The Simpson Desert is an iconic trip that features highly on many a bucket list. We tackle the trip armed with a couple of Iveco trucks and a eet of dirt biking lunatics
A gainst an early morning backdrop of glowing outback rock escarpments, I rolled out of my swag to contemplate the coming day … and to have a wee.
The cries and squawks of birdlife wafted through the trees overhead as our party stirred and shuffled bleary eyed into the rapidly growing light.
The early explorers faced innumerable hardships and challenges as they traversed this harsh wilderness.
In those early days, central Australia was no place for the faint hearted. A MOTLEY CREW Our party consisted of an anaesthetist, an ENT specialist, an ex-MotoGP star and sports commentator, the owner of an ARB 4x4 store, two ex-RAF chopper pilots circumnavigating the globe by motorcycle, a fi x-it-all truck driver, a dirt bike-mad Iveco engineer, and me … who was told there would be beer.
But instead of camels and horses we had trucks and motorcycles. The bikes were a fl eet of Honda CRF450s, the trucks an Iveco ML150 Eurocargo 4x4 and an Iveco Daily 4x4.
As you may have guessed already, the Eurocargo belongs to ex-MotoGP star Daryl Beattie.
This truck is the core of his adventure motorcycle tour business where he guides customers along some of this country’s most iconic outback trails. Cape York, The Simpson Desert and the Canning Stock Route all feature as potential itineraries for those who want a supported dirt bike blast with Daryl Beattie Adventures.
CUSTOM OFF-ROADER The Eurocargo has been extensively customised and features a Unidan body.
This houses storage for camp gear and luggage, a mobile kitchen, workshop and external shower.
Underneath the body are 1000 litres of water, 400 litres of shower water, 600 litres of diesel (aside from the standard tanks on the truck) and 500 litres of unleaded for the bikes. On the way to and from tours the truck also tows a trailer to transport the bikes, including Daryl’s personal set of wheels, an Africa twin.
Power comes from a 6-cylinder, 5.9-litre Iveco Tector engine which makes 280hp (209kW) at 2700rpm and 950Nm of torque at between 1250rpm and 2100rpm. Gear changing is via a 6-speed manual tranny. The big camouflage beast is constant four-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case. The front, rear and centre differentials are all lockable.
This particular truck has had a couple of aftermarket mods to help it in the rough stuff. The Iveco has been fi tted with an AIR- CTI central tyre infl ation system, while a set of extremely beefy adjustable King shocks have also been installed underneath.
Sans trailer, this truck grosses about 13,500kg when loaded for the bush.
Also along for the ride was an Iveco Daily 4x4 that came courtesy of Iveco head office for some photo ops. SETTING OFF Our starting point was Ooraminna Station, about 35 kilometres south of Alice Springs.
The station buildings and the remnants of an old fi lm set lie in a natural rock amphitheatre that lights up in the morning and evening sun.
It also turns out that there are a couple of bars of 3G phone reception from the top of a nearby hill.
In retrospect, it was kind of amusing to see the silhouetted fi gures of phone-tapping individuals with faces aglow sending last messages to the outside world before venturing into the desert and looking very much like a troupe of tech-savvy meerkats.
Our route was to take us to Mt Dare via Binns Track and Old Andado homestead and across the 1100 or so sand dunes of the Simpson Desert to Birdsville. A distance of more than 1000 kilometres. The bikes would be fanging it. In the big Eurcargo, though, we’d be slogging it.
Scott (Scooter) McLean usually steers the big jigger on these trips, however I scored fi rst stint behind the wheel of the ML150 as we rolled out of the station via some bush tracks heading towards Santa Theresa.
I used low range for a bit until we got to the main (dirt) road to join up with Binns Track.
The ML felt very much at ease on these roads. The truck is a vital part of the trip, mainly because it has all the camping gear, food, water and fuel on board, so I had to keep pedal to the metal. Clearly the bikes are faster but they rely on the truck getting there in reasonable time.
So I was able to play out my childhood Dakar fantasies in the Eurocargo. With a massive plume of bulldust streaming from the military- spec Michelin tyres, I kept the go-pedal nailed while keeping my eyes peeled for obstacles.
In fact, while the bulldust holes were a challenge for the bikes and their riders, the big Iveco just ploughed through them with ease.
I even managed a little amusement at the bike tyre tracks in the dirt. Here and there you could see the outline of a body and footprints in the dust where a rider had been bucked off in the powder-fi ne dirt.
With tyre pressures dropped to 52psi at the front and 67psi at the rear, the stretch from Old Andado and its preserved homestead to Mt Dare proved to be a highlight as we wound through the trees at speed.
We rolled into Mt Dare 400 kilometres later to set up camp at what would be our last contact with civilisation for three days. From here on in the truck would be much slower than the rest of the party.
The rock- and rubble-strewn landscape sprawled out before us as we took things at a much steadier pace. We’d left well before the bikes but I had to keep my eyes peeled on the mirrors and rear-facing camera for them as they caught up and attempted to overtake.
Once past the oasis of Dalhousie Springs and into the desert proper we dropped the tyre pressures again to 40psi on the front and 62psi on the rear.
As we followed the French Line we started the slow work of sand dune climbing and even slower descents.
Although it was still pretty early in the season, there was still regular traffi c along this route.
The eastern face of the dunes was already becoming quite carved up as a result of unlocked drivetrains spinning up the sand. The result is a rutted off- set sand staircase which makes a truck with a high centre of gravity like the Eurocargo rock and buck wildly if a slow and steady approach isn’t adopted.
After hours of slogging up and down the dunes in low range it was almost a relief to turn south onto the Rig Road and run high range between the parallel dunes.
We rolled to a halt to get a bit more stiff ness in the adjustable shock only to fi nd that the hard desert driving had taken its toll.
A bottom mounting nut and spacer had disappeared. Thankfully the shocker was still sitting on its mounting, otherwise there may have been a little more swearing and bush engineering to remount it.
With the sun low in the sky, we rolled into camp just off the Rig Road to be greeted by a bunch of sweaty, dust- covered bikers hankering for what passes as beer in these parts.
To a man, they were all grinning like lunatics after the day’s antics. I don’t think I’ve ever met so many people who think that a good day in the desert is being slammed into the dirt by your bike!
As the chorus of foraging dingoes faded, the speckled curtain of night was drawn back by the sun and we stirred for another day.
We packed up camp and hit the road again. The width of the truck and the vegetation meant that on the day we ran with the mirrors tucked in.
Those mirror housings may be tough but they’re no match for a repeated battering from the hardy desert scrub.
We soon found ourselves again grinding through the dunes on the French Line heading east.
Some may say that the endless climbing of dunes and clay pan crossing can get monotonous. But for me, the novelty of taking in the view from the vantage point of a truck cab never wore off. It really is a stunning landscape of endless horizons and scrubby dunes.
Although I only really got to contemplate this when not concentrating on keeping the big Iveco upright. It’s no mean feat to keep more than 13 tonnes of truck moving through the sand safely.
We hit Poepple Corner, skirted the massive salt pan and trundled up to the
“It really is a stunning landscape of endless horizons and scrubby dunes”
Above: Daryl mans the tongs for a lunchtime barbie Below: The Air CTI system was invaluable in the bush; you can inate or deate at the push of a button. The spinifex does give the airlines a battering, though Opposite: We lost a nut! Luckily the...
Above: Slogging over dunes is hard work but the low at torque curve of the Tector power plant makes the job easier Below: Scott (Scooter) McLean has the best job ever. When not tolerating annoying journos like me, he gets to take the Eurocargo on...