Report: Can the No.1 SUV brand in China take on the Australian Outback? Part 2: Sydney to Broken Hill

Haval H8 Kangaroo signNot a myth: Ouback Australia literally streams with kangaroos.

This is Part 2 of our Report on driving a Haval H8 into the Australian Outback. You can see Part 1: The Stakes here. Most of the friends and colleagues I shared my plans with – linking Sydney to Birdsville through the legendary Birdsville Track – were dubious I could achieve this with a Chinese SUV. This shows the extent of the work Chinese carmakers still have ahead of them to convince the city slickers that they are as capable as any other brand – if they are. Country-folks may be a different story, especially those who already own a Great Wall, and we are about to find out.

From the outside, Damo definitely looks the part. The exterior design, although now a couple years old, is sleek, polished and aggressive, giving a reassuring impression that it can takes you anywhere in comfort. The Haval H8 is already light-years ahead of the manufacturer’s first attempt at a large SUV, the Great Wall Hover H5, aka X200-X240 in Australia. It has an air of Volkswagen Touareg in it, which Damo should definitely take as a compliment.

Haval H8 InteriorHaval H8 interior featuresHaval H8 interior cabin

Step inside and the first striking element is the level of refinement in the cabin: Australian leather seats, full electronic seat adjustment, sat nav, reverse camera, cruise control, robust and smooth dials and multiple yet intuitively organised commands at the wheel, with the paddle shifters even giving it a sporty feel. Although I was well aware of the effort Haval has put into the quality of its cabin through the variety of nameplates I got to sit in at various Chinese Auto Shows over the past 3 years, I am still impressed to see it in real life. No user manual inside the car, yet everything intuitive enough so there is no need for any. How to start the vehicle is displayed on the main screen, and if some commands are not where you expect them to be (most of them are), how to operate them is discreetly displayed so there are no grey areas. So far so good, Damo. Press the keyless engine start button and off we go.

Sydney Broken HillThe first leg of my drive to Birdsville is scheduled to take me to the mining town of Broken Hill.

Our first aim is to get to the start of the Birdsville Track in South Australia as quickly as possible, before too much rain closes the tracks for weeks. For this we first need to cross the state of New South Wales entirely from east to west to the mining town of Broken Hill, a 1.150 km / 715 miles two-day drive from Sydney. This is equivalent to linking New York to Chicago or Paris to Edinburgh, meaning if I was driving in Europe, I would have already crossed multiple borders and changed languages, but we will be staying in one single Australian state. Most of the journey will be undertaken in the immense rural and sparsely populated area that characterises the vast majority of the country. 90% of Australians live in urban areas, but the overall density at less than 3 inhabitants per square km remains among the lowest in the world. In fact, Australians have more living space per person than the inhabitants of any other nation in the world…

Haval H8 Outback NSWWelcome to Outback New South Wales, Damo.

The repartition of the population of New South Wales is a striking illustration. At 809.444 square km / 312.528 square miles, this Australian state covers an area 20% larger than Texas and only 10% smaller than France and Germany combined. NSW counts just 7.6 million inhabitants, 5 million of which are concentrated in the Sydney area, yet is the most populated Australian state. The overwhelming majority of the state’s population resides within 50 km of the Pacific Ocean, with only two inland towns home to more than 50.000 inhabitants – Wagga Wagga and Albury, well to the south of our itinerary. We will be crossing particularly isolated parts of the state, a great way to get in the right mood for our Outback adventure.

Haval H8 Road Trains Nyngan NSWSqueezing in between two Road Trains in Nyngan, NSW.

Within the first few minutes of driving, Damo alerts me that the pressure is too high in its back right tyre, and wouldn’t let me see anything else on the screen until I reduce it. That’s a actually a good thing – I will want to know of any issues with my tyres whilst driving on isolated dirt tracks. It’s part of the real-time Tyre Pressure Monitoring System coming standard on all variants of the H8. Easily fixed, and we’re back on track. City driving is smooth, brakes are responsive, but once on the highway I had to rethink my first attempt at high speed overtaking as the turbo took a little too long to respond. There’s about 2 sec lag between the accelerator push and the vehicle surging ahead that takes a bit of getting used to. A couple of other annoying elements are the on-board computer lady voice asking you to go into parking mode each time you put the car in reverse, and the cruise control not automatically slowing down the vehicle when on a steep downhill. To counterbalance this, a few automatic features are truly smart, such as the warning lights switching on when you brake urgently, saving you to panic hit the warning button and concentrate on your braking. That’s a nice touch, which I have noticed is now standard on most Chinese vehicles.

Haval H8 Holden Colorado WillcanniaDamo posing next to a roo-barred Holden Colorado in Wilcannia, NSW

Kangaroos start to appear on the side of the road before Mudgee, a mere 250 km away from Sydney, and from then on it is an almost uninterrupted flow of these curious marsupials that are one of the most recognised Australian symbols. We are now officially in the Outback. For now the New South Wales kangaroos remain very orderly and do not venture onto the highway. I’m expecting this to change drastically as we hit unsealed roads and as traffic dwindles down. Nevertheless, their presence means the appearance of cars has already changed compared to the city: more and more are now equipped with roo-bars, the Australian equivalent of bull-bars (roo is Aussie short for kangaroo), which have nothing ornamental in them. A collision with a kangaroo at high speed can reduce your car to a useless wreck in the absence of protection. Damo doesn’t come with a standard roo-bar, so I’ll have to be extra careful.

Straight ahead to Broken HillStraight ahead for the next 540 km… 

Our first shut-eye stop is in Narromine, 450 km inland from Sydney, and the motel owners are befuddled by the red logo on the grille: “Who makes these? Oh the same bunch as Great Wall? Looks good. Where are you taking it?” “Birdsville.” “Aaah. Are you sure? Doubt it with your highway tyres… I’d like to see it deep in mud, it’d be a different story…” Thanks for the encouragement! The challenge is real, and I’ve yet to meet someone who’s convinced Damo has it in its guts to face up to the harshness of the Birdsville Track. So far though, highway driving is showering me with high levels of comfort, and my usually precarious lower back is getting a lot of welcome support. I’m ready for more, let’s see if Damo is also.

Haval H8 Wilcanna NSWWilcannia NSW

Exclusive state by state Australian sales data published on BSCB a couple of months ago shows that NSW preferred the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Toyota Hilux and VW Golf in this order in 2015. Yet stepping out of Sydney gives out a completely different picture. We are now in mining and sheep shearing territory and utes – short for utility or pickup – are the dominant species in this part of the world. The Toyota Hilux outsells them all, with a generous serving of new generation models already at work in various parts of the state. The new Ford Ranger, hitting record highs nationally, has managed to find its way to the near-top of the NSW Outback charts as well. An illustration of more conservative tastes, once-market kings Holden and Ford still pull very strong numbers in this area, with the Holden Colorado ute and Ford Territory outperforming their national levels in a particularly striking manner. The newly imported Ram Pickup has also pulled a string with local buyers: three spotted in and around Mudgee alone.

Haval H8 Broken Hill 2Haval H8 Broken Hill 1

Day 2 is an almost straight line all day and towns are now few and far between. The 590 km from Nyngan to Broken Hill see you cross just five tiny outposts, one of them Wilcannia with a distinctly out-of-this-world feel and strong Aboriginal population. You know you are in the Outback when drivers start waving hello at each other on the highway – mostly locals, tourists with their RVs not so much. That’s generous, grounded and welcoming rural Australia for you, although I spotted a few drivers too busy trying to figure out what car I was driving to remember saying hi. After a full day of lonely driving, the desert frontier town of Broken Hill – population 18.500 – does feel like an oasis close to the end of earth.

Haval H8 Broken Hill 3Mining in Broken Hill has transformed Australia.

Broken Hill, nicknamed “The Silver City”, is the place that transformed Australia into an industrial nation when a silver lode was discovered here in 1883. The BH letters in BHP Billiton, Australia’s largest company and international mining giant, stand for Broken Hill where it was formed. Some of the world’s richest deposits of silver, lead and zinc are still being worked here, with the main streets in town all shamelessly displaying a definitive mining bias: Bromide, Cobalt, Oxide, Argent, Sulphide, Chloride, Iodide… Mining operations are winding down though, and the town alongside it: last time I visited in 2007, the Line of Lode Miners Memorial and its adjacent restaurant were proudly dominating the city from their hill, but are now both closed to the public. The views remain. Second time I park the car for longer than 20 minutes and second time bypassers stop to ask what the hell it is that I am driving. The Chinese origin leads them straight to Great Wall, which they know well. The overall impression: this SUV looks surprisingly good for a Chinese fare. I agree.

Broken Hill Far WestBroken Hill is the Far West of New South Wales…

Broken Hill Street…and a ute paradise.

All car dealerships in Broken Hill display the “Far West” moniker. It is indeed the Far West here, at least from Sydney’s perspective at the other end of the state. But Broken Hill is a lot closer geographically and culturally to Adelaide, a mere 500km further to the west, and has brought itself within the same time zone, breaking away from the rest of NSW. Indeed when time zones were decided, Broken Hill’s only direct rail link was with Adelaide, and the town had to wait another 40 years to get a direct rail link to Sydney. Worse: when the Adelaide railway link came to the SA/NSW border in 1888, the NSW government would not allow SA work to cross, so the last 31 km to reach Broken Hill were built by a private tramway company.

Toyota Land Cruiser ute Broken HillThe Toyota Land Cruiser 70 ute is extremely popular in Broken Hill…

Nissan Navara Broken Hill…as is the Nissan Navara…

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Broken Hill… and the Pajero Sport upholds the strong Mitsubishi heritage in town.

This cultural affinity with South Australia translates today into the car park: Mitsubishi, with its 1980-2008 SA production heritage, is a lot more represented here than in any other part of NSW. The Pajero Sport has already found a few new homes in Broken Hill. But the big surprise is the frequency of the new Nissan Navara: the local dealer has been doing a bloody hell of a good job in town, as one would say here. Utes are the norm, with the Toyota Hilux seeing its supremacy threatened by the Land Cruiser 70. I will delve into this specificity in the next Part of this series.

Royal Flying Doctors ServiceHaval H8 Flying DoctorsToyota Hilux Flying DoctorsThe Broken Hill base of the Royal Flying Doctors Service of Australia

Another fascinating aspect of Broken Hill is the presence of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. An iconic Australian institution, the Flying Doctors were founded in 1928 as a “Mantle of safety for the Outback” and remain to this day the only health care provider and emergency medical support for remote Australian communities that cannot access a hospital or general practice due to their isolation. Operating out of 23 bases with a 66-aircraft fleet, the service travels on average 73.554 km by air and performs over 200 landings, both each day. But wait for an even more staggering stat: the Broken Hill base of the Flying Doctors single-handedly serves an area of 640.000 sq km: the size of Texas and larger than France! Astoundingly, the Flying Doctors are still heavily reliant on community support for funding. As such, in virtually all roadside outlets I stopped at during the trip, a prominent Flying Doctors small change box was displayed on the counter, and almost all customers would participate to my great satisfaction.

Souh Australia Border GateThe gloomy South Australian Border Gate

As the sun set over “The Oasis of the West” and the sole Flying Doctors aircraft present in town, I decided to push further into the night onto South Australia and the Barrier Highway to get closer to the Birdsville Track departure flag. The towns get more frequent as we get closer to Adelaide, and a right turn onto the the Outback Highway led me to Orroroo at the southern tip of the Flinders Ranges National Park. Driving at night is however discouraged in Outback Australia due to wildlife, mainly kangaroos, so I will limit this type of experience to a strict minimum. So far, similarly to their NSW colleagues, SA roos have kept their curious selves to the sides of the road. To end this Part 2 Report it’s time to give you an update on Damo’s thirst. When I picked up the car the fuel average stood at a scary 14.2L/100km. Two full days of highway driving pulled it down to a much more digestible 11.2L. The downside: Damo has posh tastes and would only drink Premium Unleaded, up to 20cent a litre dearer, or like an invisible little knife stabbing you in the guts each time you refuel… No gremlins to report so far though and the 1.500 km mark (930 miles) has been ticked off.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Orroroo to Lyndhurst, the gate to the Birdsville Track.

Odo after Day 2Average Fuel economy after Day 2, down from 14.2L at pick up. 

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  1. […] This is Part 4 of our Report on driving a Haval H8 into the Australian Outback. See also Part 1: The Stakes, Part 2: Sydney to Broken Hill and Part 3: Orroroo to Lyndhurst. You can view the entire series here. It’s 9am in Lyndhurst and the Lyndhurst-Marree section of the road leading to the Birdsville Track remains closed, with no hope of reopening today according to Jo from the Lyndhurst Roadhouse, as it rained overnight along the track and in Birdsville. It is also very difficult to predict how road conditions may have changed even on tracks that are open given these cover very large swaths of land that no one has traveled through overnight. I therefore decide to retrace my steps on the Outback highway for roughly 100km / 60 miles to attempt linking Birdsville from the east in Innamincka. For this, I need to take the last tracks still open to public, starting in Parachilna, crossing the Vulkatunha Gammon Ranges National Park through Bilnman for a lunch stop and wifi connection refresh in Arkaroola Village. Hopefully I’ll manage to reach Innamincka before sunset… The last stop before throwing ourselves onto dirt tracks is Parachilna on the Outback highway. But even at the legendary Prairie Hotel, described by the Lonely Planet as a world-class stay with slick suites and a mythical feral mixed grill – camel sausage, kangaroo fillet and emu, wish I had time to have a taste, the mobile network is non-existent so it’s all guns blazing towards the unknown. Damo is soon swallowing hundreds of km of dirt tracks, starting with the winding track through the Parachilna Gorge. However the onboard sat nav doesn’t take into account unsealed roads – that’s unfortunate for a 4WD – so we’ll have to fall back on the good old-fashioned paper map for the next few days of adventure. Travelling in such remote areas means one rule needs to be added: never leave one place that has Premium Unleaded petrol without filling up, as you never know where the next one will be. Up to 430 km / 270 miles away as we’ll see further into the journey. A stop at the Angorichina Village petrol station for filling up is therefore mandatory. The pump is locked, and a friendly local comes out for the top-up at the surprisingly low price of 151 cents per litre. He’s unaware of road conditions further up though. The next and only town before Arkaroola is Blinman – population 30 – the highest town in South Australia (630m above sea level), originally a copper mining town but now deserted. Still no mobile coverage. As we go further east, the road becomes very muddy at times, and this prompts me to wonder how the South Australian authorities decide when to close a road and when to keep it open with restrictions, for 4WD only for example. It would appear the main arteries in this part of the Australian Outback, such as the Birdsville, Strzelecki and Oodnadatta Tracks, get automatically closed in case of heavy rain. This to avoid road trains creating insurmountable rutting on the tracks. As it dries up, first small 4WD then heavy trucks get allowed, then all cars. But it’s hardly ever that straight forward, as more rain can complicate the situation, and a track open to heavy trucks at the wrong time can create such rutting that it might close again a few days later even in the absence of rain. So predicting the track opening patterns a few days in advance is almost impossible. On top of this, if the main arteries get closer attention from the SA government, smaller tracks such as the one I am driving along from Parachilna to Arkaroola get a lot less attention and may not be updated on the Road conditions website for a couple of days even in the event of rain. This is what I found out today… 50km or 30 miles before arriving in Arkaroola is where Damo got his proper baptism of mud. There were two 8km-long very slippery patches of mud across the entire width of the track with nowhere to escape to and no phone coverage to rely upon in case of trouble, making the passage that little bit more tricky. Given the depth of mud on the track, stopping to catch your breath is not an option as it would almost certainly equal to getting bogged down, so I would compare these two bouts of driving to swimming in apnea under water. Of course, it’s just when I am still grappling with trying to keep the vehicle on track that cows and kangaroos decide to come for a visit onto the road to witness the mess, becoming as many more obstacles to avoid. After the first few minutes of adaptation, it turns out the Haval H8 is mastering the art of controlled slippage through thick mud rather well. Once you get past the fact that the vehicle will slip no matter what and get used to turning left to direct the vehicle to the right and vice versa, it actually becomes an almost exhilarating experience. Saying that I’m begging for more would be an over-statement though. As far as I could see based on the tracks in the mud, only two vehicles before me had gone through this particular section since the rain. In the 158km/100 miles that separate Parachilna to Arkaroola, I only crossed two active vehicles: one Land Cruiser ute (aka the king of the Australian Outback) and one Ford Territory that had to slip-swerve wildly to its left to open a passage for me. I thought I was slipping particularly hard myself due to my highway tyres, but if anything the Territory looked to be having more difficulty manoeuvring the mud than I was. Or perhaps I was too concentrated on not slipping towards it that I didn’t really catch its motion. Hitting another car full-frontal – one of only two cars encountered in over 150km – would be such an irony that I won’t even begin to elaborate on this. Even though it sounds like I am crossing a particularly barren stretch of the country, the vegetation and colours keep changing all along. The track is successively orange, white and yellow with rocks, gravel, sand and mud giving Damo’s tyres the harshest time they probably have ever been exposed to. Just before reaching Arkaroola, a broken down bus lies in the middle of the road and upon stopping, the driver asks if I could get him something to eat and a drink in Arkaroola if I come back this way. With pleasure. I’m only there to fill up and check the Road conditions website so shouldn’t be more than an hour. “No rush, take your time!” Gotta love the Outback’s laid-back attitude. In this part of Australia, you shouldn’t expect to go faster than 50km/h or 30mph on average given how rough the track is. I therefore needed 3.5 hours to cover the 158km/100 miles separating Parachilna from Arkaroola. After a lonesome, at times slightly stressful drive on dirt and gravel and through mud, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is an oasis of high speed wifi in the desert – and the only location 200km around to actually have internet coverage. It is located right in the midst of the Vulkatunha Gammon Ranges National Park, a fascinating geologic location that gets frequent earth tremors. A must-do here is the trip to Sillers Lookout on the famous Ridgetop Track blazed in the late 1960s by Exoil Ltd in hope of finding uranium, but in vain. It is only accessible in one of Arkaroola’s open Toyota Land Cruiser tour vehicles – again we find this beast here. Next time perhaps. For now I’m focused on getting to Birdsville any way I can. The road sign at the entrance of the village indicated the Mt Hopeless – Innamincka section of the track is closed. This is at odds with the Road conditions website (see above). This particular section – just right of the Strzelecki Regional Reserve on the map – is blue (= open to all vehicles with caution) all the way to Merty Merty while the track from Arkaroola to Mt Hopeless is yellow (=4WD only). The track I have just taken, Parachilna-Blinman-Arkaroola, is green (=open to all vehicles with no restrictions). This is incorrect: a 2WD vehicle wouldn’t have gone past the muddy patches I traversed. It should be yellow. So the website is wrong. What to do? One Sanctuary employee tries to discourage me from going any further: “The tracks are closed and won’t reopen for the next few days. We got more rain in a week than we usually do in an entire year!” But the website says it’s open. “[Shrug]. It’s your call.” Let’s get a second opinion. Another employee gives me the opposite advice: “Let me check the website. Yep, you’re all good to go up to Merty Merty! You should take a screen grab of the Road conditions website on your phone, just in case. To show the police if they say you’ve taken a closed road.” Sounds better – and this screen grab is displayed further up in the article. Outside while refuelling, the record of the most expensive petrol of the trip is beaten at 186 cents per litre – but we definitely are in the middle of the desert so it’s all forgiven. One of the Arkaroola Ridgetop Tour guides asks what it is that I am driving but also what my accent is… Turns out he’s French like me, as well as two other staff in the Sanctuary: truly the last place on earth I was expecting to find a French contingent! According to him, it’s a good idea to come up with the Haval brand as Great Wall was a dead giveaway for a Chinese brand whereas Haval doesn’t let in on its origins. I had never envisaged this branding strategy this way and am starting to be proven wrong on my interrogations about Great Wall’s decision to launch a new brand from scratch in Australia where their namesake marque had already gained some recognition. He is also bearish on my plan to reach Innamincka. “You realise there’s nothing between here and Innamincka and it’s 460km away. Are you sure you have enough petrol?” A full 75L tank and 40L additional in jerrycans. “But driving in thick mud consumes a lot more.” I heard they closed the tracks. “They would have, because it’s downstream from here so all the rain accumulates in the basin. It will be closed for days.” Outback driving is a lot about taking all elements from various sources into consideration but in the end making your very own decisions. Enough listening to opinions and time to drive off. Armed with food and drinks for the stranded bus driver, I am ready to spend the night in the Haval H8 if needed, it will be another facet to add to this review… One element of this trip so far that is putting a big smile on my face is the sprawling wildlife present along the track. Hundreds, I’d even go as far as saying close to a thousand kangaroos in total show their curious selves, without ever venturing too close to the car for comfort. I always thought only kangaroos of a same species (=colour) stick together, but this is wrong: orange and grey fellows happily hop along together, and this part of Australia is also the habitat of the yellow-footed rock wallaby which I indeed spotted in generous numbers. A car is such a rare occurrence in this area that kangaroos are all very interested. A couple of them even raced me for a few km, carefully hopping across the track ahead of me and even showing me the way in the middle of the track for a while. Most herds of emus ran away madly and frightened, but one I approached slowly actually stayed put, and progressively got closer to the car, each throwing their neck forward in curious yet weary moves. A magical experience indeed. Launching into the 430km service-free track to Innamincka, the skies grow heavier and the threat of more rain messing up with the already damp tracks is constant. Each km driven in dry conditions is a victory and one less km to have to endure before reaching Innamincka. I manage to tick off a further 150km before conditions get even more slippery than what I encountered before Arkaroola. At the same time some patches of savannah make leaving the track a daunting prospect and hitting trees a real danger. The Haval H8 engages the ESP a couple of times, automatically slowing the car down to 40km/h (I thought I was going to stall!) and then you can clearly feel the 4WD mode kicking in. Once again Damo gets out unscathed and I get out relieved. A few km down though, I cross the first car since Arkaroola, a Land Rover Discovery. The driver, travelling alone, tells me he had to turn around as a flooded creek has mud too deep for his comfort. He shows me his sneaker full of mud and says he couldn’t feel the bottom of the creek when walking in so he wouldn’t risk passing. “You could probably go through with mud tyres and a high clearance 4WD but I wouldn’t risk it I were you.” I think I may need to follow his advice for once. Getting bogged down as the sun is setting with no car for 150km isn’t a prospect I’d like to experience if I have to be totally honest with myself. It’s time to get ready for a shut-eye stop inside the Haval H8. By this time we have arrived at the Moolawatana homestead, 51 km before the MtHopeless junction where the track fuses with the Strzelecki Track, and even though it has a name and a location on the map that doesn’t mean anyone is living here. There was one house near the place I stopped for the night but no sign of life. Cows are roaming though and one in particular was very interested in the Haval H8, licking the mud out of its headlights… I haven’t been known to find comfortable sleep in a car – ever – so this will be an interesting experience. At 6′, I am not particularly short and always end up cramped in a car. This time though, the space in the rear seats and between the driving seat and the front door allows me to spread my legs and find a comfortable position. I did manage to sleep. Yet it looks like my attempt to get to Innamincka will need to be aborted and I’ll have to get back to the sealed Outback Highway. I won’t give up on the Birdsville Track just yet, but the reality is that if the Lyndhurst-Marree portion of road is closed again tomorrow I may have to consider alternative options such as the Oodnadatta Track… But you don’t know how perseverant I can be… Stay tuned for Part 5 coming shortly… Article by Matt Gasnier – Best Selling Cars Blog […]

  2. […] Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2016 This is Part 3 of our Report on driving a Haval H8 into the Australian Outback. See Part 1: The Stakes and Part 2: Sydney to Broken Hill. After sneakily pushing through the night past Broken Hill, our second shut-eye stop is in the bizarrely-named town of Orroroo where arriving at 9:45pm at the caravan park has probably woken up half the local population. I can now smell the Birdsville Track in the air, it is so close: only 385 km or 240 miles away. The last hurdle as I wake up the next day: the torrential rains that have been battering the region for the entire night, peppered with roaring thunderstorms. Rain stops as we launch onto the last 200km before Lyndhurst so I have good hopes it may all be fine in the end. There were a couple of flooded passes before Leigh Creek indeed, but the water wasn’t deep, only running fast, and it wasn’t anything Damo couldn’t handle. Mobile coverage and thus internet access are now intermittent, so I have no opportunity to check the road conditions website until Lyndhurst, the fork where the road divides towards either the Birdsville or Strzelecki Tracks. And a nasty surprise awaits: although the Birdsville Track itself remains open, the section leading to Marree where it starts is now closed. “They just closed it a couple hours ago!” complains the driver of one of two road trains stuck in town. Cooke’s Outback Motors in Copley is the last station with Premium Unleaded until Birdsville, a further 630km away, and the laconic character managing the place is taking full advantage. At 185.9 cents a litre, it is by far the most expensive fuel of the entire trip to-date. Outback Motors also offers towing services on both the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks… Lyndhurst amounts to nothing more than a roadhouse, a hotel and a (closed) community services building adorned with an Australian-Aboriginal combined flag. Population: between 4 and 10 depending on the day. Damo soon becomes the main attraction in town, in the midst of a herd of Toyota Land Cruiser utes. As we already noticed in Broken Hill, the Land Cruiser ute is well established as the the king of the Australian Outback. Equally popular in its 70 single cab and 79 double cab variants, it was by very far the most frequent vehicle stopping at the Lyndhurst Roadhouse when I stayed there, coming from the now closed Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks. Speaking with the locals, it becomes clear the Land Cruiser ute is the benchmark against which all other vehicles are measured here. The reason behind this success: a tough-as-nails V8 Turbo Diesel powerplant, live-axle and optional diff locks make it one of the most capable off-road workhorse available in the country. It doesn’t come cheap, with the single cab starting at $56.990 and the double cab setting you back at least $61.990 plus on-roads, but with the Nissan Patrol GU being discontinued at the end of 2016, it is the only choice short of spending $139,000+ on a converted full size U.S. pickup such as the Ford F-250, Ram 2500 or GMC Sierra. But eyes light up at the Roadhouse with tales of the vehicle keeping its resale value intact over the years. Behind the bar, Jo confirms: “My son wouldn’t buy anything else. The Toyota dealer in Adelaide wanted to buy his 3-year old one back for $54.000! Even with everything that he’s added on it like the roo-bar, it’s still a pretty good deal. But he wouldn’t let go of it…” Alf is the mailman on the punishing Strzelecki Track, arguably one of the roughest roads in the world. He has taken a different tack: “I was about to buy a $54.000 Land Cruiser but saw the Great Wall ute was going for $25.000, I thought I’d give it a go. It paid for itself pretty quick. I’ve done 150.000 km in 3 years [almost 100.000 miles], and yes a few things have fallen off at one point like my roo-bar and the rear stop lights, but all-in-all I’m bloody happy with it!” Wait. 150.000 km in 3 years solely on the Strzelecki Track? “Yeah, I do the Track twice a week and it’s roughly 500 kays long so it adds up.” To 156.000 km exactly. Darren concurs: “I did 90.000km with mine!” Turns out getting stuck in Lyndhurst got me to meet two of the most vocal supporters of the Great Wall brand in the Australian Outback. You can’t make this stuff up. Note to Great Wall: contact Alfie and Darren asap, a goldmine of stories there. One last time, I feverishly check with my best friend of the trip – after Damo, the Outback South Australia road conditions website, but the Birdsville Track is still open. The objective is to get to Marree, pronounced “maaah-stay on the A until you almost run out of breath-weee”, and go as deep as possible into the Birdsville Track today, ideally up to Mungeranie halfway through. But the title of this article is an indication that something may have gone horribly wrong… A jerrycan-filling stop in Hawker, the main town in the Flinders Ranges National Park, brings some bad news indeed . “You’ll be pushing your luck reaching Marree today: there are a couple of flooded creeks on the way, and it’s a very muddy dirt track from Lyndhurst onwards… Let me have a look at the weather radar… Oh gosh, it’s only getting worse in the next few hours… You’d be lucky even getting to Leigh Creek, be veeeery careful.” Let the adventure begin… Outside, Damo heard the entire conversation and is squirming with impatience. We’re going to see what you’re made of, Haval H8. Darren from the Lyndhurst Roadhouse ventures an option: “You could risk it, but if you get caught it’s a $1.000 fine…” Nope. I don’t know Damo’s 4WD limits yet and I’m not about to test them on a closed Birdsville Track. But there is another issue: the Lyndhurst Roadhouse Premium Unleaded pump is out of order. A few very kind calls from Darren and the search zeroes in on Copley, a mere 34 km back from Lyndhurst on the Outback highway. Yet this means I won’t be able to refuel in Marree before throwing Damo onto the 520km-long Birdsville Track, so we are in for a second 20L jerrycan of fuel. An additional 40L onboard on top of the 75L from the tank should do the trick, even if Damo drinks 15L/100km when struggling deep in mud. The two trusted vehicles are a Nissan Patrol GU and Toyota Land Cruiser 70, both in their ute form and the latter stickered “Erics Rig”. A bit like flying doctors, these two tow-trucks are well respected but also the last thing anyone want to have to call on either tracks: seeing them on the go means someone is stranded somewhere in the desert. Today is the first and, I very deeply hope, last time Damo meets these two Grim Reaper-like individuals… Logically, the few souls also staying for the night in Lyndhurst were more than a little intrigued by the Haval H8. Once the link to Great Wall is established, the fact that this is a different brand altogether doesn’t seem to matter much. Given its more up-market stance, Damo seems to stand out enough to justify its own marque in their eyes. Exterior design gets the local vote, and the interior with leather electric seats also gets the thumbs up. Jo comes out to inspect it in more detail. “Can I see the boot? H8: that’s not a V8 is it?” She may have purchased it on the spot if that was the case… “I like the design, but that spare tyre doesn’t look like it would go very far”. Conflict of interests? With her husband, Jo owns a towing company in Birdsville… The big question around dinner is: is Damo capable enough to endure a very muddy and treacherous Birdsville Track? “You are really taking it for a spin aren’t you? Does it have a low-range 4WD mode?” No it’s an AWD electronic system. “Still, should be arright, then, will be an awesome test for the car.” Took the words out of my mouth… The Ford and Holden die-hards at the bar wouldn’t have a… bar of it and vocally proclaim they will stick with their own utes, thanks. Darren: “Don’t diss Chinese cars until you own one!” I told you, a fan. Later on, two haggard bikers make a panting entrance in the roadhouse, covered with mud from head to toe. “Our Colorado just died on us on the Strzelecki Track! We had to take the bikes to get here. It is hell. Very slippery. Took us ages.” Luckily a car drove past them shortly after they broke down and they could use a sat phone to organise towing. As if on cue, the Outback Motors “Erics Rig” Land Cruiser pulls up at the Roadhouse shortly afterwards and, having just obtained special police clearance to drive on the closed Strzelecki Track, promptly drives off into the night on its rescue mission. Jo tries to reassure the bikers: “My husband rescued five Prados two weeks ago from Birdsville. Happens all the time”. Not helping: they are rightfully dejected. One of the bikers knows of Haval: he was invited to the brand’s launch in Brisbane by distributor Performax who also imports and converts U.S. full-sized pickup trucks. “Don’t go. You’ll get bogged down and with no sat phone you don’t know how long it’ll take to get rescued”. Jo slips her husband’s business card into my hand with a shy smile. It says Birdsville Transport Service. “Don’t worry. You know who to call if you get stuck.” As the day becomes dawn and the long night begins, the rain starts again and the odds the road to Marree will reopen tomorrow dwindle down to slim at best. I need to find another way to get to Birdsville. Given the Lyndhurst to Mt Hopeless section of the Strzelecki Track is also closed – echoing the bikers’ daunting warnings – I may have to retrace my steps on the Outback highway and try and take one of the last open tracks to Innamincka, looping east to join Birdsville, all the while hoping the rain stops for good. But that’s a story for another day… Article by Matt Gasnier – Best Selling Cars Blog […]

  3. I own a luxurious leather packed turbo Diesel Haval H5 model and have taken it into terrain that’s very very rough, hilly and wet most days of the year and it’s performed above and beyond my expectations. It’s waded through flooded river, climbed very steep inclines and hilly mountain roads even with a full load of heavy diesel fuel, 7 passengers and camping gear in the boot… Along with bags for adults and kids. Added to that; the AC was on fulltime but it still had the guts and torque to take on the hilly mountain ranges no problem. Oh did I mention: No tarsealing and a single lane bush track of a road? No kidding there was lots of boulders that made up the dirt road, so speed was not possible on the uphill climbs. The views were breathtaking though. And, HAVAL performed.

  4. […] Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2016 This is Part 2 of our Report on driving a Haval H8 into the Australian Outback. You can see Part 1: The Stakes here. Most of the friends and colleagues I shared my plans with – linking Sydney to Birdsville through the legendary Birdsville Track – were dubious I could achieve this with a Chinese SUV. This shows the extent of the work Chinese carmakers still have ahead of them to convince the city slickers that they are as capable as any other brand – if they are. Country-folks may be a different story, especially those who already own a Great Wall, and we are about to find out. From the outside, Damo definitely looks the part. The exterior design, although now a couple years old, is sleek, polished and aggressive, giving a reassuring impression that it can takes you anywhere in comfort. The Haval H8 is already light-years ahead of the manufacturer’s first attempt at a large SUV, the Great Wall Hover H5, aka X200-X240 in Australia. It has an air of Volkswagen Touareg in it, which Damo should definitely take as a compliment. Our first aim is to get to the start of the Birdsville Track in South Australia as quickly as possible, before too much rain closes the tracks for weeks. For this we first need to cross the state of New South Wales entirely from east to west to the mining town of Broken Hill, a 1.150 km / 715 miles two-day drive from Sydney. This is equivalent to linking New York to Chicago or Paris to Edinburgh, meaning if I was driving in Europe, I would have already crossed multiple borders and changed languages, but we will be staying in one single Australian state. Most of the journey will be undertaken in the immense rural and sparsely populated area that characterises the vast majority of the country. 90% of Australians live in urban areas, but the overall density at less than 3 inhabitants per square km remains among the lowest in the world. In fact, Australians have more living space per person than the inhabitants of any other nation in the world… Within the first few minutes of driving, Damo alerts me that the pressure is too high in its back right tyre, and wouldn’t let me see anything else on the screen until I reduce it. That’s a actually a good thing – I will want to know of any issues with my tyres whilst driving on isolated dirt tracks. It’s part of the real-time Tyre Pressure Monitoring System coming standard on all variants of the H8. Easily fixed, and we’re back on track. City driving is smooth, brakes are responsive, but once on the highway I had to rethink my first attempt at high speed overtaking as the turbo took a little too long to respond. There’s about 2 sec lag between the accelerator push and the vehicle surging ahead that takes a bit of getting used to. A couple of other annoying elements are the on-board computer lady voice asking you to go into parking mode each time you put the car in reverse, and the cruise control not automatically slowing down the vehicle when on a steep downhill. To counterbalance this, a few automatic features are truly smart, such as the warning lights switching on when you brake urgently, saving you to panic hit the warning button and concentrate on your braking. That’s a nice touch, which I have noticed is now standard on most Chinese vehicles. Our first shut-eye stop is in Narromine, 450 km inland from Sydney, and the motel owners are befuddled by the red logo on the grille: “Who makes these? Oh the same bunch as Great Wall? Looks good. Where are you taking it?” “Birdsville.” “Aaah. Are you sure? Doubt it with your highway tyres… I’d like to see it deep in mud, it’d be a different story…” Thanks for the encouragement! The challenge is real, and I’ve yet to meet someone who’s convinced Damo has it in its guts to face up to the harshness of the Birdsville Track. So far though, highway driving is showering me with high levels of comfort, and my usually precarious lower back is getting a lot of welcome support. I’m ready for more, let’s see if Damo is also. Day 2 is an almost straight line all day and towns are now few and far between. The 590 km from Nyngan to Broken Hill see you cross just five tiny outposts, one of them Wilcannia with a distinctly out-of-this-world feel and strong Aboriginal population. You know you are in the Outback when drivers start waving hello at each other on the highway – mostly locals, tourists with their RVs not so much. That’s generous, grounded and welcoming rural Australia for you, although I spotted a few drivers too busy trying to figure out what car I was driving to remember saying hi. After a full day of lonely driving, the desert frontier town of Broken Hill – population 18.500 – does feel like an oasis close to the end of earth. All car dealerships in Broken Hill display the “Far West” moniker. It is indeed the Far West here, at least from Sydney’s perspective at the other end of the state. But Broken Hill is a lot closer geographically and culturally to Adelaide, a mere 500km further to the west, and has brought itself within the same time zone, breaking away from the rest of NSW. Indeed when time zones were decided, Broken Hill’s only direct rail link was with Adelaide, and the town had to wait another 40 years to get a direct rail link to Sydney. Worse: when the Adelaide railway link came to the SA/NSW border in 1888, the NSW government would not allow SA work to cross, so the last 31 km to reach Broken Hill were built by a private tramway company. Another fascinating aspect of Broken Hill is the presence of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. An iconic Australian institution, the Flying Doctors were founded in 1928 as a “Mantle of safety for the Outback” and remain to this day the only health care provider and emergency medical support for remote Australian communities that cannot access a hospital or general practice due to their isolation. Operating out of 23 bases with a 66-aircraft fleet, the service travels on average 73.554 km by air and performs over 200 landings, both each day. But wait for an even more staggering stat: the Broken Hill base of the Flying Doctors single-handedly serves an area of 640.000 sq km: the size of Texas and larger than France! Astoundingly, the Flying Doctors are still heavily reliant on community support for funding. As such, in virtually all roadside outlets I stopped at during the trip, a prominent Flying Doctors small change box was displayed on the counter, and almost all customers would participate to my great satisfaction. Step inside and the first striking element is the level of refinement in the cabin: Australian leather seats, full electronic seat adjustment, sat nav, reverse camera, cruise control, robust and smooth dials and multiple yet intuitively organised commands at the wheel, with the paddle shifters even giving it a sporty feel. Although I was well aware of the effort Haval has put into the quality of its cabin through the variety of nameplates I got to sit in at various Chinese Auto Shows over the past 3 years, I am still impressed to see it in real life. No user manual inside the car, yet everything intuitive enough so there is no need for any. How to start the vehicle is displayed on the main screen, and if some commands are not where you expect them to be (most of them are), how to operate them is discreetly displayed so there are no grey areas. So far so good, Damo. Press the keyless engine start button and off we go. The repartition of the population of New South Wales is a striking illustration. At 809.444 square km / 312.528 square miles, this Australian state covers an area 20% larger than Texas and only 10% smaller than France and Germany combined. NSW counts just 7.6 million inhabitants, 5 million of which are concentrated in the Sydney area, yet is the most populated Australian state. The overwhelming majority of the state’s population resides within 50 km of the Pacific Ocean, with only two inland towns home to more than 50.000 inhabitants – Wagga Wagga and Albury, well to the south of our itinerary. We will be crossing particularly isolated parts of the state, a great way to get in the right mood for our Outback adventure. Kangaroos start to appear on the side of the road before Mudgee, a mere 250 km away from Sydney, and from then on it is an almost uninterrupted flow of these curious marsupials that are one of the most recognised Australian symbols. We are now officially in the Outback. For now the New South Wales kangaroos remain very orderly and do not venture onto the highway. I’m expecting this to change drastically as we hit unsealed roads and as traffic dwindles down. Nevertheless, their presence means the appearance of cars has already changed compared to the city: more and more are now equipped with roo-bars, the Australian equivalent of bull-bars (roo is Aussie short for kangaroo), which have nothing ornamental in them. A collision with a kangaroo at high speed can reduce your car to a useless wreck in the absence of protection. Damo doesn’t come with a standard roo-bar, so I’ll have to be extra careful. Exclusive state by state Australian sales data published on BSCB a couple of months ago shows that NSW preferred the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Toyota Hilux and VW Golf in this order in 2015. Yet stepping out of Sydney gives out a completely different picture. We are now in mining and sheep shearing territory and utes – short for utility or pickup – are the dominant species in this part of the world. The Toyota Hilux outsells them all, with a generous serving of new generation models already at work in various parts of the state. The new Ford Ranger, hitting record highs nationally, has managed to find its way to the near-top of the NSW Outback charts as well. An illustration of more conservative tastes, once-market kings Holden and Ford still pull very strong numbers in this area, with the Holden Colorado ute and Ford Territory outperforming their national levels in a particularly striking manner. The newly imported Ram Pickup has also pulled a string with local buyers: three spotted in and around Mudgee alone. Broken Hill, nicknamed “The Silver City”, is the place that transformed Australia into an industrial nation when a silver lode was discovered here in 1883. The BH letters in BHP Billiton, Australia’s largest company and international mining giant, stand for Broken Hill where it was formed. Some of the world’s richest deposits of silver, lead and zinc are still being worked here, with the main streets in town all shamelessly displaying a definitive mining bias: Bromide, Cobalt, Oxide, Argent, Sulphide, Chloride, Iodide… Mining operations are winding down though, and the town alongside it: last time I visited in 2007, the Line of Lode Miners Memorial and its adjacent restaurant were proudly dominating the city from their hill, but are now both closed to the public. The views remain. Second time I park the car for longer than 20 minutes and second time bypassers stop to ask what the hell it is that I am driving. The Chinese origin leads them straight to Great Wall, which they know well. The overall impression: this SUV looks surprisingly good for a Chinese fare. I agree. As the sun set over “The Oasis of the West” and the sole Flying Doctors aircraft present in town, I decided to push further into the night onto South Australia and the Barrier Highway to get closer to the Birdsville Track departure flag. The towns get more frequent as we get closer to Adelaide, and a right turn onto the the Outback Highway led me to Orroroo at the southern tip of the Flinders Ranges National Park. Driving at night is however discouraged in Outback Australia due to wildlife, mainly kangaroos, so I will limit this type of experience to a strict minimum. So far, similarly to their NSW colleagues, SA roos have kept their curious selves to the sides of the road. To end this Part 2 Report it’s time to give you an update on Damo’s thirst. When I picked up the car the fuel average stood at a scary 14.2L/100km. Two full days of highway driving pulled it down to a much more digestible 11.2L. The downside: Damo has posh tastes and would only drink Premium Unleaded, up to 20cent a litre dearer, or like an invisible little knife stabbing you in the guts each time you refuel… No gremlins to report so far though and the 1.500 km mark (930 miles) has been ticked off. Article buy Matt Gassier – Best Selling Cars Blog […]

  5. This SUV is gorgeous. It’s worth being called the number 1 SUV brand in China. I think I will take it into consideration when I buy a new car. I’m waiting for part 3. Thank you!

  6. Dusk is a real danger time for roos to hit cars, as I understand. Interesting that Great Wall has such brand recognition out there, so Haval should have a foot in the door then? Looking forward to the next stage!

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