Tanami track with van

Submitted: Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:13
ThreadID: 91976 Views:4399 Replies:10 FollowUps:21
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Hi all, we are currently planning a trip from melb to the top end, into the kimberleys, down the tanimi into alice and back home. I understand rabbit flat road house on the tanami closed last year so the longest distance without fuel is about 850km going via wolfe creek. We have a 100series V8 petrol and are towing a 20 foot 3.4 ton offroadish evernew (loaded) so we are going to need some extra fuel......a lot extra in fact. Not sure if we will carry a heap of jerrys and empty them while we go, or get a long range fuel tank (would be nice but $$$), or perhaps will need to do both, but I would like to hear from people who have done it in a van and what was your average speed? I know the track varys from week to week but I would be interested to know previous speeds and what you were towing and towing with. If i can sit of 70 or maybe 80km for much of the way I sould be able to take enough fuel in jerrys (without being stupid about it) but if there is a good chance i have to crawl over the worst of the corrugations much of the way doing say 10 or 20km we will never make it. FYI my intention is to find out current road conditions at Halls Creek before we commit but your comments should help with planning. I guess the roadhouse might reopen before we go but seems doubtful at the moment
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Reply By: Motherhen - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:47

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:47
Hi Jeremy

We went through in 2008, and I understand the WA side just gets worse and worse. It seems the NT side may receive some maintenance from time to time.

As someone said when we were debating whether to go or not, as soon as you pick up speed on a good patch, something will come and bite you. So it was eyes on the road al the time for the driver.

Rather than try and give you an idea of speeds (which probably varied between 10 kph and 80 kph) I can give you our time frames. We left Halls Creek in the morning, and had lunch at Wolfe Creek. I had planned to stay there for the first night, but with some hours of daylight we moved on and stopped towards the Balgo turnoff. Second night we stayed in a rest area near The Granites mine, and didn't leave early due to the need for a bit of carpentry :O Third night was a bit past Yuendumo. Fourth night Alice Springs.

There have been a few threads on fuel supplies from the communities such as Balgo. Rabbit Flat was still operating in 2008 and we were going to purchase some there just to patronise this remote roadhouse, and it was publicised that it was open all weekdays in peak period, but we got there to find it closed and no-one around but a friendly very old dog.

With a 260 litre fuel tank, we had enough to get to Tilmouth Wells, but purchased just a little at Yuendumo to be sure (where it was one cent cheaper than at Tilmouth!).

Let your tyres down to 25 psi cold. We had ours at 27 and did suffer for it (including having to remove water tanks that had come loose). With a large van like yours, take it very slowly.

We had debated our route for a few weeks, as a member here had broken caravan springs and was sending me messages “Don’t go the Tanami”, and another person we had expected to meet up with in the Kimberley had overturned their caravan at a slow speed when hitting a strip of bulldust. We didn’t have time to do any sightseeing if we went the long way round so planned that for the following year, hence eventually chose to go ahead with the Tanami Road, following the advice to check everything that can come unscrewed at each stop. Have you any idea how many screws there are in a caravan?

How’s that for all the pros and cons for you to decide what is best for you?


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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:00

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:00
Thanks Motherhen, have taken your comments on board and everything you say makes perfect sense, espcially about tyre pressures. The reason I asked about speed is the fuel consumption. The V8 pertol cruiser likes to drink so if I can stick to a more economical speed like 70 or 80k most of the time we should be able to make with extra jerrys, plus some reserve would be nice to ofcourse.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:13

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:13
Hi Jeremy

Apart from patches passing mine entrances, you will not be able to maintain any sort of speed. The constant ups and downs will cost you fuel. Our worst ever fuel consumption was on the Mereenie Loop from travelling at very slow speed - as we followed someone we were helping out who had broken a camper trailer spring.

Richard's point about recovery costs is very valid.

You can check out MyBlog for our 2005 trip; it shows the road but not the maintenance :O



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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:22

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:22
Thats a really good point about lack of constant speed, I assumed much of it we would be able to do that, but you know what the say about assumptions. Unless Rabbit Flat reopens its going to be pretty difficult by the sounds of it, even if they do reopen it sounds like it cant be relied on anyway. We may have to give it a miss, unfortunatly, but still look forward to others point of view before we right it off.
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Reply By: Member - Richard H - West NSW - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:48

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:48
I did this trip a couple of years ago, but from the other way, and I towed a single axle RoadStar.

Rabbit Flat at that time was going through one of his episodes and wouldn't open period, so we drove straight past. I filled up at Yuendumu and I topped up with a 20 litre jerry of diesel, and to be doubly sure I got some more fuel at Billiluna. I was driving a Tdi Discovery, which had a 89 litre fuel tank.

I found the road conditions in the N.T. to be great, but over the border in W.A.Well, I've been on better fire trails, it was appalling.

Three days were used up on the journey, and towing a van, I didn't flog the vehicle, and poked along at about 60-70 KPH, sometimes less.

A fellow in a Range Rover overtook us up near The Granites, the road wasn't too bright, at a great rate of knots, and we came upon him stopped, changing a tyre on his van. He said that he had blown two tyres and had no further spares. He didn't pass us again. He was going much too fast and suffered as a result. So ensure that your van has decent tyres, and if they are over 5 years old, get new ones.

Just remember this, if you have to be recovered, get ready to sell your wife and children into white slavery. It will cost you.
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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:07

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 13:07
Thanks Richard, helpful info. Yes tyres we have are brand new BFG AT's with two spares, for both car and van, so with the right pressures and speeds we SHOULD be fine. It's a really hard decision because I would love to cross the tanami, its a great short cut (short cut in theory) and I dont really want to back track home. I have also considered coming home via the west coast but with our limited time we wont end up stopping to smell the roses.
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Reply By: Member - Greg H (NT) - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 14:23

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 14:23
Give the mines a call in the area. They might, emphasise might be able to help you out with fuel if forewarned.

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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 23:20

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 23:20
Try the mine site at The Granites - they have been helpful to travellers in crisis in the past.


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Reply By: Gone Bush (WA) - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 14:26

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 14:26
We drove along half of the Tanami in 2010. We entered from the north at Tanami Gold Mine (we came down via Kalkarindji and Lajamanu) and went to Alice Springs.

We were towing a 3500kg Bushtracker behind a 200 series diesel Landcruiser.

The Tanami is a disaster for caravans. I did all the right things with speed (20kph, faster was impossible) and tyre pressures.

You will hear people say: not a problem, like a highway, a breeze etc etc, BUT it's a disaster for caravans.

If you go down there, I'm positive you will damage your van and regret the whole thing.

By the way, Rabbit Flat will never re-open.

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Reply By: Priscilla G - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 14:51

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 14:51
IS it really worth it !! Our van was a huge investment money wise & we intend to treat as it should be treated...with care.
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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 15:19

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 15:19
For us the main issue is fuel required to complete the trip now that the rabbit flat road house is closed. Second for us is failure of components or ruining the van. Dont get me wrong, our van is only 2 months old and is the most expensive thing we have purchased, apart from houses, so yes I want to care for it, but I also want to use it for what it was designed/built for. If I dont do the tanami, or the gibb for example on the same trip, I would wonder why we paid a lot extra for a van that should handle those conditions. The descision for us really does come down to how much extra fuel do we need to carry, and is it safe and practicle to do so. In saying that it does concern me when the previous post from the bushtracker owner suggested their own tough as nails offroad van can not cope with the track conditions, but I also think peoples opinions vary greatly and what is horrindous to some is a sunday drive to others. Thanks for your input though Priscilla - its all relevant and will assist in our decision
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 15:31

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 15:31
Jeremy, let me amplify on my post above.

Our van coped, but suffered at the same time. I hated dragging it down that road because I like fine things, which the Bushtracker is. There was some maintenance required at Tilmouth Wells and when we got home.

The problem is, once you are on the Tanami there's no alternative but to complete the trip.

The corrugations were relentless and unforgiving.

I completely agree with your comment: why did we pay a lot extra for a van that should cope with these conditions, but, if you are halfway down the Tanami and you find that it is not coping, or you are not enjoying the Track because of the conditions, you have no choice but to keep going.

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Follow Up By: Member - Wamuranman - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 09:31

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 09:31
HI GB and others,

This is a good post as it will help a lot of people who are thinking of travelling the Tannami. We have just spent a lot of time researching off road vans and I know how robust the BT are built. I know the BT has exceptional articulation in the suspension. – certainly the best there probably is for travelling across rocks, deep potholes, logs etc etc. But is it the best for corrugations? I don’t know enough about BT suspension to answer that. For corrugations my research indicated you need independent coil suspension with shock absorbers (to avoid catastrophic harmonic motion fatigue and provide a damper effect). We are ordering a new van and are getting cruisemaster trailing arm independent coil suspension with 8 shock absorbers (2 per wheel). One day we want to do the Tannami. Would any one like to comment on whether our choice is a good one for a suspension that will allow us to one day do the Tannami ?

Your comments in particular would be appreciated GB - I always read your comments and value your experienced advice.
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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 09:49

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 09:49
Hi Wamuranman, when we ordered our van we had a range of suspenion options. Given our manufacturer was custom building ours we could have had any of the trailing arm coils, simplicity, airbags, rocker roller etc. In the end we went for tandem G&S control rider trailing arm with shockers as it looks very strong as but still soft enough to absorb the corrugations, and price was reasonable (but certainly not cheap). Articulation does not look fantastic, but my main aim was for it to be able to handle corrugations. We could have also opted for the suger glider suspension (what trakmaster use) but was a few grand more for little gain I thought. A mate of mine has simplicity on his nre Jayco (same as BT I think) and while it looks very strong, it may give a harsh ride in my opinion, but that's an opinion only, not fact. No doubt any BT owners probably disagree and my obervations about a possible harsh ride could be way off
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 09:55

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 09:55
Van suspension and corrugations is an interesting conundrem.

I have travelled extensively with our BT in company with a Trakmaster with coil/shock suspension, and a Spinifex with coil/shock suspension. I took a video to compare our BT and the Trakkie going slowly over large washouts in QLD Gulf country and the Simplicity on our BT was far better. The wheels stayed on the ground all the time whereas the coil/shock suspension had one wheel dangling in the air through each washout.

Corrugations are a different story and complex.

The front wheel on the Simplicity has to punch the corrugation head on before it gets any upward movement to rise over the corrugation, so I have to go slower. All four wheels on the coil/shock suspension get flicked up by the corrugations and rise over them without the initial punch, so they can go a bit faster. The Trakmaster we travelled with on the Tanami was able to go faster, but they spent considerably more time tightening things up than we did after the trip was over. That was a reflection on the build quality of the rest of the van, not the suspension.

We drove down the full length of the Tanami in 1994 just in a Landcruiser, no van, and we drove fast and just skipped over the corrugations. You can't do that with a van. It's low (tyre pressures) and slow (speed). Remember you are dragging a 3500kg pendulum behind you, it's not being driven, it's being dragged.

BUT (there's always a but), you will have to replace the shockies in a coil/shock suspension very regularly because they will just wear out and fail on a long trip over corrugations. And no matter what suspension you choose, if it has to support 3500kg, or more, of caravan then it will transmit damaging shocks and vibrations up into the inside and damage will occur, even if it's only to drawer runners and locks etc.

If there was a perfect suspension to suit all of the terrain Australia throws at our vans, then every van would have it. Unfortunately there isn't.

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Follow Up By: Member - Wamuranman - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 15:34

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 15:34
HI Jeremy,

Thanks for your comment. What does G&S stand for - I have not heard of that suspension?

I agree GB that the shockies will need replacing from time to time. But I look at this way - they are taking the pounding instead of the above chassis part of the van. Its not a big job to replace shockies on the side of the road if need be - just carry some spares. But the ones on our new van are heavy duty Gabriel - so I'm hoping we will get a good run out of them.
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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 16:07

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 16:07
Hi Again, Not sure what it stands for, but G&S Chassis supply complete chassis and suspension components to various caravan manufacturers and supply other parts, do chassis repair and alterations etc. Evernew (what we have) use them exclusivley, and other popular brands do the same I beleive llike Crusader. Website is http://www.gnschassis.com.au/index.html (I am new to the forum so I hope website links are OK).

I am not an engineer but to me the chassis quality seems quite good and certainly has the reputaion, but its heavy, espcially with the control rider suspension which adds I beleive 200 or 300kg over a typical leaf spring/axel set up (part of the reason my 20 foot van, external, weighs so damn much). The vehicle components cruisemaster does look pretty good to me and wont be as heavy, nowhere near i suspect, but I like the control rider as it really strengthend the chassis due to the bolt on cradle design at a most critical point. Plus its Melbourne built so for me warranty claims if required will just be easier.

Can I ask what van you are ordering or have ordered? Are you enjoying the process? Much to my wifes and kids disgust I really enjoyed the whole process of looking around every weekend for some months, but once ordered the 6 month wait was difficult. I am happy with our end result though and would definitley recommend Evernew. I have no afiliation, bla bla bla......

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Follow Up By: Member - Wamuranman - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 16:58

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 16:58
HI Jeremy,

Yes we have enjoyed the process over the past months. I enjoy researching before I buy a major item. I set up a spreadsheet and then compared manufacturers for each of the main items of interest (framing, suspension, side ends & top sheeting material, fixtures, fittings, weight, warranty period & coverage etc etc). It has been relatively easy for us as we wanted to buy a brand new locally made van – so we can visit and photograph under construction as well as buy straight from the manufacturer. We are fortunate to live within 30 minutes drive of probably the top 5 off road manufacturers in Australia – Kedron, Bushtracker, Spinifex, Phoenix and Sunland – all are in SE Queensland. After extensive research and factory visits we narrowed it down to Sunland and Spinifex (not that there is anything wrong with the other 3 – they are all worthy vans and all capable of extreme off-road touring). In the end we chose a Sunland Patriot SE Off Road as I felt they were better value and could manufacture the van to my liking - e.g. I wanted a full fibreglass van – I have seen too many aluminium sheeting clad vans that are hail damaged (we get a lot of storms in Queensland) or had their side sliced open by an overhanging branch. (what point is there in having propellor plate sheeting 600mm up the van sides – and then paper thin aluminium sheeting thereafter was our thinking?)
I also wanted cruisemaster independent coil suspension which we researched separately – probably similar reason to you – they are locally manufactured. I also wanted box section aluminium framing – some just use C section. I also wanted a DO35 hitch – I believe they are one of the strongest.

There are a few more reasons why we chose Sunland in the end – but the above are the main reasons. Now the wait until it arrives……lol.
PS I was very impressed with our old Evernew which we just sold – it served us well of 8 years. They make a good van – but ours was just a black top van.

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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 17:11

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 17:11
Its is odd that most vans are built in melb, cant remember the percentage but its really high, yet the big off road names are all in the same area in qld, only trakmaster down here. Sunland make a great van I understand so well done. We have the D035 coupling aswell and it seems much better so far than the treg we had on our kimberley kamper. Unfortunatly we cant take the van to the same place the KK went, but you cant have it all. Good luck with the new pride and joy
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Follow Up By: Member - Wamuranman - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 17:19

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 17:19
I forgot to say thanks jeremy for the link to G&S suspension. It looks the goods to me.
Have a great trip - make sure you give us an update when you can. I will be interested to follow your journey.
Safe travelling.
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Reply By: Member - MIKE.G - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 16:14

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 16:14
Hi Jeremyh, we did the Tanami last year, however were not towing a van. Concerning fuel, you can top up at Billiluna 67 klm from Wolfe Creek Crater. Check opening times. The next fuel is at Yuendumu 579 klm east. Once again check opening times. Tilmouth Roadhouse a further 102 klm further on is next and them 190 klm on to Alice Springs.

The road was fair but as already stated, speed and tyre pressures are critical. Good luck and happy planning.


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Follow Up By: Jeremyh - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 16:36

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 16:36
Thanks Mike, I must have missed Billiluna when looking at the maps, that will certainly make it easier for us. cheers
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Follow Up By: Member -Grundle (WA) - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 18:13

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 18:13
Billiluna did'nt open on Sunday when we were last there

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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 23:19

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 23:19
Balgo is further east than Billiluna, but it is about 30 kms south from the Tanami Road.

There have been several threads about fuel availablility at these communities.


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Reply By: Member - Steve O (QLD) - Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 02:41

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 at 02:41
Gidday Jeremyh,we travelled the tanimi in May last year we were in a diesel Prado, towing a 2.5 tonne Gunyah offroad caravan.It took us the best part of 2 (long) days, we camped on the W.A./N.T. border.
As stated the road was rough,unrelenting corrigations,speed all over the place between 10 & 70k's. We suffered no real damage as such, we did get the vans wheels re-aligned on our return home.
We were glad we did it and dont regret it, having said that I doubt I would do it again.We topped our tank at Billiluna and carried an extra 40ltrs with us, we got to about 40k's from Alice Springs before I put 20 ltrs from our reserve into our tank.
For us it was a good experience. Hope this is of some help to you, Cheers Steve.
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Reply By: Jeremyh - Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012 at 08:00

Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012 at 08:00
Thanks to all for your comments and help. I think we will plan to do the tanami on the way back but before we start we will check the road conditions and discuss with fellow travellers who have just done it, plus keep the pressures and speed down like we always have on other tracks. We may regret our descision to do it, maybe, but I will definetly regret not doing it, so its worth a shot.
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Reply By: geoffqld - Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012 at 17:52

Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012 at 17:52
We did it 3 years ago in a Patrol ute towing a Jayco Destiny Outback from Halls Creek to Alice Springs. The road west of the Nt/Wa border was very bad, so bad that we broke a leaf spring on the ute. We were still driving coming on dusk and the shadows accross the road hid the BIG potholes, We travelled at about 60-70kmh so the rig rode over the corrugations and used the system where the other half looked ahead for potholes dips etc and I looked closer and she missed one in the shadows. Carried a spare spring for the van but not the ute. Still drivable. Found that driving 10-20kmh shook everything up too much so prefer to ride over the corrugations. Met a bloke when we fuelled up at Billuna who was driving a very new Pajero and said he was travelling at 15kmh and it was shaking the car to pieces, the front bumper was hanging off. We carried 60l in jerry cans, 180 in the ute, topped up at Billuna and made it with about 20l spare. Took 3 days. I wouldn't do it again as there are much nicer drives, my favourite the GCR. There was no damage to the van although I have added extra panels to protect the water/power fittings and made a screen accross the front of the van We have towed it, wt 2,25t, over most of the classic dirt roads and the only damage has been minor, ensuite door fell off, stones cut brake wires, drain fittings smashed, gas safety outlet to drain gas under stove came partially undone and hung down directing the dust inside, what a mess.
Have a good trip whichever wat you go.
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012 at 19:57

Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012 at 19:57

it's interesting to see different peoples' perceptions of minor or major damage.

On our trip down the Tanami (see posts above) I had to tighten some mounting bolts in the roof aircon, fix a couple of drawer locks and re-tension the blinds in 2 windows.

Maybe I'm a big skirt-twirling girl when it comes to perceptions of van damage.


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Follow Up By: geoffqld - Thursday, Feb 23, 2012 at 09:38

Thursday, Feb 23, 2012 at 09:38
Agree with you there. We went looking for an off road van 4years ago, new, and the prices stunned me. We found the cheapest van was well over $80k where the Jayco cost less than $40k new with shower/toilet. As we wanted to do the dirt tracks we decided to buy the Jayco and live with the repairs. I've been impressed with it as its been accross Australia twice and I would guess at least 10000km of dirt. We're leaving on another trip next month. We've had it down places where the big name vans have had trouble with minimal trouble. The way I work it the interest on the money I saved would pay for the repairs , if any, and make up for the depreciation.
Another consideration was the tow vehicle is a Patrol ute with a max tow weight of 2500kg. Couldn't afford and didn't want to replace it as I've set it up the way I like it.
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Reply By: BrigalowO - Thursday, Feb 23, 2012 at 09:24

Thursday, Feb 23, 2012 at 09:24
Gone Bush,

I appreciate you relating your experience........all too often some people with the "best" off roader will exaggerate its capabilities and not tell all the story. I don't have one, so can't comment on its performance, but it is interesting to read of someone actually putting one over the Tanami and revealing truthfully, how it performed.
I am not trying to denigrate or praise that brand, it is simply interesting to hear of it fallibility, rather than an owner not wanting to admit, that his $120k offroader wasn't quite up to the job.

Thanks again for relating your story, it is refreshing.

Robert, (wannabe offroader)
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Thursday, Feb 23, 2012 at 09:55

Thursday, Feb 23, 2012 at 09:55
Hullo Robert,

Yes, nothing's infallible. And a lot of people who take vans down these sorts of tracks and say they didn't experience any damage have just not looked close enough.

I don't put on rose coloured glasses when I look at my BT, but it is still the best of the off road vans. Some others are nipping at its heels, some are way behind, but there's still a significant gap between it and number 2 or 3.

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