Gday, mate! Every now and then it's good to put the daily grind on hold, step outside your normal routine, and do the adventure lifestyle. Even though writing for this magazine is the best job in the world,it is possible to get burnt out. Lucky for me, I was able to get away on a two-week trip to the land down under. It all started during a formal sales dinner, the wine-and-dine meetings where our sales reps and advertisers get together and try to hash out a deal, while us editorial guys tag along for free food and drink. While I was sitting there all uncomfortable in my fancy shirt and too-tight dress shoes, I struck up a conversation with this funny-talking bloke, Andy Brown. As it turned out, Andy is one of the Brown brothers who own and run ARB in Australia.
In case you're new around here, ARB is known in the states for its selectable air locking differentials, burly steel truck bumpers (called bull bars down under), and Old Man Emu suspensions, but these parts all originated in Australia where ARB operates 10 company-owned 4x4 shops as well as 18 franchise stores. What this all means is that Australia is ARB's home and the outback is its backyard, so you can imagine how excited I was when Andy invited me to come over to his place to play in their giant sandbox.
The next thing you know I was sitting in a giant Quantas Airlines 747 for a 14-hour flight to the city of Melbourne along the southern coast of Australia. The plan was to meet up with 11 other off-road journalists from around the world and a half dozen ARB employees for a two-week stint in the Australian outback behind the wheels of eight ARB-outfitted 4x4s.
You might think a trip like this is a dream vacation, and truthfully, it is. Not only were we spending the days driving cool trucks over giant sand dunes, slippery mud holes, and rocky river bottoms, but we spent most nights either chuggin' beers in some crazy outback pubs or crackin' brews around a campfire, telling wacky stories about why four-wheeling is better in our home country before drifting off to sleep under the most amazingly bright stars.
Another unique aspect to the trip was that many of the trucks are models we don't get here in the U.S. And as our tour was nearing the end we arrived at the ARB/Warn Outback Challenge where we watched some of the more extreme outback trucks attempt different obstacles while hauling all their spare parts and fuel. I can honestly say I wasn't too excited about coming back home after this vacation-er, work trip. Australia is a great 4x4 destination and if you ever get a chance to go you definitely should.
My favorite truck of the trip was this Toyota Land Cruiser 79-Series Workmate, and it is one tough machine. It's the latest truck from Toyota for the rest of the world and I think it would outsell the new Tundra in the U.S. It has solid axles front and rear with massive rear leaves to support a lot of weight and front coils to give a moderately smooth ride. Plus with a pair of ARB Air Lockers it was nearly unstoppable. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a lavish 4x4, because this is the Australian version of 1-ton work truck, with a full-floating rear axle, plastic and vinyl interior, five-speed manual transmission, a burly fully-boxed frame, and an awesome 4.5L V-8 intercooled turbodiesel. This new diesel passes the European diesel emissions testing and I think it would be great in the U.S. in a Tacoma or FJ Cruiser. Hopefully someone at Toyota is reading this.
Of course there were a few U.S. trucks like this Ford F-250 that had been converted to righthand drive for the Australian market. This was Andy Brown's personal truck and something rarely seen on that continent. I was driving when I finally found some rocks and thought it my duty to show the other journos what the U.S. rockcrawling craze is all about. I didn't plan on putting a nice dent in Andy's rear bumper, but maybe it will convince him that ARB needs to bring a fullsize truck rear bumper to the aftermarket. At least I didn't fill the cab with muddy brown water like when one of the Australian journalists tried to show everyone how to do a proper river crossing Aussie-style. An ARB winch bumper, snorkel, diff cover, Air Lockers, and IPF lights fill out the package.
We explored the outback countryside and small townships that are scattered across this massive land. The thing that really amazed me was how similar the landscape was to the USA, but at the same time different. Often I felt I was being transported to many U.S. states, whether the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the large open areas of Nevada, or the unique deserts similar to Texas and New Mexico. It was amazing how quickly the terrain changed from one setting to the next, and the fact that we rarely saw billboards out in the bush reminded me that we were in Australia.
Even though we spent most of the time exploring, we did get to play off road as well. There were the big red sand dunes in the Simpson Desert, as well as a deep river crossing. Plus some rocky riverbeds to explore on one of the stations we stayed at and with all the rain we encountered we even found some mud to wallow in.
As our trip through the outback wound its way back to Broken Hill, I began getting excited about seeing the famed Warn/ ARB Outback Challenge competition. This is an event unlike any I know of in the U.S. Teams of drivers and copilots compete in multiple stages on various ranches and must be able to drive their comp rigs from station to station, such that some semblance of street legality is required. Unlike desert racing or rockcrawling, these vehicles must haul spare parts, tools, and camping gear since getting back to town or to a chase truck and trailer isn't always an option. It was more like real-world four-wheeling, and many of the trucks reminded me of top-shelf U.S. trail rigs and were based on Toyota Land Cruisers, Land Rovers, Nissan Patrols, Suzuki Samurais, and the rare Jeep, but all with an Australian flare.
If you want to retrace the trip, I will have the map posted on our Web site, www.4wheeloffroad.com, with more photos. However, here is a quick overview:
We started in Melbourne for a day before flying out to Mildura and then driving to Broken Hill on Monday. Then we traveled through the following towns and stations on Tuesday: Silverton (where the famous Mad Max/Road Warrior movies were filmed), Eldee, One Tree, Tobooburra, and on to Cameron Corner where the three states of Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia all converge. Wednesday we went to Merty Merty, Innamincka, and camped along the Cordillo Downs road. From there we drove up to Cordillo Downs, then by the Cadelga Ruins and into Birdsville where we stayed at the local hotel and visited an unusual museum. That Friday we drove out to the Simpson Desert and played on sand dunes known as Big Red, then got the Super Duty stuck in Eyre Creek and slept under the stars. After that we went back to Birdsville and headed south down the Birdsville Track to Mungerannie where we camped out near a pub with a hot spring. From there it was out to Marree, Lyndhurst, Leigh Creek, Parachilna (where we ate the Feral Feast) through Blinman and up to Wirrealpa where we stayed on a 650-square-mile sheep station. The following day I did some rockcrawling to the amazed confusion of my fellow journos and the demise of one Super Duty rear bumper (sorry, Andy) before heading off to Angorichina. By Tuesday we were back on the road down through Hawker, past the Craddock Hotel, and back to Broken Hill where we stayed for a few days watching the Outback Challenge get rained out.