Alice Springs to El Questro – 1702 kilometres
When I heard about this epic journey by chance, I threw my hand up and yelled “I’m there”. Well, wouldn’t you?
God knows what's going to happen with my workload over the six days that I will be absent from the office. But then, that’s not something you think about when opportunities like these come up.
I’d like to call myself a fair-dinkum Aussie but this was going to be my first trip into proper 'Outback OZ'. It’s absolutely shameful that I’ve driven cars all over the world but never once gone walkabout in my own backyard.
I urge all of you who are planning to eat snails in Paris or gnocchi in Rome, to pack up the family and head north, to one of the most incredible places on earth, outback Australia.
The vastness of this huge continent is magnified tenfold, when you’re on cruise control at 11,000 metres. Bone dry stretches of dead flat land, as far as the eye can see. It’s an absolute frontier, much the same way as Alaska is to the US.
When the plane hit the deck at Alice Springs airport and the rear door opened up – it must have been all of 12 to 14 degrees, with a stiff breeze. The T-shirt thing wasn’t going to cut it here in the outback, not on this particular day, anyway.
There were only four of us who had signed up for this journey across the Tanami, so I figured there was no chance of being left behind in some secluded gorge or worse still, Wolfe Creek with a madman.
The itinerary supplied by the Land Rover PR department stated there would be four nights at various camp sites along the way, and that the single man G4 tents would be erected and waiting for us, after each day’s driving. To think I actually believed that!
I wanted to believe it too. Those torturous nights camping in the bush near Singleton during school cadet camps in water logged, one-man tents had put me right off the camping scene from that moment on. Hotel rooms, a stocked up bar fridge and spa bath is where I’m at these days.
Lunch was back at Voyages Alice Springs Resort where I was keen to try some crocodile, any way I could get it. No such luck, but fresh Barramundi spring rolls, hit the spot nicely.
The Freelander might be the smallest vehicle in the Land Rover range but believe you me; it’s not short on interior space. The cabin is particularly wide and with head and legroom, easily accommodating the over six-footers.
You can’t get over how red the sand is in these parts. It makes for an extravagant contrast against the panoramic blue sky. This land hasn’t tasted water in several years, so it’s very soft, very fine and potentially, very dangerous.
That’s the name Ted Egan gave this “set’ during the making of his doomed feature film effort, The Drovers Boy.
The title is from a song he wrote about hundreds of Aboriginal stockwomen, who worked and rode as men, as recently as the 1950s. Back then it was against the law for women to work as cattle drovers.
I’m told Ted actually completed most of the film but ran out of money to promote it. It’s certainly an interesting story that probably would have worked better as a TV mini series in my humble opinion.
The property now belongs to the Hayes family, who have been battling the drought for years with little or no return. It may have been a blessing in disguise, as the whole family is now involved in tourism and things are looking up.
Dinner was superb with homemade country style soup and the best damper I’ve ever eaten for starters. The main consisted of an equally delicious steak from a wood fired BBQ. This was followed up with fresh baked apple pie and cream.
You might even get a live performance by Billy’s son-in-law (I think it’s Mick or Dave) who doesn’t tell a bad yarn either.
So if you’re a corporate big shot and want a different kind of conference with one of the best homegrown country feeds in the Northern Territory, look up these guys. They can feed up to 800 guests – for dinner!
The next morning it was an early start to what was Day l of Leg 2 of this Land Rover 60th birthday cross Australia drive.
With 400Nm of torque on tap at just 2000rpm, I’m not surprised. Standard leather trim and just about every other feature you would find inside a luxury SUV made it a surprisingly comfortable ride.
The driving position and dash layout is very Range Rover Sport-ish complete with the trademark ‘Command Driving Position’ a feature unique to the brand.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at Tilmouth Well, one of the last outposts where you can fuel up and replenish supplies before continuing along the Tanami Track.
I was desperate to procure a genuine didgeridoo (not the cheap bamboo versions that seem all too common out here) but ended up with a couple of pairs of music sticks instead, given the meagre budget with which I had to play!
With no time to waste, the convoy was on the move again; we needed to make our first campsite at Renahans Bore, before dark. It was made quite clear to us that we would need to learn some tent craft pretty quickly; otherwise things might get awfully cold tonight.
Yes, it gets bloody freezing out here at night in the Tanami Desert and temperatures can fall as low as minus 1.3 degrees.
You haven’t seen termite mounds until you have seen them in the outback. It’s an extraordinary site, as they can stand well over two-metres and are dotted over hundreds of hectares.
It’s difficult to relate the relatively simple interior of the Land Rover Defender with the same company that does the Ranger Rover Vogue, with its lashings of supple leather, polished aluminium and real wood veneer throughout the cockpit. It’s absolutely first class in every way.
Not far on and the convoy pulled left of off the “Track” and headed for a large rocky outcrop a few kilometres away. We were very close to the Tanami/Granites Mine, which is the second largest producer of gold in Australia, churning out more than 450,000 ounces a year and still going strong.
This is a very large vehicle with an enormous amount of cabin room and more than enough engine to move you along at a rapid pace on any surface.
She is a lovely woman with a thick Edith Piaf-style Parisian accent, but the irony is, she can no longer speak French, too long in the Aussie outback, has seen to that. She told me she had been back home just twice in 40 years. If I had the money, she’d be on a plane now.
From Rabbit Flat to Halls Creek is where the Tanami Road becomes the Tanami “Track”. Essentially a semi-graded dirt road littered with deep, bone jarring corrugations I spoke of earlier.
Wolfe Creek seems to attract backpackers from all around the world, looking for a photo opportunity with a big knife and a ‘scary looking dude’.
This is a vehicle favoured by military forces and NGO’s in some of the darkest places on earth, due to its extraordinary off-road capability.
However, the river crossings and soft sand sections encountered on this journey cannot be classed as anything remotely challenging for the Defender. That would require a return trip in the wet season.
If you’re with Vodafone, Optus or “3” they aren’t worth a stamp out here. God help you if you get into any trouble and you aren’t with Telstra! Best advice carry a satellite phone, they work anywhere.
Any Aussie outback tour operator worth a crumpet will tell you that the Purnululu National Park, home of the Bungle Bungle Range, is the most extraordinary location in Australia.
There’s not much it can’t handle in the off-road department either. That’s no surprise, as it is based on the same integrated, body-framed structure, as the go anywhere Discovery but optimised for tarmac attack.
It’s not quite as plush as the Vogue, being just half the price, but that’s not to say that it isn’t luxurious, it is.
First class kit includes; full leather interior, auto climate control, Harmon Kardon audio (one of the best sounding systems in the business), rear park distance control and too many other goodies to list here.
Safety is also paramount with Land Rover and the ‘Sport’ is loaded with the full compliment of airbags and electronic aids for on and off-road, travel.
The ride compliance is not quite as supple as the Vogue either, but then the Vogue doesn’t eat corners like the ‘Sport’.
We pulled into El Questro, which is a one-million acre property, early afternoon, on what would be our last night of this incredible Land Rover celebration of its 60th year of operation.
We hadn't showered in days, so a fast-paced walk to half way up to Emma Gorge, saw us at a delightful water hole for a well earned bath with naturally warm currents. Gold!