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