Lap of the leisure gods
It’s the ultimate disel ute test. All you need on your side is time — and a catalogue of accessories
I’M writing this at our campsite in Little Desert National Park, on the banks of the Wimmera River, near Dimboola in western Victoria.
We’re four weeks and 3500km into a 10 month road trip around Australia.
Highlights so far? The Dunedoo Caravan Park in central NSW. (It was Valentines Day and our first night on the road, so I thought I should take the Style Queen somewhere romantic. She loved it. No, really, she did.)
We’ve also climbed Kosciuszko, camped by the Murray with hundreds of kangaroos for company, walked along beautiful deserted beaches on Victoria’s wild southern coast and hit the tracks of the Grampians and Little Desert for some serious 4WD action.
Having had this much fun in one month on the road, I think our trip may end up taking a little, or a lot, longer to complete. Maybe years …
Unravelling a secure, comfortable stay-at-home life and beginning an entirely different journey as a wandering road warrior can be as easy as telling the boss to shove the job, terminating your lease, filling up the car and turning left or right when you see the ocean.
When mortgages, kids, business commitments and all the other entanglements of a normal existence are involved, though, it becomes a more complicated process.
Our kids left home a while ago; if yours are still in residence, you’ll be much better off if you throw them out to make way for a paying tenant. You can rent your house for up to six years, as long as you move back in or sell it within that period, without incurring a capital-gains tax liability.
The internet is your best friend, both pre-trip and when you’re out there. As far as breadth and quality of mobile phone and broadband coverage goes in the bush, it’s Telstra first, dead air second, then the other carriers.
We’re using a rechargeable 4G device that can connect up to 10 appliances at once. Even at 3G speed, which is what you’ll get outside the capital cities, it’s pretty fast. By Australian standards, that is.
We’re also carrying a satellite phone for emergency communication when we’re out of range. These are expensive (good ones such as our Iridium 9555 start at $1300 or so, Telstra’s cheapest plan is $35 a month and calls cost 99 cents per 30 seconds) but are worth every cent if you’re marooned on the Gunbarrel Highway, immobile or sick, and you need help in a hurry.
You can eliminate 99 per cent of paper correspondence from your life. Most companies you deal with will be keen to communicate with you via the net rather than paper because it saves them money. Usually they will urge you to do so on their website’s homepage, from where it takes just a few clicks to make the switch.
Statements relating to a loan, including a mortgage, still have to go to your snail mail
address, though. We get ours and any other paperwork redirected to our daughter, who scans and emails them to us.
Whoever invented Skype is the patron saint of road trippers. You can have a face to face conversation with your loved ones, anytime you like, from anywhere you have internet access, free.
So much for the software. Let’s talk rolling real estate.
Your choice of transport will depend on how much you want to spend and where you want to go.
Some people happily do a lap in a disintegrating XD Falcon wagon with nothing more than a couple of sleeping bags and a regular supply of baked beans; others will spend $1 million dollars-plus on a B-doublesized bordello complete with jacuzzi, bar, leopard-skin upholstery and a 14-litre Detroit Diesel under the bonnet.
We’ll be off the bitumen more than on it, staying for extended periods in the Western Deserts, Pilbara, Cape York, Arnhem Land and the Kimberley. We’re camping in national parks, with an occasional night in a caravan park to do the washing and maintain the pretext of civilisation.
Home is our camper trailer, a Johnno’s Off Road Deluxe, which has already done 30,000km, most of them hard ones, without a problem. It weighs just 750kg unladen and is as tough as they come, with two 65-litre water tanks, comfortable queen-sized bed, full-length annex, four-burner gas stove and enough battery power (150 amp hours, with Redarc DC/DC and Genius 240V chargers) to run lights and computers for a week, or longer if we hook up our 190watt solar panels. It’s also bug and waterproof.
We’re travelling light, so the most cost-effective, practical option is a 4WD turbo diesel ute. Mitsubishi’s Triton is cheap, bulletproof, safe and comfortable.
I picked up a 2012 model Triton GL-R 2.5-litre turbo diesel dual cab, with four-speed automatic, 22,000km and a factory bullbar, for $27,990. New, the same truck will cost you about $33,990, or $10,000 less than rivals (with auto transmissions) such as Toyota’s HiLux and Isuzu’s D-Max.
It still has three and a half years’ factory warranty left (you get five years/130,000km on a new one).
In its previous life — as a security company truck in Newcastle — it was, shall we say, not pampered. Yet it’s in much better nick than a truck that clocked similar kilometres wallowing in acidic sludge in a mine.
The 2.5 has no problem pulling our light trailer even with 350Nm of torque, which is now at the wimpy end of the one-tonner grunt scale. Still, it’s 7Nm more than the HiLux’s 3.0-litre slugger can muster.
Hitched up and loaded, the Triton’s as slow as a week of Tuesdays and I need a fivekilometre-long straight before I can even think about overtaking. This, folks, is low‒performance motoring.
It’s averaging 15-16L/100km, about 50 per cent higher than its unladen (and with no roof rack) return. I can carry up to four jerry cans of extra diesel on the roof and the trailer to supplement the small (75-litre) tank so, apart from epic treks such as the Canning Stock Route, we can go where we like.
I thought I’d be able to make the Triton ’round-Oz ready for a relatively modest extra outlay on a few accessories. Wrong. Be warned: once you start, this process becomes obsessive. And very expensive. I now understand why ARB Corporation has delivered annual returns to its shareholders of 38 per cent for five years.
Let’s start the meter at the front and work our way back: ARB bash plates $518; Safari snorkel $825; Old Man Emu suspension (worth every cent) $2300; ARB canopy $2595; Rhino Rack alloy tray with two jerry can holders $1900;
Harrop E locker rear differential (our get out of jail card if we’re stuck and desperate) $1578; and ARB rear step towbar $1518. Mustn’t forget the five Cooper Discoverer ST Maxx tyres ($2050), 40-litre Engel fridge, fridge slide, 100ah battery to power it plus all the isolators, circuit breakers, Anderson plugs, wiring and widgets to connect everything ($3000 or so.)
Chuck in a pre-trip service, canvas seat covers, high-flow K & N air filter, ute tub liner, bag full of spares (belts, filters, oils) and Hema Navigator GPS and — wouldn’t you know it — I’ve just blown another $20,000.
So far, so good, though. Everything’s working as it should, the Triton’s doing it easy and, after four weeks, we’re starting to live by the rhythm of the road rather than our watches. I haven’t worn mine since we started.
It’s hot here in the Wimmera. Must be beer o’clock. Or maybe a swim in the river first? It doesn’t matter. Time is on our side.