Gareth and Sandy Handshin are keen campers and four-wheel-drivers and the story of how they started out as camper trailer builders is like others who are successful in the industry today.
By DAVID COOK
They knew what they wanted out of a camper but simply couldn’t find it and so Gareth had the basic trailer built and fitted it out himself. On their first trip away they were plagued by people wanting to have a look. Once they returned home Sandy suggested they run an advertisement to test the market response.
“We could have sold that original camper a dozen times over,” Gareth recalls. It wasn’t long before the former car dealers were in a completely different industry and struggling to cope with the success of the business they’d launched.
Whatever we’ve done we have always tried to stick with the basic principle that all our campers are all Australian in build, with all Australian canvas,” Gareth said.
It’s a factor that’s played a large part in the Challenge’s success. The Adelaide-based business has now been turning out top quality off road-tough campers since 2001. The fact they’ve survived, and prospered, in a tightening market, squeezed by cheap imports and uncertainty over global economic times is a mark of success in itself.
In 2013 Challenge bought out Cavalier Campers to expand their range of offerings and added to their agencies for Camp-o-matic campers and Northstar slide-ons as well as a fleet of 12 hire campers (“They are our proving ground for all our ideas!”). Challenge offers the keen camper a lot of options. Even if you’re only thinking about a camping holiday in South Australia, give Challenge a call, pick up one of their trailers on the way through to the Flinders or even further into the Outback, and drop it off on the way home.
The Challenge range blends almost seamlessly from one model to the next as options on lower spec models become standard fittings on more expensive campers, and ranges from the still offroadable but more basic Desert Seeker through to the Meridian Walk-in, which is the top of the line in their range of trailers. This latter now forms as much as eighty percent of Challenge’s sales.
As with all the Challenge range, the Meridian is a “soft floor” camper, with the 12ft tent folding off the side and sitting on the ground. Soft floor campers provide a roomy tent and plenty of storage beneath the bed and are great for families with kids.
The Meridian is built on a tough chassis with an even sturdier drawbar, all made from Duragal steel. The suspension is a double wrap seven-leaf eye to eye spring set-up, with rebound springs, on a strong 50mm axle with parallel bearings. That is as stout as it can get. The brakes are mechanical drums, with electrics as optional.
As with all soft floor campers the bed is mounted on a ply base on top of the trailer, giving you a 4 inch Queen-sized innerspring mattress for a comfortable night’s rest, with access from a walkway at the end of the bed, making it ideal for older campers or those with mobility issues.
In fact, Challenge claims to have been the first to develop the walk-in design six years back, a style which is now almost standard in the industry and available from most soft floor camper manufacturers.
“A good friend who has gone camping with us on a number of occasions complained that because of his bad hip he had trouble getting in and out of the bed, especially at night,” Gareth explained. “It took us about nine months to sort it out, but we came up with the solution. We now use the walkway for a fridge carrying point and the rest of the area is great if you want to carry a porta-potti, which can save you having to open the tent in the middle of the night, letting in mosquitoes and waking people up.”
There are plenty of other comforts inside as well, including three clip-on LED lights which snap on to any of the tent hood bows to best suit your need and plug into one of the 12V sockets. On the gas strut assisted tailgate is a powder coated steel kitchen, with swing over extension, incorporating a four-burner stove with griller. The sink is a simple plastic tub (fixed stainless steel is optional) which is easily removed for emptying and the manual tap draws its water from one of the two water tanks.
The tent is all Australian Wax Converters canvas, in any of seven colours to match any of the seven paint colours in the range. Various sizes are available. The standard is 3.7m wide x 3.4m long, providing room for bunk beds for the kids or internal meals around a table if the weather warrants it. Over the main tent area is a great reflective thermal blanket which does a very good job of keeping the interior cool in summer and warm in winter, aided by a roofline vent.
Along the rear of the tent, over the kitchen is a 2.1m wide awning, which is supplied with a kitchen apex return in canvas and full mesh walls. This gives a total area under canvas of 7.6 x 5.5m, a ton of room for longer stays. Additional awnings and a kid’s bedroom are available as options.
Electrically the Meridian is equipped a 100 amp/hr battery, battery monitor, two 12V outlets, auto reset circuit breaker, 30 amp mains charger, Anderson plug to charge off your car’s alternator, 240V power inlet for the charger, all mounted in the front storage box.
As stated there are two water tanks: a main 86 litre tank for the kitchen and a secondary 64 litre tank connected to an external hand pump. There are two 4.5kg gas bottles, carrying capacity for up to five jerry cans, and a roomy storage box at front. A larger gull-wing box is also available which can accommodate a second fridge and generator.
All up there’s a lot of trailer for the money with the Challenge Meridian Walk-In. Set up is easy, aided by the gas struts on the tent bows, and it has a go-anywhere capacity that will live with anything the Outback can throw at it. It’s well sealed from dust, with quality automotive seals and Challenge’s unique camlock latch system that seals all doors thoroughly. At $23,750 and with an all-Australian build, thoroughly tested through a fleet of hire trailers, it gets our tick of approval.