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What didn’t go to plan in the Kimberley?

Sometimes despite the best planning and preparation, things still don’t go to plan. We’ve learned to be flexible. You have to be. Things will go wrong, and things will not always go in exactly the direction you want them to. However, at the end of the day, it all works out, and often the things that went wrong are adventures, or worst case, things that you look back on and laugh about.

On our 5 weeks spent travelling the Kimberley, we had a number of things that didn’t go the way we wanted them to. Still, you make do with what ever happens, and keep going!

So, what went wrong on our 5 week trip up in the Kimberley?

Missed a turn off at Wubin

The drive from Perth to Newman is about 1200km. Taking into account stopping for fuel and breaks every now and again, most people would be looking at about 14 – 15 hour on the road. We can handle that; we’ve done it several times before. However, what we didn’t plan on was having to turn around, and drive back towards Perth because we missed a turn off.

We took the great northern highway from Perth, and continued out of Wubin, past Perenjori and to Morowa. It was only when the road came to a T junction that we realized out mistake. We had obviously missed a turn off at Wubin that kept you on the great northern highway. After a bit of mucking around looking at maps, we headed 50km back to Perenjori and 50km east back to the great northern highway. 100km doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you are already doing a massive day in the car, it wasn’t something I was overly happy about.

We were lucky to be able to cut across at Perenjori, as we would have had an even longer trip heading back to Wubin. Despite having driven this path before, we made a stupid mistake, and it cost us in time, fuel and energy. We got into Newman after being on the road for over 15 hours, bought dinner and crashed in our motel room, extremely glad for the day to be over!

Air horn dramas

Before leaving to head north, we replaced the factory horn with an aftermarket air horn. Daniel helped install it, and after finally finding somewhere under the bonnet to mount it, we had it running. This horn is loud. Not just a little loud, but ridiculously loud. 139 dB to be precise.

I had never banked on how useful it would be when travelling though, in scaring wildlife off the road. We avoided hitting a heap of eagles simply by using the horn early to frighten them off.

However, we were driving along in between Newman and Port Hedland one day when I pressed the horn to scare a bird off, and it stayed on. Not just for a second, but it kept going, and going and going.

I pulled over, unsure of what to do, with it being so loud and all. I managed to pop the bonnet open and yank the fuse out, killing the noise, whilst trying to block my ears from the insanely loud noise.

We continued on, and in a big carpark in Port Hedland (with a lot of people around) I began to play a little with it. I put the fuse back in, and it wasn’t sounding, so went to test it, and it stayed on again! You should have seen me move! I yanked the fuse out again, and with my tail between my legs we continued on. My initial thought was something was wrong with the horn or the wiring, being the only new installation.

However, I soon found out it was actually the horn mechanism inside the steering wheel that was sticking, and after knocking it a couple of times the horn would go off. In went the fuse again, and I learned exactly where to press the horn to avoid it staying on, and all was good again!

It stuck a few more times when we were on the road, but with a few decent knocks on the steering wheel it would come off again. Pretty funny.

Axle seal leak

On the way up to Broome, I noticed the axle seal on the rear had started leaking, a little bit. Just enough to flick a few drops of oil onto the rim. I monitored the bearing temperatures into Broome, and rang the mechanic as soon as I had a chance. He had replaced this seal about 1500km ago, and was surprised to hear it was leaking.

His suggestion was to remove the axle, sand it with some fine emery paper and replace the seal. I did this, and found that there was a small groove in the axle, where the spring rubs on. $17 from Toyota in Broom and I had a new seal. In the car park of Cable Beach Caravan Park, I pulled the axle out, sanded it down, replaced the seal and put it all back together. It was good for a while, but started to leak again on the way up to Cape Leveque. I guess it needs a new axle. We monitored the leak and bearings for the rest of the trip, and I topped the diff oil up once.

Broome Oil seal

Cutting up emery paper for the axle

Battery woes

I replaced the main cranking battery before we headed north with a new yellow top optima, as the old battery died. However, not too far into our trip we found the secondary battery (that all of our auxiliaries run off) was not liking the electrical usage. Normally we would only use our fridge as a fridge, but on this trip it was a fridge freezer, and we had it turned up a lot higher. This in turn uses a lot more energy, and more than our poor battery could handle. With 5 weeks worth of meat in the freezer, I wasn't too happy about what was going on!

To top it off, the freezer side of the fridge decided to frost up, which would have made the freezer run even more. The problem was though, we couldn’t defrost the freezer without losing all of our food, so all we could do was put up with the high fridge consumption until we had a chance to move our food into something else for a while.

After speaking to a mate in Perth, we turned the freezer setting down from about 8-9 to 5, and the time the fridge spent on went down dramatically. However, the temperature of our food didn't go up as you would expect; it maintained the temperature very well.

By then though, I’d flattened the secondary battery a few times, and found out it was actually a cranking battery and not a deep cycle; not so good for running auxiliary items! I called into Repco and managed to pick up a deep cycle battery for $219. 105 amp hours to play with; much better than the other battery.

We managed to defrost the freezer in Broome, on the one night we had chosen to stay at an airbnb apartment. We moved all our food into the fridge/freezer, then waited for the freezer to defrost. Within about 20 minutes the ice had gone, and I turned the fridge back on again, and loaded it all up. From there, we started again, with the freezer at a much lower setting to see how it would go.
I was also able to put the batteries on charge for the evening, and get them both to 100%. We never had an issue after that; the lowest the auxilliary battery dropped to was about 12v!

Broken earth terminal

Whilst replacing the battery in our 80 series, I heard a cracking noise as I did the earth terminal up. A big crack up the side of the terminal clamp. Fantastic. Luckily, I was in the Repco car park, and was able to source another one and replace it pretty quickly.

Low oil pressure

Before heading up to the Kimberley, I had a heap of work done on our 80 series. We are talking big money work, like big end bearings, timing belt, water pump, valve clearances and a heap of other jobs. I keep a regular eye on the oil level in our 80, knowing that towards the end of its service interval it starts to burn a small amount of oil.

I checked the oil early one morning, and noticed it had dropped ever so slightly below the high level mark. Making a mental note to put a few hundred ml of oil in when we got back, we headed off.

About 50km later of slow driving on rough roads, I noticed the oil pressure gauge dropped to about half of what it normally sits at. I gave it a minute, monitoring the EGT’s and engine temperature, with no change noticed.

When it didn’t come back up again, I pulled over, and topped the engine oil up. We took off again, and the oil pressure came back up to its normal level. Happy days. However, 5 minutes down the road again, when I was travelling at the same speed and RPM, it dropped again. My heart sunk, knowing we were a good 500km away from a big mechanic, I was really concerned. From then on, the oil level would bounce up and down, sometimes reflecting the different RPM and other times totally ignoring every logical explanation.

Having had the major work done recently, my mind immediately jumped to some of the bigger causes; big end bearings worn badly, a problem with the oil pump or any of the other myriad of potential causes.

The service manual referenced the oil pressure sensor, but gave no indication of how to check it physically, or where it was. I wondered if perhaps the oil filter was blocked (one of the causes that the manual suggested), and on our next stop at Manning Gorge, I dumped the oil and replaced the filter (it was due for its service anyway).

Starting the 80 back up with high hopes, the sensor didn’t move from the bottom. Starting to get really concerned, I was wondering whether to drive it or arrange some help. In my mind, there were two potential causes left; a faulty sensor, or something major that had gone wrong. Given I found no evidence of metal in the oil, and that the EGT’s and engine temperature, and engine noise were all normal, it had to be the sensor. After a phone call to a mate back in Perth from Mt Barnet, he confirmed it was most likely a faulty sensor.

He suggested just checking every spade connection under the bonnet, pushing them together properly, and seeing how it goes. I agreed, hoping dearly we weren’t making a terrible decision. After playing with the plugs under the engine bay, the sensor seemed to fix itself, registering the correct levels at startup and during driving that I was used to.

An aftermarket oil pressure sensor is on the list of modifications now!

Bush fires

Upon driving into Manning Gorge, we passed a family we had made friends with earlier on the trip in Broome. They were ecstatic about Manning Gorge, and we said we’d catch up later. They also passed on information about being evacuated last night at 10:30PM due to fires. We could see smoke in the distance, but with everyone happy and enjoying Manning, we set up camp.

After replacing the oil in our 80 series, we headed from our camp which was about a hundred meters away from the big group of people, to find a fire was burning within meters of someone's camp, and everyone was agitated, excited and concerned. The fires in the Kimberley are totally different to the ones I am used to though. They are slow, very weak and burn at their own minor pace. We’d been monitoring the smoke and wind, but it appears the wind plays very little role in the fires in the Kimberley; it just burns where there is fuel, unless the wind is really strong.

Other campers had been told to stay put (who were right next to the fire) by Mt Barnett, and we hung around a bit longer to see what would happen. Not long after, a worker from Mt Barnett comes through, tells a few people to pack up and leave, one of them being us. Disappointed, we packed everything up again, and headed out to Mt Barnett. With no plan of where to stay, and very little communication, we had to make a call. Stay at Mt Barnett near the fuel station, or head off.

We got our money back, and cruised down the road to Mt Elizabeth, which was very warmly appreciated. We were 2 days in front of schedule, but, you've got to be flexible.

Bush fires take 2

To see Mitchell Falls, you have to take a huge deviation off the Gibb River road. We had planned this in, and were all ready to go, until we found out the road was shut due to a bush fire. I’m not sure whether campers who were there were told to stay, but it took a couple of days for the road to reopen.

In the mean time, we just relaxed around Mt Elizabeth, and went back to Manning gorge for a look. When we eventually were able to drive up to the Mitchell Falls, the fire damage was fairly extensive, and it looked a lot more fierce than the normal bush fires they have in the area during the early dry season.

Broken fuel filter mount

Well, the dramas with our air horn were not yet over! In Perth, we struggled to find a place to mount it due to dwindling space under the bonnet of the 80, so we had to mount it off the same bracket that supports the fuel filter. I wasn’t overly happy with it, but that was the best position we could find.

Somewhere in between the Mitchell falls and the Pentecost river and the bracket decided it had enough of the nasty corrugations and snapped in half. It actually broke in two places; where the horn was mounted and where the bracket bends around to the body of the car.

After about 15 cable ties were put in place to stop it moving around (the last thing you want is fuel problems!) we soldiered on, not allowing it to stop us from doing any tracks. We decided we would try and find a replacement in Kununurra at a wrecker, or it would just wait until we got back to Perth. Kununurra had nothing available, so we pushed on to Perth.

After ringing around in Perth, it seems like no one has a bracket available. I've not yet tried Toyota, but may just pull it off and repair it.

Overall

At the time, some of the issues above were quite stressful. Being on our own made it worse; the remoteness made it very hard to communicate with friends who could give advice regarding the mechanical and electrical issues. Had some of our mates been with us, I'm sure they'd have put any worries to rest almost immediately.

We were pretty lucky really, and these little incidents hardly made a dent in our amazing holiday in the Kimberley.

What's gone wrong on your trips? How did you handle it?

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