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Sunday drive to Turkey Creek

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Sunday drive to Turkey Creek

No, the above picture is not our truck. But there has been lots of rain, the remnants of Cyclone Debbie rending this Queensland track full of waterlogged potholes and a labyrinth of deep muddy ruts. And there's a flying army of biting midges whenever we dare get out of the truck.

We've come from Agnes Water on the coast, turning off to travel the 'scenic route' - only 20km as the crow flies - the track a winding dashed line on our iPad Hema maps... and it is shown on our truck GPS, so we've decided it really does exist and gone with it. It was odd though, for such a short distance, that the GPS added hours onto our anticipated trip time when we changed from its preferred route to our more 'scenic' pick.

We've been bumping along for hours now, dodging tree branches, ruts and flooded potholes as best we can. Amongst the paperbark swamp there's also the occasional creek crossing to deal with, and a local dry detour if we get lucky. For much of the time though, it's best that one of us walks on ahead to test the lay of the land, the depth of water or mud, and give directions... we like to nurse our precious truck as best we can.

There are hazards walking though, the aforementioned midges, my sandaled right foot sinks in a hole of stinking grey mud that sticks like glue... Sue says giving me the appearance of wearing one grey sock. There are also free-range bovine onlookers for the driver to negotiate from time to time, curious mostly, and tending to wander along the track with an air of nonchalant disdain.

Just here there's another bend on this character-building track we've chosen, when almost to the Turkey Beach turnoff... and the white Landcruiser Workmate ute bogged up to its axles.

Jason and Mack have time off from the mines, with Mack's father running a farm near here. They haven't gotten far though, with Mack seeming a little courageous to city slickers like us. In fact he may have chosen the most challenging route from 3-options right here. Nevertheless, Mack is happy to see us, his diff locks not working his recovery gear limited to a snatch strap, and a hydraulic barrel jack that he has somehow managed to prop under the rear axel but is now jammed stuck. He glances up and down the track.  "There's not much traffic about these parts."

As it happens, we have all the recovery gear, never used till now... and are more than happy to help out, knowing all too well that next time it could be us.

The Landcruiser ute comes out with a roar, a splash and a spray of mud, leaving Mack's hydraulic jack swallowed by the watery abyss, like some murky, muddy time capsule planted for another thrillseeking 4WD enthusiast to rediscover years from now.

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Out with the old

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Out with the old

I guess this post begins a couple of weeks back on Moreton Island, where we are presented with a sign from the tyre gods.

Sue has the rotten luck to be driving, and we turn off the beach onto one of the few inland tracks... all sand with the occasional rock and tree root here up north.

The going is slow, the track winding with plenty of sand at times. After seeing no-one for 24hrs, we are suddenly side stepping 6-vehicles in quick succession from the opposite direction.

To top off the difficulties, there's a hissing sound from outside on the rear driver's side - a flat tyre - and we are powering up a sandy incline.

Pulling over as best we can, the track's a little wider here, and a slash in the tyre side wall. We unbolt the Hi-Lift jack for its second outing. The sand is deepest just here, so it's a bit tricky, and it's nice that several passing trucks offer assistance... always a comforting thought when in the middle of 'nowhere'.

So, it seems after our 2nd flat, 50,000 kms and a fair bit of 4WD wear and tear, it's time to update our tyres while on the road. Mmmm... stuff can be tricky when travelling.

So we go with 4-brand new, the existing spares to be discarded and replaced with the 2-best of those currently on the truck... all ordered online while here in Bundaberg, with the balancing, fitting and alignment sorted for up ahead, at Toyota in Gladstone

Thank goodness for the travel gods in this case... and the internet.

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Our first flat tyre

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Our first flat tyre

Well, it's not our first flat tyre with the Troopy... that was a year ago, out front of home in Bayside Melbourne. I removed the culprit in the driveway, replaced it with our spare, and dropped it off for a new tube to be fitted by our trusty local mechanic.

But today is another kettle of fish.

From the old NSW mining town of Silverton we've headed back into Broken Hill - the only way to get to Mutawintji National Park. The dirt turnoff is only 50km out on a tarred road, but we don't quite make it.

Pulling over to check a momentary Telstra signal, we get going again only to come to an abrupt halt. A sickening grinding squelch tells us we have a flat.

We jump out, opening the tailgates to retrieve, rearrange stuff and pull out the standard Toyota jack... the truck not sitting too badly, just off the road and on a nice hard shoulder surface.

We pull off one of the good spares. 

With the barrel jack under the back axle on a plate of wood, I wind and wind, until the Troopy chassis begins to lift, and alas, there is a load resounding crack - the jack eyelet that houses the winder rod having abruptly sheared off rending the jack useless.

I remember the number one rule - 'Don't panic.' The ground is stony, baking bloody hot, the air temperature 36degC.

And I remember 4x4 forum discussions from 12-months back - "Don't ever rely on a single jack."

So we unbolt the Hi-Lift jack fixed to the rear bumper, something I had wondered may have become an expensive piece of furniture.... they do have a reputation for being dangerous and unnecessary.

So... for the first time, we use our Hi-Lift jack to get us going again. Without it we would have been up a well known creek without a paddle.

Yes, it did take a bit of getting used too. And the suggestion of the lone passerby to spray the dust-caked Hi-Lift mechanism with WD40 made the job so much easier. Thanks Frank.

Oh... and one last thing... was the Hi-Lift dangerous to use? Well, like most things, some loving care and respect is definitely needed.

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On the road/off the road - day one done

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On the road/off the road - day one done

Murphy's law is a funny thing. The truck is virtually new, barely run-in with a previous 3000km foray to Lake Eyre and back... and a climb up into the Victorian High country.

What could go wrong as we now - finally -  head off into the real wild blue yonder? Well... an 'engine malfunction' it seems, our indestructable Troopy truck maybe not so indestructible afterall.

It's 9pm, propped outside a servo in Waurne Ponds, Geelong - only about an hour south of Melbourne.

Seems it's a numbers game.... well... numbers and one letter to be exact, according to our RACV man, who stoops in front of the driver's seat peering under the dash. He holds an electronic device in his right hand and nods. "Mmmm... it does happen." He nods again, shows us the device display - "P2121" - and asks for some paper to jot something down.

It seems the throttle position sensor thinks there's a problem, triggering the 'engine malfunction' light and the engine switching to 'limp' mode with a loss of power.

With the sensor disabled, we continue on as normal to our first overnight at lakeside Ondit, and a fitfull sleep broken by the midnight meetings of grey nomads, thoughts of what we may have forgotten and nearby Paul Kelly campfire covers... oh, and the questionable comfort of a mechanic's advice that "the throttle sensor hiccup may never happen again."

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Pieces and bits, tools and tips

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Pieces and bits, tools and tips

Tomorrow looks like departure day, a day later than first planned but nevermind.

We have our recovery gear, 2-jacks not one, and a good compressor.., Max Traxx, jacking plate, and all that's needed to get us out if stuck. But what about tools? Well, I'm no mechanic... but it would be crazy not to give the subject some thought. And I'm thinking a good start would be the Toyota Manual, a metric socket/spanner set, (I'm told there are no imperial bolts on the LandCruiser), some pliers and multi grips, screw drivers, Allen keys and shifters. And what about some fix-all duct tape, some cable ties and a small roll of fencing wire... some Araldite, oh... and a hammer.

And there's that age old chestnut - with lots of tips about - spare parts versus space. I know that some carry extra coolant and engine oil, wheel bearings, a soldering iron, spare radiator hoses and fan belts - even spare fuel and water? Well, we already have 2-90L diesel and a 70L water tank, so that's good. And a fire extinguisher.

But I'm thinking this truck is pretty much new... and I'm hoping in good nick - low kms and having done not much work. Anyway, where the hell would more stuff actually go? Mmmm... but I suppose some spare fuses are a good idea.There is the obligatory jacking plate, tyre tools and 2-spare wheels. We have heavy-duty jumper leads, recovery shackles and straps, an axe and long-handled shovel, with a wheelbag for wood and bits and pieces hanging off the back. Mmmm... space really is tight in this truck of ours.

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A truck called `home'

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A truck called `home'

We've finally received the news, the Troopy conversion ready, all done and waiting to be picked-up. .. a welcome Christmas present.

Our morning flight leaves Melbourne, and with minimal carry-on luggage we land at Sydney late morning. At the airport we're met and chauffeured to Trakka headquarters at Mt Kuring-gai, just north of the city.

With the official handover, there are a few last-minute tweaks, with Trakka Troopies not so common these days, but the truck is ready to go... with everything including a kitchen sink of sorts.

From Sydney we head out on our newly-kitted-out maiden voyage, heading south around Sydney, via the Illawarra coast and Royal NP, the second oldest `National Park' in the world. Through Waterfall and Otford, Stanwell Park and Coalcliff we follow the toe of towering escarpment cliffs.

Now we wind our way along a sweeping, giant's causeway propped on high concrete pylons. This is SEA CLIFF BRIDGE, a balanced cantilever marvel completed in 2005, the Pacific swell 40m below, home to passing ships and the occasional whale.

At  94km we pull into COLEDALE raising the new tilt roof with our inbuilt bed,... but with only airport carry-on, we've no cooking gear, proper supplies for our first night, or even a chair to sit back and take in the ocean view. Mmmm... but there is a wine shop handy and somewhere to buy breakfast muesli, yoghurt and a drop of juice for the morning.

But tonight it's back to the truck for our celebratory sparkling shiraz in plastic cups, sweet chilli corn chips, cheese and spiced nuts - all to the pounding of surf and the screeching of Coledale cockatoos tussling for sunset roosts, their feathers white beacons a dazzle in the shadows of impossibly high Norfolk Pines - all this under a glorious Coledale sunset behind that magical Illawarra escarpment.

Later, these same seaside skies are loaded with stars, the surf a rhythmic whoosh and thump. Night birds wheel in the dark, others whistle from roosts unknown.

In the top of the truck the bed is cosy and warm, the canvas sides breathing in a salt-laden breeze. Dreams drift, to far-off secret coastal coves - between nagging questions of what to pack and the limited available space in this truck of ours. What we will need does seems like an awful lot right now. Will we have enough DRAWERS, NOOKS and CRANNIES for storage? There is the necessary safety gear to fit in too; some tools and spares, the food, the clothes... the list goes on, and on...

Oh well... maybe we could tow a small trailer if needed? Well no... not really. That's never been part of the 'grand' plan... so... we'll see how this latest challenge goes... like packing a boat the size of a sardine can for an extended ocean going voyage, or a magician pulling a reluctant rabbit from a hat.

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Taming the beast

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Taming the beast

No, it's not always about me. This time it's about the truck, and a fast-approaching day - March 2017 - when we finally head off.

Is our truck ready to go? We've added recovery points front and back, driving lights and tacked a twin spare wheel carrier frame on the back. So... almost ready... except for a few creature comforts... like some built-in cupboards and a fridge for example... oh, and a bed.

So, who have we entrusted to complete this final 'tweaking' to our beloved truck?

Well, it has to be someone who knows their stuff... someone like TRAKKA, fitting off-road beasties like ours since the 70s, their low key office and factory nestled in the bush of Mt Kuring-gai.

We browse through a TRAKKA REVIEW.

There'll be holes cut in the side, a new water tank, benches, battery, stove, sink, shower and fridge all added... among other stuff. Oh, and the roof will need to be cut off... mmmm... for the foldaway bed of course... with solar panels propped on top.

So, we take a collective deep breath, drop off the truck for its December `conversion', after driving 900-kms to Trakka, just north of Sydney; then with a tearful goodbye fly home.

Work begins, NOW WELL UNDERWAY, and we await the conversion of our go-anywhere 4×4 truck to a comfortable home away from home.

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