Exploring Australia with a Jaguar F-Pace
Sometimes a new car road test is just a day on a press launch, and other times it’s a road trip like the one we took the Jaguar F-Pace on…
A LONG WEEKEND is a chance to explore Australia, and there’s no better way to do that than in a four wheel drive. Or something close to it, like this Jaguar F-PACE. You can read the full review here, and the setup story here, but this one is a pictorial diary of our trip through Wyperfeld National Park, Big Desert State Forest, Murray Sunset National Park, then to Mungo National Park.
The trip started like any other, on this surface:
Boring but essential. The six-hour trip was filled with Spotify, podcasts, listening in on UHF radio conversations, talking to friends and wondering why the Jaguar’s cruise control only lets you specify 2km/h increments. Also should report the acceleration to 109.5km/h is impressive.
Arrived at Mildura, and this:
Yes, the first wash of the weekend. Well, a rinse really. Dusty cars don’t photograph well, and nor do ones with half a tonne of insects on the grill. At least this car is a lovely red, which as you can see in the later photos stands out nicely in the desert…unlike white, grey or black. Please, PR people of Australia, make your 4X4 press fleet all bright primary colours! Your car will look much better. Thank you!
Out into the bush and our first track was Milmed Rock – time to find out how the Jaguar would perform. Would we need to turn around?
The usual dire warnings. There’s not many trees in the desert, and you may think that the single-lane road warning is a bit rich as you’d be lucky to top 50km/h. But there are sand dunes, and it’s hard to see what’s coming over the other side.
We didn’t take a dog or a dog-lite into the desert either. What we did do is drop tyre pressures to 25psi. The sand isn’t too soft, but we didn’t want the car to struggle or damage the track.
Easy work for the F-PACE as the sand gets softer. It’s always harder to drive around corners in sand as you’re making two tyre marks instead of four.
Top of a dune. The dunes aren’t really all that impressive in this country, not very tall, soft or steep. Still, you do need a decent all-wheel-drive system.
A steeper dune, and our companion Jeep waits in the background before making an attempt.
In remote locations there’s often visitor books, generally adorned with stickers like this one. That’s for a very unimpressive Milmed Rock.
And here’s the Rock.
Now for some softer sand. One tip for sand – if you can see wheelmarks in it, it’s not too bad. If you can’t see wheelmarks because it’s so fine then it’ll be harder going, particularly if the track wiggles a bit.
First camp. There’s lots of quick-erect tents on the market, but I love my sixteen-year-old Southern Cross tourer tent. Four pegs, two interior poles and it’s done…literally a five minute setup job and it’s tall enough to stand up inside. Quality lasts. I don’t know where that F-PACE will be in sixteen years, but I bet my tent will still be doing its job.
You discuss all sorts of things in the evening at camp as the sun sets. This time we had a massive argu-cussion about the difference between a city, a town and whether small towns were villages or hamlets. At what point does a settlement of humans become a whatever? Is a single house a town? What if there’s a pub? All I know is that I’m wrong, apparently.
The following morning and we find this. It is a federal offence to pass a windmill without taking a photo of your SUV beside it. So, here we are. Does that look out-backy enough? Sorry there’s no photo of some grizzled old bloke wearing an Akubra.
On the way to Snowdrift…
…and just over the rise we’re into almost into savannah land…
…see how the country changes?
Here’s Snowdrift. It’s just a big sand dune, well big for the area anyway. Good views up top.
Love rural towns. There is always something interesting like this Phantom mural. Did you know the Phantom was one of the first superheroes, and one of the first to do the skin-tight and underpants thing?
Here we are reinflating the tyres back to road pressure for a run along the highway. Driving at speed with them at 25psi would wreck them by overheating the carcass. Well, when I say “we” I mean my assistant proving her value.
I have no idea where Jaguar hid the battery, but they were thoughtful enough to provide a positive and negative battery post which powered our compressor, and can be used for jump-starting. Good work, Jaguar. Not so good is the fact you need special tools to remove the battery. Assuming it can be found of course.
Did I mention rural towns have interesting things? Just some random military hardware.
Back onto the track and we find wildlife. I was quite happy Skippy decided to make a break for it before it hit us. You know something about 4WD tracks? You rarely see a dead animal on them. That’s because the cars are going slowly, often 30-40km/h tops, so the animals have plenty of time to get out of the way.
We were planning to camp, but then we arrived at Mopoke Hut and found this rather splendid building:
Lux-ury! We lived in one room, all two of us, no furniture, sucked a piece of damp cloth for tea and had hot gravel for supper (comment if you get the reference).
OK maybe not. There was actually some furniture, and the hut was very well kept thanks to the Mildura 4WD Club. We even signed the visitor’s book:
Last time I slept in a similar hut the local mice set up a race circuit which included bouncing off my backside. Not impressed…probably the only time in my life I’ve wanted a cat around. However, happy to report on this occasion Mopoke Hut was free of little racy animals, or at least if they were around their fun didn’t include using my sleeping bag as a drag strip.
In the evening we were treated to another amazing display of stars. It truly is incredible just how awesome the sky is when you’re many tens of kilometres away from the nearest source of light pollution.
We saw Venus out first, then the Southern Cross, Orion’s belt and probably lots more but we lacked the knowledge to identify. And quite a few shooting stars, plus lots of satellites.
Back on the road and this is Rocket Lake, a salt lake. These are endorheic, which means water can flow in but there’s nowhere for it to go, it doesn’t empty. So the water just evaporates away, leaving salt behind. In the case of Rocket Lake that didn’t stop the vegetation growing, but there’s many other salt lakes in Australia which are just vast expanses of whiteness – Lake Gardiner being one of the most famous, and the scene of many Australian land speed records.
More traveling. It’s always amazing how the country changes from one dune to the next; flat, hilly, red, brown, white, sparse, vegetated.
Exiting the park…
…and returning the tyre pressures to normal as it’s high-speed dirt roads from now on.
Here we are on the way to Mungo National Park. It’s a 110km drive from Mildura, mostly dirt, and that’s where you appreciate a good SUV or 4WD. A roadcar can make it, but it’s just not as comfortable or safe.
You can also see how much dust the F-PACE is kicking up, and it’s only got four wheels and four tyres. Now imagine a road train with maybe twelve axles and 52 tyres. Imagine the dust that will make. Well, it’s a lot. That’s why when you see one coming you stop and pull over because you will be totally blinded, as we were when one went past.
You know it’s hot when the local roos take shelter under the information signs!
Here’s Mungo National Park itself, and the F-PACE parked on the side of the road, part of the 60km scenic drive around the lake. The area is where the oldest human remains were found in Australia, some 40,000 years old. It’s a decent day trip from Mildura, and you can find more here -> http://www.visitmungo.com.au. It’s pretty awesome to drive through the ancient lakebed knowing that once you would have been several metres underwater. There’s so much more to discover about the area, but best you visit for yourself.
View from atop one of the dunes in the area.
Mungo is packed with emus and roos. Literally everywhere. They seem to be slightly smarter than the average version found elsewhere and didn’t attempt suicide in front of any vehicles.
Even the local roos were impressed with the F-PACE.
“I say, Jim! Is that the new Jaguar? First we’ve seen up here!”
“I believe so, Barry! Rather spiffing red colour, don’t you think?”
“Rather, Jim! Worth breaking a snooze for I’d say!”
Evenings in outbacky areas are always magic. Dust, sunset, a dirt road and a Jaguar. This sort of shot is only possible for a few minutes each evening, if that.
The final camp. Love living out of a car, the freedom of movement is exhilarating and liberating. No need to plan your day, just take it as it comes. That’s the best way to explore Australia.