Between February 2019 to August 2019 my wife Nina and I toured Australia's West in a Toyota Troop Carrier rented from WA Experts. The purpose of this article is to answer some of the why questions related to that adventure. Why Australia's West ? Why a Toyota Troop Carrier? Why rent? and Why WA Experts?
We are Nina and Robert Blackwell, retired Australians living near Seattle in the USA. We are experienced travelers on 4 wheels having spent the majority of our time over the past 10 years traveling the world in a motorhome. We have reported on those travels in a blog at whiteacorn.com, and you can see the extent of our travels at our travel map here.
In our earlier years, living in Australia, we traveled the East of Australia extensively but we had not traveled in the West. So in recent years as we explored the Americas, Asia and Europe the idea of seeing the Western part of our home country became more prominent. For a long time we expected that we would ship our motorhome to Australia for such a journey. But over time, and with advice from experienced outback travelers, we became convinced that we should seek a more appropriately sized vehicle for any Australian adventure. After that realization the obvious thought was to travel to Australia, buy a vehicle specifically for such a trip, do the trip and then sell the vehicle before departing. But that was not an attractive option because of the hassle and risk of buying, fitting out and selling all under a time pressure.
Interestingly it was over lunch with our youngest son in (of all places) a Sushi restaurant in Lima Peru that the idea of renting a vehicle became a serious option and the research to select a vehicle and rental company got underway.
Which vehicle was never really a question; a Toyota Troop Carrier (known as a Troopy) set up for camping was the only vehicle I (Robert) would consider; parts are plentiful in Australia, the vehicle is very common, is a proven vehicle for Australia's tough conditions, often comes with dual fuel tanks as a stock option for excellent range, AND has effective air conditioning (a necessity in Australia, even though we were planning on traveling mostly through autumn and winter).
Our research started on the internet and was quickly narrowed down to a couple of organization. Most rental companies (particularly the bigger names) were eliminated from the search as they replied to our enquiries with "fill in a booking form". Only a couple of rental organizations actually replied personally and informatively to our enquiries and were able to provide Troop Carrier vehicles with the kind of "fit out" we wanted.
What did we want specifically; roof top tent, awning, cooking equipment, dual fuel tanks, two spare tires, on board air to re-inflate tires, some kind of cargo organizing (drawers, shelves etc) and an Engel refrigerator of approximately 40 liters.
The things that ultimately sold us on WA Experts were, the ease of communication with the business owner, the awning, UHF radio (what Australians use as the equivalent of CB), provision of an inverter for charging laptops and other larger electronic devices and a Telstra Cellar modem which meant the vehicle has its own wifi hotspot, at least whenever there is cell service.
So with all the rental arrangements made, and with us somewhat financially committed to a trip we were left to contemplate how we would handle the significant downsizing this trip would represent. Our 10 years of traveling the world were in a very comfortable motorhome and we were now contemplating 6 months in a tent, and faced with climbing down and up a ladder for those nightly calls of nature that are part and parcel of our age.
A week or so before we were due to pickup our Troopy we got a bit of a scare in the form of an email informing us that the WA Experts business had been sold to another Perth family who, among others things, owned and operated a caravan hire business called Uneeda Caravan Hire and Storage. It took a few phone conversations with the previous owner to calm our fears, and we proceeded to Perth to be picked up from our downtown hotel by Taia the new manager of the WA Experts business.
We were introduced to our Troopy at the WA Experts facility south of Perth. It was a 2010 model, 4.5 Liter V8 diesel with 179,000 km on the odometer. In truth it was a little older than I had expected but I was not disappointed as I certainly did not want one of the latest model with Active Regeneration and a DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter). I have had bad experiences with those systems on some of my US vehicles. We got a walk-thru of the systems and equipment before sorting through our "stuff" and packing the vehicle. Very helpfully we were able to store some of our gear that we did not want to take with us at the WA Experts building awaiting our return.
Early in the trip we had a few mechanical issues that helped us quickly realize that the new owners were up to the task of more than adequately supporting our adventure. In each case they promptly organized professional help for us in a way that minimized the disruption to our travels. It also became clear that the new owners were very familiar with the areas in which we were traveling and planned to travel as well as well versed in the operation and repairs of vehicles like our Troopy. We were not dealing with "know nothing" client service reps.
So what about the trip itself ?
We saw some awesome sights. Some where expected, Uluru, The Great Australian Bite, The Flinders, Kakadu, the beaches of the South Australian Peninsulas. But some were surprises, Lake Argyle, The Kimberley and Mitchell Plateau, The Bungles, and Karijini.
We drove some rough, remote and exciting roads. The Oodnadata Track to Dalhousie Springs, The Ghan Heritage Trail, Gibb River Road, The Tanami Road and the Great Central Road.
But perhaps best of all is that we rediscovered desert camping. The tranquility of dawn and dusk in the desert, the glow on the horizon of the setting/rising sun and the stars; oh the night sky, the Southern Cross and blazing milky way.
On the negative side we also got reacquainted with flies and the need for insect nets over our heads.
It was a wonderful six months. We managed to survive living in tent, preparing and eating food outdoors and those nighttime excursions up and down the tent ladder proved not to be a problem.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of our six months in Australia was how many other people are also traveling, 4 wheel drive vehicles set up for camping and/or towing caravans seem to be everywhere. Even at the most remote camping spot one might be sharing the evening with a dozen other vehicles.
Through all of our travels our Troopy managed the rough roads, the deep sand, the long stretches between fuel refills as well as we needed, and as we expected. Even the air conditioning performed as needed.