Morelo Empire Liner

Cover story: Morelo Empire Liner

After an excruciating two-and-a-half-year wait, New Zealand’s most expensive and luxurious motorhome has finally landed. Costing upwards of $1 million, the arrival of the lavish Morelo Empire Liner has been quite the undertaking – an exercise in extreme patience and planning, as well as having the courage to hold steady through challenging times. Lisa Potter chats with its owners and finds out that the wait was definitely worthwhile.

The arrival of New Zealand’s first Morelo Empire Liner (in fact, the first in Australasia) is the culmination of a long-nurtured RV dream for owners Tony and Fiona Baumann.

Having recently taken its maiden voyage from Auckland wharf to Pokeno, this eye-catching Empire Liner, called Biene (German for Bee), is Tony and Fiona’s holiday home and apartment on wheels, their on-the-road adventure and the ultimate evidence of their decision to enjoy life and travelling whenever possible around the demands of work and family life.

“What we love is being able to holiday together without being restricted to the same location. Being able to travel and essentially take your holiday home with you is the best of both worlds.

“Sometimes we even just drive 10 minutes down the road to a beautiful bay and park there overnight, just for a mini break. We can see our house in the distance, but it still feels like a holiday.”

Even the couple’s Wellington home represents their passion for motorhoming and being able to park and store their sizeable motorhome was part of the purchasing decision. Consequently, there’s enough room to park and store Biene with ease, and they’re currently adding a dump station so they can simply drive home, fill up with water and plug in, ready for the next adventure.

In the beginning

Morelo Empire Liner
Ready to travel in style, Fiona and Tony embrace the opportunity to explore NZ

The couple first took to the road to experience life as potential RVers about a decade ago – ironically around the time Morelo was unveiling its first prototypes to the European market. A lavish RV of this extreme quality was barely even on the pair’s radar at the time. Their early introduction to the lifestyle was spent renting motorhomes for a couple of years to get a feel for whether this could be something they both enjoyed.

The answer was an easy yes, and their first road trip – a three-week exploration around Perth, Australia – set the pace for an ever-increasing fascination with the possibilities of exploring New Zealand by motorhome. The hardworking couple has always tried to balance raising their two sons and their busy work partnership with some travel breaks, and rather than investing in a beach house or holiday property, they decided to invest in their dream motorhome.

Their first purchase was a Dethleffs XLi Premium in September 2016, chosen after extensive research and the beginning of a long-standing relationship with Zion Motorhomes and owner Jonas Ng.

It was through attending motorhome shows in Hamilton and Auckland and spending time with Jonas at his Zion site, that Tony and Fiona met Morelo international sales director Andreas

“Jonas had bought the first Home edition Morelo motorhome in New Zealand and from the first time we stepped inside, the superior quality was obvious,” says Tony.

“We’d been wanting to upsize into something larger and more self-contained, so a Morelo became our next goal.

“I think the standout for the Morelo is the quality of finish and being able to bespoke similar to a high-end vehicle. The reason for this is that they are still essentially hand-built. I’ve since been to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy and to the Morelo factory in Schlüsselfeld, Germany and it really gives you a lot of appreciation of the vehicles they are building and the way they are doing it. These high-end vehicles are not mass produced – something I love.”

Dreams realised

Morelo Empire Liner
Left: The luxurious interior is essentially a mobile apartment
Right: The spacious kitchen also includes a discreet inbuilt dishwasher

In May 2020, Tony and Fiona became owners of the first Morelo Palace 93MB in New Zealand, with Jonas taking a business risk by importing a second of the high-end, high-priced A Class product. At the time the over half-million-dollar Morelos were the most luxurious arrivals in the country, representing the ultimate in quality and luxury. Importing and selling that first Morelo Palace proved there’s a market in New Zealand for motorhomes of this calibre (and value).

However, Tony’s sights were set even higher, with his dream motorhome the top-of-the-line Morelo Empire Liner (at 2.55 metres wide, offering even more spaciousness and more of an ‘apartment’ feel). It wasn’t as simple as ordering and receiving, however. At this time, Morelo wasn’t prepared to invest in new tooling needed to complete a right-hand version in the 2.55-metre wide, which is why Tony and Fiona opted for the Morelo Palace (a worthy alternative).

Changing circumstances at Morelo enabled Tony and Fiona to stay true to their course, and in May 2021, they signed up for their Empire Liner, and so the build could finally begin.

Expecting their new arrival within an estimated 12-month build time, they advertised their beloved Morelo Palace, which sold almost immediately, leaving them temporarily without any motorhome – a state that stretched on for two-and-a-half years, as COVID and then resulting shipping and material delays stalled their build significantly.

“At one stage, it looked like it wouldn’t happen at all,” admits Tony. “Skyrocketing material prices and global shortages meant Morelo just couldn’t build it as planned, but we worked together and managed to agree on an outcome.”

Morelo Magic

Morelo Empire Liner
As well as the 3-flame stainless steel gas cooker, there’s a built-in compact oven with microwave and grill function

Morelo has established a global reputation for first-class excellence, rapidly asserting itself as one of the leaders in its field since showcasing its first prototypes in 2010.Based in Germany, Morelo was originally privately owned and is at the heart of the small community of Schlüsselfeld, Bavaria. Each Morelo is individually produced, hand-built, and hand-finished with some of the newest and most innovative techniques available.

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Even during the time this specific Empire Liner motorhome was being built, advances in technology saw changes made along the way.

“It’s such a rapidly advancing field,” says Tony, “and a silver lining of the delay is that we were able to upgrade some of the features.”

Opting for ‘pretty much all the optional extras’, Tony and Fiona’s ride is as pimped out as their imagination could harness.

With the final build weighing in at upwards of a million dollars, the Empire Liner elevates Tony and Fiona’s adventures to a new level – the more spacious and extra motorhome offers increased self-sufficiency and 100% delivers on their dreams of getting off-grid and exploring unique pockets of New Zealand.

“Given the capacity of power, water, and waste, which are the maximum available right now, we can go off-grid for days, if not weeks, which is exactly what we wanted. As well as being able to enjoy all the mod-cons (including a dishwasher), the quality of insulation will keep it cooler in the summer and toastie warm in winter.

“Just as important are the driver safety features and this motorhome is equipped with all of them; everything available has been installed – there was nothing more to add. To finish it off, in terms of technology, it’s equipped with every conceivable monitoring device to give us up-to-date information we need across all spectrums, so we can just sit back and enjoy.”

Having made three trips to Bavaria throughout the build, along the way, Tony has become a bona fide expert in motorhome design and build. So much so, that he’s often the key source of knowledge when it comes to Morelo and can frequently be found on the Zion Motorhomes site at New Zealand’s major motorhome events, sharing his knowledge.

While he and Jonas have enjoyed a mutual journey with the Morelo brand, even Jonas admits that Tony “knows more about Morelo motorhomes than anyone in New Zealand – myself included, and I import the brand.”

Tony’s dedication to immersing himself in the finer details paid off big time when after a two-and-a-half year wait, his beloved RV finally arrived at the Port of Auckland, only for all batteries to be completely drained (due to the long shipping process and delays at Panama Canal).

This meant the electronically secured motorhome couldn’t be opened or accessed in order to be driven off the ship and was at risk of being left onboard and continuing on the shipping route to Noumea.

With no one in the country able to solve the problem, it ended up being Tony who was able to provide the solution. Thanks to time well-spent at the Morelo factory learning first-hand from designers, builders, and engineers, he’s one of the few people equipped with the skillset for a sneaky 007 move for gaining access in an emergency.

“I’d talked about the security system with the team over there and taken video of the building process and every other bit of information relating to it, so fortunately was able to refer to these just in the nick of time before Biene ended up sailing out of Auckland to Noumea.”

After weeks of watching the slow progress of his motorhome across the oceans (including a complete standstill at Panama Canal), that may have been the last straw for Tony and Fiona whose patience was certainly tested throughout the process.

“It was all circumstances out of everyone’s control and Morelo certainly did everything possible to streamline the build, but the impact of COVID hit the industry hard.”

The delays also meant they had to settle for planning trips instead of actually enjoying them, as their Morelo Palace was with its new owners, while they sat out the time lag of their new build at home.

“Fortunately, this was during COVID so we couldn’t travel anyway, but once we could, we enjoyed some trips to the Morelo factory. It’s hard to believe such a prestige brand has its factory in such a small township; it’s stunning though, and we’ve come to know Schlüsselfeld really well. It only has a population of a couple of thousand people, yet is home to Morelo, Concorde, and a major PUMA distribution centre.”

Pimp my ride

Morelo Empire Liner
The Morelo ‘stairway to heaven’ automatically lights up to prevent any evening missteps

A builder by trade and extremely detail-focused, Tony’s years of RV research stood him and Fiona in good stead when it came to upscaling the Empire Liner from the list of optional extras.
“We had a clear picture of what we did and didn’t like in motorhomes, which certainly helped with the final decisions,” says Fiona.

“Tony was involved in the minute detail around design and function, and I was invested in all of the details around how each of the rooms functioned, particularly the kitchen and bathroom areas.”

The finished result truly is the closest version of a (very upmarket) apartment on wheels. From cut pile carpet and underfloor heating to dimmable roof profile LED lights throughout and sleek cream leather furnishings, comfort and elegance are at the core of this design.

The list of impressive extras is vast, but rest assured, every mod con is here, right down to a heated interior entrance step, rain shower, a clothesline in the garage, and even a built-in safe with electronic locking.

Meticulous planning and thoughtful design are behind every inch of this bespoke creation and it’s the culmination of all of Tony and Fiona’s RV dreams (right down to the personalised double horn fanfare).

Having hosted Christmas Day in Biene with family and friends, the well-designed kitchen had a thorough test run. Boasting a domestic-sized fridge (196-litre with a sizeable freezer compartment), as well as a built-in oven (which doubles as a microwave), and a three-flame stainless steel gas cooker, Fiona prepared this special family meal with ease. There’s also a Weber barbecue, which can be accessed externally.

Beside the Seaside

A first for Tony and Fiona and taking pride of place in the kitchen, after extensive research and practical testing by the pair (around water usage versus in-sink washing) is a Fisher & Paykel single-drawer dishwasher. The Mineral material kitchen worktop has seamlessly integrated wash/waste bowl and domestic drains, fully deep drawers, a single-lever mixer tap chrome, soft-close drawers, pull-out dual waste bins, and the finishing touch for kickstarting the day: a Nespresso coffee machine with milk frother.

First class all the way

Morelo Empire Liner
Left: Offering all the luxuries of apartment living, the bathroom includes a rain shower and heated towel rails
Right: Thoughtful design in every aspect: from lighting to storage capacity and the seamlessly integrated vanity and sink

From the XL wide doorway (with mood lighting/art panel in the entrance) to the wider-than-norm 2.55-metre width, the Empire Liner is supremely spacious from the moment you step inside. Storage is such that Fiona admits she’d be hard-pressed to fill every locker and cupboard, even with Biene being permanently packed and ready to hit the road.

“Everything we’d need for a short or long break is in here permanently, so we don’t have to pack and unpack all the time. But the storage here really is exceptional – I particularly love the sleek pull-out coat storage tucked into the kitchen panelling as you enter.”

Power performer

Morelo Empire Liner
L:eft: LED mood lighting frames the suspended king-size bed, where a good night’s sleep is assured, thanks to a water-gel topped mattress and adjustable head area
Right: Spacious elegant design and meticulous attention to detail is evident throughout this top-class German-built motorhome

Built on a Mercedes-Benz Actros 1840 chassis, with a 400hp engine (plenty of power for even the steepest South Island roads), the Mercedes-Benz Actors has 12-speed automatic transmission and front and rear Actros air suspension – an intelligent suspension and damping system that adapts in real-time to the condition of the road surface and the load.

This, combined with the extra-wide axle, is designed to give a smooth ride (and creates additional visual appeal at the front of the vehicle). The luxury cab seats are heated, air-suspended with lumbar supports and armrests, and, of course, swivel around to the living area.

“It’s a dream to drive,” admits Tony, “and loaded with safety features*.”

The cockpit is just as impressive, with a roller blind behind the windscreen electrically activated, a darkening blind with a privacy screen and sunblind function, and a panoramic windscreen with laminated tinted glass. Flush double-glazed driver’s cab side windows are electrically activated. There’s air conditioning in the driver’s cab, and reversing into tight spots has never been easier, thanks to twin reversing cameras, ultrasonic parking sensors, and a bird’s-eye view with a separate seven-inch monitor.

When it comes to getting off-grid, the sizeable storage includes a 560-litre freshwater tank, a 280-litre wastewater tank, and a 280-litre toilet tank, with emptying of wastewater and toilet tank done electrically from the cockpit using domestic-style wastewater pipes and large outlet hose. All tanks and their levels are constantly monitored via pressure sensors and can be checked in an instant both in the premium control panel, as well as separately via a cutting-edge SuperSense app linked to Tony’s phone.

Travel plans

Morelo Empire Liner
As well as the impressive Mercedes navigation system and interactive multimedia cockpit, the luxury cab seats are air-suspended with lumbar support, armrests, and heating

Plans for 2024 include a trip to Tāupo Summer Concert, a regular excursion they enjoy together with friends, and a first-time trip to Warbirds Over Wānaka. Also on Tony’s list is some time spent exploring Gisborne and he’s always keen to return to the South Island.

Top of the bucket list for Fiona is a repeat trip to Tekapō where she has her heart set on seeing the Southern Lights.

“I absolutely love it there; it’s stunningly beautiful. We’ve been a few times in the hopes of experiencing this and haven’t yet. However, it’s such a beautiful spot that would just be the icing on the cake, so we’ll definitely keep trying.”

Now that really would be a million-dollar view: watching the Southern Lights through the Morelo Empire Liner panoramic bedroom roof skylight.

Fast facts

  • Luxury driver’s cab seats with integrated seatbelts, air suspended, with lumbar support armrests and heating
  • Interior entrance step heated and illuminated, with two incorporated pull-out drawers
  • 196L domestic refrigerator with freezer compartment (soft insert with door damping and wood decor front)
  • Rear bed comfortably suspended with king-sized multi-zone mattress and ‘water gel’ topping with adjustable head section
  • Spacious rain shower with additional handheld shower; additional external shower
  • Premium sound package: 8 loudspeakers and subwoofer (Bluetooth compatible)
  • Electrically operated 6m awning with dimmable roof profile LEDs
  • Fisher and Paykel single dish drawer dishwasher
  • Eight solar panels totalling 1040W
  • Four 340Ah lithium batteries totalling 1360Ah
  • Contains over 3km of internal cabling
  • External underfloor storage with keyless opening, two-zone alarm system
  • Built-in diesel generator 3500kW operated by an internal panel with fuel from vehicle diesel tank, which can be operated without exiting the motorhome
  • All 230v appliances operate via inverter
  • A 40” drop-down television in the living area and a 27” television in the bedroom
  • Automatic hydraulic levelling jacks with touch pad
  • Ultrasonic parking sensors
  • Compressed air connection behind the side skirt

*Driving safety features: Electronic Anti-lock Braking System, Traction Control System, Electronical Stability Program, Emergency Brake Assist, Roll Control Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Alertness Assistant, Traffic Sign Assistant, Active Brake Assist, Cruise Control, Underride Protection, Active Tire Pressure Monitoring.

Morelo Empire Liner

Make and modelMorelo Empire Liner
ChassisMercedes-Benz Actros 1840 L
Fuel tank390L
Alternator 28V/150 A/4.200W
TyresFront 355/50 R 22.5; Rear 315/60 R 22.5
BrakesDisc brakes front and rear, dual-circuit compressed air brake and reinforced engine brake, air suspension front and rear, electric park brake
WeightGVM 18,000kg, payload 6830kg, tow load 2700kg with removable tow ball
DimensionsLength 10.050m, width 2.550m, height 3.990m (includes aircon unit)
Freshwater tank560L
Waste water tank 280L
Toilet tank 280L
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