How does one prepare for a bumpy old haul up the old Tele Track? Scott Heiman offers his views on being ready for anything.
Setting off to ‘The Cape’ is a big call - for some it’s a lifelong ambition. Do you simply pack the rig and go? No way! There are lots of moving parts to consider. Think about schedule, route selection, refuelling, and rest stops. And that’s just the start.
If you need inspiration, approach a big trip like this as if you were organising a wedding. There are probably around the same number of considerations, with hopefully a little less scope for ‘cold feet’. Myself and Kath saw an info-graphic recently indicating that 40 per cent of couples are engaged for 13-18 months before they actually tie the knot. So, that gives them ample time to sort out issues like: where to get hitched, how to get there, and the thousands of other considerations fundamental for a happy betrothal.
Similar logistical considerations apply when planning for overland touring. And like hitching yourself to your better half, hitching a camper to your rig requires at least a solid twelve to eighteen month lead-in, from first blush to finally pulling out of the driveway, to adequately cover all pre-trip planning necessities — If you want to do it right.
Pick the season
Picking the season to attempt The Tip is straightforward, unless you're some form of wet-weather loving masochist: the dry season – May to October. If you have kids you can't leave behind or put up for adoption, then the best time is school holidays in June/July or Sept/Oct.
In the Army there is a saying ‘Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance’ and this certainly applies when considering to a trip to Cape York. There are vehicle repair services in Cooktown, Coen, Weipa and Seisia plus several roadhouses, and if you really get stuck, RACQ services the area, so you're not entirely on your own. But having contact details and at least an outline of services available before you head off is a good idea.
It’s a long way for a tow if you hit some rocks and perhaps, roll — so a few spares wouldn’t go astray. Talking of spares, you’ll need spare fuel for the trip. Fuel is not always on tap with some stations closing on random days and fuel consumption can double with corrugations, wheel ruts, deep sand, rough and rocky sections and creek crossings.
If most people are honest they’ll accept that the majority of trips they take are within a day’s drive from home. So preparing for a trip to the Cape is probably a good time to reflect on your driving ability. Driving in isolated environments is not just ‘something that you do’, it’s a real skill. Particularly when you hitch a rig to the back of your tow-tug. So, ask yourself this: “do I have the skills to safely control my rig in unfamiliar and challenging conditions – or am I likely to place myself and my family in danger?”
In some government/military sectors, preparing individuals to undertake 4WD responsibilities involves a minimum of 16 days training that will comprise around 125 hours behind the wheel in day, night, under load and difficult terrain environments, not to mention having to conduct the most up to date ‘L’ and ‘P’ tests in the car you’re actually about to drive. This focus on ‘up-skilling drivers’ recognises that, just because you have a driving licence, doesn’t mean you understand your vehicle and how to use it properly.
So if you don’t operate in the 4x4 sector professionally, it may be time to find a commercial or private trainer to provide you with some pre-trip assistance. While a two-day introductory 4WD training course won’t get you through all of the difficult conditions you might encounter up the Cape, it will certainly teach you a lot. It’s actually amazing how much confidence you can acquire over a weekend with a professional instructor.
To find a reliable driver training facility, speak to your local 4WD clubs. And it doesn’t hurt to review the road rules if you’ve had your licence forever. It’s easy to go online to do practice tests to check the currency of your knowledge. You may be surprised at how things have changed since you first took to the wheel in your late teens.
Once you’ve considered your driving skills, then there’s the issue of mechanical nous to think about. Do you know how to deal with your rig when it stops doing the things you want it to do? Preparing to standby the roadside scratching your head, hoping that someone clueier than you comes along to help, is not a sensible strategy in remote Australia.
In fact, if Mother Nature turns nasty, this approach could cost you and your loved ones your lives. So consider what gaps exist in your knowledge.
Among its other benefits, 4WD instruction reminds us how much wear and tear our rigs are likely to endure while we’re messing around in the dust and dirt, and wallowing around in water courses. So don’t under-estimate the importance of applying some serious TLC to your trusty rig before you set-off.
The fact is that, while we may normally regard our vehicles as a mode of transport to get us to our favoured 4x4 and camping locations, on a trip to remote Australia our rig becomes our Safety Vehicle. Planning a trip to the Cape means ensuring that our rig will allow us to readily contact, or reach, ‘civilisation’ if things go wrong.
If you’re not mechanically minded, it’s a good idea to book your vehicle in to see a trusted mechanic in the months ahead of your trip to see what repairs, modifications, parts and accessories make sense before you step-off. Think about, for example, the possible need for new tyres, upgraded brakes or suspension, rear locker, CB radio, winch or extended range fuel tank. Unless you’re made of money, demands like these will place a dent in your wallet and the associated expenditure may need to be staggered over a few months if it’s to be achievable.
At the end of the day, by maintaining and using your vehicle properly, you’ll prolong its lifespan. And when you finally hit the road for that long-awaited trip to The Tip, it’s this preparation that may make the difference between a great time away, and the last trip you ever take.
There’s a reason that they say ‘safety is no accident’.