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

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au Fol­low the trip: face­book.com/OzyRoad­Trip­per

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.

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