Burton's Perth to Cape York – Cape Leveque, Broome 9-13 July 2012 Day 101-105

Sunday, Sep 02, 2012 at 12:42

Mike & Amanda


Filling up at the BP Colac Roadhouse in Derby I’m amazed at the dynamics of the place. The BP is packed with locals cruising in old Brock type SS Commodores, all dressed up in cool aviator sunnies and silky American baseball clothing with ball caps facing backwards. Next door at Lytton Park other locals are uninhibitedly brawling on the oval, providing entertainment for yet others haphazardly parked all over the Roadhouse making access to the pumps difficult. Kids fill the Roadhouse shop spending their money on artery hardening junk food. Yesterday it was a challenge getting our food and booze out of Woolies, over the road - almost requiring a security guard escort to our Cruiser. Sure is an interesting place….

Now fuelled up, fridges packed, larders overflowing, alcohol bottles clinking, the Odyssey follows the Cruiser like a faithful, trusted pet towards our next destination, Cape Leveque. We’ve been on the road nearly four months and miserably the end is in sight. We’re grasping at these last weeks like an addicted alcoholic, gazing despondently at the last dregs in his wine bottle (we've done that too!). There is no “I’m looking forward to going home” moments like we experienced on the last trip, only regular “let’s check the lotto” flashes as we realise how close home and work really is! This has been a great trip, yet it has disappeared in an instant and there is sooo much more to see. And besides, I’ve enjoyed not working. I don’t know what has happened to my much loved theory of dualism, harmony and yin yang. I’m always telling the kids that life is one of balance, good and bad, long and short, right and wrong, happiness and sadness. On this trip we’ve lost the yin, and just want the yang to continue. I think it is right that we continue to camp for ever! Well not everyone has lost their yin - the kids are looking wistfully towards home, their bedrooms, toys and friends. A few days back at school will fix that…evil chuckle.

Then there is the Cruiser. I’m not looking forward to the long drives down WA to home. She is playing up more often now. We can’t get 150km before the motor loses power. It must be a fuel issue although no one can find it. But why does it rectify itself when the car stops for a few minutes? Why are there no warnings, codes or alarms on the dash? Maybe the thing is alive and this is its’ way of telling us it wants a rest? It does deserve one after all. We’ve certainly mistreated the poor thing, thinking back to the Gunbarrel, Cape York and the Gulf! Well, it certainly doesn’t make for relaxed travelling, where there is the possibility that every kilometre could be your last. Putting it on a truck and flying home is a bad news story fit for nightmares….where is that wine glass? That’s the other problem where yin and yang make a great deal of sense. I’m sure my liver is out of harmony and needs a good rest, so maybe all good things must come to an end…boo hoo.

The Derby Prison Boab was still in the same place as last time, nothing much had changed. Except, I failed to notice last time that this has become an aboriginal heritage site. You’ve got to be kidding me? The bloody tree was used as a "prison cell" in the 1890s by the local police to lock up Aboriginal prisoners over night, on their way to Derby for sentencing. Now for some reason it has been proclaimed as a:

“tree of cultural significance to the local Aboriginals. It is fenced off and travellers are asked not to approach it”.

I’m sure I would never find a place where I’ve been forcibly imprisoned by people I deem as invaders as a special place of significance, I’d want to blow it up or at least avoid it. This is a continuation of the situation in many other places we’ve encountered on this trip – names suddenly change to something unpronounceable, the most obscure tourist places closed due to “cultural significance” and approval with several permits required to cross my country of birth. Oh well, political correctness out of control coupled with a national guilty conscience…..

Only 110 km of bitumen to go until we hit the dirt again – yay! We intended to try the back way to Cape Leveque. This is the right hand side of a triangle, the other side of the infamous Cape Leveque road. It should save us about 100km of boring bitumen and then having to drive up the tortuous Cape Leveque road. We missed the turn off at Bedunburra the first time even though we were carefully tracking it on the iPad HEMA and VMS GPS. It wasn't’t signposted and just looked like the driveway for a station. Turning back we drove up and found a closed gate. Still no indication whether or not this was the right way, however by this time the GPS was adamant that we were on the right track. After airing down the tyres to our usual 26 psi we drove through the gate carefully closing it. The track mostly headed in through scrub and small treed cattle country with cows everywhere. It wasn't too bad, mostly sand with some bouncy stuff alleviated by several stops to load large firewood onto the trailer for later.

Without warning, the Cruiser starting ‘hunting’ and losing power badly much sooner than usual. At first it didn't make a lot of difference as we were only travelling at 60-70kph and did not really need to go over 3000 rpm. The GPS continued to reliably navigate down these unmarked tracks where other track options could have taken us the wrong way. Give me sandy tracks any day over mud, especially that damn Queensland black soil (LOL) – we were having a ball, excepting for the car problem which is always in the back of your mind detracting from the fun. After the track big dogleg we hit the 71km mark and right on time approached the main sandy ‘T’ junction. To the right led to Malaburra Aboriginal community and the left to the Cape Leveque Road. At last we found a sign confirming we were on the right path, although a little ominously it pointed “Cape Leveque Unauthorised Track – no further information is available from this property”. I guess they don’t really like people coming this way although it must be a right-of-way.

After turning left all hell broke loose! First the track changed dramatically into much more boggy sand drifts, narrowing considerably, it became a ‘landrover track’. Large wattles closed in around the Cruiser with the roof and sides being consistently pinstriped. The poor old battered UHF and Telstra antennas on the roof rack suffered a terrible battering. With the weight of the trailer, full of food, booze and water, the Cruiser had to work a bit. Then the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, warning lights, buzzers everywhere accompanied by a further loss of power. VSC, ABS, Transmission, Engine – all the lights came on. Correctly figuring that this would not be a good place to breakdown, we all collectively willed the Cruiser forward, losing power until we slowed to 10 or 20 kph in the deep sand drifts. Pat and Jeff were right behind us now, querying our slowness on the UHF. I really did not think we would make it, so it was with some relief we approached the T intersection of the main Cape Leveque Road. That was 30km of sheer worry. We all stopped, bonnet up, uselessly looking and poking around. The iPad was connected to the car’s computer and informed us that warning codes P0171 and P0174 were up, each relating to lean fuel bank 1 & 2. We took the opportunity of full Telstra coverage to ring Broome Toyota and TLC in O’Connor once again – now we had some hard data. Broome said they were still booked out, but bring her in for a look. Murray at TLC was convinced it was a fuel filter and we shouldn’t drive it any more as we risked damaging the motor.

What to do, what to do? Crikey, it was only about 85km to Kooljaman, and we were booked in up there for three nights. We’d been trying to get up here for a number of years and due to circumstances it had never happened. We had a little ‘chinese parliament’ and bugger it, we all decided to head on up, babying the Cruiser as necessary and have a great time regardless. Back in the Cruiser, the warning lights frightening me a little, engage D and nothing! She bunny hopped a little before the engine died – oh, this is not good! My last roll of the dice was to switch everything off, lift the bonnet and disconnect the main battery. I was hoping that this would reset all the alarms and fool the Cruiser into being nice. It worked! No alarms, no lights, she started and we drove forward with full power, heading up towards paradise. Sadly, this only lasted 5 km before it all started over again…

Cooling the engine a little, ripping off the battery leads, kicking the tyres, swearing – nothing worked. We managed 5km at a time before finally pulling over near the Middle Lagoon turnoff for the last time. Another ‘chinese parliament’ and we convinced Jeff and Pat to head on up to Kooljaman, and sadly we would call a tow truck and head for Broome. By chance, right where we’d stopped a flat bed tow truck was parked, strapping down a rather mangled 4WD and hired camper trailer. Apparently a tourist had lost control on the bitumen section and rolled several times. All were OK but battered – the Landcruiser was a real mess. Chatting to the driver did not help our state of mind. He said he was the only tow truck at the moment, the others being down for maintenance and he would not be coming up here again in the next day or two – yikes , looks like a camp on the side of the road for us!

On the phone again and the RAC were very helpful. The efficient lady phoned us back several times – yes there was another tow truck and it would be at our location in around 3 hours! A call to the Broome Palm Valley Caravan Park where we were booked in post Cape Leveque again found us talking to a most helpful lady. They bent over backwards to accommodate us early even though they were chockers. So what to do now? Patience and waiting are not two of my strong points. I again reset the battery, pointed the Cruiser towards Broome and bravely set off!

Well, to cut a long story short, this worked as before – 5km, do it again. This was compounded by the worst road in the world. I don’t say that lightly. Don’t forget that this trip we’ve covered 22,000 km of the worst roads in Australia, albeit very different types – first down the Gunbarrel for the season, the Finke River, Dalhousie, Mt Dare, Oodnadatta, Birdsville, Bloomfield Track, Battle Camp Road, Cape York and the Telegraph Track, the Savannah Way, Roper Bar Way etc etc. After all of this, we felt that the Cape Leveque road at the Broome end was the most uncomfortable and had the most potential for damage of them all. As the afternoon waned, the Cruiser started to improve….each restart gave us more and more kilometres before reset…5 km… 10km….20km…trying to diagnose this was not going to be easy, there didn’t seem to be any logic in this! We met the tow truck about 50km from Broome. He could put the Cruiser on the flat bed and tow the trailer. He didn’t have the DO35 hitch, but could remove ours from the Cruiser. We have a large truck type trailer wiring connection, so he could not use the lights and he didn’t have a removable light bar. All of this, plus the improving performance led us to keep trying on our own with him following. By nightfall the Cruiser was back to full power, no problems albeit with the warning lights still prominent. With huge relief we drove in to the Palm Valley Caravan Park. They’d kindly left a pass and instructions in a code locked box near reception. Finding the site in the dark and setting up was difficult but hey, who cares after the day we’d had! They’d put us near the camp kitchen with all the tented backpackers on a long strip near the road. Any other time not the ideal camping spot, but now a 5 star hotel wouldn’t have been better! A few wines, a delicious Amanda meal and a hot shower – we could tackle anything now…LOL. p.s. the shower was hot with high pressure, the first time since Kununurra!

Earplugs are a wonderful thing! Should be issued each time an off roader books into a caravan park! The morning was hectic unloading the Cruiser of all our worldly possessions and stashing them in and around the trailer. I’d spent hours on the internet looking for others experiencing similar issues and hopefully finding a solution. This was not to be. Many others in diesels, petrols and all manner of modern Toyotas had experienced similar problems with the dissatisfied owners not getting any solutions from the big T! Proposed solutions included faulty sensors, fuel filters, engine management system faults, computer code problems, etc etc.

Broome Toyota was amazing. Damien was incredibly helpful given that the workshop was full for weeks. They even had a backlog of vehicles outside waiting for parts. He listened to us, consulted with the mechanics and was consoling when we needed it. When I arrived I showed him photos of the dash warning lights and the iPad engine codes. The workshop supervisor took one look and stated confidently -“that’s a fuel filter!” I explained to him my recent experience with three other Toyota dealers, half of them unsure where the filters were on a petrol or not even sure if there was one. Straight up he advised that there was a paper element filter half way under the car and an in-tank fuel pump with strainer. Filled with some hope, sitting in the waiting room I spoke with a 100 series owner who had been towing a caravan. Around Port Hedland he had a speedo failure, loss of power and warning light issues. Port Hedland Toyota had advised of an expensive solenoid failure somewhere and no spare in Australia. Just then the Workshop Supervisor walked in brandishing a 10 cent fuse. “This is the problem!” he proclaimed. “Your caravan lights cable has a short and these fuses located on each side of the cruiser blow”. This took this guy 3 minutes to correctly find and fix this minor issue. Filled with burgeoning hope I phoned Broome Car Hire and managed to get the last available hire car in Broome! Maybe luck was with us.

We were very pleased to see Jeff and Pat arriving after their enjoyable sojourn up at Cape Leveque. We hadn’t been able to regularly chat to them due to the poor phone coverage. They’d had a ball but we were all relieved to be back together and spent ages filling each other in on the up to date news.

The next four fingers-crossed days were spent in Broome driving around in our hired ancient 4WD Rodeo dual cab ute. Bizarrely, one of its engine lights was flashing! One phone call on Wednesday night informed us that Damien and Caleb had removed the mid-chassis filter and found it totally blocked with crap. The bad news was that replacing it hadn’t fixed anything, warning lights were still buzzing. They’d call us by Friday with more news. I was already starting to plan the airfares home for the family and hiring a truck for the car and trailer or maybe me flying back to pick them up when fixed.

There was a lot of noise and police sirens last night and we heard this morning that a plane had crashed in the sand dunes on Cable Beach, just after taking off from the airport.The pilot was killed. They thought it had crashed into the ocean, but a couple of hours later they found it in the sand dunes.

We spent the days walking from the caravan park to Cable Beach, swimming, sunbathing and body surfing. The temperature wasn’t all that warm which was surprising and limited our water time. We took Pat and Jeff into China Town and old Broome shopping and gutsing on the delicious mango smoothies in Johnny Chai Lane. An evening was spent at the Mangrove Resort Hotel gazing over the bay watching the sunset. Amanda and I had stayed here some time ago for a wedding anniversary. We took the kids to see our house in Djugun which is rented out to Westpac. One day was spent driving to the new Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park, 16k out from Broome on the main road. We always enjoy this place and are consistently stunned by the stealth and ferocity of the huge male crocs.

The caravan park was chokkers. All around us was a changing tapestry of different people and set ups. We became regulars and met nice people and endured loud obnoxious drunks. It felt very strange and somewhat diminishing not to have the mighty Cruiser with us. I felt unmanned! What am I without my 2” lift and muddies? A bunch of tag-a-longs from Victoria camped near us, the group leader wandering over and pointed at the old Rodeo –“that doesn’t look like you!” he commented. He was referring to the fact that our obviously well set up camper trailer and other red dust impregnated off road equipment didn’t quite match the ancient rusting Rodeo. We explained the situation and he walked off nodding knowingly, muttering foul obscenities like “should have bought a Nissan…”

Friday morning the call came – a simple “it’s fixed!” Whoo hoo! Straight down the bottle shop for cartons of Corona for the team. They’d worked back on Thursday night to do it. Even the Service Manager Dion got stuck in. They removed the 90 litre main tank and washed out a cup of fine red dust. The fuel pump is fitted in the tank with the intake surrounded by a fine mesh strainer. This strainer was clogged with wax, dirt and crud. They couldn’t replace it as the whole pump has to be replaced, the filter can not be removed. Instead they washed it overnight in brake cleaner. What had happened is the Opal fuel purchased in outback Australia and stored in my rooftop jerry cans had over time baked in the sun releasing wax, gums and maybe other solids. When the car was cold the density of the fuel kept these at the bottom of the tank. As the car (and fuel) warmed the lesser density and agitation excited the solid and caused them to be sucked into the pump intake partially then fully blocking the pump and causing my loss of power. The warmer the day, coupled with longer running worsened the problems. Stopping and cooling relieved the problems and so on and so on. By the time we reached the Cape Leveque Road the thing was nearly fully blocked. I’d exacerbated the issue with unhygienic fuel transfer methods. I’d been using the air operated Tanami pump but obviously could have done this better.

I can’t say enough about the people in Broome. Firstly the Toyota team were unbelievable. They were booked right up and yet managed to fit us in, working overtime to help us out. The Workshop Supervisor is a technical genius diagnosing a problem in an instant when four other Toyota dealerships hadn’t a clue and then charging me a grand for their useless advice. Damien is the perfect Service Advisor, a gentleman on the phone, always positive and offering hope. Broome Hire Cars, very professional and wanting to help even at peak time for them. The same goes for the Palm Valley Caravan Park who really did go extra yards to help when they didn’t need to. Whilst this trip to Broome doesn’t hold overly blissful memories for me, I will forever remember and be in the debt of the people and businesses that helped us out. I’ve also learned that Toyota seems to have lost its’ old time ‘quality edge’. For a business that was a forerunner of quality assurance and control, the training given to its current flock of technicians seems to be abysmal. It would seem that if it can’t be diagnosed via the plug-in computer then there is NO problem. Most of these guys didn’t even know what filters existed on the petrol 200 series! Thank goodness there are competent mechanics with an old fashioned work ethic like Caleb in Broome!

To resolve this issue for future trips we’ll get ARB to install the 180 litre Long Ranger tank diminishing the need for jerry cans. This will give us a capacity of 270 litres all up. We have already damaged the plastic rear bumper so will replace this with a Kaymar unit and hang the spare from it.

p.s. We’ve already booked in to Kooljaman for July 2013. We’ll make it there yet!
p.p.s The RAC top cover was worth every cent!
Mike & Amanda
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