A Top End adventure has all the ingredients to become the most memorable trip you’ll ever do — unfortunately, not always for the right reasons. You see, the top end of Australia isn’t exactly user-friendly. It’s harsh on equipment and tough on people. So, if you’re not prepared, you risk setting off on a real nightmare of a trip.
There are water crossings that will dead-set swallow your 4WD whole, tropical heat to contend with and plagues of mozzies that absolutely love travellers from the south. The good news is, if you get it right, you’ll have the time of your life.
So, to help ensure your next northern escape is the best it can be, grab a cuppa and put your feet up as we pass on our tips to help prepare you and your vehicle for that trip of a lifetime.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a monster truck to tackle the Cape — a standard 4WD will get you through 99 per cent of the tracks. However, there are a few upgrades that are worth their weight in gold out on the tracks, and at the top of the list is a good quality, watertight snorkel. You see, the Top End is absolutely riddled with water crossings of varying depths, and the last thing your engine needs is a mouthful of water. The reason being, if water enters the engine’s combustion chamber, it can cause a hydraulic lock, which will bend or break the engine’s internal components in a matter of seconds.
It’s also a good idea to install a secondary fuel filter to add another layer of defence against water penetrating your fuel system/engine. Pay particular attention the micron rating (filtration level) and ensure it’s designed to suit your particular vehicle.
You’ll rattle your way over countless corrugations up north, which is like a fully-fledged torture chamber for your shock absorbers. Standard or factory shocks tend to overheat and fade causing poor handling, which is a big problem for high speed touring on dirt. You’ll find quality aftermarket shock absorbers are generally constructed tougher and are more efficient when dealing with excess heat.
When you think about it, a few inches of rubber is all that stands between your vehicle and the ground. So you really want to make sure your tyres offer plenty of traction and are tough enough to handle the punishment. You’ll need to drop your tyre pressures regularly, so look for a tyre with a nice and sturdy sidewall.
While lowering your tyres will increase traction and puncture resistance, it’s also a vital part of your suspension. The lower the pressure the softer the ride, which means less vibrations go through your vehicle.
AVOIDING THE CRITTERS
When the midges are out in force, they can be a real pain in the backside! Being smaller than your average mozzie, they end up anywhere and everywhere. So, here are a few tips to help get you through your trip relatively unscathed.
The difference between a flyscreen and midge-proof one is the size of the holes – they need to be a heck of a lot smaller to block out a midge. So, before you leave, make sure your camper’s window screens are the right ones for the job.
It’s also a good idea grab a generic mozzie net to hang over your bed as a second line of defence (there are always a few that squeeze through as you enter the tent).
Using thin mesh and strip magnets with self-adhesive, you can custom-make a fully sealed midge net for your 4WD. Simply cut the net to the size of your windows, and stick the magnets to one side of it. Then place it over your windows.
COLOURED LED LIGHTING
Bright white lights attract annoying insects at night. So you’re far better off using different coloured lighting around camp. Green lights seem to offer plenty of light with fewer insects.
No one knows better than a local, so Matt Richardson from Weipa, Qld, gave us his tried-and-tested local secrets for getting ready to hit the tropics.
A thorough pre-trip inspection/service is the first priority. If you think those bearings will need replacing when you get back – do them now. Change all your oils and grease everything that needs greasing. Quite often, it’s not the tracks that kill your 4WD, it’s the journey just getting to them.
We see so many 4WDs come through town with bent chassis looking for repairs up here – most of the time, they’re simply overloaded. There’s no need to overstock with supplies up to the Cape, as there’s that many fuel and food stops along the way, it’s not funny.
SOFTEN THE RIDE
A good set of tyres will allow you to drop your tyres pressure down to as low as 22psi on the Peninsula Development Road and 16psi on the tracks.
Low tyre pressures combined with good shockies will not only make your ride so much smoother and enjoyable, it’ll save your vehicle from all the punishment of endless corrugations once you hit the dirt.
If there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to come across up north, it’s water, and plenty of it. So, if you’ve got a few spare hours, there are a few DIY tricks of the trade that’ll help keep the water out of your 4WD and camper.
Jump under your 4WD and have a look for any holes in the floor pan and firewall, then seal them up with a nut and bolt, flat washer and sealant.
Most air filter housings aren’t watertight from the factory. A good way to check is to remove the housing completely, fill it up with water and plug up any leaks. Be sure to inspect the intake tubing for leaks as well.
To avoid water getting into your diffs during deeper water crossings, fit a breather extension kit to replace and extend the diff, gearbox and transfer breather hoses to a higher mounting location. A budget option is to use oil cooler hose with a plastic fuel filter on top.
The generic bearing hub axle seals found in most camper trailers aren’t designed to be submerged in water. So it’s a good idea to upgrade to marine-grade seals (used for boat trailers) which will help keep water from penetrating the bearing assembly.
Check out the full feature in issue #88 May 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.