Great Aussie Adventure
Words: Louise Woodhams. Photography: Adam Sampson and Tahnee Arlt.
Seeing all of the hard work we put in to create a vehicle we can actually live out of was amazing. It isn’t the fanciest or most expensive rig, but it has taken us everywhere on this great continent and not left my girlfriend and I wanting for anything,” answered Adam Sampson (27) in reply to my question, ‘what has been the highlight of preparing your Discovery 3 for a ten month overland tour of Australia?’ It really is quite an achievement, and it’s refreshing to see a young couple prioritising travelling and swapping status (with the nice big house, income and job title) for a simple life.
Don’t get me wrong – Adam and his partner Tahnee Arlt (29) are both young professionals with bachelor degrees and several years’ work experience in their respective fields but for them the next rung of the ladder was a road trip in their home country. After saving carefully for several years the pair was able to fund their Australian voyage of discovery – Adam even sold his beloved motorcycle.
Their love for travel is in the blood. “For Tahnee, she was inspired by her parents having worked around Australia. Her father arrived in Australia from Germany in the 1950s and worked on the Snowy Mountain Scheme in New South Wales before getting into earthmoving and building roads throughout the country. At the same time, her mum left New Zealand to explore Australia and that’s, of course, how they met.
“Personally, I have many fond childhood memories of being in the great outdoors, particularly with my father, who has a passion for hiking and mountaineering. My parents both loved to travel but my love for adventure comes from my own escapades – from high-speed adventures on the iconic Nürburgring to snowmobile mountain tours in Japan.” The real catalyst however, came when Tahnee’s father passed away in January 2016. It provided her with additional motivation to live life to the full and see as much of Australia as soon as possible, including all of the places she had seen in her father’s photographs and from colourful accounts that he regaled her with during her early years of growing up.
In a country where Nissan and Toyota 4x4 vehicles reign supreme, both among the off-roading fraternity and with the mining companies and pastoralists, it’s surprising that Adam and Tahnee opted for a Land Rover. In fact, most green oval-badged vehicles Down Under are rubbing shoulders with BMW X5s and Porsche Cayennes on the school run. Just as the Range Rover has been brandished with the Chelsea Tractor title here in Blighty, Land Rover’s modern offerings down under are tarred with the ‘Toorak Tractor’ moniker, in reference to the affluent suburb in South Eastern Melbourne, with the general point being that venturing into rugged bushland is the furthest thing from the average owner’s mind.
“Most of our fellow travellers have been very surprised to see a modern Land Rover in such harsh and remote conditions. They are even more surprised when our Disco has clambered up slippery tracks and trails that the locked Patrols and Land Cruisers struggle with. To be fair we have also met a few Land Rover fans, and they are a wonderful, if slightly eccentric bunch of people.
Can any other brand claim to have such a following, where strangers open their homes and offer to show you around their town simply because of the car you choose to drive?” Nope, we can’t think of one either.
So, apart from benefitting from complimentary travel guides, what else drew them to the brand and the Discovery in particular? “It offers the perfect mix of practicality, capability, comfort and value for us. It is larger than the majority of the competition and sufficiently strong enough to carry all of our gear across rough terrain. The Terrain Response system and Electronic Air Suspension meant we did not need to invest in expensive mechanical upgrades to make it suitable for our journey either. A petrol powered 4WD, and a Land Rover especially, is somewhat unusual here in Australia, so depreciation has been harsher for the Discovery 3 than the Japanese competition, which also influenced our decision. Petrol is thirstier but in comparison has less ongoing maintenance costs compared to the TDV6. At one point Adam also once owned a Series III with a 3.5 V8, however it never really ran properly so I’m not sure it counts,” laughs Tahnee.
“Adam also has British ancestry and has always loved vehicles that appeal to the heart. A Land Rover was tempting as it was different, interesting and more capable from the factory than anything else. Adam also loves a challenge and doesn’t like to be told no, so the prospect of going against the grain and familiarising himself with a new and uncommon vehicle was exciting.”
The couple spent months looking for the perfect vehicle in their home town of Perth, Western Australia, and then in May 2017 they stumbled across a Discovery 3 SE 4.0 at a large local car dealer. Weary of car shopping by this point Tahnee blurted out a cheeky lowball offer, and much to their surprise it was accepted. Overall the condition of the vehicle was very good for its age (2006) and mileage (175,000 kms), although they did have a few tedious issues, the main one a persistent fault light eventually rectified by replacing the Mass Air Flow sensor with the correct Denso brand unit.
They paid $12,000 for the car and have spent a further $8000 modifying and servicing it for the big trip. Knowing that they were going to cross a variety of terrains – from air suspension killing rocks to bonnet deep river crossings and rutted dusty gravel tracks, they wanted to suitably prepare the Discovery.
Most of their funds went into wheels and tyres ($2000), Darche Panorama 2 roof top tent ($2000) and the Front Runner Slimline 2 roof rack ($1200). The rolling stock apparently took a bit of research and were eventually sourced used from a BMW E53 X5. Sharing the same stud pattern, centre bore and an offset to run wider 265/70 BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A KO2 tyres, they only required new tapered nuts to fit perfectly. Adam explains: “We wanted 17 inch wheels instead of the factory 18s in order to have additional sidewall on the tyres, a big advantage on the rough terrain we were going to be tackling. Replacement 17 inch tyres are also far easier to come by in rural Australia, should the worst happen.”
The wheels weren’t the only secondhand items – and even more money was saved by procuring smaller parts online from the UK and Adam taking it upon himself to fit all of the gear himself. “Parts to suit a Land Rover aren’t so easy to come by here in Australia, so require some patience and ingenuity when the budget is tight. We managed to find the steel bull bar secondhand for $600 – they’re $2250 new, and with a lick of paint she looked brand new,” says Adam who prepared the vehicle in six months while working full time as a mechanical engineer. Not bad considering it’s his first overland build. (For a full list of modifications refer to the Data File, opposite.)
While the Discovery 3 proved to be a well-engineered and well-made vehicle over its ten-month journey, and far more capable than most of the Aussie armchair experts think, it is also a very complex piece of machinery, and for that reason Adam did have to make a few roadside repairs.
Tahnee takes up the story: “We had a rock smash through the air suspension compressor in North Western Australia’s Gibb River Road.
The compressor is mounted in a vulnerable spot just in front of the rear passenger side wheel, and this rock really gave it a hiding. Adam managed to piece it back together with cable ties and tape for a few days while we ordered a replacement from Triumph Rover Spares in Adelaide, who provided tremendous service and had a replacement flown up to the nearest post office within 48 hours.
“The fuel tank ventilation system then became blocked with the bull dust, which is an exceptionally fine red Aeolian dust especially common in the Australian Outback. This dust has the consistency of talcum powder and billows up in plumes as you drive through it. The fuel tank draws fresh air through the charcoal canister and the inlet for this had no filter fitted, so the dust made its way in and blocked it up, causing a vacuum build up in the fuel tank.
Adam blew the canister clean with compressed air from our ARB compressor and then fitted a makeshift foam filter to the intake to prevent reoccurrence.
“Another problem that ensued from the dust was towards the end of the trip when the Electronic Park Brake seized up overnight and refused to release the following morning. Dust and debris had collected in the EPB shoe assembly within the rear brake discs – it can be prevented through regular servicing, though that’s easier said than done on a long overlanding adventure! Adam released the park brake manually using the emergency release cable within the cabin, after which we avoided using it until we could service it at home.
“The only other issue we had was a brake light switch fail in Mareeba, Queensland. This leads the car to have a cascading electrical fault, which forcibly lowers the suspension and restricts functionality. The part is a common Ford item and so luckily we were able to get hold of one that day from a Ford dealership for around $35.”
For all of its faults however, the Discovery 3 proved comfortable and practical – although it could do with a larger fuel tank – 86 litres disappears quickly when off-road, which isn’t ideal when petrol isn’t always readily available in a place like rural Australia. Sensibly the pair took various storage containers for fuel and carried enough water and food for a week’s isolation, with clothing to cover all weather conditions.They also planned their trip to follow the temperate weather, avoiding northern Australia’s torrential wet season (November to March) and southern Australia’s colder months (June to September), but other than that they took each day as it came and tried not to over-plan the route.
I’m interested in what the two deemed to be some of the toughest tracks. Tahnee reveals some of Australia’s ultimate self-drive locations: “It was probably Cape York, the northernmost part of Queensland. There were over 2000 kms of corrugated dusty gravel tracks to cover in order to reach the far northern tip and return, which was very hard on the car and passengers. With tyre pressures suitably lowered, the Disco managed to maintain 80 km/hr and did not complain once, despite punishing vibrations and choking dust for hours on end. “The road, if you can call it that, into the Bungle Bungle Range, the landform that is the major component of the Purnululu National Park situated in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, was also a cracker. It looked more like a washed-out landslide littered with wheel swallowing holes and boulders.
Although only 50 kms long it took us nearly two hours and cost us a rear brake pad sensor, which loosened and then ripped off.” You definitely need a 4x4 to access most of the areas that Adam and Tahnee explored with paved roads somewhat of a rarity, but that only added to the sense of adventure for them. One such example was Fraser Island, which doesn’t have any roads whatsoever – traversed solely via the beaches and rainforest tracks – and was explored for several days in low range, which they assured me was great fun and probably the highlight of their 43,431 kms covered.
So, what’s next for the adventure-seeking love birds, I hear you ask?
Well, the bug has obviously well and truly bitten as they’ve only been back a month and already they’ve given the vehicle a thorough clean and Adam has set about some improvements, such as a sturdier mounting arrangement for the rear drawers. He has also given it a major service, with new fluids and a full strip down of the EPB, which they are happy to report, is now fully functioning once more.
Though they love their trusty Disco, the kilometres are starting to rack up and they’re keeping an eye out for one of the illusive 4.4 V8 examples. “With more power and the same fuel consumption, what’s not to love, plus we can easily transfer all of our modifications over”, adds Tahnee. With another four-wheeled drive adventure clearly on the cards for the self-professed dirty drifters, perhaps they can inspire some of you reading this to get out there yourself.
Tahnee imparts some of her wisdom, which also happens to be the perfect note to end this story: “This sort of trip can seem intimidating and unachievable, but we want to emphasise that we are not exceptional. If you are able bodied and keen to travel, there is nothing stopping you but your own mental barriers. Follow your passions and travel whenever you can, it has been a life changing experience for us both, bringing us closer than ever and growing us as human beings.”