Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”

Review: Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”

It might have a Polish name that twists the tongue, but the 7.112-metre Kościuszko is the longest, highest, and widest model that Melbourne-based Hilltop Caravans make. Paul Owen travels to Rolleston Caravans, near Christchurch, for a spot of hill-topping.

You may know the name of the highest peak in the Australian Alps through the ripping Midnight Oil anthem that begins with the lyric ‘Older than Kościuszko’.

The mountain bears the name of Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746–1817), a man who left his mark on history by helping the Americans defeat the British in the War of Independence.

This true-blue Aussie caravan has a name ingrained in Australian culture through its association with the nation’s highest mountain, and it becomes an even more appropriate moniker when you find out more about the man the peak was named after.

According to one contemporary, Kościuszko was a man noted for his “bravery, kindness, patriotism, likeability, and unwavering strength of character.” Although essentially human qualities, a small measure of each of these could be applied to the caravan, for it takes bravery for a comparatively low-volume caravan-maker to commit itself to achieving a high standard of craftsmanship in its products and then embark on an export programme that has seen Hilltop Caravans appoint a New Zealand dealer for each of the two main islands in the early 2020s.

Patriotism is a given when those caravan models use one of the best galvanised steel chassis available in ‘the Lucky Country’ and a host of other Australian-sourced materials and components.

As for ‘strength of character’, it’s instantly recognisable when you first encounter the Kościuszko, which looks ready to take on the Strzelecki Track, a rocky under-maintained route in the rugged northern region of South Australia, which the nation’s greatest trail-blazing explorer, Charles Stuart, named in honour of the mountain-conqueror.

However, sheer size could count against the $122,990 (as reviewed: $128,990) longest version of the Kościuszko in off-road scenarios. It’s little bro, the $116,990 6.6-metre-long version of the Kościuszko is arguably a better tow towards remote camping locations. It’s 200kg lighter and has shorter overhangs on either side of the dual-axle rocker-roller suspension.

Then there’s likeability. I had a mild attack of the ‘warm fuzzies’ as soon as I stepped inside the Kościuszko. And if there’s anything you don’t like, it can be easily rectified either during the ordering process or the aftersales service that Rolleston Caravans provides. For example, the family buyers of this one are getting the washing machine that’s installed into one half of the washbasin cabinet swapped out for a seat so that their teenager has a quiet place to comfortably sit and log their device in a place that’s separate from the living area.

Lions versus Wallabies

Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”
The main bed can be screened off by a concertina door

Eleven years ago, Sergey and Lucy Shushin started off by importing second-hand caravans from the UK.

However, with many other caravan sales yards in New Zealand using the same business model, good-quality stock soon became hard to find. The pandemic gave the couple an opportunity to shift their focus towards the importation and sales of new caravans, and they took on the Hilltop franchise in 2022.

“Hilltop ticked all the boxes. It’s a well-established Australian brand with owners who place a lot of importance on quality and look after every customer with strong aftersales service. They’re very protective of their brand, and dealers must achieve a very high standard.

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“Fortunately, aftersales service is something I’m really good at,” says Sergey. “I don’t just want to sell someone a caravan and put their money in the bank. I’m keen to see them come back again and again.”

Given Sergey and Lucy’s previous experience with second-hand British imports, why did they take on an Australian caravan franchise instead of one from the UK?

“It has everything to do with the tare (unladen) weight,” says Sergey. “This Kościuszko weighs 2800kg, but it sits on a DuraGal chassis (can be upgraded to a fully galavanised chassis at extra cost) that’s designed to carry 3500kg, so there’s a 700kg (payload) margin to play with. That gives a lot more opportunity to provide the larger onboard water storage capacities and the off-grid power supply that Kiwi caravanners are looking for.
“UK manufacturers are now making caravans of similar size and their prices have closed with (equivalent) Australian models, but their payloads are maybe 200kg max – fill two 9kg gas bottles and the larger added onboard water tanks that Kiwi caravan buyers prefer, and you’ve already used up most of that.”

Wallabies 1, Lions O.

Fully equipped for freedom

Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”
The dining table has power height adjustment and can drop down to become an extra bed

For the record, in standard form, the Kościuszko comes with two 95-litre freshwater tanks and a 100-litre greywater reservoir. Levels are digitally monitored in all three, which are plastic tanks so that they already comply with the coming new ‘green sticker’ self-containment regime.

There are two 9kg gas bottles located on the front A-frame of the trailer, and an optional checker plate guard can protect these to deflect any roost thrown up by the tow vehicle. The gas in these reservoirs is used for cooking duties, the three-way fridge, and hot water cylinder (gas/electric).

Cabin heating is handled by a 2kW Autotherm diesel heater in the Kościuszko, which is why there’s a protected ‘jerrycan’ full of fuel carried on the rear bumper bar along with a spare tyre/wheel. With a 200W solar panel mounted on the generous roof real estate of the Hilltop, this Big Aussie already has decent freedom camping potential given that the panels trickle their captured electrons into a pair of 120Ah AGM batteries, which are located in separate armoured boxes attached to the right-side main chassis member in proven Aussie practice.

Sergey says that there’s plenty of opportunity to upgrade the off-grid power supply of the Kościuszko: “With a roof like this, we can mount enough panels to supply 1.2kW of power and can connect this expanded capacity to a pair of lithium batteries.”

One item missing from the roofline in this Kościuszko is the Dometic FreshJet 7 Series Pro fitted to Australian market versions. You can get this back if required, and other options include a 24-inch TV with an automatic satellite dish and an extended A-frame with a large toolbox, which has a slideout drawer for a BBQ on one side and another for a generator on the other.

When the air-conditioner is fitted, it cannibalises one of the four skylights fitted to the roof of the Kościuszko, making the dining/lounge area a little less illuminated by natural light than before.

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So, think hard about whether you need that air-con unit because the four skylights are one of the best features of the New Zealand-spec Kościuszko interior, especially during cloudy weather. The air-conditioner needs mains power, and the diesel heater has a ventilation mode that can cool the cabin in hot weather. Another option for cooling the cabin is to replace some of the skylights with two-way 12V fans. Either of these two latter cabin cooling solutions can be utilised without a mains power connection.

Crafted by hand

Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”
The main bedroom can be screened from the rest of the cabin

As Sergey points out, the key to the generous payload is the beefy FP chassis built of Australian steel, then hot-dip galvanised for durability. In this example, the four wheels are suspended by comparatively simple rocker/roller leaf sprung, torsion beam damped suspension, however, fully independent, coil-sprung, shock absorber-damped set-ups are also available at extra cost. When it arrives at Hilltop’s factory, the chassis is fitted with all the brake and anti-sway components before it gets covered with a marine-grade plywood floor.

While the flooring is being installed, other teams are building the walls and roof, creating hardwood frames that are first clad with the interior plywood so that the gaps between the wooden frame can be carefully filled with 7mm-thick polystyrene insulation inserts after the wiring loom and plumbing conduits have been installed. These are then bolted and bonded to the chassis and clad with sheet aluminium on the outside and every join made fully waterproof. When the interior is fully finished, the caravan is then given a lengthy check for quality and is taken for a comprehensive towing test to ensure that everything is working perfectly.

Ruggedly handsome

Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”
A skirt of checker plate armour protects the Hilltop on all sides

You enter the Kościuszko with a sense of anticipation, the mood set by the blue LED lighting of the grab handle and the stairwell. Once inside, the Hilltop fully lives up to expectations. It’s light, spacious, and tastefully finished, the grey of the synthetic leather upholstery of the L-shaped dining area contrasting nicely with the cedar plank-mimicking flooring, the white walls and ceiling, and almond-coloured cushions and drawer/locker fascia.
The impression of quality craftsmanship gets better as you inspect the details closely. The drawers run pleasingly smoothly on their ball-bearing-equipped runners, and the lids of the overhead lockers release with a satisfying click, then raise themselves upwards on quality gas struts with an action like a salute. The white marble effect of the dining table is a further touch of class, as is the sturdy latch fitted to the shower door. The twin bunks fitted to the rear of this example have handy cubby holes and attendant reading lights. When the charge gets low in any device used inside the Kościuszko, the 25amp charger fitted inside the cabin will give plenty of zap to quickly get them running again.

Details matter in all RVs, and the Hilltop exhibits plenty of thoughtful design ideas that have then been executed masterfully. I very much doubt whether the original Kościuszko ever had it so good.

Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”
Hilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4” floor plan
Make and modelHilltop Kościuszko 23’ 4”
ChassisSupergal FP steel chassis with leaf-sprung, torsion beam suspension
Overall length/height/width7112mm/2400mm/3300mm
Fresh/grey waterFresh 190L/Grey 100L
Unladen mass2800kg
Price$122,990 (as reviewed: $128,990)
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