Newspaper article The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Australia)

A Date with Big Red

Newspaper article The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Australia)

A Date with Big Red

Article excerpt

Drop the pressure in the chunky tyres. Engage four-wheel drive low. Hit the diff lock switch. Get a good run up, keep the throttle constant, thumbs flat on the wheel - and head for the sand dune towering ahead.

Keep the steering steady as the ruts and bumps challenge the suspension. Aim for the worn-down gap at the crest of the dune, squeeze the right foot a little - and that is how, give or take several attempts, you get to the top of Big Red, the largest and easternmost of more than 1100 Simpson Desert dunes.

Reaching this mecca for 4WD enthusiasts takes no small effort. Drive 30km from Birdsville, itself 1600km from the nearest Big Smoke; cross the Simpson from Mt Dare, 550km to the west; or ply the fabled Birdsville Track, as we do for 500km-odd from Marree, SA, in a convoy of Mazda BT-50s.

We're in the top-spec GT, with a dune-busting 470Nm from the five-cylinder diesel. Sports and bull bars, lighting rig, dual batteries and sundry gear to tackle the Track take the $53,790 unadorned price tag to a tick under $61K. We forgo the black alloys at $322. Each.

Mazda is also trumpeting the GT's trick standard satnav showing overhead and 3D views on the 7.8-inch touchscreen, a collaboration with electronics outfit Alpine.

Given the featureless, junction-less terrain, voice directions would suffice: "After 500km, turn right. You have reached your destination."

Apart from our date with the 40-metre-high dune, we're also en route to the annual Birdsville Cup race meeting, which turns the banks of the Diamantina River and adjacent spots into a sprawling camp ground.

The town's welcoming placard lists the population as 115. Plus or minus 7000. Virtually all of the extras come in utes, 4WDs, SUVs, camper vans and trailers - for the less hardy, a couple of tent settlements pop up, bringing a taste of glamping.

There are astonishing variations on the bring-it-with-you theme, starting with swags under the awning, rising to roof-topper tents, spreading to camper trailers (a few evidently home-fettled, others top-end), little hamlets of mates' wagons and the somewhat incongruous RVs, known to some as mobile chicanes. …

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