Review: Billabong Caravans Eagle Bay
Billabong Caravans' Eagle Bay is a compact van suitable for a range of tow vehicles.
ONE OF THE MOST admirable aspects of the Australian RV industry its healthy level of home grown production. Looking across the Tasman to New Zealand, for example, a substantial number of imports have swamped the local industry.
Having such a strong manufacturing base means that while there are relatively few large RV companies, there is a considerably larger number of smaller operators. These lower-key companies often have the opportunity to be a little more flexible in their manufacturing approach.
Melbourne-based Billabong Caravans definitely fits into this category. Its small range of vans features plenty of built-in design flexibility, and the 5.33m (17ft 6in) Eagle Bay is a good example.
The Eagle Bay's ATM of 2110kg means a Ford Falcon sedan can easily handle the towing. And with a single axle, this van is very easily maneuvered into and around tighter spaces.
Despite its compact dimensions, the Eagle Bay maintains a reasonably spacious interior. Light hued timber and a white ceiling help, but having the bathroom tucked into the rear corner makes a perceptive difference.
Fitted into the rest of the interior are a forward bedroom and the kitchen, split across the rear and offside walls. The dinette sits by the entry door. Net and full curtains are fitted to all windows (except the bathroom) and the general lighting is a mixture of fluorescent and halogen. A roof-mounted Aircommand Ibis air-conditioner keeps things cool.
Not everyone likes a van with its kitchen on either side of the bathroom, but it does solve a few design problems. The bench across the rear is home to a Swift four-burner cooktop/grill and a stainless steel sink avec drainer. A Sharp Carousel microwave sits in the overhead lockers and the mid-size ceiling hatch and adjacent security screen entry easily dispense with cooking fumes.
Even with a relatively small kitchen bench, there is still a good selection of cupboards, drawers and overhead lockers.
A further four drawers, four overhead lockers and a small built-in bench around the 150L Dometic fridge augment the storage. With a handy powerpoint, the built-in bench is particularly welcome.
Sitting above the overhead lockers as it does, the AM/FM radio/DVD player is probably a bit high for those who wear multifocal glasses, but it does have an MP3/iPod socket and a shelf below for resting these digital devices.
The L-shaped dinette will comfortably seat two adults, but it is not really suited to any more. The two halogen reading lights are handy, as is a powerpoint tucked in the corner.
I wondered about the partition dividing the bedroom from the rest of the van, as it limits the perception of space and also partly blocks the 17in LCD TV, which is mounted on the offside wall in the corner of the bedroom. This position makes it difficult to be seen easily from the dinette.
With windows on three sides and a Four Seasons hatch above, the bedroom is well ventilated and has plenty of natural light. The 1.85x1.55m (6ft 1in x 5ft 1in) innerspring mattress sits on a posture slat base that can be lifted to get to the ample storage area underneath. I was interested to note the storage light fitted to the bed frame.
Two foot-of-bed corner cupboards and a bedhead of overhead lockers, side wardrobes and cabinets give the usual storage space. The bedside cabinet shelf space isn't especially large, but it is complemented by the shelf under the front window.
The bathroom features a variable-height, flexible-hose shower, Thetford cassette toilet and a small washbasin behind the toilet. The basin does have hot and cold, but overall it is on the low side for anyone a bit taller. A small window and fan hatch provide ventilation - it's always good to have both for the cross flow they provide in a small space.
KEEPING IT TOGETHER
The Eagle Bay has a timber frame and an aluminium-clad body. Although not a rough-road van, it does have a front stoneguard and side skirt of propeller plate alloy which, in addition to the practical value, gives the van a tougher look.
Tinted bubble-style acrylic windows are used all-round and the rear entry is a standard Camec security door. There are no other external bins other than from the front boot, which contains the house battery, charger and 12V fuses.
Underneath the body is a 100mm-railed SupaGal chassis with ball coupling, centre-mounted jockey wheel and two 9kg gas cylinders on the drawbar.
Single-axle leaf spring suspension comes fitted with polished alloy wheels. The spare is mounted on the looped rear bumper.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it's not the biggest van in the range, the Billabong Eagle Bay does offer a layout with all of the essentials - kitchen, bathroom, living and bedroom - well accounted for. Its ability to be towed by a wide range of vehicles is also a positive for smaller or younger families who may not drive (or want) a larger 4WD.
Although it does have some rugged characteristics, this van is definitely more at home on the bitumen, and its length of 5.33m (17ft 6in) will ensure it easily fits into most caravan park sites.