There are few more disconcerting feelings than being stranded on one of Australia’s most punishing outback tracks, gazing forlornly at a tell-tale trail of hot hydraulic fluid stretching behind you. But that’s precisely the predicament in which my wife and I, and our near-new Range Rover, found ourselves.
It was a warm June day in the far north Kimberley region of Western Australia, many hard and corrugated miles along the road to Kalumburu. A lot of bad things can happen in such unforgiving and remote country. And they usually do.
I’d recently been seduced by the sheer presence of the full-fat TDV8 Range Rover, its massive torque and supple ride. So my wife and I decided to take our new pride and joy to the Kimberley from our home in Perth, despite my nervousness about subjecting our beloved Range Rover to some of the worst roads in Australia on those silly 20-inch wheels.
We drove the 1500-mile coast road up to Broome, where we picked up a hired 1.5-ton camper trailer, then met friends a further 450 miles east at the breath-taking Bungle Bungle range.
Then it was on to the notorious Gibb River Road, a 400-mile stretch of unmade highway built to transport stock from million-acre cattle properties to the export ports in the west and the north-east.
Despite its reputation, most of the Gibb River Road is a doddle, as long as you take it slow. It wasn’t till we turned north, up the road to the Mitchell Falls, that things began to turn pear-shaped. The corrugations on this road were evil: 60cm apart and spaced perfectly to make travel at any speed both violent and potentially dangerous. And the Mitchell Falls track was even worse. Finally, a radio call from our friends travelling behind us signalled the end of our holiday: ‘Mate, you’re dropping some kind of fluid all over the track.’
My cautious driving had caused the right rear shock absorber to overheat and blow its seals.
I learned later that 15-20mph can be the ‘speed of death’ for dampers on corrugations – fast enough to generate heat, but too slow to keep them cool. In fact it turned out that dozens of cars of all makes had suffered broken springs, blown shocks and busted axles on this road.
There followed several anxious days of satellite phone calls to Land Rover’s Roadside Assist people on the other side of the country. And, I have to say, they were magnificent. In one of the most difficult, expensive and remote recovery operations they’d ever mounted, Land Rover organised (and paid for) a tilt-tray truck to come to Kununurra, collect our Range Rover, take it to Broome, then return and collect our camper trailer – a round trip of nearly 2500 miles.
It got better. LRA even paid for the charter of a Cessna to fly my wife and me to Broome, all of our accommodation, jet tickets back to Perth and a truck to bring our car home for repairs.
If they don’t use me in their marketing, they must be crazy!