The Land of Aus - Australia E7 Trip Report

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Expeditions7 Australia - March, 2013
Text by Kurt Williams, edited by Tacoma White & Jeremiah Proffitt. Photos by Kurt Williams & Jeremiah Proffitt

Top Ten Ways to Know You're on E7 Australia
10. You're washing clothes in the bathtub of a 2 bed motel room shared by 4 people
9. You have learned to successfully eat and drink through a fly net
8. Get asked to drive through the night and into following day and the group says "sweet"
7. Underwear can last for 4 rotations.
6. You don't notice your own smell after a week
5. During the past two weeks, you've witnessed more camels, kangaroos and dingoes than you have people
4. Gas under $2.64/liter ($10/gallon) sounds absolutely fair
3. You've tried all 5 meal options on the menu of an outback roadhouse, twice.
2. You've seen a camel powered Suzuki Samurai
1. You've driven for twelve days and the landscape hasn't changed.

I knew from the beginning that simple words would fail to do justice to what I have come to know as Australia. Australia itself wasn't new to me, but much of its deep Outback indeed was. My wife Candace and I spent a month touring Australia with our good friends, the Eppersons, in the summer of 2009. It was a whirlwind tour that had us and catching flights to the next city overnight, so we could maximize our on-the-ground-experience and explore all day. This “whet your appetite tour” included Brisbane, Gold Coast, Fraser Island, Alice Springs, Uluru, Cairns, along the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Melbourne , and stops in between. My appetite for more of Australia was huge, and opportunity presented itself with an invitation to join the Expeditions 7 Team for their upcoming Australian leg. They planned to cross the continent and conquer the legendary Canning Stock Route, which has the honor of being the longest historic stock route in the world and perhaps the longest unsupported 4WD trail as well.

My travels started like most, at the airport, where I bid my bride goodbye with a prolonged hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. It would be nearly 6 weeks until I saw her again, but time would fly. As with any other adventure , my nerves were flush with excitement: so many moving pieces of a puzzle were coming together in the next 72 hours. Rewind a couple of months to when I received a call from Greg Miller, the Lead Adventurer of Expeditions 7. Greg and I spent the better part of an hour discussing the concept for a third E7 vehicle dubbed “Sherpa II”. The Sherpa II would replace the beloved “Sherpa” that I piloted across the continent for the North America leg of the E7 Expedition during summer, 2012. The name came naturally, homage to the mountaineers of Nepal known for their amazing ability to climb daunting peaks while burdened with the load of others. The E7 team then shipped the truck to Europe, where it carried team members and gear through nearly a dozen countries, as they traversed the continent en route to Russia.

Along the European leg of the ongoing E7 journey, it became apparent that the Sherpa wasn't going to work for the remainder of the trip. It was a fantastic truck, but its aftermarket, turbo-equipped inline-6, 1HZ diesel didn't provide for the same comfortable cruising speeds of “Fernweh” and “Mateship”. These V8 turbo-diesel equipped troop carrier (VDJ78s) have been on the Expeditions7 journey from day one and have quickly become a proven platform. While it sounds like a trivial problem to many, even 10% different cruising speeds can equate to hours apart at the end of a long haul day. Add the fact that Australia would present some special load capacity needs for additional team members and gear, and it wasn't long before a VDJ79 was being discussed as the ideal solution. The newly released Workmate is a 4 door (dual cab) 70 Series platform that shares an identical drivetrain with the existing E7 VDJ78s, including the hardy 1VD-FTV V8 engine. On top of that, the Sherpa II would have a much higher load capacity and is offered in a cab-chassis model which would prove to be an ideal solution for the team's needs.


Sherpa II

Within minutes of de-boarding the plane in Canberra, Australia, I was hailing a taxi for the hour-long ride to Goulburn. There, a treasure was waiting at the Bosston Auto Bodies facility: Expeditions 7's newest addition to the fleet and my pet project, the VDJ79 Workmate. It had been a remarkable road to this point. One month earlier, the E7 team in SLC finalized the acquisition of the truck via a Brisbane-based Toyota dealership, and had it immediately delivered to ARB Coopers Plains, a premier ARB service center on the outskirts of Brisbane. The E7 Team, ARB, and Bosston consulted for many hours on the phone regarding the build details, criteria and scheduling plans. ARB did an initial round of mods that included the ARB bull-bar, Warn winch and wiring. The truck was then shipped 1200 kilometers south to Bosston Auto Body's facility where a custom canopy was set to be installed. Through a chance internet search, Greg had found Bosston Auto Bodies and was able to speak with their operations manager, Stanley. Bosston is a specialty truck canopy manufacturer that has earned a name for producing extremely rugged and practical self-contained rear canopy units that are used throughout Australia. Their clients range from the military to utility companies. Our project was a rather unique concept, but Stanley and crew had been more than willing to accommodate our build criteria on a particularly constrained time schedule – several weeks versus the several months they are used to working with. The canopy design was simple: a large gull wing door on either side, twin spare tires mounted to the rear, an internal rack mounted to the ceiling, and a rear drawer unit that would offer quick access to camera gear and spares. Stanley also recommended a tool box that mounts just behind the rear fender and a water tank occupying the same spot on the opposite side of the truck. The end result was a tidy setup that would offer vast amounts of secure and watertight storage for the journey ahead.

I was excited to see the finished product when I hopped out of the taxi at Bosston's facility in Goulburn, and the staff at Bosston was excited to show off their workmanship. After a quick tour of the canopy and its features, the keys were in my hand and I was off. I didn't waste much time and within half an hour I was on the road northbound. It was roughly 4PM when I rolled out of Goulburn and with some good rest on the flight over and my adrenalin pumping, it was time to motor--just 1200 kms to go. I drove into the evening and through the night. My route primarily consisted of the Pacific Highway, which had me traveling along Australia's scenic eastern coast through Sydney, the Gold Coast, and eventually Brisbane, where ARB Coopers Plains still had a decent amount of work left to do. The route offers innumerable picturesque sites while winding up the coast; however, I had my mind on the goal of getting to ARB and finishing the truck. Our plan was to have the truck back in their shop the following morning. Taking just a short cat nap on a quiet side street north of Sydney and stopping for a quick “brekky” along the Gold Coast area, I pulled into ARB just as they opened shop for the morning. I was met by Scott Brady, the E7 Expedition Leader for the Australian leg, and the “ninja of logistics” as I like to call him. Together we met with Mark, the manager of the ARB store, and outlined the remaining wants, needs and goals for the Sherpa II build. Mark's team is nothing short of amazing. They move an incredible number of build projects through the shop each month, and while our build was quite substantial and on an extremely tight schedule, each of our requests was met with “no problem guys” from Mark.


Sherpa II outfitting at ARB Coopers Plains

For the next week we would be at ARB each day, assisting where we could and staying out of their way when appropriate as well. It was a rewarding experience to work alongside the fabulous techs that make this highly efficient shop click. I learned a lot watching their system and the precise efficiency with which they operate, moving up to several hundred trucks through their shop each month. When we were not in their shop working on the truck or in their parking lot working on the VDJ78s, we were at the local hardware store assembling cribbing for the fuel containers that Sherpa II would be hauling across the Canning. Bruce Dorn, the E7 cinematographer, had arrived and was put to work documenting the work performed to date as well as doing a bit of carpentry too. He is a man of many talents that never fails to surprise, making quick work of the Sherpa II's cribbing setup, designed to hold the fuel containers that the Sherpa II would be hauling across the Canning. This truck's mission wasn't only to haul 4 team members and their gear. It would be tasked with hauling nine 60L fuel drums, each weighing upwards of 120lbs when completely full. With just over half a ton of fuel, plus water, food and team member gear, the Sherpa II had its work set out. ARB's techs set the trucks suspension with this in mind, using literally the beefiest springs available for the back of a 70 Series Land Cruiser.


The fuel containers and cribbing

While still in our stateside planning phase, Mark at ARB had connected us with his graphics contact, Nathan, at Sign Effect, a local Brisbane decal specialist. I reached out to Nathan and let him know what kind of a schedule we would be working with and sent him a couple of photos of the E7-clad VDJ78s so that he could gauge the amount of work to be done. Again our needs were met with a “no problem”-- did I mention just how on the ball these gentlemen are? Nathan was kind enough to swing by ARB and take a peek at the decal kit I had brought over on the flight with me. The vinyl for the hood and doors was no worry at all; however, he had never installed the 3M windshield protectant. Nonetheless, Nathan was willing to give it a go, and spent some time on his own researching the product install. We had one day left to go, and the truck was near completion. ARB's stalwart crew was willing to work late into the evening to ensure it all came together, and we were there with them tying together all of the loose ends over some pizza in the shop… some things are universal in this world. We spent the remainder of the evening in Nathan's shop, where he was kind enough to let us make some last minute repairs and do some minor cleaning to the 78s while he installed the vinyl on the Sherpa II, saving only the canopy decal placement for Greg, as he had a special layout in mind.


Decal installation - Finishing touches on the Sherpa II


The fleet together at last, the Sherpa II right at home with the 78's

The following morning more team members arrived. Our group size had now tripled and much excitement was afoot. In the hotel parking, Greg and his sons went to work on the final decal arrangements for the 79 as we shuffled bags and gear between the trucks. Our team spent the day in Brisbane, picking up some last minute gear and getting a personal tour of the HEMA Maps facility by proprietor Rob Boehheim. HEMA's HN6 Navigator, books, and paper maps were used extensively throughout Australia; they literally have navigation perfected for back country travel in the Outback. Our final agenda in Brisbane would be a nice send-off lunch with Rob from HEMA and Mark from ARB before officially getting underway.


The Expeditions7 team ready to depart from HEMA's facility.

Too be continued...
 
Last edited:

Rumpig

Adventurer
looking forward to reading the rest of this as it's done to see exactly where you went....ARB Coopers Plains is 5 minutes up the road from my place, i've had a fair bit of work done on my Cruiser by the guys there over the years.
 

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Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Expeditions 7 Australia - Part Two:


The E7 rigs make a great photo platform

Our first night's camp was rather anti-climactic, a simple camp along a seldom used dirt track just minutes from the highway. While the location wasn't anything to write home about, it felt right to be camping and the group was teeming with elation as we were no longer in the comfort of hotels, but entering the wild unknown as we continued westward.


Standard Outback fare

The team was coming together, and we were officially in ‘expedition mode' with vehicle and logistics preparations now behind us. Scott had been working on our route and itinerary for months, and all that preparation was coming to fruition. Our upcoming goal was Alice Springs, several thousand kilometers away, and with just a few days planned to get there, it was motor time. Our route consisted of a combination of highway and off-road tracks including the Boulia Developmental Road & the Donahue and Plenty Highways. These extremely isolated routes epitomize what many envision when they think of Australia. Modern travelers enjoy the extreme remote driving they provide, however they also offer roads and infrastructure to the many Aboriginal towns located deep in the outback. We spent the days pushing hard towards Alice and the evenings under the booming stars, as good a night view as any I had experienced to date. Our only taste of civilization along the dirt route was Atitjere, a small town where we enjoyed a quick meal out of the local trading post. Atitjere would just whet the appetite for the many outback towns and road houses we were yet to encounter, all while providing a taste of humility that is the Australian Outback.


The most powerful Samurai on the planet, with a spare power plant to boot.

Our convoy rolled into Alice Springs just as a plane was landing with an additional team member, perfect timing once again courtesy of Mr. Brady. Our newest team addition was Steve Miller, Greg's brother and a newcomer to the E7 adventure. We had the remainder of the evening to enjoy a bit of Alice Springs, and more importantly, gather the needed food supplies for our planned two weeks away from major cities. Alice Springs is a most charming town located on the edge of the Red Centre Desert. It's not uncommon to have a dozen well-kitted 4x4's adorning the parking lot of a single gas station. Given the town's proximity to not only Uluru (Ayres Rock) as well as the entire Red Centre Desert, it serves as a major launching point for overland and tourist activities throughout the region. Alice has well-stocked grocery stores, an assortment of auto parts and 4x4 outlets, and a variety of dining and lodging accommodations. There we were able to top off fuel including the nine 60L fuel drums in the back of the Sherpa II.
From Alice we pointed towards Connellan Airport on the outskirts of Uluru/Ayres Rock, where we would be picking up two more team members, Jeremiah Proffitt and Kyle Patten. Their plane had landed a bit ahead of schedule so they had made their way to the campground and were waiting for us when we arrived. With their addition, the E7 Team had grown to 11 members, our biggest group to date. This would be our largest team—but no sooner than we gained two, we lost one, with Bryce flying out the following morning to return to school obligations.


The team enjoys a pizza at Ayres Rock.

My wife and I visited Uluru (Ayres Rock proper) during our 2009 Australia trip. While I recall it being a remarkable rock formation and well worth the visit, I was quickly reminded just how magnificent it indeed was upon seeing it in person again. The clouds floated softly behind the massive rock, and the afternoon sun made the rock glow. Back in town we enjoyed a great dinner with the entire team and retreated back to camp for a night under the stars. Greg's sons had been enjoying their nights in hammocks strung between trees or the vehicles. The weather had been splendid for our entire trip to that point, so I decided to give it a go. Naturally it proceeded to rain throughout the night, and I ended up soaking wet and soon retreated to a make-shift sleeping arrangement under the Sherpa.



We started our morning with a drive out to Ayres Rock as the previous night's storm clouds continued to hover in the skies above us, treating us with an ongoing downpour. Precipitation at Ayres Rock is rare, in fact it happens just a handful of times each year. We couldn't possibly have anticipated the show we were going to see as we neared the massive rock. The clouds were circling above as we walked through the rain to the base of Ayres. Rain gathered into the many crevices of the rock, pouring off to the ground from hundreds of feet above. While the site of Ayres in the rain was nothing short of spectacular, Scott was anxious to get the group moving westward before the park authorities closed the road due to the extreme wet conditions. Fortunately, we snuck out just prior to the road closure and while the road was extremely wash boarded and soaking wet, we were still making good time. The weather continued to improve as we moved west along the Great Central Road and the Gunbarrell Highway, camping along the way. Soon we were arriving back in the land of men as we moved through the small towns of Laverton and Lenora: the last civilization we would see for a few weeks. We were all excited for what came next: the Canning Stock Route!


Beware of camels


The sight of a Australia road train bearing down on us. You basically just pull over and let the dust settle.

To be continued...
 

cruiseroutfit

Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Expeditions 7 Australia - Part Three:



Canning Stock Route sign, long ways to the end


The start of the Canning Stock Route didn't disappoint.

The Canning Stock Route is one of the world's premier overland routes with all attributes of adventure. At nearly 1800 kilometers long, groups must be completely self-sufficient for fuel, food and associated provisions for the 2 week long voyage. Carcasses of burned-out and abandoned vehicles line the route almost like mile markers, constant reminders of the fates that others have met along this extremely remote track. Kunawarajie, a small Aboriginal town, lies at its center, allowing a minor re-supply and a precious fuel stop. The route is broken up into shorter segments, each spanning the distance between the routes 48 wells. Each well provided a much needed watering spot for the cattle drives pushing across the barren landscape. In modern days they offer a unique historical perspective to travelers and mark progress along the route.


Loaded up in Wiluna, ready to conquer the Canning

Excitement was high as we took our last civilized fuel fill in Wiluna, and just minutes later we were exiting the pavement in favor of the Canning Stock Route's gravel surface. The track quickly faded from pavement to dirt to two-tracks through the outback. This was where we belonged. Our camp that night was a simple late night spread but the ever-stretching sunset, unobstructed skies , and pure solitude gave everything a majestic touch of elegance. For the next few days our convoy traveled by day and enjoyed a nice camp setting by night. Each member of the team had their own camp duties, and we made quick work of setting camp, building a fire, and cooking up a meal. The mornings were reverse order, wake up, make a breakfast ranging from oatmeal to eggs and sausage, and then pack up and roll.


Blazing on two-track of the Canning Stock Route


Endless sunsets...


The view of Lake Aerodrome


Camp setup on Lake Aerodrome

Our camp at Durbin Springs was a true gem, complete with a freshwater watering hole used for thousands of years by the indigenous inhabitants, and rock art unlike any other I had previously encountered. This camp was a big landmark for the production side of the E7 adventure as Bruce, the segment cinematographer, would be taking to the air in a chartered helicopter to gather footage the following day. Like clockwork the next morning, the jet-powered chopper descended into the small box canyon at the exact time planned. Within minutes the pilot, Andrew, was pulling his doors and Bruce and Josh were harnessing up and loading their gear into the helicopter. The plan was to film the vehicles as they crossed the hundreds of sand dunes in our path.


Chopper at Durbin Spring


Chopper at Durbin Spring


Chopper filming from Cab

Filming slows progress, no two ways about it. The additional downtime of the morning's safety discussions, personnel loading, and the helicopters mandatory re-fuel runs had taken a toll on our progress across the Canning. By early afternoon filming had concluded and we were eager to make tracks. Andrew and his bird departed back to his airbase and Bruce and Josh were back with the fleet. We were pushing hard, perhaps too hard. The “wormhole” begins.


Stuck


Still Stuck


Will we ever be unstuck?

To be continued...
 

p1michaud

Expedition Leader
Geat report so far. ARB Coopers Plains is one of the best stores in Australia and Mark ensures everyone is taken care of.
 

cruiseroutfit

Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Expeditions7 Australia - Part Four:


Up to our hips in it.

While the name may denote a negative experience, the wormhole actually has proven to be a high mark of my Australian adventure. It represented one of the Australian leg's more dire moments, but it also provided an opportunity for the team members to satiate an almost sadistic inner desire… the desire to solve problems and overcome the calamity. The day started like most others: the team shared cooking duties for a quick breakfast, packed away the cooking and camping gear, and hit the trail. We had encountered several water-logged portions of the route earlier in the day that resulted in several minor mires, none lasting more than a half-hour. These setbacks, along with the accompanying re-routes, had us running a bit behind schedule and we were pushing a bit later into the evening than our normal days. We were pushing hard towards Kunawarajie when Scott's 78, the lead vehicle at the time, disappeared into a watery abyss. It was too late for Greg to stop and Greg followed him in.


Winching from several hundred feet away


More wet road ahead

What looked like a short section of water-laden trail turned out to be nearly a quarter mile of completely flooded swamp. Worse than the water was the ground underneath—with each step, you would wind up sinking to your thighs in the saturated mud. Jeremiah, Josh, Earl and I were at the tail end of the group, safely positioned on dry ground with a good amount of recovery gear. We assembled every strap we had in the arsenal, including those in the troop carriers, and were able to assemble a line roughly 300 feet to Greg's mired Troopy, “Fernweh”. Using the pull of the winch and every Maxtrax recovery device we had available, we were able to move both troop carriers to safer ground. Over 4 hours had elapsed. The Sherpa team scouted a re-route around the mud bog, and with our trio now moving, it was time to kick it into high gear. We had to make up for lost time if we were going to make it to Kunawarajie to meet the bush pilot we had scheduled to extract some of our team members.


Albi the repairman


Albi's well equipped workshop, his average project is repairing a rolled vehicle

It was after midnight and we had to be conservative and assume there might be additional wet trail ahead. We pushed through the night, stopping for a few brief minutes to enjoy a cold cereal breakfast along the trail, never really even letting the motors cool. Kunawarajie was a major logistics point for our trip. Not only was there a dirt airstrip that Greg's brother and sons were set to fly out on, but they had the precious diesel fuel we needed. (Albeit expensive at roughly $13 US per gallon) We rolled into Kunawaritji with just enough time for Josh, Oakley, and Steve to take a shower, enjoy a hot meal, and get a decent rest before their plane arrived to pick them up. We re-inventoried our food stores, organized the trucks, and made a quick repair to the fuel fill bracket on the Sherpa's canopy. The fix was courtesy of Albi, a Romanian immigrant who had escaped his homeland by accepting a mechanics position in this remote village. He specialized in Land Cruisers, which came as no surprise given they make up 75% of the vehicles one sees in the Australian Outback.


Kunawaritji Fuel Bill, Australian Dollars which is roughly the same in US Dollars

The northern half of the Canning wasn't nearly the adventure the bottom half had proven to be. With far more favorable road conditions we were able to make excellent time while still taking plenty of time to “smell the roses” along the route. We were surprised to be nearing the end of the famous (and justly infamous) Canning Stock Route, ahead of schedule. The vehicles were no worse for wear aside from some major outback pinstriping and dust. We had earned some extra time, so we started to ponder a bonus adventure. We explored the option of visiting the famous Kimberly region, but after finding out that all of the roads in the Kimberly were still closed because of the rainy season, we settled on Broome. Sure it was a day's drive to the west coast of Australia, but why not? We weren't sick of driving and none of our team had been to Broome, so it was on. Scott needed to get back to Alice Springs to begin prepping the logistics of shipping the trucks to Africa, as well as to meet his father, who would be arriving to join him for a trip out to Uluru. The rest of the team gave Broome the thumbs up and we were off in a dash.

Some additional shots of the Canning Stock Route:


Bike carcass along the Canning Stock Route


Expeditions7 fleet on the horizon


Camels are everywhere


Kyle (6'6") standing next to the massive termite mounds


Termites and clouds


Storms on the horizon


Canning skylines


Locals and their Land Cruiser


Burned out & rolled Hilux on the Canning


The Sherpa II standing proud


Bruce Dorn signing the fuel drum at the Canning's last well


Sorting out the trucks at Halls Creek after completing the Canning Stock Route

To be continued...
 

Willman

Supporting Sponsor - Sierra Expeditions
Kurt - You are one lucky man! What a trip of a lifetime!
Keep it coming!

Thanks for Sharing.
 

RMAC67

Member
Wow.... Great reading. I had the opportunity to do the CSR back in my youth in 1989. Best trip I've done in this country and was the kick start to many other outback adventures. I'm now reliving a lot of the places with my family in tow. Good to see the CSR hasn't changed that much, except for more burnout cars, the availability of fuel. Well 23 was the only refuelling point back then.
Thanks for posting, its made me put this trip back on my To-Do Trip list with my family......Just need to save up for the massive fuel costs :)
 
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