Car Advice

How to drive across the Simpson Desert in Chinese 4WDs

We drove across the Simpson Desert in two Chinese four-wheel drives. The seven-part series is complete, and this is everything you need to know about how we did it.

IT TOOK JUST a little over one week to cross the Simpson desert in a Haval H9 and Great Wall Steed, but so much more time planning. And it wasn’t in the expected Toyota LandCruiser, Ford Ranger or Isuzu four-wheel drives – it was with rarely seen Chinese cars… and the support crew.

Is this the ultimate torture test to prove the worth of fledgling automobiles from China? Yes and no. As Robert Pepper explains, the route isn’t as terrifying as most think, but it’s also not without risk.

“The vehicle also had to be appropriate, I didn’t want to drag something softroader-ish and expensive, like a BMW,” says Robert in his opening to the seven-part series.

Simpson desert ute four wheel drive

“After some thought, I settled on a Haval H9, for two reasons. Firstly, nobody believes the thing is capable of even driving down a bitumen road, let alone into and then out of the Outback. And this is because it’s Chinese, and the received wisdom is that Chinese make takeaways and not cars, and certainly not Outback-capable 4WDs. But if there’s one thing I like doing, it’s challenging the status quo and having tested the H9 off-road I knew it was pretty damn good. And, the second reason was the engine. I have written that diesel is dying, so the H9’s petrol engine was ideal to back those words with actions.”

Read all of the stories here, and let us know if you would brave a lesser-known car across the Australian Outback.

Driving the Haval H9 and Great Wall Steed across the Simpson Desert stories

Introduction: The conversation went something like this:

“I’d like to drive an H9 over the Simpson,” I asked.

“Sure!” was the immediate response.

That wasn’t how I thought the conversation would play out.

The risks: tyres: What we wanted to do was to not break down, not get stuck, and not have any injuries. And we wanted to be able to recover from all three if needs be. 

S let’s look at the risks and what we did to mitigate them, starting with tyres.

Preparation: I will say this later, but it cannot be repeated often enough – NEVER rely solely on satnav even if it does have the tracks. 

Support crew: We have talked about the Haval H9 and the Great Wall Steed, so now it’s time to introduce J, who came along in her new Triton fresh from the accessory shop. 

Packing: So how do you pack a 4×4? Everybody has their own routine, but having talked to and travelled with many others we all follow the same basic principle of really thinking through the pack rather than just bundling things in.

Comms and navigation: Always, always maintain full situational awareness of where you are and never, ever just blindly follow sat-nav directions out in the bush.

Why do it? 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.

The wrap: It is not nearly as difficult as many say it is. The difficulty of the Simpson is not the desert itself but the remoteness of it.

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John
5 months ago

I have crossed the Simpson 17 times including twice on motor Bike, that was the toughest.
The Simpson today is very easy compared to my early years of crossing. Mainly used Nissan’s and Cruisers.
Last trip 3 years ago was in a Ranger, the auto box meant just point and shoot, was by far the easiest drive I’ve done.
Today any 4×4 (not the soft type) could cross, it’s a doodle compared to decades ago. People want to cross quickly now generally using only the French track. My suggestion is weave around the various tracks and spend a week in there.
Have travelled the remote areas of Australia since the 1960s and the best trip I’ve done, was alone for 7 days exploring the little known areas of the Simpson, of course this was before it’s become a bucket list thing.
I’m amazed at how unprepared people are today in the outback, but when you can get on a sat phone and call for help it gives them a false sense of security.
Also most vehicles are overloaded with items that are not required. Some of the stuff I’ve seen people carry, most of us wouldn’t use at home in 10 years.
Travel light and enjoy, sunsets and sunrise are my favourite time.
John

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