If you’re travelling as a quartet and planning to travel thousands of kilometres, comfort and spaciousness are key priorities. Malcolm Street journeys from Perth to Broom across Western Australia in a Maui River six-berth motorhome.
Maui motorhomes are a well-known sight around Australia and New Zealand. The company rents out several different-sized motorhomes – everything from a two-berth van conversion to the six-berth coach-built River, with a couple of four-berth coach-builts in between.
I recently tried out the six-berth River on a trip from Perth to Broome in Western Australia – a distance of a little over 4400km. There were four of us travelling together, so it seemed prudent to opt for the largest motorhome we could get.
Like many of Maui’s motorhomes, the River is built by Action Manufacturing in Albany, Auckland, so the motorhome has a somewhat New Zealand style about it.
Underpinning the motorhome is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 516 CDI cab chassis with a GVM of 4490kg. Powering the Benz is a 2.1-litre turbo diesel mated to a seven-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. The diesel fuel tank has a capacity of 71 litres, something relevant to travels in outback Australia.
The fibreglass body does look quite stylish instead of the usual boxy look of many a motorhome. That’s partly caused by the Luton peak design. Instead of looking like a bump on the front of the motorhome, it’s nicely integrated into the roofline.
Tinted glass windows are fitted all round and the door is standard, with a top-half window and a separate (non-security) insect screen. Not all rental motorhomes come with an awning, but the Maui River does. Designed for robustness, the New Zealand-made Cvana awning is sturdy and easy to use. It requires a bit of care when rolled in; otherwise, those inside get a bit of a surprise.
Two external storage compartments are on either side at the motorhome’s rear. The nearside one is taken up by a BBQ, very handy for al fresco living, and the offside one is just big enough for the water and drainage hoses, power lead, bucket, and a couple of other items. A hatch to the rear under-seat area would be a bonus. There isn’t any space for items like camp chairs and when on the road, these travelled on the Luton bed. The single 9kg gas cylinder has its compartment behind the driver’s door.
Weight-wise, the River has a tare mass of around 3600kg, which, subtracted from the 4490kg GVM, gives a decent payload of 890kg. Courtesy of Qantas, I know that the four of us and our luggage weighed about 360kg. Add to that about 160kg, the weight of a full diesel and water tanks, plus the gas cylinder gives a load of 520kg, so there’s plenty of capacity to spare.
Anyone familiar with rental motorhomes will know that six-berth layouts mostly look similar. Consequently, there were no surprises when we climbed aboard. In the rear is a U-shaped lounge, the kitchen bench takes up the nearside wall, and there’s a café dinette behind the driver’s seat. That leaves the mid-offside wall area for the shower/toilet cubicle. Despite the bulk of the latter, the interior still had a spacious feel, helped by the beige/brown/white colour scheme and large window area. For a rental motorhome, the interior light fittings were quite generous throughout. All the windows have Roman blinds fitted, which are easy to use and not easily damaged.
The rear club lounge and the café dinette can make up beds measuring 2.1 x 1.45 metres and 1.84 x 1.15 metres, respectively. Above the driver’s cab, the Luton bed is the same size as the rear bed. Since there were two couples, we opted to make up the Luton bed and the rear bed permanently while we travelled, leaving the café dinette for eating and whatever else we needed a table for. As a user of the Luton bed, I found one disadvantage to the streamlined shape: the roofline was a bit low. Fortunately, the windows on either side and the roof hatch gave excellent airflow.
With the rear bed made up, it did mean that the under-seat storage wasn’t accessible without much fiddling around. However, most of our empty travel bags, which otherwise would have been on the Luton bed by day, fitted in neatly, thus solving two problems in one go.
The storage in the motorhome is quite good but the problem with the overhead lockers is that because of the reasonably high ceiling, the lockers were quite a tall reach. Standing on the seats was necessary for shorter persons. The luggage packing cubes we used for air travel also effectively used the available locker space. The cupboard behind the passenger seat is difficult to use effectively. We jerry-rigged something for hanging clothes. Otherwise, it was used for shoes and the broom.
In motorhomes these days, kitchen bench sizes are pretty variable – often, too small. However, the River’s was anything but, with a decent amount of bench space, even with a four-burner hob/grill and stainless-steel sink/drainer, helped in part by the under-bench 130-litre compressor fridge and microwave oven.
Not all of the drawers were just empty spaces. One of the larger ones is designed with specially shaped cut-outs to stash all the plates, cups, and glasses. It takes up a bit of room but is excellent for secure storage. Some of the space in the cupboards was a bit hard to use effectively but we solved that problem by laying several wine boxes on their sides and creating temporary shelving.
A much-appreciated feature was the two large garbage bins built on a slide-out. So much better than a plastic bag on a door handle and having one for garbage and one for recycling is a top idea. Although, we found recycling in some areas of north-western WA a bit limited.
At the table
The dining table fitted four of us quite comfortably, although there wasn’t much space for leg stretching. The power point and 12-volt/USB connections are located in the seat base and are a bit fiddly to get at. A power board, which I’ve learned from experience is helpful to carry, sat nicely on the table and solved that problem. A second power board at the end of the kitchen bench was used for both overnight device charging and a sleep apnoea machine that somebody needed. For controlling almost everything, the 12-volt switching, battery gauge, and water tank monitors are handily fitted between the two overhead lockers above the dinette. I’m never confident about the accuracy of any water tank gauges, so we just filled the tank every day.
In-house entertainment is handled by the radio/DVD player fitted above the dinette and the flat-screen TV, fitted into its little alcove above the kitchen bench. There was a sign on the TV saying it wouldn’t work, which I suspect was more to do with remoteness in Western Australia than anything else.
The bathroom has no real surprises, given what else is fitted into the motorhome. It’s a ‘combo’ unit: the shower, Thetford cassette toilet, and wash basin are all fitted into the fibreglass cubicle. Being a ‘wet’ bathroom means wiping everything down after a shower, but we only used it a few times, so it wasn’t a total inconvenience. With four on-board and only having a single 82-litre fresh water tank, we mostly used the cassette toilet overnight and, otherwise caravan park amenities.
For camping sans mains power, the River comes with a 105Ah deep cycle battery and 130-watt solar panel, which, together with the water tank capacity, means a night or two of free camping is possible. Having only a single gas cylinder always bothers me a bit, but in our three weeks of travel, we used the hob and water heater and only use about a third of the cylinder. Where we could, we tended to use camp kitchens for washing up. It’s less messy and saves a fair bit of hot water use.
On the road
Driving the River isn’t a big drama, particularly on the long, straight roads of Western Australia. I’ve driven many motorhomes, but my less experienced driving colleagues were fine. The biggest was getting used to the automatic gearshift located on the right-hand side of the steering wheel column – indicator on the left. The open road speed limit in Western Australia is 110km/hr. Although the motorhome was capable of that, we tended to drive at a slower speed, partly for fuel economy reasons and more so for passenger comfort in the rear. Likewise, the cruise control worked well but it wasn’t used much for the same reason. Around town, the River isn’t a problematic motorhome to manoeuvre. Apart from remembering not to cut corners and negotiating supermarket car parks, it’s not too tricky at all.
Low bridges in outback WA aren’t much of a problem for the 3.4-metre height of the motorhome but the occasional low canopies in town-based service stations were. A feature I appreciated in campsites was the reversing camera. However, it’s always good to have an outside observer when backing into caravan park sites – the camera does not see low-hanging trees.
The fuel consumption varied between 13.5 litres per 100km and 14.5 litres per 100km and depended a bit on who was driving. For the 4400km we travelled, our fuel bill came to about $1400.
If you’re contemplating a fly/drive holiday for a family or two couples, then the Maui River has much to offer. It certainly has plenty of space inside and it’s possible, as we discovered, to leave the beds made up to avoid having to do that every night. For anyone contemplating purchasing a motorhome, hiring something like the River first is a great way to make a more informed decision when purchase time comes along.
|Manufacturer||Action Motorhomes (NZ)|
|Base Vehicle||Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 516 CDI|
|Engine||2.1L turbo diesel|
|External length||7.3m (24ft)|
|External width||2.25m (7ft 5in)|
|External height||3.4m (11ft 2in)|
|Internal height||2.15m (7ft)|
|Batteries||1 x 105Ah|
|Solar panels||1 x 130W|
|Water tank||1 x 82L|
|Grey tank||1 x 82L|
|Cylinders||1 x 9kg|