Matt Wood tackles the Simpson in a couple of Iveco trucks
Against 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.
I, however, wasn’t going to be roughing it too much really. Our party consisted of an anaesthetist, an ENT specialist, an ex-moto GP star and sports commentator, the owner of an ARB store, two ex-RAF chopper pilots circumnavigating the globe by motorcycle, a fixit-all truck driver, a dirt bike-mad Iveco engineer and me … who was told there would be beer.
Which kinda sounds like a very long-winded segue into a bleary-eyed pub joke.
But, instead of camels and horses we had trucks and motorcycles. The bikes were a fleet 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-moto GP 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 that want a supported dirt bike blast with Daryl Beattie Adventures.
This 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 there’s 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 six-cylinder, 5.9-litre Iveco Tector engine which makes 280hp at 2,700rpm and 950Nm of torque at between 1,250rpm and 2,100rpm. Gear changing is via a six-speed manual tranny.
The big camo beast is constant four-wheel drive with a two-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. Firstly, the Iveco has been fitted with an AIR-CTI central tyre inflation system, secondly 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 which came courtesy of Iveco head office for some photo ops.
Our starting point was Ooraminna Station about 35 kilometres south of Alice Springs. The station buildings and the remnants of an old film set lie in a natural rock amphitheatre that lights up in the morning and evening sun.
It also turns out that there are also a couple of bars of 3G phone reception from the top of a nearby hill. In retrospect was kind of amusing to see the silhouetted figures 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.
I was able to play out my childhood Dakar fantasies
Our route was to take us to Mt Dare via Binns Track and Old Andado homestead and across the 1,100 or so sand dunes of the Simpson Desert to Birdsville.
A distance of over 1,000 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 first 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 that would have both Scooter and I bouncing off the roof.
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 fine 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 Mount Dare proved to be a highlight as we wound through the trees at speed. It was hard driving yet with spectacular scenery.
We rolled into the Mount 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 rearfacing camera for them as they caught up and attempted to overtake.
Once past the oasis of Dalhousie Springs and into the desert proper tyre pressures were again dropped 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.
It was still pretty early in the season, however there was still regular traffic along this route.
The eastern face of the dunes were 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 stiffness in the adjustable shock only to find 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.
Scooter rummaged around in his bag of tricks and found a couple of nuts and a spacer. The spacer however was too long to allow any purchase for the nut so we had to cut it down to suit. Before long we had a nut, spacer and lock nut installed and were mobile again.
With the sun low in the sky we rolled into camp just off the Rig Road to be greeted by a bunch of
Above: Breaking camp at Ooraminna Station before striking east
Above: Fuel stop at the Old Andado Station turn-off
1. 2. The little Iveco Daily 4x4
Diff locks front, rear and centre, as well as central tyre inflation, help the big jigger in the rough stuff
Binns Track is a relatively high-speed run, but you have to constantly keep your eyes peeled
The Eurocargo also acted as a mobile workshop when running repairs were called for
The Air CTI system was invaluable in the bush; you can inflate or deflate at the push of a button. The spinifex does give the airlines a battering, though