Trip to The Tip

VW pun­ishes stan­dard-is­sue Amaroks on Cape York’s Old Tele­graph Track


IT’S not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. That was in part the think­ing be­hind Volk­swa­gen’s semi-au­da­cious as­sault on Cape York’s Old Tele­graph Track in stan­dard trim Amaroks.

The utes went with­out the lift-kits, over-size wheels, winches, bullbars or low-range that just about ev­ery other trav­eller spec­i­fies or bolts on in prepa­ra­tion for the Trip to The Tip.

VW Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles also made the most of the trip as an in­tro­duc­tion to the 2016 Amarok Core, its base dual-cab, start­ing from $43K.

The Core needs to stand out on this busy stage, which has greeted the Mit­subishi Tri­ton, Nissan Navara and Ford Ranger to date and has the Mazda BT-50 and Toy­ota HiLux in the wings.

Un­adorned, the Cores on the Cape weighed in at a shade un­der two tonnes. In TDI420 guise (the num­ber de­not­ing the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel’s peak torque), they ran eight­speed con­ven­tional au­to­mat­ics turn­ing VW’s 4Motion all­wheel drive.

Stan­dard fit­ment in­cluded elec­tronic diff lock and me­chan­i­cal rear diff lock. Snorkels were the sole con­ces­sion to the ter­rain, to boost the Amarok’s 500mm wad­ing limit.

Could this kit com­bat gnarly creek cross­ings, un­for­giv­ing cor­ru­ga­tions and canyon-size ruts that have turned back even the best-pre­pared?

We set off from Weipa along the Penin­sula Road, turned left, picked up the by­pass road north­ward en route to Bramwell Road­house — to the junction with the OTT and the first quizzi­cal looks from se­ri­ous off-road­ers.

The OTT dates from the 1880s when it ser­viced the tele­graph line con­nect­ing Bris­bane with com­mu­ni­ties on the Cape. It’s not in great nick, with a few bent poles mark­ing the demise of that tech­nol­ogy but the nar­row and rugged rem­nants have be­come a 4WD mecca.

The first creek cross­ings were rel­a­tive baby steps: lock the diffs, se­lect the off-road trans­mis­sion set­ting and ease the ute down the cut­tings and along the ruts. Line up the exit marks on the op­po­site bank and feed it the fos­sils.

Then came the switch­back en­try with drop-in and pike. The sup­port crew’s tray-top got through as nu­mer­ous pairs of eyes tried to plot and re­call its path.

Cars­guide’s turn was a slaugh­ter. En­ter­ing frac­tion­ally too far left, we dropped the near­side front wheel, a hand­some 16-inch al­loy shod with Pirelli Scorpion all-ter­rain rub­ber, into the depths. Nil progress. Some rock­ing back and forth — scrap­ing the front bumper and putting a ding in the tub’s off­side rear cor­ner in the process — got enough wrig­gle-room and over we went. Were the VW guys glum? No fear. “That’s what we came to prove,” said com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles boss Car­los San­tos.

The snatch strap was at the ready for sub­se­quent cross­ings and oc­ca­sion­ally de­ployed. The big test came at the in­fa­mous Gun­shot, where the drop is near-ver­ti­cal, the mud hub-deep and the winch your sec­ond-best friend (the best one be­ing the bloke who wades through the mud to get your ca­ble back to a tree).

Once again the tray-top made it through, snatched out of a side en­try by a WA-plated heavy-cal­i­bre Nissan Pa­trol. Rather than trash tubs, the rest of us took a 20km-plus de­tour and re­joined the track a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres north.

Wolfs­burg has man­dated that bullbars (the most com­mon winch mount) are not per­mit­ted on its com­mer­cials here so VW has to watch a handy op­tion in­come go­ing to af­ter­mar­ket sup­pli­ers.

On the other hand it has come up with a slick piece of en­gi­neer­ing, mount­ing the ex­tra-long leaf spring setup on the side of the chas­sis rails rather than un­der­neath, an idea bor­rowed from the re­lated MAN and Sca­nia truck out­fits.

The re­sult: lower cen­tre of grav­ity and load height, higher side­walls and deeper tub and, prod­uct mar­ket­ing man­ager Nick Reid said, “It’s got the widest track of any ri­vals and fits a stan­dard 1200mm pal­let be­tween the in­ner wheel wells.”

Ham­mer­ing along to stay atop the cor­ru­ga­tions, the un­laden Amaroks were not too tail-happy, need­ing mi­nor checks of throt­tle or steer­ing to keep progress straight.

Even in Core spec, they main­tained the model’s car-like driv­ing traits, with the rub­ber mat­ting the most con­spic­u­ous fit­ment for hose-out hard yakka.

With con­fi­dence and ju­di­cious lin­ing up, we were push­ing out bow-waves on the fi­nal creek cross­ings be­fore the Jar­dine River ferry and the fi­nal swoop to The Tip. Low-range needed? Not re­ally. High-fives re­quired? For sure.

Pic­tures: Chris Benny

Take the plunge: Amarok drops into muddy Gun­shot and gets the in­evitable res­cue. Bot­tom right: con­voy on the Jar­dine River ferry

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