A new Tauranga company, BOP RV, is targeting the high end of the booming recreational vehicle market by importing luxury fifth wheel caravans from the United States and retrofitting them for the New Zealand market.
"There's been an amazing response," said Nick Blair, who is part of family team that runs BOP RV from his property in Aongatete.
"We've opened up the market to a lot of people who had written fifth wheels off because of the price.
"They're huge in the US and becoming more and more popular in New Zealand."
Fifth wheels are a separate category of the RV market from the motorhomes that have increasingly been the choice of retirees hitting the road, or traditional family caravans (see sidebar). Fifth wheels are a large mobile home with four wheels, attached to a specially articulated "hitch" fitting mounted on the tray of a ute.
Deborah Frederick, chairwoman of the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association's fifth wheel special interest group, said the key advantage for a lot of buyers was that, unlike a motor home, the tow vehicle could be used separately from the RV.
"Then you can go sightseeing with the ute," she said. "A lot of people also feel they tow better being on the hitch rather than the tow ball."
The idea for the business was sparked by a trip made to the US a couple of years ago by Nick's parents Joan and John Blair. An enterprising couple, their career has included managing dry stock farms, owning kiwifruit and avocado orchards, and dairy farming. After selling up their dairy farm, the couple bought a fifth wheel in the US for a six-month tour of the country.
"They were just blown away by the fifth wheeler," said Nick, whose fiancee Faith Adams also works in the business.
"They came back and we had a look around at what you could get in New Zealand, and generally there wasn't much. We thought there was pretty limited competition and definitely a market for us."
The company started in the middle of last year and is pleased with the response. While not disclosing sales numbers, Mr Blair noted BOP RV had two fifth wheels waiting to be shipped at Port of Los Angeles, and another six ordered and due to come out of the factory of US supplier Keystone, which makes the Cougar range.
BOP RV's vehicles cost between $80,000 and $114,000.
Retrofitting is a major job because all of the vehicles have to be rewired from 110 volts, including the electric braking systems. In addition, it costs about $5000 to fit the removable hitch to the tray of the ute.
Ian Monk, who with his wife Jill, bought a fifth wheel from BOP RV and spent eight days in it over Easter, described the RV as comfortable.
"I bought it because of the size and because you've also got a runabout," he said.
"I'm working towards retirement so I can still do a few things with it now and have a bit of fun and after I've retired we'll be able to really enjoy it."