Volkswagen Magazine

Amarok

The far north.

Fires, deep water-crossings and crocodiles. Can standard Amaroks get to the top of Cape York unscathed?

It’s one of the world’s last real 4WD adventures. Reaching the Australian continent’s northernmost point is the stuff of off-road legend. Smashed, drowned and ruined vehicles litter the annals of Cape history, to say nothing of the countless bruised egos and emptied wallets. VW invited journalists to drive the torturous route in mostly standard* Amarok Core Editions. The aim of the drive was to test the utes on some of Australia’s toughest terrain and see how they fared. (*Our six-strong convoy was fitted with aftermarket snorkels from German aftermarket supplier Seikel.) Three days, 13 blokes, six Amaroks and more than 400km of corrugations, 4WD-swallowing ruts and windscreen-deep water-crossings. Would the trip be fun or a Fail?

DAY 1

The Dry, between June and October, is the best time to visit Cape York Peninsula, according to Queensland’s Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing. The Wet (November to April) is too wet, and many tracks here become impassable, or at the very least, troublesome, and there are wet season closures from December to June, July or August “depending upon weather and road conditions”.

It was mid-August when our crew – with VW staffers in the top and tail vehicles – swept out of Weipa, in a tight formation as slick as a US President’s close-protection convoy. We were heading east for our day’s-end destination of Moreton Telegraph Station, about 133km away.

We powered along over smooth dirt roads and stretches of bitumen at a fair clip when, only minutes later, we came to an abrupt halt. There was what looked like a controlled burn just outside of Weipa, so we all stopped to watch expert photographer/videographer Chris Benny capture the spectacle.

Acrid smoke tickled our nostrils. The heat from the flames was intense. Hundreds of lizards and myriad other wildlife species fled from the bushland on one side of the road, which was alight, to the other side, which wasn’t. We stutter-stepped around scattering wildlife, mindful of the threat of snakes. Birds dive-bombed the scurrying creatures, gorging themselves on the spoils of this mass exodus. It was a wild sight; a hint of what was to come in this untamed wilderness.

With shots in the bag, and no bites from freaked-out fauna, we drove off, turned left onto the legendary Old Telegraph Track on our way to Moreton Telegraph Station. Driving the OTT gave us ample time to check out our eight-speed auto Amarok Core on the go.

The Amarok has been around since 2011; it’s won 4X4 Australia’s 4X4 of the Year two years in a row and has attracted a growing legion of fans.

The bi-turbo diesel 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (132kW/420Nm in our auto) and eight-speed auto with single-range full-time 4WD remain in this entry-level model.

Inside, the Core is ready for play: room aplenty, comfortable cloth seats and rubber matting on the floor. Ideal for bush adventures.

This Amarok coped well with slip-and-slide dirt and sand tracks, and soaked up corrugations. It was proving to be a real winner in Australia’s greatest natural 4WD fun-park.

As we neared Moreton Telegraph Station, bathed in late-afternoon sunlight, we saw the first of many “Beware! Achtung! Crocodiles!” signs in this part of the country. It was a not-so-gentle reminder that in Cape York, this last frontier of real adventure, man is not necessarily top of the food chain. I kept this in mind as I gingerly poked at the creek waters near our camp with my boot.

DAY 2

Up with the sun the next day, our Core convoy was scheduled to drive 129km from Moreton Telegraph Station via Bramwell Junction to Eliot / Twin Falls.

At Bramwell Junction Roadhouse, a fellow traveller chortled at our arrival: “Anoraks. The Anoraks are here.”

“Where you goin’?” she asked me.

“The Tip,” I replied, steeling myself for her knock-out punchline.

“Well, you got this far at least!” she screeched and off she trotted – to her LandCruiser or something else similarly hard-core suited and booted.

With her taunt ringing in our ears, we continued on the OTT proper.

Termite mounds, some of them 3m tall, stood sentinel on either side of the track for much of the way. The air was dry and dusty and warm, but not uncomfortably so; that didn’t matter though because we were about to get our feet wet.

The first few creek crossings were easy and made for handy lead-ups to what was to come. Smooth progress was simple once the rear diff was locked and off-road mode was selected.

The rest was up to the driver: wisely pick your way down the approach, maintain steady momentum through the water, and then up and out the other side. Easy. No need to gun your way through; just steady use of throttle, backed up by the Amarok’s more than capable tech.

These VWs have a 500mm wading depth and we were deeper than that from the start, so it was a good thing we had the snorkels.

VW Commercial vehicles product marketing manager Nick Reid, at the previous day’s trip briefing, had said that the Amarok Core was “better experienced than explained” – and we were about to definitely experience it. The next creek crossing, a tight, twisty switchback affair caught out a few drivers; scraped front bumpers and banged-up trays were the result, but that was about it.

The auto’s low first gear, in lieu of a low-range gear, and the Amarok’s unflinching hill descent control – it holds your desired speed downhill – proved an unbeatable off-road combination on the tougher sections of this track.

The standard rear diff-lock and front-wheel traction control helped get the Amaroks over most other obstacles, including the very steep and greasy muddy uphills we were often faced with.

After working our way through numerous creek crossings, we faced The Big Daddy of All 4WD Challenges: the Gunshot. There are, in fact, numerous ways through Gunshot, most of them near-vertical extreme, but we found our planned route and one of the support Amaroks attempted it.

Director of VW Commercial Vehicles Australia, Carlos Santos, in a cab-chassis tackled the severely steep drop-off into a greasy, waist-deep pool of mud. And he was stuck. The degree of extreme could have been gauged by the scared/stunned/thrilled look on Carlos’s face as his Amarok had plunged down the slope. And he’d almost made it. But the rear of the ute’s tray was snagged on a rocky outcropping. He was easily snatch-strapped out his predicament but a decision had to be made: should we try to get the rest of the crew through and risk sustaining serious damage to every vehicle and putting us way behind schedule, or swallow our pride and back-track for the bypass road?

Karl Gehling, VW Australia general communications manager, stepped up and made the executive decision to abandon the Gunshot attempt. This was what we had come for: the nail-biting drop, the muddy plunge, the thrill of the nigh-on impossible obstacle.

I reckon we could have gotten through, albeit with winching, scraping and shoving. There would have been damage; most of it substantial, none of it justifiable. Karl had made the right decision. We back-tracked more than 20km to the bypass road and continued on.

Later, at our Eliot Falls campsite, we jumped off towering rock faces, and ducked and dived under the cool water of the waterfalls there. As Chris Benny’s drone buzzed over us, we let our inner schoolboys rule, whooped and dive-bombed into the cool water below.

DAY 3

The final day was a 167km fast blast to The Tip.

We whizzed through several creek crossings, with ominous sounding names such as Mistake and Cannibal, scattered along the 40km route to the Jardine River. We were excited at the prospect of taking on Nolan’s Brook, the last great challenge of this trip, so those other crossings barely registered as we punched our way through them.

Nolan’s Brook is right up there with Gunshot as a 4WD-killing, hopes-dashing, pride-smashing off-road obstacle; many have tried, plenty have failed.

There were more than two ways across Nolan’s but, as it turned out, we needn’t have worried. Having picked a careful line, we eased into the water gently, took a sharp right turn to avoid a deep hole or two, and kept a steady pace across the creek.

Having conquered Nolan’s, we had lunch on its banks, savouring the peace and quiet and throwing around congratulatory back-slaps.

From there, it was a solid thrash over corrugations, with our utes settling better on the rough stuff than you’d ever expect of an unladen ute, to the Jardine River ferry.

North of the Jardine, we raced over well-maintained dirt roads at a healthy clip to Bamaga, parked as near to the northern edge of Australia as legally possible and then took a short walk across a rocky point to The Tip for the obligatory series of photos.

That night at Punsand Bay’s Corrugation Bar, smiles were wide, beer was cold and the finer details of our tall tales were rather sketchy. Like the end of any great adventure.