Readers Drives Ramblings from Down Under….
Ok this is not about a “classic”, the Silver CSL that Barney sold me and which was campaigned successfully in Targa Tasmania has gone as has the Inca CSL which was sold to a Chinese Doctor that struggled to drive a manual…. The past that includes a 63 E type, 68 Merc 6.3, Merc 6.9, Boxster, 911, a couple of M3’s – still reckon the 2002 M3 was the best car I have ever owned. Sooner or later Barney will sell me something else!
Right now I have taken a trip to the “dark side”, the garage houses a stunning 1966 Shelby GT 350 and there is a 1967 Shelby GT 350 under restoration in Pennsylvania that will find its way to the UK after it has been driven across the USA in May.
You can however love classics but have other great road trips, particularly in a country as big and vast as Australia – this is one such story.
For the last 8 years I have been spending about a month every year, ticking off the iconic 4WD journeys in Australia plus some offshore, including Argentina to Ecuador across the Andes. The “vehicle of choice” has always been a Toyota – they “own” the Australian outback for a reason...
One big trip has always been on the agenda – the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia. It is arguably the toughest and most remote 4WD trek in a very tough and big country. 3200km to get to the “start line”, 2000km on the track with one remote community along the way and then another 1000km to get to the coast at Broome – across Australia from SE corner to NW corner.
The Canning was originally opened up in the early 1900’s to build a chain of 50 wells and allow cattle to be moved from NW Australia to the goldfields. Tough men, Canning went bush for 2 years with 30 men and a lot of camels into the harshest terrain you can imagine. While he built the wells, it was not a particular success and the track and the wells, fell into disrepair. It is not maintained at all, so each year it gets a little worse as about 1000 adventurers make the journey in the winter months. Totally impassable and very dangerous in the summer where you could face anything from severe wet to 50 degrees Celsius!
In preparing for the trip, the first question is vehicle. I had an extremely well prepared Toyota Hilux that had served us very well, but the Canning called for an upgrade. No competition really, a Toyota Landcruiser 76 series, 4.5l V8 diesel – it is the workhorse of the Australian bush and mining industry. Basic and incredibly rugged, it has evolved over 50 years – even looks similar to its ancestors! Doubt it is sold in the UK. You would not even consider a Range Rover or Jeep. Nissan Patrol maybe. Mercedes took 9 of their new G Wagons up the Canning in late 2011 – every one of them blew shocks apart!
The base vehicle is a great place to start, but then you give it a 2” lift, add off road shocks and springs, bull bars for the inevitable animal strike, long range fuel and water tanks, winch, compressor, dual batteries, drawer systems to keep everything neat and secure, tents, cooking gear, refrigerator to keep the beer cold, new wheels and tyres including 3 spares, communications UHF, Sat Ph, GPS trackers, Personal Emergency beacons and the list goes on and on and on…
The start of the trip is straightforward enough, out of Melbourne, across the Nullabor through to the historic gold mining town of Kalgoolie but even that had its moments…
Little “town” of Cocklebiddy – flea rid Motel, guy with tatts from ankle to tip of his head, no teeth, up to visit his “Sheila”. Took a look at his car, missing one headlight, bonnet literally screwed down. Asked him what happened – “Ah, hit a roo, then hit an emu, got pissed at the car and shot it!!!” And he did – 2” hole in passenger door!
Onward to Kalgoolie, massive open cut gold mine and then the trek north begins to small town of Wiluna where the blacktop ends. A first glance looked ok but the pub reinforced the problem of alcohol with the Aboriginal community – cyclone wire right down the middle of the bar. Had a beer and moved on as it was pay night and the Coppers were big, very big!
The Canning starts at Wiluna – in the next 2000 kms you will need to cross roughly 1000 sand dunes and the most severely corrugated track you will ever find – it kills shocks, kills cars and sometimes kills the unprepared. Normal expectation is that you will do it in 21 days – we planned on 14 and did it in 11.
As you leave Wiluna, first step is into 4WD and next step is to lower tyre pressures. Three reasons – lower pressure “lengthens” the tread which makes a huge difference in sand. We ran 20 psi but could have gone as low as 15 psi. The sand becomes more difficult and fluid in the middle of the day. The second reason to lower pressure is that you are far less likely to get a puncture – same principle as a balloon – a fully inflated balloon will burst much easier than a partially inflated balloon. The third reason is that a partially deflated tyre “adds” to your suspension travel and dramatically improves your ride over corrugations. The danger of course is heat build up, but at our speeds, not an issue.
Hard to believe in the UK but our biggest day was 200 kms and that took 9 hours!
Straight out of Wiluna we met three vehicles heading south, officially licensed shooters who had just taken out 2000 camels and 560 donkeys from the air! Interesting, we used to import Afghan camel drivers and Afghan camels, now we shoot at them both…
A normal day started early, break camp by 7.30 am after repacking your belongings – remember we were carrying all our food and drinks for 2 weeks, had 240 litres of fuel, 80 litres of water, three slabs of beer and 2 dozen “plastic bottles” of 1998 red wine! Every step of the planning was to have reserves and back ups… All about avoiding breakages in the vehicle as recovery, if you needed I would be a $20,000+ exercise.
Along the way numerous abandoned vehicles – mainly Jeeps, couple of Land Rovers, all but one burnt out. Petrol is not the way to go – apart from the economy, burns that much hotter, exhaust is hotter, much more likely to catch fire if you get any build up of spinifex.
Our little “two Landcruiser” convoy was very well prepared but you meet some idiots. A Swiss couple in a 4WD “Motorhome” – hard core but a “Motorhome” no less. They were hung up on the top of every dune and needed to be winched over. Danger to them and danger to others who had to help – winches under load are dangerous things that can and have killed people.
The sand dunes themselves are not gigantic – max about 20 metres high, but there are so many of them! Mainly they are east/west in line with the wind, the approaches are usually very cut up and heavily scalloped. Technique is 2nd or 3rd, High range, foot hard down, no hesitation till the top, when you pause, just to see where the track goes and to make sure nothing else is coming! The torque of the big V8 diesels was unbelievable. Other vehicles were hitting the dunes at twice the speed, bucking and kicking all over the place – that is where things break. Whenever you could at the top of a dune, you radio ahead to warn other vehicles – last thing you need is head on. In 11 days we met four vehicles heading south and passed 6 vehicles heading north, just like Chelsea really…
When others were crawling over diabolical corrugations at 20 km per hour, usually with the wrong tyre pressures, we could comfortably take them at around 50 kph – no breakages other than wing mirrors. No punctures and no moments – extraordinary tribute to the vehicle Toyota built and then serious off road modifications [ARB if anyone interested].
Spectacular birdlife all the way, literally thousands of budgerigars on the wing, eagles, camels, few emus and very few Kangaroos. Night stars like you have never seen them and the sheer vastness that most Europeans would find very hard to contemplate…
After 11 days we emerged from the Canning to the little town of Billiluna, on to the old gold town of Halls Creek and finally into Broome – what a trip! We had averaged about 15 mpg, which, in sand, is quite acceptable, we had fuel and water left plus one bottle of red and no beer – good planning really..
Now I wonder if a Porsche engined VW Beetle, could make it...