RV Travel: Rugged outback from Brisbane to Uluru

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Engineer Chris Goddard coughs up some of the wisdom gained when his team put their RAT trailer through its outback paces.

RV Travel: Rugged outback from Brisbane to Uluru
RV Travel: Rugged outback from Brisbane to Uluru
THIS TRIP WAS a chance for the engineers from Brisbane’s Vehicle Components to test their wares. Each year the team heads to a remote area to make sure our products will get you there and, most importantly, get you back.

Along the way, we ask people to try the products and give feedback so we can get a first-hand reaction to the new designs.

The Remote Area Testing (RAT) trailer is designed to withstand anything thrown at it. It features a special chassis which enables suspensions to be quickly swapped over.

The side kitchen is handy for quick refuelling stops and means we can be on the road longer, and the opposite side of the trailer houses a mobile workshop with the tools to help us swap or fix anything along the way.

The trailer also features a MoTec Data logger, which records information and transmits it to the tow vehicle. The team can view what is happening to the suspension, coupling and trailer, and all data is stored to be used for later analysis back at base.

We can store data on shock absorber temperatures, suspension position, suspension force and ride quality, plus speed and location. The trailer’s fast set-up accommodation comes from Oztent, and there is a 120L fresh water capacity and 60L of diesel.

With the RAT trailer, plus two LandCruisers (200 Series and 100 Series) we covered 7500km over 13 days, taking us from Brisbane to Uluru and back via the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks.

LESSON 1: TYRE PRESSURES Never delay reducing your pressures on stony tracks. As we pulled up along the Plenty Highway to let them down, one was already doing it. We had three spares for each vehicle, so after an attempt to plug the leak, we made the change and carried on.

LESSON 2: QUESTIONABLE TRACKS We found that if a track looks wrong, it’s probably because it is. Despite our maps telling us a Finke Gorge track went along the east side of the river, it changed sides near Boggy Hole. We were forced to turn around and head back up a steep rocky incline, of which someone had said a few minutes earlier, "I’m glad we won’t have to drive back up here."

LESSON 3: NO BYO FIREWOOD After spending 15 minutes in the queue for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, we saw the sign telling us no outside firewood was allowed. So it was a quick a 2km drive to drop the wood (along with everybody else’s) outside of the park.

LESSON 4: REFUELLING We learned the hard way you should not fuel up at service station where a road train has just pulled in – you’ll be waiting ages.

LESSON 5: WHEEL ALIGNMENT We learned another hard lesson: don’t forget to get your wheels realigned after a suspension lift. We had to double back to Alice Springs for an alignment.

LESSON 6: BE READY FOR ANYTHING Ten kilometres north of Santa Theresa, a voice over the CB declared: "We are being flagged down; it seems a car has rolled."

We soon saw a badly damaged car lying on its roof. Fortunately, all occupants had managed to exit after their car had overturned. We made sure everybody was safe and called for help on the satphone. All casualties were safely taken back to Alice.

LESSON 7: EXPECT COMPANY Having assumed William Creek would be quiet with loads of camping room, we were surprised when we had to take the last spot on what is an enormous campground.

The next morning we made sure we were the first at the fuel pumps so we could make our way down the track to Lake Eyre. We’d heard a number of stories about how rough the track was and of people leaving their trailers behind. This was music to our ears because it would allow us to collect some good data on the RAT trailer.

The track was bad. The 100 Series developed a few rattles and vibrations and the GPS croaked its last. All of this was quickly forgotten, however, when the view of the immense inland sea appeared where the desert should have been.

Once back onto an average dirt road the 100 Series’ rattles subsided. The trailer had handled the track with ease.

LESSON 8: THINGS CHANGE QUICKLY IN THE OUTBACK We approached the Cooper Creek road crossing at dusk to see that it was closed. And the last time we checked, the ferry didn’t take trailers.

We could either head back towards Marree and take the long way around, which could add another couple of days and force us to miss the Birdsville, or drive 40km and try our luck at the Coopers Creek barge. We chose the latter.

We arrived to find we had missed the last trip for the day. However, there was a glimmer of hope from a sign telling us the ferry takes trailers less than 9.8m long. We scraped in at 9.6m.

With no alternative, a fire was made and the last bottle of red uncorked. These unexpected travel moments are the best.

LESSON 9: DESERT ROUTES OFTEN CHANGE From Mungerranie, we made plans for the dunes of Big Red. When a few of the guys visited Big Red last year, they reported a flat route. It would be the same this year, wouldn’t it?

It turned out the route this year went a new way. There were a couple of easy, small dunes; however, these were followed by larger and softer dunes. We debated whether we should have crack at these bigger dunes, and the answer was a resounding "yes".

We made it up the first one, but more questions were asked about making the larger dune. But since there was nowhere to turn, the choice was made for us. Thankfully, we were successful with the second dune. But wouldn’t you know it, the third dune was even bigger.

A fellow 4WDer told us of a nearby side track that was longer but easier. We didn’t want to be in the dunes after dark, so the side track it was.

We carried on down this track for a few kilometres only to find another dune with a tight dog leg at the top. The 100 Series managed to get up, but when I tried the 200 Series and trailer the dog leg sapped all speed and I was unsuccessful.

At the bottom after a tight reversing job, it was rather late and since we had to go back over the dunes we had already covered, we headed home. It was disappointing to not tackle Big Red, but a great night at the Birdsville pub eased the pain.

Chris Goddard is the managing director of Vehicle Components which, among other items, is behind Cruisemaster suspension and the D035 hitch.

WORDS AND PICS Chris Goddard
Source: Caravan World Oct 2011