The Plenty Hwy and Great Central Road in a Subaru Forester

Hi Guys – was just hoping to get some advice on a trip I was planning in lat September this year.

I have to drive from the Gold Coast to Perth for a wedding with my partner –
We have 2 weeks to get there and will be in a 2014 Subaru Forester. We’ll be camping in a tent along the way.

It is still in the early planning phase but I was thinking of heading straight through the middle via Alice.

This would include: Emerald, Longreach to Boulia and then on the Plenty Hwy

From Alice it would be down to Ularu and Kata Tjuta continuing on the Great Central Road through to WA.

If anyone had any advice that would be fantastic!

Firstly, is it a realistic route in a Forester?
Are the factory tyres adequate or will I need to upgrade?
Will I definitely need to get a second spare tyre?
Any other modifications needed on the factory vehicle?
Will I need more than a mobile phone for communication?
Has anyone travelled the road recently and what is the condition like?

And finally, if it does seem doable any suggestions on where is best for tent camping and must see attractions? We both love our photography and hiking.

Thanks heaps for any help!

Cheers

Warwick
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Reply By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 14:35

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 14:35
Should be fine as long as you take it easy and pay attention to road conditions and weather reports.

Make sure your spare(s) aren't those chess-cutter run flat jobbies - should be full sized tyres.
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Reply By: Echucan Bob - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 14:50

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 14:50
Warwick

When you say you "have to drive" there is a much cheaper alternative and that is to fly.

If you really meant that you have to go to Perth and would like to drive, that is a different thing. Almost any car could handle the Plenty and the GCR, provided you travel slowly enough, and without too much load. New tyres will resist punctures better than your old bald ones.

Both roads can have bad corrugations. The suspensions of the lighter SUVs are made of very light materials (it looks like coat hanger wire, but I'm sure its a bit stronger than that) that would fall apart if you hit the corrugations at speed and with overinflated tyres.

A UHF radio is all you would need for communications. Download the Hema app for your phone.

Bob
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Follow Up By: Athol W1 - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 15:27

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 15:27
Warwick
Whilst I agree with Bob in most respects the question of communications is one that you will have to clarify. Should you just want to communicate with other road users, and possibly the odd station property, then a good UHF set may suffice working on a usable range of only about 5 to 8 km. Should you wish to contact the outside world in general or for an emergency then a satellite system is essential, as the normal GSM mobile phones will only work around town, or possibly near to a mine site, and therefore will be useless for the majority of your journey.

Also remember that you do require 2 permits to travel the GCR (one form each of WA and NT)

Enjoy your travels.
Athol
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Reply By: pop2jocem - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 16:06

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 16:06
I was talking to a guy from Gladstone in Qld who is doing the lap of the block in the opposite direction to us. I asked him if he had traveled the Plenty Hwy. He said not this trip but he had a couple of years ago.
Now I'm not sure whether he was pulling my leg big time or just a bit but he asked if I knew how the Plenty got it's name. I said nope.
His explanation was because it had plenty flys, plenty dust and plenty corrugations.

Maybe someone with more up to date info could tell us whether he was dinkum or having a lend (;-))

Cheers
Pop
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 20:25

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 20:25
I reckon he was fair dinkum. I did the Plenty a few years back and basically averaged around 40 kph for near 800 kms. What a horrible road it was that trip. I was driving in the scrub off the track a lot where others had gone for some corrugation relief.
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:22

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:22
Pop,

We went over the Plenty in Aug. 2011, and except for a few corrugations near Jervious and Harts Range, they weren't too bad. Ol' mate might have been right about the other two though, flies and dust.



We were slowed down somewhat along the Donohue, as someone had driven along when it was wet and their dried wheel tracks kept us at a sedate speed....well, about 80 clicks. Was going to air down(from 32psi) when we hit the bad corrugations.........didn't find any. :-)

Reckon Warwick won't have any dramas with good tyres, and taking it steady.

Bob

Seen it all, Done it all.
Can't remember most of it.

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Reply By: gbc - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 16:18

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 16:18
Realistic - yes
Need to spend money on it to make sure - yes
Need new all terrain tyres - yes
Need decent shocks - yes
Need a second spare - up to you. Maybe a carcass?
Need compressor and tyre patch kit - yes
Mobile phone will make good strong black smoke for signal fire. Where you are going there is no reception - mostly.
Guaranteed comms is a sat phone these days.
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Follow Up By: gbc - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 16:19

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 16:19
You'll need a few jerry cans of fuel too - unless your forester is a diesel?
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Reply By: deserter - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 17:13

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 17:13
I did the Plenty a few years back in a stock Jeep. Part of a Simpson trip. The only mod was A/T tyres. The Plenty was fine - just a dirt road with bulldust and corrugations. The Forrester will do it easy.

I now have a 2014 Forrester. I have been surprised at the off-road ability. Been on some very loose steep tracks on the mates farm. And wet ground. Handled it all with ease.

Should be fine for what you want to do. Tyres will be your main worry. I learned the hard way that once you get over 75kph on those tracks you start to get punctures. Keep the pressure low and speed down. Enjoy the trip.
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Follow Up By: Member - eighty matey - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:19

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:19
Get better tyres.
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Follow Up By: Member - Grundle (WA) - Friday, Jul 25, 2014 at 20:09

Friday, Jul 25, 2014 at 20:09
I owed a forrester for a number of years,as above tyres and pressure.A punture kit,the plug type and have fun.

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Reply By: Member -Pinko (NSW) - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 17:51

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 17:51
Hello Warwick
I traveled both the Plenty and the GCR seven days ago.
Alice to overnight at Tobermorey then to Bedourie.
The Plenty has a few patches of bulldust toward Tobermorey but otherwise ok.
The GCR west of the WA border is good but the SA section is in bad repair.
Many cars driving well up on the shoulders and many on the incorrect side of the road including us.
Docker River to Yulara is the worst.
I spoke to the grader driver about ten kilometers west of Yulara on UHF 40 and he stated three vehicles had to be recovered with 'unable to continue' damage in the last week.
Corrugations were fierce.
Turn of your mobile when you leave Alice until Warburton road house.
UHF if know what channel the receiving party is using.
As said before Sat Ph. or HF radio is the only comms.
FLY and enjoy the wedding !
Cheers
Stan
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Follow Up By: Tjukayirla Roadhouse - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 09:59

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 09:59
G'day Pinko, The GCR doesn't cross SA at any stage, did you mean the NT?
Mobile phone (Telstra) works at Yulara, Warakurna, Warburton.
UHF, always use 40 on the road.
It's really not as scary as all that, we've had tourists in Toyota Echo's, corolla's .. you name it.. not reccomended at all, but do able ..

Cheers
Al
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Follow Up By: Member -Pinko (NSW) - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:14

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:14
Sorry Al
I did mean NT.
Yes mobile works at the roadhouses but nothing in between.
This was my seventh,maybe eighth crossing of the GCR and will be my last until the NT govt maintains their section.
I used to see caravans frequently on the GCR and only saw two this time. That says something.
Warburton camping is great and the grounds are clean and tidy. A credit to the NZ proprietors. Great Fish pies there to.
Bought two paintings there also.
It was a local at Warburton when I was welding that told me to get up on the shoulder on the incorrect side going east from Docker.
I was nursing a damaged suspension and am greatfull for the loan of a welder from a worker at Warburton.
It does not get away from the fact that the confounded NT Govt does not maintain your only road. Fix it and people will come.
Cheers
Stan
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Follow Up By: Tjukayirla Roadhouse - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:22

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:22
Hi Pinko, Couple more issues there. This has actually been our busiest year yet for caravans, hands down. The fact that you only saw 2 comes down to luck.. there could have been several behind you.
And the managers of Warburton aren't from NZ, some of the staff are yes. We live out here all year round, they're our neighbours. ;-)
And yes, getting onto the shoulder can help in certain areas, but not all, you need to read the road and see where the good/bad bits are, which happen on both sides of the road.
There is plans underway to help the NT get thier side of the road fixed up, and will see a lot of work this year.

Cheers
Al
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Reply By: Member - Mark (Tamworth NSW) - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 18:41

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 18:41
Warwick, re Hiking
IF you drive, around Alice the best walk is a 3-4 hour walk called the Ormiston pound walk at Ormiston Gorge, where you can also camp. It is approx. 100km west of Alice, keep travelling onto Meerenie Loop Rd, past Kings Canyon and onto Uluru and Gt Central Rd
Alternatively do the Kings Canyon walk at Kings Canyon (about 7km)
Photography is great at either Ormiston or Kings Canyon, colours @ sunset/sunrise are superb.

Mark
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Reply By: Les PK Ranger - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 19:38

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 19:38
Mate has a Forrester, quite a decent little wagon.
He's fitted ATs in LT construction, and that should be on the cards, inc the spare.
Lower pressures on all gravel roads, esp when there are sharp rocks and corrugations, it will make the ride so much easier on pax and the car.

Plan out how you will carry extra fuel if needed, and water on the isolated parts where services are far between.

Take a tyre plug kit and a decent 12v compressor.
You can plug amazing damage if you have to, gashes and big holes, at least to get you going again (keep speeds down lower on anything but one or two plug repairs or sidewalls).

Love the West Macs, did the Larapinta Trail in 2010, and there's plenty of beaut gorges and peaks to explore . . . car camping at numerous sites is excellent.

If you feel like it, make time to do Palm Valley, but going out the southern way through boggy Hole might be out of reach for the vehicles limitations.
Hermmansburg is a great visit on the way in.

You should be able to do the loop out west from the West Macs to Kings, just take it easy sometimes it is very hammered and corrugated.

Kings Canon property has some nice lawned tent sites, at least when we were there in 2009.Good facs with kitchen and amenities block.

A phone is always handy, but only around those populated centres.
Definitely get a good vehicle fitted UHF if possible, or at least a decent output hand held.
If nothing else, it will allow comms with other 4WDrs and trucks on the road.

Have a great trip.
AnswerID: 536382

Reply By: Warwick I - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 20:44

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 20:44
Hi - Thanks heaps to everyone for the replies!

I realise flying is the easy option but would love to drive just for the experience and to show my misses central Oz. I've driven to the west a couple of times before across the Nullarbor and loved it - the plan was to go over via the centre and return along the south coast of WA and Nullarbor.

I don't have a lot of off road experience but am keen to research and learn as much as possible.

With tires - any suggestions of good AT tires for a forester?
Any advice on a good air compressor and tire repair kit?
I think Sat Phone is going to something that I'd only use once so think the UHF option would be best?

As for fuel - the forester has a 65L tank and range of around 7-800km - from what I have been reading that should be enough for the Plenty and GCR?

Thanks again for all the help!

Cheers

Warwick
AnswerID: 536387

Follow Up By: Member - David P (WA) - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:38

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:38
Hi Warwick,
Two of us drove from Perth to Cairns along the route you plan in 2010 Forester diesels with the other guy towing a Pioneer camper trailer. We didn't have any real problems- I got a flat tyre on a recently graded section of the Plenty highway. On a recently sealed section, single lane where you have to pull off onto the shoulder for oncoming vehicles, we both got chipped windscreens.
I was amazed at the amount of road kill considering how sparse the vegetation was in the area.
We met another Forester (XT petrol) in Cairns and we carried on up to Cape York and the XT &I did all of the old telegraph track except for Palm Creek at the very beginning and Nolan's Brook at the very end. The guy towing the camper trailer stuck to the main road.

We all had Geolander AT-S tyres fitted and they seem pretty good as your choices are limited because of the tyre size.
Get a tyre repair kit that has metal handles as the plastic ones can break.
There have been a few threads recently about good compressors, search the forum and you will find them.

I had a sat phone for piece of mind and they can be hired or you could always get a Personal Locator Beacon if you want some cheaper insurance.

Have a look on the Subaru 4WD Club of WA website for details of the trip and OffroadSubarus.com has some useful info as well.

Have fun, its a great drive.

Cheers
David

Cheers
David

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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:55

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 21:55
Warwick, a little planning and preparation you should be fine. Heavier duty tyres would be a sound option.

7-800km will be adequate - biggest distance between fuel stops on the route is about 250-300ks.

I wouldn't bother with a Sat Phone unless $$$ is no option (rarely is). As David said, if you want some peace of mind, a PLB is a good option. At that time of year, there should be plenty of traffic still on the route. Take plenty of water - at least 40 litres.

Standard spares and tools - belts / hoses / repair kits / and some tools above the standard car tool kit - range of spanners / pliers / screwdrivers etc.

Common sense and get the car serviced before you go.
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Follow Up By: Les PK Ranger - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 10:39

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 10:39
Good advice all round there . . .
The PLB is a good choice for totally pear shaped situations.
Maybe a Sat phone hire is the go ?
(HF not practical IMHO, as you need to be subscribed to a service (?) and costs are pretty high to purchase anyway.)
Get that decent hand held UHF anyway, even for normal travelling, very handy for communicating with trucks / monitoring channels when wanting to overtake etc, or for general road reports they talk about.

Mate got Bridgstone Duellers, though not sure which ones, but they were an LT (light truck) construction . . .
Bridgestone ATs

Probable it was the D693's . . .
Ex Bridgestone stores

Bob Jane
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 19:31

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 19:31
The Foresters in my 4wd club all use Yokohama Geolander A/T-S. There is a deal on at the moment buy 4 pay for 3 any Yokohama tyres at Bob Jane I think. They are a good tyre, done heaps out there with no problems.
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Follow Up By: Member - Bookleaf - Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 21:03

Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 21:03
We were in the Alice area early June, also in a Forester. Had no problems on the few dirt roads we traveled on.
I purchased a good quality 5W hand held radio that had the ability for its aerial to be unscrewed, as well as a 4.5db, magnetic base, external aerial. I mounted the aerial to the middle of the roof and stuck the cable down with canvas tape. In about 4,500KM, it never budged.
Worked exceptionally well. Highly recommend you do the same.
I liked the idea of the hand held as, if needed, I could take it away from the car and use it as intended - a hand-held. When in the car and attached to the roof aerial, it resided in the cup holder and used its internal battery.
Battery life was about 3 days between charges.

There is an on-line retailer in Perth I used. Good prices, answered Email questions promptly and delivered overnight (to Adelaide), but will deliver Australia wide. Recommended.
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Reply By: Member - Geoff B (WA) - Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 22:55

Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 22:55
We travelled both these roads 10 weeks ago in a 100 series towing a camper trailer. Both were fine then if you drove to conditions. Sat on about 80 kms . Met some people going the other way and they thought it was horrid. Everybody has their own level of what's good and what's bad.
When in Boulia, do the Min Min display as it is awesome. As for taking photos, just going through Ulara etc, you will take 100's of them! I would recommend getting the HEMA Australia's longest shortcut book as it has lots of info about places of interest and good camping spots.

Sue B
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Reply By: The Landy - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 12:56

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 12:56
Hi Warwick

I just travelled this route in part, covering the entire length of the Plenty Highway from Boulia to Alice, and the Great Central Road from Laverton to Giles (Warakurna) before heading up along the Sandy Blight Junction Track.

Plenty Highway – Areas of corrugations and some bull-dust patches, but generally okay. Seemed worse on the NT side.

Great Central Road (GCR) – Areas of corrugations, especially about 50-kilometres east of Tjukayirla which is about 300-kilometres east of Laverton.

To your specific questions…

Forrester – Yes, if driven appropriately and to the conditions. Clearance will not be an issue. Just treat the vehicle with care and it will look after you (the same for any vehicle really).

Factory Tyres – Yes, as long as they are not low profile, and again if driven appropriately.

Second spare – Not necessarily so. Gives added insurance, but tyre plugs will assist for routine punctures, if you have one.

Modifications – None that come to mind for this trip.

Communications – A hand-held UHF will suffice, mobile phone is limited so if you need to stay in touch a sat-phone could be an option.

Fuel – Might be a consideration for you along the Plenty Highway. Fuel is available at Jervois and Harts Range, and you should check the availability of ULP at Tobermorey.

There are some reasonable camping options along the Plenty Highway for bush camping, or at Tobermorey, Jervois, and Harts Range. The same along the GCT for bush camping, including the road houses Giles, Tjukayirla.

Noting you will also need a permit to transit the GCR…

Hope you enjoy the trip…

Cheers, Baz – The Landy
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Follow Up By: luxtourer - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 20:40

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 20:40
Tobermorey has had ULP whenever we've been through in the last few years, last visit was in May this year. Also Gemtree has ULP.

Cheers,
John
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Follow Up By: Zippo - Saturday, Jul 26, 2014 at 14:24

Saturday, Jul 26, 2014 at 14:24
Although we aren't doing the Plenty and can't comment on it, I agree with most of The Landy's comments.

We just arrived at Yulara yesterday up the GCR in our '07 Forester X manual. Road is not a problem if you heed the universal advice and drive to the conditions. We probably averaged 90kph on most and about 70kph on the rough stuff and the loose pindan around Docker River, using standard (but new) Yokohama ROAD tyres. Not towing anything, fuel consumption figures so far are better than 9L/100 at each fillup.

Fuel is not a problem on that stretch, about 330k is the longest gap between fuel stops and for instance we didn't even bother to fuel up at Warburton. The Plenty may well be a different story ...

Vehicle mods? We have an Engel mounted where the back seat would go, a second (AGM) battery under the passenger seat, and a Redarc DC-DC charger. I have installed a custom swing-down rear wheel carrier for a second spare rather than fit roofracks etc. Didn't bother with roo/nudge bars or sump guards. Again, if you are just transiting the roads you mentioned AND drive to conditions, I don't believe a sump guard is warranted.

As our cellphones are on Optus (translates as "bugger-all cover in remote areas", e.g. nothing between Yulara and Kalgoorlie) I felt we needed something. Although I have UHF-CB's at home and HF as well, I didn't bother with them and simply hired a satphone. That works even in the (large) gaps between Telstra cell-sites. A GPS navigator may be of use at times, not so much for navigation but so you can see where you are. Assuming you have cellphones, I would strongly recommend to anyone a free app ULMON CityMaps2Go. This offers downloadable maps for all states and capitals etc which are then usable off-line and outside cellphone coverage, only requiring the phone's GPS to show your location.

Enjoy the trip!

Peter
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Reply By: Member - Mfewster(SA) - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 19:36

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 19:36
I sort of disagree with the advice you are getting. I think it can be done fine in a Suby Forester (I have a diesel Suby Outback and an ancient landcruiser). I note the conditions described by those who say you can do it. Have you (they) ever seen the Plenty Highway after a bit of rain? It becomes a very very different proposition. That bulldust everyone has talked about becomes deep quagmires of grease that build up on your tyres and under the guards and will lock the vehicle pretty well solid. A friend of mine nearly drowned when caught like that in a big downpour along the Plenty. Check the height of some of the water level indicators along there, they ain't kidding. Further, once the road is wet, the big trucks and the bigger 4wds absolutely carve it up and it can be diabolical until they get the grader over it. I don't think the Suby has the clearance or grunt to handle those conditions. So my advice is that yes it can be done using the precautions everyone has recommended, if the weather is dry and has been dry for some time. But if there has been any recent rain or if any is forecast I'd have a plan B.
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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 20:21

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 20:21
fewster - my very first post was:

"Should be fine as long as you take it easy and pay attention to road conditions and weather reports."
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Follow Up By: Member - Mfewster(SA) - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 22:22

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 22:22
Hi Scott
And I agreed that a Forester driven carefully should be able to do it, if the weather is OK. My concern was that no one had adequately discussed just what happens along that road when it rains. It doesn't take much and it stays nasty for some time. I have been through in the Landcruiser about a fortnight after moderate rain in September, not the real heavy stuff. I got through OK but I wouldn't have wanted to do it in my Suby Outback.
I have never driven the Great Central Rd so I can only talk about the Plenty.
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 22:34

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 22:34
I was on a track out in the middle last year and it was only spitting rain. The mud on the surface, barely wet, flicked up, stuck to the wheel arches and set solid like concrete stopping the wheels from rotating within 5 kms. I had to hack it out by hand...that wasn't fun. It was a trap I wasn't expecting with so little rain.
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Follow Up By: Warwick I - Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 06:38

Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 06:38
Thanks guys - point taken about any rain. Will definitely be keeping a close eye on the weather and always have the option to go a bit further north to Mt Isa if needed. The plan is to just take it easy and avoid any unneccesary risks.

Again thanks so much to everyone for taking the time to help out - its my first post on here and it looks like a fantastic community!

Will post some pics from the trip when we get back!

Cheers
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Reply By: Sigmund - Friday, Jul 25, 2014 at 16:15

Friday, Jul 25, 2014 at 16:15
We've done the Centre and the SA desert roads in an 08 Forester towing a camper trailer.

First critical thing we learned from a Tibooburra local is that you can get anywhere in the outback as long as you're prepared to stop.

5mm of rain can close a road and does often enough.

Tyres: ours takes a 215/60/16. You can' get an LT AT in that size. We went illegal (7mm over-diameter) and fitted 215/65/16 Dueller 967s. Great tyres esp when you have to air down for corrugations and gibbers. If you follow the rules inc driving to the conditions a flat will be just bad luck. We haven't had one but on the longest trip took a spare wheel an tyre.

In 3 trips we've done a windscreen twice (driveable just not legal) and one shock - that only cos I missed seeing a washout til too late. The Subie is built strong and will cope well with corrugations; anyone who says it's not up to the outback isn't talking from experience.

I strongly recommend you get an alloy sump guard. The plastic one is rubbish. Google Subaxtreme.

There are fuel consumption figures on this website for common treks that provide an indication of what you'll need. How much you actually use will obviously vary acc to conditions. Our worst was 15 l per 100 on the Birdsville Track when it was open to 4WD only.

Many of the k's we did were classified that way and we've got stuck only once. It's the tracks labelled high clearance that limit you, plus the ones with deep ruts and crown but your model has 22 cm clearance which is better than a Triton.

Good luck with your trip. You'll probably gett addicted to the red dirt country.
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Friday, Jul 25, 2014 at 16:18

Friday, Jul 25, 2014 at 16:18
That should read 'you can't get an LT AT in that size'.
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Reply By: Member - Doogs+Elly - Sunday, Jul 27, 2014 at 16:06

Sunday, Jul 27, 2014 at 16:06
We are currently camped at Yulara having just come off the GCR 4 days ago.
The road was good for the most part. NT section was pretty cr@p, but it is being graded atm :)
Only thing I would add to your list is make sure your Jack is suitable for these conditions. We spent an hour helping a couple who only had a standard issue Jack.
They had already been trying for 2 hours to change a tyre before we came past.
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