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Dashing across the Simpson Desert with a Haval H9, Great Wall Steed, Everest and a Triton – Part 7 – The Why

How And Why We Dashed Across The Simpson Desert In A Week From Melbourne With A Haval H9 And Great Wall Steed.

AFTER SEVEN PARTS we’re actually at the point where we set off on the trip. The fact is, extended 4WD trips take a lot of preparation if you want to be both safe and successful, and this series reflects that reality. You’ve heard from two of our companions about their views, and now to wrap up this series here’s my summary of the trip itself.

For me, and most recreational 4WDers the car is more the means to an end, than the end in itself, a fact which often comes as a surprise to those in charge of marketing such vehicles. Sure, many of us love cars for what they are, but if 4WD was only about driving tough obstacles in a quarry then it wouldn’t be the multi billion-dollar industry it is, and there wouldn’t be hundreds of 4WD clubs across the country, dedicated to experiencing trips like this this one. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve done it.

But everyone can relate to a beautiful view of the countryside, right? Who doesn’t like an open, expansive vista of natural beauty with nobody around? Imagine standing atop some hill or mountain, regarding an unbroken landscape unsullied by humankind. Take a moment to reflect on the majesty, the agelessness, the realisation that it was just like this for tens of thousands of years before you. You can imagine our ancient forebears on the land, just as you look at it today.

Okay, maybe the ancients didn’t drive 4WDs. But otherwise, there’s nobody else around…just like it would have been since, well, who knows exactly?

You don’t get sort of view in the city, there’s always some small reminder of modern society; powerlines on the horizon, the sound of a freeway, litter blowing, even the knowledge that an hour you’d be back in the ‘burbs, whereas in the bush you know there’s nothing for days.  And of course these days, any  contemplation will be interrupted by the insistent buzz of your phone announcing another sugar-hit of social media uselessness.

Remote, beautiful countryside – actually, that’s a tautology. I can’t think of any remote vista that is unattractive, just some are more attractive than others. Anyway, such sights are addictive, speaking to something deep within us. And that’s why one morning a member of our group got up early and started walking along the track in the direction we’d travel. He had a good hour and a half start on us, trudging alone with his thoughts. Here he is when we caught up, that dot in the middle of the claypan:

His first word to describe the experience? “Scary”, because he was humbly aware of the vast, ancient land he was immersed in, and the risk, even though rationally he knew we were close by. I could relate to that, it’s part of the attraction of such travel. But just one part. There’s also the camaraderie. 

I am firm believer that to get to know people you need to do things with them, not just talk with them. Shared endeavour and achievement, working through adversity, joint accomplishment. Team building? Forget the staid dinner for the group, go do something where you have to work together, such as a treasure hunt.  Dating? Skip the boring coffee or movie, take them camping, you’ll know where you are after that, trust me. Got kids and want to reconnect? Same deal.

This is the real attraction of offroad touring. You have a group of people on an adventure, planning together, being awed together, making decisions together, helping each other, achieving together. It’s a rare trip when something doesn’t go exactly to plan, and some may argue if it’s all perfect you’re not trying hard enough. On this one we didn’t have many problems – couple of sand flags needed fixing, driving lights bracket broke and needed some creative fixing, bit of wiring and repacking – but everybody pitched in and the problems evaporated with tools, brains, ideas and energy, leaving the group happier and that little bit closer.

It’s always exciting to share a experience with people. For example, on our trip; the first time you turn a corner and see a wild camel calmly chewing on a tree. A large snake slowly making its way around your campsite, or the sight of a dingo…with pups.

Maybe it’s something exciting that gets your adrenaline flowing, like your first ascent of Big Red.  When a group of 4WDs have just successfully driven a hard bit of terrain the shared whoops of joy and smiles at the end are heartwarming, a real bonding experience. Not that Big Red is any way hard (more on that later), but you get the point.

At the top of the biggest dune in the Simpson, Big Red. Hot tip; the “runup” you need is nothing. You can even hill start on it halfway up.

In 2018, there’s another very good reason to go remote touring, and you’re probably looking at it right now. You’re quickly out of Internet access range and frankly the difference that makes to interactions with other people is frightening, in a very, very good way. We kind of don’t realise just how insidiously corrosive our phones are to our thinking and sociability until nobody can use them. There is a surprisingly big difference between not having any Internet access at all, versus simply switching the phone off when it could have service.

Even setting up a shared cooking area is good fun and social companionship, more so than going out to a restaurant or sitting in Maccas, or waiting while serving staff comes back with your food. Then of course when all the work is done there’s the bush TV – a campfire – which is the time when all the world’s wrongs are righted, usually lubricated with a cool wine or beer. Or maybe you’d just prefer to tune out and stare in silent contemplation at the coals as they glow, ebb and burn, a uniquely peaceful way to relax. In all honesty, I’d rather spend an hour looking at a campfire than just about anything you could show me on free-to-air TV.

One thing I like to do on remote trips is truly, really appreciate the environment by immersion. You simply extinguish every last light in your campsite, and shut down all noise. Then you walk away from the camp and spread out. Lie down on the ground, use a mat if you like or a chair if you must, and then just do absolutely nothing but take it all in for at least 15 minutes. No speaking. May sound weird, but try it first. Works best on starlit nights, when you realise just what a difference light pollution makes to the beauty of the night. I get all caught up in the Fermi Paradox when I stargaze, wondering if, why, how and when.

There’s some long drives too on a trip like this, and you’d think they’d be boring. But there’s the inter-car radio banter, a highlight of the trip, especially if you’ve got an excellent trip leader who amuses people with undeniably hilarious jokes, lateral thinking puzzles and random factoids. Just saying. 

But sometimes it’s okay to be silent on the long drives, and that’s good too. How often do we take the time to pretty much do nothing and just relax? A long drive is kind of forced relaxation, if that’s not a paradox. And assuming you’re not travelling solo, then you’ll find the time to talk with your companions about things you never thought you’d discuss. The time, the remoteness from your normal life and the sense of shared adventure all combine to unlock conversations that you never knew you needed to have, or maybe made space for the ones you knew you really should.

I know of several mid-life people who have taken a someone like an aged parent or adult child on a similar trip, as indeed have I, and come back with a memory for a lifetime and a much stronger relationship. You don’t want to let the years roll by, excuse after excuse, until it’s too late and what should have been a treasured memory is instead an everlasting, aching regret of what might have been, with all chances for recompense thrown away for what will seem like in hindsight trivial excuses. Life motto; given a choice, do it rather than not.

So that’s what the Simpson is like. Were you expecting a detailed account of sand dunes, animals we saw, mileage, recoveries, history, problem solving?  That’s not the point. Why we, the 4WD community, spend lots of time and money on offroad vehicles and then go off wandering Australia is explained above, and the Simpson is just one potential trip of millions. So next time you see a 4WD with a bullbar, offroad tyres, roofrack, driving lights, ingrained dirt, and bodywork that looks clean but isn’t perfect…you’ll know that the car is important, but ultimately it’s just the means to a even more important end.

Four final tips

  • It’s not hard driving – desert sand driving in Australia is generally much easier than that on beaches. For Victorians, the sand driving in Robe/Beachport is harder, and for NSW people the same for Stockton. There’s so much sand in the rest of the states you can figure out your own examples. All you need to do is drop pressures to 18psi, lock centre diffs if applicable, switch off stability control and then cruise up and down dunes. I never needed low range in the Steed, and when I crossed before in my Defender TD5 the revs never went over 1500, again in high range, until Big Red.  And both cars did it on a single tank of fuel.  I know people run over the Simpson thinking 30psi or even 25psi is a low pressures…you’re dead wrong, you’re ruining the tracks, using more fuel than needs be and making life harder. We also cruised up Big Red from a standstill at the bottom using 15psi, and the harder way at 9psi.  Tyre pressures…learn to drop them! P.S. Yes, Robe/Beachport is technically in South Australia but the Victorian 4WD community views it as a nice little colony. 
  • The Simpson is not a pure sand desert – a desert is an arid area of limited vegetation. The Simpson has quite a bit of vegetation, but it’s still arid. Look at this video for more.
  • You must prepare – yes, the Simpson is popular these days, but with any form of risky activity preparation, skills and gear are the key to both success and safety. Read parts 1 to 6 of this series for more.
  • Work up to it – my standard advice for someone looking to get into this is to start small. Daytrips, overnight camping in a park, then bush camp but not remote, drive offroad in a state forest…work up to the big trip. The idea is that you do all your tough 4WD in a local state forest, so on a bigger trip you’re comfortably driving well within you and your vehicle’s capabilities. That way you will enjoy it all the more.

That’s the end of this series. Now, put the excuses away, get out there and do it!


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!