The Great Desert Trek 2009 - Trip Preparation (or how to burn cash fast!)

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 21:16


So how do you start preparing for 8 weeks in the remote outback? I thought it might be interesting to actually share some of my experiences in preparing for the journey, as well as the journey itself. My first piece of advice – Empty the credit card because it’s going to cost!

This year’s sojourn is in to the wilds of the Western Australian deserts. It will be at least 4 weeks travelling largely unseen country with, all things being equal, a chance to re-supply on the north west coast before a four week journey home completing some of the outback’s most iconic tracks.

Preparation, starts well before. It may even involve the odd phone call from fellow like minded travelers attracted to the roads (or lack thereof) less traveled. Thankfully over the past few years I have developed a few lists that allow me easily plan things such as menus, shopping lists, route itineraries, fuel consumption and vehicle weight (thank the lords of technology for spreadsheet programs). Google earth is also a fantastic boon to the outback traveler because you can actually plot your route, see the obstacles and track the best course. It may seem like cheating but as I’ve always said, “why come second when a few well place dollars will buy you first!” Common sense really.

The joy of Google Earth is that you can create maps from Jpeg images lifted straight from the screen for most computer based Nav programs like Ozi explorer and Trackranger (my personal favourite). Hence, many an evening is spent saving images and calibrating them into useable maps for your program. It’s also amazing just what you can find amongst the dunes and outcrops that is well worth investigation.

For me planning started about 2 days after my return from the Sand and Spinifex Tour of 2008. The craving for the solitude and adventure never wanes as does the need to spend ever increasing amounts of money to ensure that your vehicle has all the best toys possible! For as every serious 4 wheel drive owner knows – “He who has the most toys wins!” For me a HF radio was going to be essential. Start working that overtime boyo! Luckily I found a hardly used Barrett 950 unit on the web. It also came with a GME UHF which I also wanted for both redundancies sake. As the golden rule of 4x4 states, “anything to be added, enhanced or fixed on a four wheel drive vehicle shall cost a minimum of $500 or multiples thereof” and that’s just what it cost to get both radios fitted and operational.

Using a roof top tent (an old ARB Pilbara), I also needed to have some creative input towards developing a telescoping mount for the Auto tune aerial. The end result was nothing less than fantastic and created by Kev at Brown-Davis Automotive in nearby Bayswater. It allows the aerial to slide outwards when the tent is opened so both can be used at once. Kev had to balance the need to open the rear barn doors of the Patrol as well. A great job and very solid (add $ as described, actually less than the mandatory amount but don’t tell anyone!)

Tyres! Where do you start? After last years journey and 15 punctures, I decided to do away with the alloys and go back to steelies. I also did a lot of research into cheaper alternatives to the tyres that provoke so much debate amongst enthusiasts. I’m not an MRF and split rim man preparing to “Take my chances” with radials and the ability to use a plug repair system. To this end, I opted to try and source a second hand set of brand name tyres. This led me to my favorite tyre bloke, Ricky at Essendon Tyre power who gave me a ring after finding a near new set of Cooper ST’s. Having had a good run out of them, I grabbed them (only disappointed that I missed out on the STT’s that a dealer grabbed before I could…damn!) and at a price the was less than the Chinese rubber. I also got six 16” x 8” steelies.

Jumping forward, the fitting of the tyres took place last Saturday at Chapel Corner tyres. I had purchased a set of Ironman AT tyres for road use and had them mounted on the ROH alloys while having the coopers, and two of the Mickey Thomson FC2’s fitted onto the steelies. The Patrol certainly lost the “Nancy Boy” factor associated with the alloys and looks a whole lot more malevolent with the black Sunraysias fitted. Drama of the day was finding that the wheel nuts fitted top the ROH alloys would not accommodate the steelies causing a frantic dash down to the nearest Nissan place to find a few sets of wheel nuts. At $3.80 each, they’d have wanted to fit. Needing 24, it was bloody expensive. Beggars couldn’t be choosers though. Into the car and back up the Nepean to Chapel Corner and eventually the job was done.

I had decided to fit a low coolant alarm for this trip seeing I was to be traversing some 700 kilometers of trackless country. I opted for the Engine-Saver unit with an inline sensor. Hopefully if a radiator is damaged, I’ll get enough warning to prevent any serious engine damage.

I had intended to use a swag this year but the thought of clearing spinifex over 60 days prompted me to reconsider the accommodation arrangements. Last weekend saw a trip to the storage unit for the retrieval of camping gear and the fitting of the roof-rack and tent. The old Taj has a few years on her now and although it can have a distinct “Nautical” feel in a stiff breeze, there is a certain comfort in being up off the ground. The increased drag was noticed on the trip back to Melbourne. The other great thing about the roof rack is that it has roll out awning fitted as well providing a modicum of shade in the arid treeless areas. Great on lunch breaks.

The Pre trip inspection!

Every year I head to my favourite mechanic Aaron at ATOC Auto’s in Belgrave South. We have an interesting relationship. His kids love me because I insist on paying for their future education needs by having Aaron do lots of work on my vehicle. Ha Ha. Aaron always does a thorough pre-trip inspection for me as well as an oil change. This year I had him drop the radiator out for a flush and de-spinifex (From the previous 2 years trips. My sealing was not as good as I thought it was!). He also fitted off a new set of OME nitro shocks. I also had the radius arm bushes replaced. The car felt a whole lot different. Much tighter in the steering (Add 3.5 times the standard 4x4 $ rate!).


I have always put a lot of effort into my food selection running both a freezer and a fridge in the vehicle. Many a culinary master piece (well I think so anyway) has been whipped up in the outback. This year however, I have decided to go back to basics. BBQ, Curries, Spaghetti, devilled snags, mixed grill and tins. Oh, there’s one risotto and a couple of fish nights but if it cant be cooked on the BBQ plate or in one pot, I don’t want to know about it. Despite freezing the meat, I still cryovac the majority of it as well. This gives some level of redundancy if the Engel packs it in. I can transfer it to the Waeco as either a freezer and/or fridge.

Menu planning remains an important process never the less and again the spreadsheets and lists come in extra handy for meal planning, shopping list preparation and fridge/freezer packing. Tonight, the trusty Aldi cryovac machine emerged from the shed to be used to great effect. My butcher, Grant is handling the majority of the vaccum sealing for me but there are still bits and pieces to be done at home. Meat will be picked up Saturday and frozen as flat as possible for packing. Likewise the assault on both the supermarket and Dan Murphy’s are a lesson in complex logistics. Wait till the vehicle packing starts.

So that’s where I am at present. Sunday I will be loading the vehicle, plugging in the fridges and topping off the fuel tanks.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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