooden blocks help provide a firm foundation.
Now it is roof windup time. But first check the four lock clips on the sides of the camper are released. Decide whether you want the annexes out or not now. It is much easier to reach the zips which release them when the camper's roof is about half raised.
Fit the roof crank handle and wind clockwise. No real effort is needed, but make sure the camper's canvas is clear and watch the 'telltale' cord near the roof riser arm on the left hand side of the camper door. Wind the roof up until the cord is firm. When it is you have the roof right.
Make sure the tent sections are clear and pull out the beds. Use your shoulder to lift the beds up and insert the twin support struts into the keeper slots underneath. Pull the campers canvas over the bed edges, but don't seal the flaps underneath.
Climb in the camper and set up the frames which support the tent sections over the twin beds. Some strength is required. They slot in from the wide end of the roof fittings. This process must be complete before going outside again to seal the flaps under the beds.
At this point we plugged in and turned on the 240 volt AC power to the refrigerator. We used 12 volt DC from the cars battery on the run to the camp site, but turned it off on arrival. DC will flatten a small car battery quickly if the motor is turned off. A marine standard solenoid switch linked to turn off with the vehicle's ignition is a good option.
With the camper taut and terrific it is time for the door. Yes, there is a best way. As it happens it is from the left hand side of the half door. The fold up half door has twin clips in the camper roof. Hold the left side of the half door with your left hand and release the clips. Sockets in the door's top section fit onto lugs on the bottom half door and a clip and lock studs hold both sections in place.
Seals lock the canvas to the door frames and keeps insects and the weather firmly outside. The camper's insect screens are effective and with the roof ventilation hatch open and sections of the tent unzipped to catch the breeze, life inside the camper trailer is quite comfortable in hot weather. Curtains provide plenty of privacy throughout the camper and each bed can be a world of its own.
The plug-in extension reading lamps which clip above the beds are a particularly useful idea.
When it is time to leave the set-up process is reversed. But first turn off the campers gas bottle, close the roof hatch, zip up all tent sections, unclip and stow the extension reading lamps if they have been in use and turn the refrigerator off or on to 12 volt DC and lock its door in the travel position.
An alternative to using 12 volt DC for shorter trips is to put two one litre bottles of water in the refrigerator freezer the night before you leave. Run the refrigerator on AC 240 volts to freeze them solid and then stand them in the door rack to keep things cool while you travel. Don't fill the bottles right up, allow for expansion.
Make sure the campers privacy curtains are furled and free of obstructions and be certain all interior lights are turned off. They can do bad burning things if you forget.
Take all bedding off the beds and stow it. There is plenty of space in the camper's cupboards and the roof will fit better when lowered.
Unclip the top half of the door and while holding it by the left side, fold it up and back and lock it to the roof by the two clips provided. Lock all cupboards and draws.
Anything needed while travelling, like snacks, drinks, personal items and additional clothing should be stowed in the tow vehicle.
Check the camper is level before lowering the roof. The beds must not be pushed in or pulled out unless the roof is fully raised. To avoid damage take time to check the canvas sections are clear of the four riser arms and the bed guides.
Check again before pushing the beds firmly back into the camper as the canvas can catch and tear. Make sure the beds are all the way in. Don't rush lowering the roof, walk around the camper and make sure the canvas stays clear until the roof drops into place on the trailer. If the roof binds wind it all the way back up and lower it again. The four roof clips should be locked down.
When the roof is down put some light tension on the lifting cables by winding gently clockwise. Don't overdo it, a little tension is plenty. Wind up the four stabilizer struts and push in the camper's step, stow the stabilizer strut and roof winch handles in the camper boot and hook the tow vehicle to the camper.
Hook up and test the towing electrics, brakes, lights and turning indicators and stow the camper's dolly wheel in the big camper boot. If you decided to put the camper's refrigerator on 12 volt DC don't leave it too long before starting up. A delay of 30 minutes is more than long enough to flatten a small car battery.