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troopy

Broken glass, backroads and byways

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Broken glass, backroads and byways

It's been tricky, but after having the windscreen cracked in 3-places, and the driver's window shattered - all within minutes - we've just managed to get the lot fixed in Longreach, Queensland one week later.

Tricky? Because our options from Birdsville - having mobile reception and from where we booked the repairs - were either Outback Mount Isa 700km north, or Outback Longreach 900km to the east. 

Mmmm... oh well, what's a few hundred extra kms between friends when on the road for 4-months and travelling over 20,000km on roads and tracks of assorted ilks? Interestingly though, it does seem to have been the sealed roads that are more if a problem - with the added factors of excessive speed and oncoming caravans - a spray of loose bluemetal often flicked up and catapulted in our general direction.

But it is especially disappointing to be hit with yet another stone, with another cracked windscreen today, only 1-day after the first lot of work was finished. Oh well... just another 'inconvenience', as long as it doesn't stop our travels.

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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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Dusting off the sand - Brisbane, then Toowoomba

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Dusting off the sand - Brisbane, then Toowoomba

We are in Brisbane for 2-nights... with the luxury of a hot shower, free WiFi that really works, and cocktails at the iconic Storey Bridge Hotel beneath the equally iconic Brisbane bridge of the same name.

There are some tweaks to the truck needed - the engine malfunction light having ominously appeared... again... a repeat offender from months ago, and something we really need to finally nail. Toyota now tell us the problem lay with after-factory-fitted cruise control and simply disconnect the culprit. So it seems we are temporarily without a cruise control. Mmmm... the saga continues... and we shall try another tack on that one. Oh, and there is also the matter of a smallish melanoma to be removed.

So here we are - on our last balmy Brisbane night - the above dealt with... for the moment, and we ponder our next move. But let's be brutally honest here... we do seem to have trouble travelling in straight lines, and have just spotted another distraction in a Brisbane magazine. It seems there's impressive street art in the Queensland city of Toowoomba, Australia's 2nd biggest inland city after Canberra. 

Yes, we are still headed up the coast to Townsville and beyond... but... in the meantime we move on once again, to enjoy the optimism of Toowoomba - a forward-thinking city with big plans - great Turkish food and some stunning street art. 

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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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A birthday away

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A birthday away

Today is Sue's birthday, last night having set up camp by Lake Parmarmaroo - part of the Menindee lakes on the Darling River NSW - dinner a chilled Coriole Fiano with a watery sunset through ancient, river redgum boughs.

But this morning is the big day, us relaxing, having finished fruit, muesli and yoghurt... with black coffee of course.

Two figures approach, kindred spirits in more ways than one it seems.

They are from faroff Switzerland, having hiked the 2km from their camp this morning, beside the same lake... and as it happens... with a similiar truck... and a similiar fitout.

But their truck is fire-engine red, a left-hand-drive Toyota Troopy, having been fitted out by Roger - gifted carpenter -and his partner Connie... then shipped all the way from Switzerland.

Tonight though, the big day almost over, we are by the roaring weir overflow, more ancient redgums riddled with nesting holes, and a celebratory bottle of Rockford Black Shiraz we've lugged all the way from the Barossa... oh, and 1kg of Menindee's finest giant yabbies, freshly caught and cooked... but eaten by us.

We finish with birthday cheese, chocolate and a traditional Italian green walnut liquer from Kangaroo Island... the smells here of red sand and dust, the sound of rushing river water, and thoughts of how far we've come so far... and our new Swiss friends - with a red Troopy truck the mirror of ours.

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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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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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Grim by name but not by nature - `Cape Grim', North West Tasmania

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Grim by name but not by nature - `Cape Grim', North West Tasmania

Time for another trip in the new truck, and our first ferry - overnight from Melbourne to Davenport - the treacherous Bass Strait an ominous black chop.

With an early dinner and a cosy twin cabin our morning port of Davenport lay sleepy and cold.

By midday we're 180kms to the west, the most northwest point of Tasmania, with an annual rainfall of almost 1m and according to one of only 3 'Baseline Air Pollution Stations' on the planet `THE CLEANEST AIR IN THE WORLD'.

We've passed rolling green fields of wind turbines, over 50 of the gangly beasts producing 12% of the state's power; each 60m tall, with rotors the span of a Boeing747 and generator housings as big as a bus.

Next it's the old Van Dieman's Land Company homestead - once a great wool empire. There's a deserted shearing shed and echoed footsteps from a dust-laden floor. There's a rambling shearers' quarters and a gap in a dark row of cyprus wrent by a recent tornado, miraculously leaving the old kitchen intact, the photos of black folk with missionary garb and blank bewildered stares.

And finally we're up here on the coast, the goal of our journey; buffeted by fresh salty air and the crash of grandiose southern oceans.

To the south lay the Antarctic. To the west, the famed 'Roaring 40s' winds, blown all the way from Argentina past the southern tip of Africa to get here; those same gales lashing our faces. We've wool and possum fur beanies pulled down tight, flapping Goretex jackets all buttoned up. I wonder at the wrecks that must surely be buried in paddocks of kelp that sway on sub-sea tides.

We gaze northward, to a tall natural rampart topped by rich green grass, grey and white waves crashing at its base - this is 'Suicide Bay', where a band of the indigenous Pendowtee people were shot in 1828, their bodies thrown over the edge of the 60m precipice; the culmination of a series of events beginning with the harassment, abduction and rape of Pendowtee womenfolk.

So we really are at `Cape Grim', evocatively named by the intrepid English navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders, from his 8m open whaling boat... for the wild weather and bitter winds, the huge swells, hissing foam and boiling cauldron seas, or maybe the treacherous rocky reefs... or could it really have been named in honour of a Mr 'Grim'?

There are flashes of sun on shining seas, the salt and spray a timeless presence. Broken clouds race on eastward, shedding shadows dark, on grassy tussocks and rolling pastures painted in hues of emerald green.

`GRIM' BY NAME, BUT NOT BY NATURE.

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Postcard from Lanjanuc – Mt Alexander, Central Victoria

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Postcard from Lanjanuc – Mt Alexander, Central Victoria

This is our first road trip in the new truck.

We head north on the Calder for an hour at the start of this southern Spring. It's Kyneton for coffee, and baguettes for later.

Another half hour and we leave the Harcourt Valley towards Sutton Grange, then off again northward to the mountain where the truck grinds upwards, and where we finally pull over to the side.

A tartan, rubber-backed blanket is spread over a mammoth granite slab, our sitting spot framed by trees with scars of black; their burned bark a reminder of savage summer infernos from years gone by, rushing up from 350m below, those same rolling plains now a painted panorama of pastoral green. 

Television towers cast shadows over us, straddling grey eucalypts and grey ragged boulders; shadows the Jaara Jaara folk never saw as they sought out tucker of Black Wallaby, ringtail or Eastern Grey. There's a shimmer in the leaves, the breeze slight and from the south, the smells all eucalyptus and earthen. They called this place `Lanjanuc', those first people; a 370 million year-old granite and bush-covered outcrop, a sacred place of solace and observing their ancient but suddenly changing world. 

In our world, the late lunch baguettes are welcome: of eggplant, chicken and crusty French bread. It's 12degC, the sun warm on our backs, Bendigo somewhere to the north. 

It's getting late when we head onwards and downwards, but there's something else here to see: something odd and strangely out of kilter.

We follow the western slopes south, cockatoos and corellas grazing in a paddock; sidling past sprawling orchards of apple and pear. Then on a red, rutted dirt track once more up, in the north-west foothills now, classic Australian bush both sides.

Until just ahead there's a change, no Manna, Wattle or Box just here; and not the ubiquitous dark spread of plantation Pine. 

These trunks are tall and straight, the sweeping bows wide and still winter bare, while on the ground lay a wild crossbreed jungle of suckers that defy the last of winter, a riot of large green leaves - classic Oak. So, this is `THE OAK FOREST' - the 20-acre, planting a mix of Algerian, bristle-tipped, English and cork. Planted in 1900, there were grand plans to use the acorns in the leather tanning industry.

Looking back down the hill, the truck sits silent at the bottom of the track in the last of afternoon sun and surrounded by a forest more in keeping with Medieval Europe than in the walkabout wilds of Central Victoria. We're 150km north of Melbourne, an Antipodean-European city just 180 years old.

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Biting the bullet - finally

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Biting the bullet - finally

Let's just call this `day one'. Although it's not REALLY day one.

After 2yrs in Africa and Asia, this is the first time we don't have an ongoing air ticket... anywhere!!!

So, what to do? Well yeah, we have certainly pondered what comes after`WORLD', and now - golly, is that the time? - we've been `home' in `The World's most Livable City' since April... that's here in Melbourne btw.

Was it Chaucer that said "Time and tide wait for no man"?  Itchy feet? Mmmm, well maybe just a little. And the thought of jumping in a vehicle and heading off for some previously unthought of place for an indeterminate time does seem somehow alluring.

Do we need a plan? Well, we'll head off clockwise, summering down south. Oh...and try and pick up as many middle bits as possible too. Yeah, OK, so there's a little work to do... 

Will it be one year or two? Now... that is the question. We'll see.

It is true....thinking about this decision is not exactly new. We've pondered proposals on floating pontoon bars by Lagos Lagoon, among the patrons of Paris pancake parlors, in the teppanyaki kitchens of Tokyo, and by Berlin beer-halls. We've chatted in the subways of Seoul and New York City.

Australia outside Melbourne? Well yeah, there certainly is one. Mmmm... just a minute though, haven't we already seen most of The Lucky Country? 

Well, we have been to Darwin, Cairns and the Flinders Ranges. We've been lucky to have traversed The Nullarbor more than once and sailed the edge of the great Kimberley wilderness. We've driven the length of Fraser Island and suitably chilled-out in Byron Bay. We've even tackled the wilds of the Canberra capital.

But no, we haven't exactly seen`most of the place'. And there's always `Outback' of course - a notion more difficult to define.

So, time marches on - with the big departure date set for first thing March 2017. Plenty of time? No, not really...there's planning and equipment to sort. And yes, a `suitable' vehicle for our adventures - something robust, and `go-anywhere'.

Well, today there's some news. This is the day!

After browsing for some time we've found our truck - our future home - and the winner is... a white2014 Toyota Landcruiser GXL Troopcarrier.

OK, so that's a start... along with Navigation software and a 4WD Raster Map collection. 

Oh, have I forgotten something? We need a blog?... another blog? (Yes, I know, I'm already involved in 2, one being iancochrane.com.au - a collection of short stories on people and places - and the other being TravelnRavel - a wandering bird's-eye overview of most things even vaguely related to travel.)

Well... we really do need a blog for our roadtrip around Australia. But what will we call this new blog? Now... that can't be too difficult.

So, here we are, at the beginning of yet another work in motion. But, it is early days... and there will be tweaks as we go.

WHAT'S NEXT? - a few local Victorian roadtrips and getting to know the truck we've just bought. And more thinking about what we need and where we go from here.

 

 

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