One of Aus­tralia’s most bru­tal tracks at­tempts to crack the ‘un­break­able’ Hilux.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS TOBY HAGON PHO­TOS MARK BEAN


IT’S a big call, but one Toy­ota res­o­lutely sticks to – even more so with the eighth­gen­er­a­tion of its Hilux. It’s a claim we wanted to test on the tough­est tracks in Aus­tralia and they don’t get much tougher than the Can­ning Stock Route (CSR) in Western Aus­tralia. The CSR is al­most 2000km of the most re­mote roads in the coun­try, cross­ing four deserts and tak­ing in a huge va­ri­ety of ter­rain.

Even get­ting to the start line from Perth is a near-1000km ad­ven­ture to Wiluna, a re­mote town that for trav­ellers like us is more about sup­plies than tourism. The pub doesn’t serve lunch and the de­mount­able “cafe” hasn’t frothed cap­puc­ci­nos for months.

Our blue SR5 diesel was the support ute for a big­ger out­back test com­ing soon to 4X4 Aus­tralia, so the Hilux started with more ki­los than any of the other cars in the con­voy. As well as be­ing the des­ig­nated car to carry tools, ex­cess camp gear, fire­wood and more, it was also car­ry­ing a brim­ming 400-litre self-con­tained diesel pump, as well as a quar­tet of jerry cans. There was well over 600kg in the tray, which is still well be­low its 925kg pay­load.

Most peo­ple ar­range a fuel drop on the CSR, but our 480 litres of fuel meant we were able to push on with­out the need for hand pumps and 44-gal­lon drums.

From the start the Hilux as­serted it­self nicely. Un­laden the ride was firm, some­times too much so, but with some weight on board it set­tled nicely. It’s clear the en­gi­neers have en­sured those ro­bust leaf springs are well up to the task of a heavy load.

It turns out the wind­screen isn’t un­break­able, though. A road train head­ing the other way – they use the Great North­ern High­way be­cause it is cer­ti­fied for the big triple trail­ers, un­like the coast road – flicked a rock into the cor­ner of the screen. It was a small chip, but one that grew into a long crack.

Toy­ota’s 2.8-litre diesel en­gine isn’t over­loaded with power; there’s just 130kw to play with. But there’s a hearty 450Nm splash of low-rev torque, some­thing that helps build pace eas­ily and, im­por­tantly, main­tain it – it’s a de­cent en­gine for shift­ing all that weight. The six-speed auto was thought­ful enough to hold fourth or fifth on high speed up­hill grades, before drop­ping into top for the flat­ter

straights, of which there were many.

But it was the dirt we were most in­ter­ested in. The CSR starts off by briefly tempt­ing you with fast, wide gravel ex­panses that are more out­back free­way than me­an­der­ing track. But a sharp right-hand turn off the main road slows things down. Re­cent rain meant our so­journ wouldn’t be as easy as it could be. Not that we were ever ex­pect­ing the CSR to be a dod­dle, but the first trav­ellers we ran in to head­ing south to­wards us gave an in­sight into what lay ahead.

“It’s pretty wet up ahead,” said one. “Two Un­i­mogs have been bogged on a clay pan for about five days.”

Early on, though, rocks, big­ger rocks and creek cross­ings char­ac­terised the slow go­ing. The Hilux’s sharp 31-de­gree ap­proach an­gle made light work of the oc­ca­sional deep dip, while the tail never looked like drag­ging on the way out. While clev­erly po­si­tioned (mostly) out of the way, we re­moved the tow tongue to re­duce the chance of it snag­ging, al­though it never looked like be­com­ing an is­sue.

The SR5 de­flected the oc­ca­sional un­der­body scrape adeptly, its sump guard barely flinch­ing. But it was the trac­tion con­trol that quickly as­serted it­self as a handy tool in this coun­try. Clam­ber­ing out of a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing creek cross­ing there were some brief flares of wheelspin, but the elec­tron­ics soon sorted things out, di­vert­ing drive to the wheels that were still grip­ping on the sharp, loose rocks.

More im­pres­sive was how well the Hilux coped with the load out back. It was largely un­fussed, main­tain­ing its com­po­sure – and, im­por­tantly, its stature – to eas­ily tra­verse the trick­ier sec­tions that char­ac­terise the lower sec­tion of the CSR.

In true Toy­ota fashion, de­spite 30-plus de­gree out­side temps the air-con­di­tion­ing kept things icy in­side. Not that ev­ery­thing was hot and dry. Slushy mud was also a re­minder of just how much un­sea­sonal water this part of Aus­tralia had seen. A few weeks ear­lier we may not have made it through, at least with­out mak­ing some big diver­sions and re­ly­ing on the oc­ca­sional tow.

As it was, we often took short side roads to steer around mud holes. While we were test­ing the Hilux, we were also not tak­ing any chances, es­pe­cially when we were that far away from civil­i­sa­tion. The trac­tion con­trol again helped out, plus we had the rear dif­fer­en­tial lock for that fi­nal pinch of trac­tion.

After days of mud and rocks we re­alised we never spot­ted the stuck Un­i­mogs, but a chopped-up clay pan that had been hastily roped off ap­peared to be the scene of the crime. While we’re all for ad­ven­ture – and test­ing the Hilux’s 700mm wad­ing depth – we de­cided to add a cou­ple of kays to the jour­ney and avoid the re­ally gooey stuff.

While the CSR is en­dur­ing, the scenery can change rad­i­cally. That’s its na­ture. Not only is the ter­rain reg­u­larly tough and pun­ish­ing, but it’s en­dur­ing. Re­li­a­bil­ity is ev­ery­thing in this part of the world, so it’s pretty sat­is­fy­ing to know that the CSR was one of the tracks Toy­ota used to test out the Hilux.

As we learnt, dif­fer­ent con­di­tions can sculpt the CSR within days. What may have been a clean, smooth track weeks ear­lier could now be a chopped-up, sun-baked clus­ter of hard­ened mud. It was slow-go­ing pick­ing our way around

what must have been the oc­ca­sional snatch to ex­tri­cate a bogged car.

One thing that didn’t seem to change much – at least go­ing on the sto­ries and trav­ellers’ tales – were the cor­ru­ga­tions. We hit some vi­cious ones early, but for­tu­nately they were in short bursts. There are longer trails of smaller, softer cor­ru­ga­tions, but we quickly learned to treat them like a reg­u­lar road. The Hilux is ul­ti­mately un­fussed, its sus­pen­sion rum­bles over them con­fi­dently.

But it was the cor­ru­ga­tions around the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity of Ku­nawar­ritji that pro­vided the big­gest test for the shock ab­sorbers. For the first batch the Hilux was lighter in the tail, but once we filled up with $3.40 per litre fuel (gulp!) at the com­mu­nity it was back to al­most full weight in the tray. And the 40km stretch north was laced with un­re­lent­ing cor­ru­ga­tions. Many peo­ple choose to take them at 10km/h, but we didn’t have four hours to spare. So it was a steady pace of be­tween 50 and 80km/h for our truck.

There was plenty of shak­ing and shimmying, es­pe­cially in the cabin, but once the track re­verted to smaller cor­ru­ga­tions it was back to nor­mal. The big­gest pun­ish­ment the car copped was in­side, where some of the in­te­rior door trim was worse for wear hav­ing had lug­gage shak­ing against it per­sis­tently. We blame that on our hasty pack­ing. An­other mi­nor ca­su­alty was one of the op­tional tie-down points, one of which worked its way loose. For­tu­nately, the bolt was still in the tray, so it was a two-minute fix to re-at­tach it.

From there it was into hun­dreds of par­al­lel sand dunes. The dirt is red­der there and the veg­e­ta­tion markedly dif­fer­ent from the bar­ren lower part of the track. It was also eas­ier to get a flow go­ing and en­joy the spec­tac­u­lar scenery, which was punc­tu­ated by the oc­ca­sional camel and dingo.

But there was never re­ally time to re­lax. Un­like the Simp­son Desert – where sand rules and the ter­rain is gen­er­ally pre­dictable – the CSR can change in an in­stant, with jagged rocks punch­ing through the soft sand. It’s then you re­alise how iso­lated you are. For much of the track you’re hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres from help.

For many that’s the ap­peal. The idea you could be the only hu­mans within 100km makes a place like this pretty special, and the fact it is so inac­ces­si­ble en­sures it’s not over­run with traf­fic. You could drive for a whole day with­out see­ing any­one else.

Side trips are all part of the ad­ven­ture, too, just in case the 2000km jour­ney wasn’t enough. There are gorges, es­carp­ments, caves and Abo­rig­i­nal art that en­sure there’s plenty to do along the way. We only touched the sur­face, al­though with all that fuel on board we could have done plenty more.

Ap­proach­ing the end of the tough part of the CSR – Billiluna, on the Tanami Track – the roads be­came straighter, flat­ter and faster. It was a wel­come re­lief given the pun­ish­ment we en­dured (we be­ing the car and the crew). Still, though, there were peo­ple deal­ing with me­chan­i­cal is­sues; the CSR has that abil­ity to gen­uinely test a car, but at least these peo­ple have ex­pe­ri­enced trou­ble early, com­par­a­tively close to as­sis­tance.

Rolling into Halls Creek at the south-eastern edge of the Kim­ber­ley was like rolling into a cap­i­tal city after so long away from ho­tels and houses. But we’ve still got an­other 700km to Broome, then an­other few thou­sand across the Gibb River Road into Dar­win.

Con­sid­er­ing where we’ve been, though, the Gibb is like a free­way. We’ll take it.

“Un­break­able? That crack in the wind­shield would sug­gest oth­er­wise?”

We rel­ished the limited op­por­tu­ni­ties to test out the Hilux’s 700mm wad­ing depth.

Fuel costs $3.40 per litre when you’re in the mid­dle of nowhere. You’ve got no other choice, pal!

Many peo­ple take the un­re­lent­ing cor­ru­ga­tions at 10km/h, but we didn’t have four hours to spare. So it was a steady pace of be­tween 50 and 80km/h for our truck

We car­ried a 400L Ge­nius fuel tank and filler from Rapid Spray. The Ge­nius is an all-in-one fuel stor­age and fill­ing sta­tion and was ideal for fu­elling our con­voy. www.rapid­spray.net for info.

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