How We Got Into The Outback

An Idea

For anyone wanting to travel through the Outback of Australia, I can assure you that it is an experience you will not forget. The Outback region of Australia is vast and it covers every state and territory throughout the country, so there is plenty to see and space to lose your self in.

My name is Greg and it has always been a dream of mine to head off through the Outback to see what the real Australia had to offer. I had been working from home as a graphic designer since 1995, tied to a computer every day and really needed to escape to open country. I grew up in the country and have always found it more appealing than city life. The ‘rat-race’ is not my idea of living life. I much prefer the natural beauty outside the confines of tar and cement.

This lead to the name of our map guides, ‘The Outback Travellers Track Guide’, in 2005 after many months of background reading, design and layout ideas, looking for advertisers and sponsors and hitting the telephone and email day-in-day-out, till the ground work and template of the first book was determined.

It all took time, but we eventually got there. In June 2005, we were ready to undertake our first trip, the Oodnadatta Track. I had plenty of experience with 4x4 driving and had already owned three Toyota 4WDs. Together with a Heavy Vehicle license, bush navigation, survival skills and a Pilot license, I already had good map reading ability, a keen sense of space and ‘truckies blood’ to handle the miles. My wife, Josie, is the accountant in the family. She also has very good computer skills and has logged all the information detail along all the tracks we have driven.

Preparation

I had to prepare our trusty 4x4 for the adventures ahead, but was confident it would do the job well after all the running around that we had already done over the years. I had a black Toyota 4Runner (The ‘Beast’), 1988 petrol 2.2, five-speed manual. Over the years I think just about every part of it has been rebuilt throughout the motor and drive train. The motor was re-built at 250,000km with oversize pistons taking it out to about 2.3 litres. This was followed by an update to the transfer box and eventually the gearbox. I had a limited slip diff put in the rear, OME suspension lift, snorkel, long-range fuel tank (120ltrs) and a dual battery system installed. Inside we had a Barrett HF Radio, GME UHF radio and a 300w inverter to power the laptop computer that connected directly to the GPS for a moving map and downloads. We had an Engel 40 litre fridge freezer on a slide in the back and wired up extra cigarette lighter 12v outlets for accessories. I was already running 235/75R15 Kumho tyres on Alloy 15x6 wheels and they were still good to go. Later this was upgraded to 255/70R16 Cooper STT tyres on 16x7 steel wheels.

Support

Sponsorship was a key element to us getting all this off the ground. We did not have any huge bank balance, but did have the enthusiasm and belief in what we were doing and wanted to achieve. After hundreds of telephone calls, the ‘Australian National Four Wheel Drive Council’ said they were very interested in our map guide proposal and wanted to sponsor the production of the first three books. Fantastic! We were very pleased to be associated with such a creditable organisation. On top of this, Barrett Communications Co-Sponsored us with a HF Radio and Auto-tune Aerial. This was extremely pleasing and really felt like all the hard work and hours were coming together beautifully.

Getting Underway

The day we left Melbourne, it was overcast, cold and dreary. Our excitement ignored the elements. We were packed to the roof with supplies, water, tent, camping gear, toolbox, additional spare tyre and some spare parts and containers with fuses and nuts and bolts… you never know!

The ‘Beast’ had totalled about 290,000km by the time we were heading off. It has always been a reliable machine, but then again, I have always serviced it regularly and made sure everything was in good working order. Sure, there were squeaks and rattles and plenty of groaning pulling all that weight. But it could hold 100kph on the flat all day without any dramas.

Along came the Hills

Forget it when the hills arrived, you could walk faster! Our first crunch was going up the Pentland hills out of Bacchus Marsh. This was a long slow haul in third gear, but if you did not mind the pace with every truck, car and bike passing you, it would certainly get you there and way beyond.

From there on it was cruising until the Adelaide hills… once again it was forward motion at a crawl. I think I annoyed more interstate truckies than I could account for. The ‘Beast’ was working hard up the hills, but then I had trouble pulling her up going down the other side! I think the gearbox was almost overheating from over use.

By the following day, we had moved on from Port Augusta to Marree and the start of the first real data collection. The real Outback…

Everything operates in slow motion out here… time seems to almost stand still.

 

These past 4 years

We enjoy tracking through these remote areas, collecting data and photographing as much as possible. It becomes a very slow trip for us, stopping regularly for waypoints and photos, but allows us to really absorb the environment and get a taste of what early pioneers must have encountered and seen in their endeavours. They were tough and enduring people who sustained many hardships, but had a spirit of adventure and took all challenges that life threw at them.

We encourage people to travel slowly and stop regularly to have a good look at the outback environment. The only thing speed does out here is create more dust and a higher risk of an accident. If trip planning is done carefully, there is no need to rush.

The outback is open and vast, offering some beautiful landscapes from prehistoric hills to parched gibber plains, but the colouring is incredible. Mostly dry and sun baked, the country changes quickly with rain. Tracks can turn to soup in a matter of minutes. Floodway’s and creeks, once dry, now carry water from run-offs turning the dust and hard ground to mud and sticky clay. Most tracks are closed in such conditions due to bad rutting from vehicles and generally slippery and boggy situations. It is always wise to keep an eye on weather conditions and plan for detours or delays if bad weather surfaces. Always carry sufficient water and food as well as adequate fuel in the event that plans change unavoidably. If you get stuck, don’t panic, rest and think logically. Problems are only half the concern the next morning. This is why communications are important and can alleviate unnecessary stress.

On the more popular tracks, a grader may improve the surface once in 6-12 months, but many tracks never see this at all. Bad corrugations, rocks, sand and bull-dust, all become the norm for most travellers. This is why it is so important to have your 4x4 in good mechanical condition. The corrugations alone can destroy a vehicle that is not well set-up. Suspension and tyres are of paramount importance and most new 4x4’s are not ready off the showroom floor. Reputable after market products are a must.

We have now produced 19 map guides for various tracks and regions throughout the outback and must say that it has been a personally rewarding experience. The people we have met along the way have been a pleasure to talk with, always cheerful and full of anticipation with their ventures throughout Australia. Several have been international tourists we have come across in one location or another and have been extremely enthusiastic and happy about their touring. They always say, ‘we are coming back’. They are amazed at the distances, isolation and unique environment. We have met people from France, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, England, Italy, Sweden, Japan, America, Canada, Holland and the many retirees and tourists from different parts of Australia that seem to be everywhere.

Our aim is to continue producing ‘The Outback Travellers Track Guide’. There are still many tracks throughout Australia and we hope to be able to map all of them over the next few years with an emphasis on safety through information for all travellers.

Our map guides are not cluttered with unnecessary detail, but focus on the track you are driving and what you will encounter along this track. We graphically indicate: dips and crests; rivers and creeks (and try to name every one); grids, gates, station turnoffs, sharp bends, claypans, bog and bulldust holes, intersections and points of interests (geographically and historically). All our track data is collected using a Garmin GPS and laptop computer. We display co-ordinates for all specific points of reference and use photography to visually support these locations. Bush camps are also shown on several of our maps.

Our map guides are available through: Map stores; 4WD outlets; Tourist Information Centres; Ray’s Outdoors; Wadlatta Visitor Centre; Mt Dare Hotel and the Birdsville and Innamincka Hotels; they are listed on Leading Edge books and Neilson’s book data; various Camping stores, Caravan Parks and venues along the tracks.

Online at the map shop www.outbacktravellers.com.au or directly through Design Interaction, Hema Maps, Westprint Heritage Maps or Australian Bush and Country Maps.

We have now updated our 4x4 to an 80 Series Landcruiser GXL Turbo Diesel 4.2, 1HD-FT, five speed manual. Having it well decked out and with the added power, comfort, space and legs, should enable us to travel the outback for some time to come. See you down the track.

‘Ave a good one’

Greg Walker