I can’t remember a track that had so many conflicting opinions surrounding it. I’d never driven the Old Coach Road so could only go off the say of others which was where the problems started. One group suggested it was nothing more than a slow and boring slog along a bumpy road with little to nothing to offer. Other opinions suggested it was perhaps the best track in the Cape and yet another whisper on the 4WD grape vine told of a truck that had rolled just a few days earlier. I was at a loss as to what to believe but I sure was interested.
Then, just a couple of weeks prior to leaving for the Cape, we received a call from none other than Brenno. On a hot lap of the island, sucking the guts out of life and doing his bit to keep the Australian beer industry afloat, he’d just finished the Old Coach Road and for the first time I had an opinion I could count on.
Gnarly sections of track, epic views, relics of mining history, spectacular camping – Brenno rated the drive from Maytown to Laura as one of the best he had ever done; anywhere. Mate I gotta tell ya, I finished that call and couldn’t get the D-MAX fueled up quick enough; you had me frothing like a dog that’s just drunk dishwashing liquid. Bring on the Old Coach Road!
Then I caught the man-flu and nearly died.
I kid you not; a bloke can’t get sicker and still walk. Of course if you’re female and reading this you simply won’t understand; the man-flu is about as sick as a human can get – you ladies are damn lucky you can’t catch it. I don’t want your sympathy but I felt like I was burning up whilst freezing to death and coughing up creatures that are as yet unknown to science – it wasn’t a pretty sight.
However the show must go on and even though nobody would go near me and I was under strict instructions to sit on the downwind side of the fire at night, we saddled up and turned off the highway onto the dusty stretch of road that leads towards the Palmer River. Now the sandy banks of the Palmer is no secret location, it plays home to countless caravans and campers throughout the dry season and with good reason as it’s truly a magic bit of real estate, so I was surprised to see only one camper in the whole area. We stopped to grab a bite of lunch (and for me to cough and sneeze myself dizzy) before heading on. Sometimes it kills me to just get a taste for a location but not have the time to stop and stay a while and really get to enjoy it and the Palmer River was one such time and place. I’ll add it to my very long list of places I must one day return minus a film crew!
I’ve visited many an old mining town, mostly just a few ruins, bricks, broken bottles and rusted lumps of metal are all that remain, so it’s so very hard to picture the thriving communities that once stood. Maytown is no different; very little remains today, yet it was once a thriving hub of activity. It blows my mind to think that it can all just vanish and exist only in books. Looking through at what does remain and remembering that everything was hand built and carted in via the most primitive of means really suggests a different time. Now we use our phone to call a cab which takes us to the pub; when Maytown was going nuts you packed your belongings in a wheel barrow (if you were lucky) and walked. Like I said, a different time.
Despite being little more than ruins and dust, I recon old mate Shauno wishes he had of stayed there and thrown out his swag on the main street. The poor bloke didn’t exactly have the best of luck on this particular trip. Seeing the Dirty 30 retreat on the back of Justin’s tilt-tray truck was a kick in the guts, especially when we hadn’t even really started the journey yet. However, he and I are on the road most of the year and push our gear to the limits on all occasions. It can’t always go well and breakages are expected. Oh and he drives a Toyota!
All jokes aside, seeing that trusty old truck get carted off really got me to thinking about a few things surrounding the Old Coach Road. See it’s not what you’d call one of the more popular tracks up the Cape and I know why; it doesn’t get the publicity other tracks get. There must be a million articles, web clips, blogs and images of the OTL but rarely to never do you hear about the Old Coach Road. As such, people being creatures of habit, simply head for locations they’ve been told about rather than exploring for themselves. Those that do poke their noses across the Palmer however, are richly rewarded. It’s a tough track demanding skill and preparation. For sure, it’s one of the better tracks up the Cape; top five in my books (and the OTL isn’t on that list!).
Shauno broke not one, but two 4WDs on this track
The next thought to occupy my mind as I watched the back of the Dirty 30 evaporate into dust, was just how the hell did “the old coach” make this journey? I came to two conclusions; the first of which was one of maintenance. Of course the track hasn’t been looked after for a long time, coupled with a number of Cape seasons and it’s bound to end up in the condition it’s in today. In short, it wasn’t always the rutted mess it is today. That said though, given the carts and coaches that crawled its length, it wouldn’t have been a picnic. Which led me to conclusion two; it was a different time inhabited by different people. Distance and travel were measured in ways we have long forgotten (it’s nothing for us to smash out a thousand clicks on corrugated roads today and think nothing of it) and bush living is a concept even those of us who spend a lot of time out there can’t fathom. Add all this together and it began to make sense; the Old Coach Road has always been a tough place filled with tough characters. It’s still handing out lessons and I had to tip my hat in respect.
Then the camera 80 threw a shoe and I swore at the bloody track and all who had built the darn thing!
Over the years of filming we’ve had our share of things go wrong and for the most part it happens exactly where it hurts most. I mean not once, not bloody once have we busted a kingpin bearing in the car park of Maccas or smashed a CV driving into the local pub; nope it always happens on the side of a rutted hill in the middle of nowhere. So when I saw the 80 lurch sideways and that passenger wheel wobble like a loose tooth, I just nodded my head and thought to myself; well played Old Coach Road, well played.
Now my immediate thought was that limb is out of action and we need to make a wooden leg. I’ve never done it but I’ve seen it done; cut a sturdy tree and create a “sled” using ratchet straps and gumption. The lads acknowledged my concept and put it on the plan B pile as they figured they could get the one remaining bolt in place and with the same ratchet straps and gumption might just get the wheel back in the game. Several hours of swearing and bush mechanics later, the 80 rolled into camp like a new one (actually it was nothing like a new one but it was moving forward and for that we were all grateful).
By midmorning the next day we‘d covered about the same distance as the original coach would have but with one saving grace; all four wheels on the 80 were pointing in the same direction. Shaun was under strict instructions to go slow and not to break anything else. The rest of us were not going to miss out on the best bit of the Old Coach Road.
It’s one of my top five tracks in the Cape
The detour up towards the site of the old Folders Hotel is without doubt the toughest part of the track and also the most worthwhile. Just to experience driving those cut out rock gulleys is worth the whole trip alone. I once again was boggled as to what would have been a thriving community out there. I mean Maytown and the Palmer region alone was home to over 20,000 people including over 10 hotels, bakers and butchers, surgeons and chemists; it was a proper thriving community. And it all came in via horse and cart, Cobb and co-coaches and for many, just a wheel barrow or a simple backpack. Just out of this world, literally.
I cannot recommend that detour enough should you decide the Old Coach Road is for you; missing it is to miss the essence of the whole track (just don’t tell Shauno that). Speaking of old mate, he’d been within ear shot of our UHF banter for all of the detour as he sat in first gear low range and crawled painfully slowly towards Laura. Too say he didn’t look impressed when we all met back up down the track were an understatement.
I began the Old Coach Road full of expectation and excitement and wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. We saw one other group the whole way, camped in some amazing locations, saw views you rarely get up the Cape and busted a few 4WDs along the way. I now rate the Old Coach Road as an absolute must see on any Cape journey but heck, don’t take my word for it, go judge for yourself. Don’t take it lightly though, it’s been breaking old coaches and Toyotas for years now…
WORDS BY GRAHAM CAHILL, PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVE WOLTSCHENKO
If the sound of this LS swapped and coiled FJ45 Troopy doesn’t get you going then you might need to check for a pulse…
Don’t miss Billy McKinnon and his barn find Cruiser in episode 7 of Born This Way Offroaders presented by Nulon – it’s an absolute cracker!
The laws that define what modifications we fit to our vehicles can often be difficult to interpret and differ depending on what state you live in. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time driving my vehicles between all the states and territories each year and I find it ridiculous that modification laws differ in each state. Last time I checked, we are all part of the same country and have open roads between all of the states and territories. We need one set of modification laws for the country.
I believe that you should be able to engineer any tyre size you want if you can prove that your vehicle is safe on road.
I must state very clearly from the start, that I certainly believe there needs to be strict modification laws in order to make our roads safe and get dangerous vehicles off the road. However, I believe that you should be able to modify a vehicle to your requirements so long as it is deemed safe for the road and signed off by a qualified engineer. Sure, this will require you to no doubt pay a stack of money and put your vehicle through a series of tests and stringent inspections, but if you are willing to go to this effort you should be able to submit any modifications within reason for engineering. Take tyre size for example; QLD and WA have some of the strictest laws in place. I believe that you should be able to engineer any tyre size you want if you can prove that your vehicle is safe on road. This would mean you would have to go through a swerve test and brake test as a minimum and have an independent engineer signoff on all of your modifications. So, if you want to run 37s (not that I do) you should be able to run them as long as you can prove that your vehicle is safe on the road with them.
Shauno’s 79 series is heavily modified and has been engineered, but is that enough for every state and territory?
In my limited knowledge, QLD and WA seem to be the nanny states when it comes to modification laws and in particular tyre size, yet these same states seem to have some of the slackest rules when it comes to making sure that all road vehicles are safe. Except when buying or selling a vehicle, you don’t need to get your vehicle inspected for safety. What you get then is a bunch of cars on the road with bald tyres, buggered brakes that don’t steer well or stop and rust holes so big you could put your hand through them, driving on our roads. These are not safe vehicles yet too many people get away with driving these clapped out vehicles yet the transport departments only seem to target lifted 4WDs and lowered vehicles.
What is ironic (or plain stupid) is that many of these vehicles have expensive modifications that probably make them handle better lifted or lowered than they did when they were new. It’s a double standard and an unfair system. I think it’s about time that we made the modification laws the same across all of the country and allowed people to modify their vehicles as much as they want, so long as it can be proved safe by an engineer.
Broken axles, mental recoveries, ruts and rock steps that would swallow the dirty 30 – and that was just in the first hour! Does it get any tougher than this weekender? You’ll have to see for yourself!
There’s every chance that you’ve never heard about Yalwal because it doesn’t seem to get the same attention that places like Coffs Harbour and the Glass House Mountains do for tough 4WD tracks.
It certainly flies under the radar compared to other places in Australia, but as we found out in our last DVD trip, this place is home to some of the more gnarly tracks in the country, and just to make it a little bit tougher, we attempted some of the toughest tracks in the region at night!
The Victorian High Country – home of freezing cold weather, stunning views and epic campsites – not to mention insane 4WDing! In this episode of 4WD Action, Graham, Shaun and the boys hit up the High Country’s toughest tracks in the middle of winter!
From soft snow to insane hill climbs, these tracks will not only put their 4WDs to the test, they’ll put their driver’s abilities to the test as well! Don’t be fooled into thinking the High Country is an easy going off-road adventure – these tracks bring new meaning to the word tough! From insane winch recoveries to a kilometre long hill that took them over ten hours to conquer, you’ll be blown away by how much off-road action the High Country has on offer in the middle of winter! So grab a nice warm cupper, light the fire and stay warm – because this DVD is an absolute cracker!
Why have we let the law get to the point where we can’t take our furry mates bush?
It’s as Aussie as eating a meat pie (with dead ’orse) at the cricket while wearing thongs, stubbies and a bluey, at the same time drinking a coldie and telling the ump he needs glasses. In short, it’s an Aussie birthright. Yet just try doing it – damn near bloody impossible. What am I talking about? Taking your dog bush!
Yeah sure, it’s on all the posters for outback clothing, the postcards we send overseas love a shot of a dog on a beach and the old dog in a ute image on a dusty rural track has been used so many times it’s like an Aussie icon. Yet the reality is so much different. Dogs and the Aussie bush are a hard nut to crack.
I know there are designated dog beaches and there are a handful of dog-friendly campsites scattered randomly about the country, but the reality is, your dog is simply not allowed in most places we all like to wheel. National parks – don’t even think about it. Most beaches – nope sorry. State forest – yeah maybe, but it will depend on where you live.
The single biggest issue over here in the west, apart from being mostly impossible to legally take my best mate bush, is that even areas where he is allowed to tag along have been heavily baited with 1080 poison. This stuff is downright savage. No way am I taking that risk with my dog. I’ve noticed in certain parts of the east coast, notices are posted to alert you to baiting times and dates – not so in the west. You are left to assume baits are ever-present and recent. And they bait everywhere, even in dog-friendly regions. It’s a joke!
In the very South-West where I call home, almost the entire stretch of coast for hundreds of kilometres to the south is national park. The rivers all run through national parks and pretty much any patch of scrub that holds something deeming it worthwhile visiting is NP. That means even just an arvo swim on the beach with old smelly is 100% illegal, unless I’m keen to share a couple of hundred metres of reserved beach with everyone else.
It could be me, but it all just doesn’t make much sense. Now look, I’m not pretending I have the ultimate answer. It’s a tricky bit of kit to get your head around. Sure, there are some sensitive areas that letting Max fang around may not be the best idea (have a think about wetlands used by huge flocks of nesting birds as an example). Yet surely, for the most part couldn’t we come up with a scheme to relax what to me seem like draconian laws with little basis in reality?
I mean, we have laws governing the use of just about everything these days. It seems it wouldn’t be too hard to allow dogs into more areas. Heck, if you can take a 4WD into an area, surely a dog isn’t going to be any more detrimental. Think about it! The 4WD has to be licensed and there is a duty of care the owner has to minimise damage. Why can’t the dog be treated in a similar manner?
Perhaps it’s us though. Maybe we really can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Have a look at the ongoing battle we have just keeping tracks open and campsites free thanks to abuse by people who think littering or driving anywhere they like is a rite. Throw dogs in that mix and yeah, I can see us having problems. Yet like so much, it’s the minority that ruin it for the majority.
My hope is that we can come up with a way to take our mates a little further afield than is currently allowed. I have no idea how we go about making such a dream reality, but I do know this is just one more Aussie tradition that is gradually slipping away, soon to be lost forever. Are you okay with that?
Till such a time, I guess old mate Didj the dog will just have to keep wearing boardies and sunglasses and pretending to be my hairy mate…
Take a leaf from your dog’s book and don’t forget to Work to Live, not Live to Work!
Graham’s been wondering what ‘remote’ actually means…
Just this month, I had reason to seriously question a subject I’ve long toyed with, namely what exactly does it mean to be ‘remote’? Routinely the concept of remoteness gets defined as being in a spot where you find yourself a significant number of kilometres from civilisation, or to bring it back to basics, when you are in the middle of nowhere. Yet in reality, your proximity to civilisation may in no way define your remoteness. Instead, remoteness may instead be a gathering of external factors and less to do with location.
A couple of years back I did a crossing of the Simpson Desert, a location I’d easily get away with calling remote. Yet on any given day, I saw at least a dozen or more vehicles. I don’t define that as remote. Similarly, on a recent run through the Centre I saw more traffic than I ever had in the past. The Cape last year was crawling with people, far from being remote. The Kimberley even, that last bastion of wilderness, is at the wrong time of year less remote than you might ever imagine.
Yet just this month, I found myself only an hour and a half from home, having navigated then pushed my way in through a maze of at first forestry tracks, then single-lane goat tracks, before ending on an overgrown, never used faint sniff of a track that necessitated axe and saw to make progress towards the river I had in my sights. The nearest farm house would have been less than 50 clicks away yet as far as human contact was concerned, I could wait a year and not see a soul. That really got me to thinking – that old track, as far as I’m concerned, was as remote as it gets.
Think about it: we all carry comms these days (you do have long-range communications of some sort in your truck right?), so contacting an external party for help is a no-brainer, mostly. However, when down in that rich, overgrown South-West river valley, I found even my satphone struggled for signal thanks to the dense overhanging forest canopy.
Should I have needed assistance, getting it would have been bloody difficult. As for guiding a support party in, again, tricky to do. Yep, I could have relayed GPS co-ords, but with scrub thicker than the hairs on a dogs back, locating the goat trail I followed in would have been an effort. By definition, my actual location on a map may not have looked remote, but for all intents and purposes, I was about as remote as you can get! So just what am I getting at? Well I’ve been guilty of this myself, if I’m honest it has happened on numerous occasions: heading out for just half a day, close to home with zero planning or thought given to plan B. What to do if it all goes pear-shaped? Yet conversely, prior preparation before a bigger, far more iconic trip means I’m loaded with every form of backup and comms device known to man. Yet which trip needs planning the most?
The correct answer is both, but I am inclined to lean a little towards the former. See, we tend to get pretty cavalier about anything close to home base. We don’t worry about the implications of something going wrong, as we are lulled into a false sense of security, often based on the premise that we are not, by definition, heading anywhere remote. Perhaps we don’t bother with the recovery gear, the first aid kit gets left on the shelf or the satphone stays in the study. After all, we will be back by lunchtime…
These days, if I am planning on locking the hubs, I pack accordingly. I mean, I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I do keep the following items either in the GU at all times, or stacked in the shed ready to grab and go with no fuss or effort required.
Firstly, 20L of water lives in a metal jerry in the tray at all times. A full recovery kit (designed for solo recoveries) stays in the GU. A comprehensive first aid kit is strapped into the centre console. A fire-extinguisher resides in the cab at all times. I have a toolkit that lives in a drawer plus a host of basic spares (fuses, wire, hoses, clamps) that have a home in an old toolbox in the same drawer.
I have both an axe plus pruning saw as well as a shovel that never leave the truck for garden duties. I have a HF radio plus satphone that I check weekly, both left in the truck permanently. Two GPS units also have a stable residence on the dash.
Sure, as the saying goes ‘dung still happens’, but I figure just because I’m only heading out for a few hours, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be as equipped as possible to deal with it when it does! Until then, you know the drill – work to live, don’t live to work. Oh, and always carry a few tins of baked beans. You just never know… Food for thought perhaps?
If you’re into Patrols you might want to find a quiet place for the next 4 minutes!
Alex Chalmers is an absolute perfectionist and that is very evident in the build of his GU Patrol “TINY 2”. Nulon caught up with Alex and his wife Amy for Episode 6 of Born This Way: Offroaders.
There’s remote, and then there’s where Shaun and Graham are heading on this episode of 4WD Action! They’re back at Lorella Springs in the Top End, and this time they’re creating a brand new track! Following in the footsteps of the famous explorer Ludwig Leichardt, they’re battling untouched wilderness, wild creek and river crossings and rocky expanses that have never before seen the treads of a 4WD.
With the punishment they’re putting Shorty and the Dirty 30 through, there’s no guarantee that they’re gonna make it through this one, but one thing’s for certain – they’re gonna give it a red hot go!
Epic, untouched campsites, stunning waterholes, grueling terrain and pristine Aussie wilderness – this is remote touring at its most wild!
4WD Action editor Brendan Seymour has put together a 12v system that allows him to run twin fridges permanently – without ever having to turn them off.
“12v setups and products are constantly evolving, and my setup is no different. I’ve always had this idea in my head that the ultimate never-fail 12v system would allow me to run one or more 12v fridges permanently without ever turning them off. It’s a big ask, but using CTEK’s battery management products, that’s exactly what I’ve been able to do.”
Here’s how Brenno has been able to achieve that – and how you can too.
THE BATTERIES & THE FRIDGES
“I’m running a pair of twin 100Ah AGM batteries, wired in parallel,” Brenno explains. “This means that I’ve got 200Ah of battery capacity, which lets me stay at a particular campsite for a couple of days at a time without worrying about draining the battery bank. The twin batteries are mounted in my canopy, directly next to the main 80L fridge. I’ve also got an 11L centre-console fridge that stays on the whole time inside the cabin too. Combined, they use about 6A of power every hour on average.”
CHARGING ON THE GO
“The alternator in my Navara is like those found in many modern 4WDs,” Brenno continues. “It’s a ‘smart’ alternator, which doesn’t always put full charge into the auxiliary batteries. The solution is a DC/DC battery charger, which can handle varying input voltages while still producing proper charging voltages. In my case, I’m running the awesome CTEK D250SA DC/DC charger, paired with the CTEK SmartPass 120. These two bits of gear handle it all – they isolate the auxiliary batteries when I’m parked up at camp, and charge them when I’m driving. What I love is just how quickly they can charge the batteries up. Often the ute does lots of short trips, and the D250SA and the SmartPass 120 make sure I’m getting as much charge in as possible, every time I drive.”
“Sometimes I can go a week or more without driving the Navara,” Brenno continues. “The solution to keeping the batteries topped up and the fridges cold, is a 200W solar panel permanently mounted on the roof of the canopy. I ditched the regulator that came with the panel, and ran the solar straight into the D250SA’s inbuilt MPPT solar regulator. Often I’ll check what the batteries are doing during the day, and they’ll be sitting at 14.0V – with two fridges on, and a vehicle that hasn’t been started for days! The panel puts in about 14A when the sun’s shining. What’s even better is even when I’m driving, the D250SA continues to use that 14A as well as what is coming from the alternator to really crank the power in.”
BATTEY MAINTENANCE AT HOME
“Sometimes I don’t get the opportunity to drive the ute for a week or more, and there’s not enough sun to properly keep the batteries topped up,” Brenno says. “When I realise that the batteries are running a little low, all I do is run a power cable out from the garage to the ute and connect my permanently-mounted CTEK M300 25A battery charger overnight. I can’t talk highly enough about this charger – it’s incredible. You can select whether you’re charging a regular or an AGM battery bank, and it has a recondition charge that has, to this day, saved four separate batteries from going to the scrap pile. They were batteries that had been flattened and would not take any other sort of charge, but are still in service now thanks to the M300.”
CAN’T FORGET THE CRANK BATTERIES!
“My ute actually has twin crank batteries,” Brenno explains. “While there isn’t any load on them when the ute’s sitting around, they naturally go a little flat after not receiving charge for a while. That’s where I use the clever new CTEK Time To Go battery charger. I just connect it to the crank batteries and let it do its thing. It has this beaut little LED display that shows how the charging is going, when you can try to start the vehicle and when the battery is fully charged. The Time To Go actually gets used on the missus’ car, both 4WDs, the motorbikes and even the little trailerboat – it definitely earns its keep!”
21ST-CENTURY BATTERY MONITORING
“I’m definitely a technology fan,” Brenno says. “That’s why I run a pair of the awesome CTEK Battery Sense Bluetooth battery monitors in the ute. I’ve got one connected to the crank battery bank, and one connected to the auxiliary battery bank. They constantly monitor the batteries and let me know if I need to charge them. Definitely the perfect way to round out the ultimate 12v system!”
For more information on these products, or to find your nearest stockist, visit www.ctek.com