Bad puns aside, how did things stack up in the Parkes 18?
The Parkes 18 is the largest caravan in the Ezytrail range currently. An off-road model, twin axle and four/five berth, it offers a lot for its sub-55K price tag. It’s aimed squarely at families looking to head bush for that great escape. So as such, there are few options: an off-grid electrical living pack, a portable solar set-up, and an annexe. We would have loved to have sampled the latter but it’s an on-order basis so one wasn’t readily available. This demo van was fitted with Dometic air con, and three 100W solar panels.
Your first lesson will be in clips and then pin retention, so either be practised at slotting the pins back in the opened clips or find yourself a pin bag. There are external clips for the roof, the twin rear spare wheels that need to be dealt with but the internal ones for the pop-top need to be replaced to secure the lifting arms, so you won’t lose those.
The electrical control panel is just inside the door and that allows access to the powered drop-down step so you can climb aboard and push up the roof once you’ve unlocked the corners outside. Setting out the rear section for the main bed area is quick and easy once you’ve done it once and can be done by one person. There are drop-down stabiliser legs and a substantial ARK jockey wheel for any levelling issues, and then you can wind out the awning to cover your outside area.
The slide-out steel kitchen I like. With its racks, a 12V light and drawers, the four-burner gas cooktop is practical but it’s not without its niggles. Some are in set-up – you must put the hot and cold water pipes on the right way or the drawer on the van body won’t slide out, and the pipe fittings should both be push-on as the one screw-on needs a spanner. Having the hot and cold water is tops, as is the large shield for the gas cooker, on which the burners are effective, but the sink drain needs a better option than the short plastic hose that drains into whatever you put under it. The ability to clip on a longer waste hose to use a van park drain, or onto the ground where allowed, would be ideal. And not paying attention to stowing the gas pipe when you put the kitchen away can result in it becoming fouled and the slide-out not operating next time.
WATER AND GAS
The Parkes 18 has living away from facilities in mind. Twin 9kg gas can live on the drawbar but don’t come supplied. You can fit a household tap to the water pipe also up front, and there are two fresh water tanks totalling 230 litres and a grey water tank of about 65 litres. Bear in mind that all that water weighs a kilo a litre and I found the van tows better when they’re on the full side. Both tanks are hose filled and there’s no option for mains pressure attachment. Twin pumps feed the tanks front and rear although pump two sounded like a prop-driven aircraft. You can opt for gas or electric hot water when it suits your camp options via a 28-litre Swift system.
POWER ON DEMAND
With three 100Ah house batteries and a 1.5kW inverter, plus a 20A battery charger, this van kept up with demand with the charge level indicator never dropping below 76 percent on the control panel when unplugged from mains power.
Like one of the water pumps, the battery charger is very loud when it kicks in so it’d be a switch on when required or swap out – Ezytrail did mention it looking at other models. All the electrical gear is accessed by lift-out panels under the main bed area.
If you read the spec sheet from Ezytrail then there’s 13 drawers for stuff – plenty. The kitchen is obvious as there’s a bank of them but there’s more under the dining area, the bunks and the dinette surrounds. If it’s too bad to cook outside or if you just feel like a snack there’s another cooker, grill and a microwave with a sink and a rangehood to disperse any steam. The pop-up section has numerous vents for crossflowed air and there’s the air con if you’re on mains power. The dinette will seat four but the fifth bod – who’s bed would be the diner anyway – might have a perch issue. While the leatherette finish for this area is good I’d question the roughed design sections that with a family onboard are destined to trap food debris and be a pain to clean. Not such a problem in the ensuite as that’s spacious.
The sleeping for the adults is massive, with a large bed-end window and while you might not like to make the bed up at each new camp angle, there’s room to relax after your efforts. At the other end, the bottom bunk is the pick. It’s larger but the top bunk is a bit cluttered with metal from the bulkhead and pop-top lever to be head friendly, and the other end is a bit claustrophobic and above the shower/toilet. And, if it’s for the little one – no safety net.
Lastly, the TV set-up needs a rethink. It faces the main bed but can swivel, however, it doesn’t have a DVD slot. The discs go in the head unit over by the entry door and the remote for the DVD function only works over there. So unless you employ child one or two to operate from the bunks, you’re out of bed to control a movie if only the big bed occupants are viewing. Oh, and having to go through the skylight to pull out rabbit ears for the antenna is a bit much. You can mount the TV outside but the same DVD remote problem will be an issue.
With the optional annexe specified, the Parkes 18 certainly offers a family some room and value in an off-road package. The niggles mentioned are minor and may be addressed by Ezytrail or an owner who is happy to do so and not being as overly critical. However, the top bunk is the only real negative.
There’s a lot of gear for your money. There’s also a lot of van. The Tare is 2880kg but you add 230kg in full water tanks, and the ATM is 3400kg. We ran most of the trip at a verified 3300kg so that needs to be borne in mind for your family – we were two people. The van towed better with the water tanks full and we ran over mainly country bitumen but hammered over some dusty, rutted dirt for testing purposes and the twin axle, mud-terrain shod set-up behaved, including the dust sealing. We taped up the vents – fridge, hot water and entry door – and there was a minor dusting on shiny surfaces. If the seals employed throughout are long-lasting then this bodes well. It’s especially important on the bed module because that’s the area that relies on seals for your comfort as opposed to just the annoyance of dirty gear.
As a towing package, there was a little shunting over central west choppy roads but never any stability issues behind such a planted tow vehicle.
The additional set-up process over an enclosed caravan really only comes into play in wet weather when you arrive or depart but it shouldn’t put you off. Try it at a showroom and you’ll see what it takes.
Apart from trying to watch a DVD of The Dish in the showground at Parkes, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Parkes 18.
Ezytrail Parkes 18 (4-5 Berth)
Height: 2600mm (travel)
Ball weight: 200kg
Hitch: AL-KO 3.5-tonne off-road
Price as tested: $54,990
Large main bed
Battery capacity and solar
Water pump noise
Top bunk bed design
DVD stereo set-up/TV antenna