MY FIRST experience with the Bluewater Macquarie forward-fold camper was in late 2018, when for a week we bounced around a few tracks at Hill End in NSW. It impressed then, so it was good to reacquaint myself with it recently.
Like many forward-fold campers and similar flip-over hard floor (call them what you will) campers these days, the base camper – the chassis, trailing arms, main ‘box’ or ‘tub’ and any ancillary boxes – comes out of China. Like it or loathe it, that is where the market has been heading for a few years now and, sadly, ‘true’ Aussie-made campers at this price are few and far between.
However, while some camper manufacturers import complete units with the tent area, suspension, electrics and features all made in China, Bluewater does a great job of adding some Aussie quality and flare to its campers. For starters, there are high-quality Dexter brakes, hubs and wheel bearings; Lovells coil springs; twin RidePro shocks; Aussie canvas; an Ark XO jockey wheel; and a McHitch 3.5-tonne tow coupling.
There are three campers in the Bluewater range, starting with the Darling which hits the road at around $27,900. The Macquarie is in the middle of the pack with an RRP of $32,990, while the top-of-the-line Lachlan will set you back a few grand more. There are options to add, but all these units come pretty much with everything you need.
The chassis and box seem to be well-made and finished, with a hot-dipped galvanised chassis and the zinc-annealed boxes featuring a two-pack paint job; all of which is finished off with marine-style latches, locks and hinges. The Primal 16 x 8-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in 265/75 R16 tyres that aren’t great but will do the job until you find the time to replace them with a better brand of off-road rubber.
Up the front on the drawbar is a lockable box containing the gas bottles and jerry cans, along with a mesh stone-guard. Hanging off the chassis at the far end is a spare-wheel holder, bin bag and storage box suitable for tools and the like.
Lockers on the near side of the camper are accessible at all times and can hold a fridge on a fridge slide (up to a 95-litre unit will fit). The fridge is an optional extra, though many people undoubtedly already have their own.
There are also cavernous storage drawers and an outside stainless steel kitchen, which is a work of art and features a Dometic three-burner stove with tall, foldout windshields, a sink with a plumbed mixing tap, a drying rack, a couple of drawers for all those cooking utensils, a foldout side bench and a larger foldout breakfast bar behind the cooker/sink area. Gas and water are fed to the kitchen by Bluewater’s unique drag-chain system called ‘snake track’.
4x4 cooking: Top End Campgear camp kitchen
There’s even more storage on the far side of the camper which is taken up by a supplied 10-litre Porta Potti, as well as the hot-water heater which can be set up at the front of the camper to supply hot water to the sink or shower.
The tent and awnings are made using 14oz Wax Converters dynaproofed canvas, while midge-proof Finetex mesh is used throughout. A ‘safari’ roof helps keep the tent area cool in summer, and dry and warm in the cold and wet. All the windows have inside and outside canvas curtains, so you can close off the windows from both inside and out. The windows also have an awning for shade and rain protection.
All the canvas and mesh are sown in Fiji, where Bluewater’s parent company has had a factory making tents, swags and clothing since the 1970s. The quality of the sewing and the seams is as good as I’ve seen, while all the zips are top-quality YKK units. The camper comes with a zip-on awning, annex walls and a 680gsm rip-stop PVC floor, which makes for a large, dry living area. A double ensuite shower room caters for bathroom requirements.
Manually opening the camper is possible, but a hand-winch setup on the front drawbar makes it a lot easier – there’s a rear-mounted winch for closing the camper. For a basic overnight stop the camper can be set up in five to 10 minutes, and add a further 15 to 20 minutes to erect the annex.
Once the camper is set, the large U-shaped dining area is quite spacious, with a fold-down step providing access to the Aussie-made, queen-size, innerspring mattress bed. The seats around the dining area also convert into a double bed, but I’d expect kids or guests to have their own swags in the outside annex area.
2019 Gear Guide: Off-road touring essentials - Accommodation
For those keen to break away from the grid, the amount of gas and water you can carry – as well as the electrical system used – becomes vital. Two stainless steel water tanks total 160 litres, while two jerry can holders can easily carry another 40 litres of life-sustaining fluid.
The water tanks are plumbed to the sink and the hot-water connections via a SeaFlo 42 Series pump, a 9.5-litre auto-demand diaphragm unit that provides good water flow. A portable Smarttek 6 continuous hot-water system ensures there’s hot water on demand, while two 4kg gas bottles (two 9kg bottles are optional) ensure there’s plenty of fuel for hot water and the three-burner Dometic stove.
The electrical system on the DC12-volt side will keep you free of mains power for as long as you want. There are two 100amp/hr AGM batteries, a CTEK 250 SA DC-DC charger, and a premium 200W folding solar panel. There are numerous 12-volt sockets and USB outlets for all charging and power requirements, while all LED lights are touch-activated.
The sound system has an MP5 touch display screen with Sony speakers, which is all managed by a digital control panel that includes a volt meter, battery display, master isolation switch, circuit breaker, and rocker switches for individual control of electrical components.
An optional 240-volt installation includes a 15amp inlet, one 10amp outlet and three double power points (these were included in our test camper). A Projector 21amp, seven-stage battery charger will ensure batteries are well-charged before heading bush.
The unit weighs 1500kg (empty), but with an ATM of 2400kg it sports an impressive 900kg payload as well as an electric breakaway safety unit. We hitched this unit behind a Ford Ranger, which towed it easily; although, we were nowhere near the camper’s maximum load capacity.
The camper will go most places in the bush, but forward-fold campers have a fairly long drawbar which compromises approach, departure and ramp-over angles, as well as their tracking ability. Still, you’d have to be on a narrow, winding track for it to be a real issue.
The Bluewater Macquarie is a robust, well-thought-out camper that has been optimised for the Australian market via the use of some high-quality Australian components. It would easily suit a couple or small family for that trip around Australia or a weekend jaunt into the nearby mountains.