RHINO CARAVANS KENYA
* Offroad van with unique chassis design
* 4.86m (16ft) length good for traversing undulating terrain
* Fully self-contained van with solar panels and grey water tank
* Front island bed with rear corner bathroom
Every now and then, something a bit different makes an appearance in the caravan market. Often, it's not totally radical, just something fresh that catches the eye. In this case, that something is the Rhino Kenya offroad van.
The Kenya is built by Rhino Caravans, a south-east Queensland-based manufacturer that is a relatively new name in the industry. But judging from what I saw in the workshop, they are not inexperienced in the RV repair and modification business.
It's not only the African-sounding name that draws attention to the Kenya but also the interesting chassis design and body shape. It's not unlike a hard-shell camper trailer, but it is somewhat larger.
The chassis is hot-dipped galvanised in a conventional manner and uses 4x2in (100x50mm) RHS steel to create a standard box-section structure. But from the axle forward, it is all a bit different. For a start, the drawbar is built like a small bridge, about 300mm high, and is extended along the sides of the van to the wheel arch, which also has a frame built around it. The effect is that front section of the van body sits in a cradle of what is, basically, a chassis that extends upwards. At the rear, the chassis acts as a lower protection rail.
It's quite a different take on the more traditional chassis that you'll find on most vans. It also raises the mounting point for the two 4kg gas cylinders and the very large checkerplate storage bin.
You can't fit standard weight distribution gear to this drawbar, which is something to keep in mind, but that's not really an issue for serious offroading. The drawbar has standard items including a Cruisemaster DO35 offroad hitch, jockey wheel and handbrake.
Under the chassis are other familiar items such as Cruisemaster independent suspension, which comes with coil springs, trailing arms and shock absorbers.
The body of the van is built using a 30mm composite honeycomb panel that is covered internally with 3mm plywood. Alloy checkerplate replaces the usual mouldings on all the edges such as the roof, front and side walls while, at the rear, a raised section across the top and down the walls is quite effective in improving what would otherwise be a very boxy look.
The looped-end bumper bar with spare wheel looks pretty conventional and there are other standard items such as the large Seitz hopper windows and the Camec triple-locker door.
The Kenya's roof has a stepped design that's lower at the front than the rear. This means the air-conditioner, mounted towards the front of the van, is almost in line with the highest part of the roof, rather than sitting well above it.
As well as the drawbar-mounted bin, which is effectively a front boot, there is also what looks to be a front tunnel boot, but the nearside door opens to reveal a slide-out kitchen bench. Made from stainless steel, it comes with a combo three-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink, along with a drawer that doubles as a bench extension. It makes al-fresco living underneath the awning quite civilised.
What Rhino has achieved within the Kenya's 4.86m (16ft) body length is surprising. Yes, it is a front bedroom/rear bathroom set-up, and some things have been compressed a bit, but the result is still very livable. There are large windows throughout, aiding the perceptions of space immensely.
The cabinetry is all done in a light timber hue, which contrasts nicely with the black leather upholstery, the mottled light grey of the walls, the softer grey of the curtains and the striking red of the bedspread. It's a very eye-catching colour palette. If I was to be picky, I think a few rounded corners throughout the van would be nice. Stylish LED light fittings throughout keep the interior well illuminated and a look inside the cupboards and lockers reveals everything to be neat and of high quality. The cabinetry is 15mm bonded ply with a beech laminate on both sides.
The front of the van has a lower ceiling height of 1.8m (5ft 11in) because of the stepped roof. The island bed, measuring 1.86x1.39m (6ft 1in x 4ft 6in), has a posture slat bed base and lifts easily enough for access to the storage space underneath. The space isn't full-length, though, because of the tunnel boot.
The area around the bedhead is a more simple design than usual because of the angled front wall. It has hanging wardrobes on either side and a bedside cabinet and drawer. A hanging wardrobe allows for decent shelves underneath and these are easily accessible from the bed. Being a relatively short van, there are no cupboards at the foot of the bed.
The L-shaped dinette works well with this layout and the it is relatively easy to get in and out of from both sides. It's also reversed from the usual way in that the 'open' end is nearest the bed, leaving a good amount of space around the bed.
The shorter length of the van means the kitchen is relatively small but it is still very workable.
A Thetford four-burner cooktop/grill sits alongside a stainless steel sink/drainer. Both have smoked glass lids, which is a good idea given the lack of any other benchtop space. For under-bench storage, Rhino has sensibly opted for three good-sized drawers rather than cupboards, two overhead lockers and two floor lockers, one of which contains the water heater.
Between the kitchen and the bathroom is the Evakool 161L fridge with a microwave above. The fridge is at the top with the freezer and drawer storage below. Above the microwave, an overhead locker contains the electric panel with 12V/hot switches and water gauges.
Conveniently mounted on the panel alongside this is the battery charger monitor and radio/CD player. This high viewing angle is a slight disadvantage for multifocal users, I found.
It looks like the Rhino has a full-width rear bathroom, but it doesn't. Instead, the bathroom is fitted into the rear corner and is spacious enough to have a Dometic cassette toilet, variable-height flexible-hose shower and a washbasin. Ventilation is handled by both a ceiling vent fan and a small window. While it's not a full ensuite, it's certainly very usable and it leaves the nearside corner for a full-sized wardrobe and a very generous amount of storage space.
ON THE ROAD
The Kenya ran along behind our tow vehicle without any obvious problems. Although the chassis is a unique design, it didn't seem to affect the van's towability at all and there's no doubt that for undulating terrain, the bridge-style drawbar won't have any ground clearance problems.
For bush camping, the Kenya is fully self-contained with good gas cylinder capacity, solar panels to charge the deep-cycle batteries, and a 65L grey water tank.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it's not radically different, except for the chassis design, the Rhino Kenya offers some very interesting prospects for someone looking for an offroad caravan with a bit of style and class. It certainly appears to be well-built and its 4.86m (16ft) length offers that practical combination of an easy tow length and a very livable interior.
Purpose-built van that looks different while still being practical
Front storage bin
External slide-out kitchen
Interior build and look
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
240V and 12V socket near the dinette
Bench extension flap for the internal kitchen.