Every camping couple has one of those trips that seem to dominate their experiences in the bush. For Chris and Lee Featherstone from East Maitland, in NSW’s Hunter Valley, that was a recent three-month journey across the nation to explore the Kimberley in WA.
“We’ll never forget it and we’re really glad that we did it. We met some great people, had some great experiences. The scenery was nothing like anything else we’ve experienced anywhere in Australia,” said Chris.
“We’d love to do it again. We’d be a lot more prepared, and we wouldn’t be pushed or rushed, which we were in a couple of situations which created some problems for us. The lesson there is take your time.
“Our time was cut when we were trapped in Kununurra for three weeks by a mechanical failure. We thought for a while that the mechanics were in cahoots with the caravan park owner, but we found that everything needed in that part of the world travels via Perth, thousands of kilometres away, when Darwin is just up the road.”
The Featherstones found that while the place needs the tourism dollars, the biggest negative was that crowds spoil much of its natural beauty.
“There are a lot of cowboys up there who don’t belong there. They come out of the cities and think that they’re the ants’ pants and the way they drive is atrocious, overtaking vehicles on badly corrugated roads at very high speeds, throwing rocks over everyone and everything. There are many overseas tourists who are on expensive and tight timeframes and they’re hiring these campervans and four-wheel drives. They go like bats out of hell and don’t give a care for anybody.
“But there were places where you could get away from them, and then it was great.”
“The secret was to get away from the main roads,” explained Lee. “We went to a free camp called Lennard Gorge that had an atrocious road in, but we had the place to ourselves for a day, found a couple of swimming holes and had a ball. These places really outweighed the ones with crowds.”
Chris gareed about those special hard-to-reach spots.
“Anything over 10km off the main road meant there were fewer campers and those who did show up were real campers,” he said.
“There’s a lot of damage on the road, so beware,” Chris continued. “At Drysdale Station there were five vehicles, all from one manufacturer, that we saw towed out of there with their campers, and when we were in Kununurra we were amazed at the destruction we saw on some of the campers that came in, especially on suspensions. There were some quite expensive brands of campers that I wasn’t expecting to see with their suspensions completely wiped out, just ripped out, and it all comes down to the way people drive, not running the correct tyre pressures and so on.
“The Land Rover suffered a little bit. We should have replaced the uni joints after a trip to Fraser Island not long before, and we dropped one just out of Kununurra, in WA. It resulted in a three-week stopover in Kununurra while we waited for the delivery of a new driveshaft.”
Other than that, the pair say the Defender did a tough and reliable job. On the way in to the Bungle Bungles there is one largish river crossing which was, according to someone who claimed to know, to be taken on the left near the big rock to avoid damaging the diff by striking rocks towards the right.
“He forgot to tell me that there was a deep hole near that big rock and water came over the bonnet and up the windscreen. It was a bit of a fright and I pushed that accelerator a bit harder to keep it going and was able to drive out of it,” Chris said.
WHO ARE THEY?
Names: Chris and Lee Featherstone
Where’s home: East Maitland, NSW
Home on the road: Great Aussie Dharug (rear fold soft floor)
Modifications: Added ply kitchen, extra lights, drawer slides for clothing, fridge and toilet slides, fridge as a complete freezer.
Tow vehicle: Land Rover Defender 110 wagon
Modifications: Roof rack, snorkel, aluminium gullwings on both sides, an MSA drop slide for the Evakool 40l fridge, HF radio to send GPS beacon hits for some of those really remote trips, UHF radio and a rear wheel holder to take the weight of the spare off the rear door.
Favourite destination: Mitchell Falls - “a highlight of the Kimberley trip” and Curtin Springs. “Two totally different places for different reasons. Curtin Springs because of Mt Connor, which is as spectacular as Ayers Rock 100km away, and the people who run it are fantastic. It’s a free camp and you can spend a couple of dollars at the bar and meet some great people,” Chris said
Scariest moment: The mud hole on the way to Mitchell Falls. “We were in low range second gear and being guided by someone on the other side of the mud over to the right and there was a big hillock in the mud that you couldn’t see it and we were nearly tipped over on our side.”
Lessons learned: Lee: “We pack way too much.” Chris: “Check your vehicle more vigorously on really rough trips. On the Mitchell Plateau we dropped a left hand brake calliper, which shook loose. I should have picked it up when the ABS brake light came on, but so many of these warning lights flash on and off for no apparent reason on rough trips I just figured it was the road. Really, it was telling me that the left brake line had been severed and the calliper was rattling around on the disc. We drove for two weeks on three callipers.”