Story: Wayne Munro | Photos: Gerald Shacklock - Video: Trevor Woolston
So, imagine you’re the New Zealand distributor for a truck make and you need to put a new model through a bit of a Kiwi fitness test – ensure that it’s going to be suitable in NZ conditions.
Check that the combination of its new automated manual transmission and revised 13-litre engine is going to be up to the job of dealing with NZ’s steep, sharp up and downhills – as against the autobahn, auto strada, autoweg and auto route running that it’s already been proven on in Europe.
That its smart technology isn’t going to be fooled by something peculiarly Kiwi…or just our bloody awful roads.
And then someone comes up with a brainwave. Do a deal to get one of three pre-production test trucks into the Greymouth-based Trans-West Freighters – running it as a bulk unit…to-ing and fro-ing daily across the Southern Alps. Boom! Double tops!
Yeah, that should do it: Have it negotiate what must amount to hundreds of corners, get hammered by bumpy, potholed and just plain rough tarmac road surfaces, bang its way on and off dozens of bridges….
And climb up and run down big hill, after big hill….after bloody big hill! Including, of course, two of the highest passes taken by NZ’s main roads – Porter’s Pass and Arthur’s Pass.
So here we are in Trans-West’s pre-release Euro 6 DAF CF, coolly cruising up to the summit of one of NZ’s most iconic bits of road, the Arthur’s Pass summit, with its Dobson Memorial stone monument (a tribute to Arthur Dobson, who surveyed the route in the 1850s, guided by local Maori).
That’s coolly as in the 530-horsepower DAF doing it with sublime ease….and coolly also as in it’s pretty damn cold around here! Yeah, it’s spring….but between Arthur’s Pass village and the summit, we’ve actually been in light snow.
Right around here, State Highway 73 (alias the West Coast Road) reaches a height of 920 metres above sea level.
And this isn’t the highest altitude we’ve been at today – having already tooled-up the long, steep Porter’s Pass climb, which tops out at 939m.
Heading west, that climb is gonna ask a few questions of a truck engine and transmission – climbing a close on 10% gradient for almost 3kms to the summit. Now that, my friends is a test!
The vagaries of alpine weather are, of course, an added challenge to the geographic obstacles involved in running this road every day: Today, for instance, Porter’s Pass is bitterly cold when we pass through – a bone-chilling, icy wind leaving us feeling sorry for the road workers replacing a safety fence.
We feel lucky – nice and toasty warm inside our DAF cocoon (or cab). Actually, we’re even luckier than we realise! Later we find out that not long after we go through, the road’s closed for hours….by quite a heavy snowfall.
Luckily for us the snow we get in the 4k from Arthur’s Pass village to the Dobson Monument isn’t enough to force a road closure – just enough to remind you of the transport trials regularly served up around here.
So, this has been the life for this new Euro 6 DAF for over six months – during which time it’s clocked up over 61,000 kilometres….pretty much all of it on this run.
It usually involves leaving home in Greymouth in the early hours, heading 70kms northeast to Reefton to pick up a truck and trailer load of coal, then running south again – cutting through the Arnold Valley and Lake Brunner roads to join SH73 at Jacksons.
Then it’s either through to Christchurch or Timaru (the latter via Darfield and on down to SH1)….reloading with fertiliser or stock feed and heading back to the Coast, where the homebound loads are mostly delivered direct to farms....
We catch up with Liam and his Trans-West Euro 6 DAF CF 530 on a nice fine morning in Darfield, ready for a run over Arthur’s Pass to the West Coast.
After the compulsory stop at Sheffield Pies for breakfast we’re on the road towards the Alps.
Liam’s in the driver’s seat for the first stage and then I take over once we get up onto the flats beyond Porter’s.
It’s an easy entry with three well-spaced steps, each with good width, depth and a grippy treadplate for stable footing. Grabhandles front and rear of the doors complement these great steps and make it nice and safe.
Once inside it’s easy to get comfortable, with a great Comfort Air seat that gives plenty of adjustment, along with great steering adjustment.
Right in front of the steering wheel is the main dash with the usual speedo and tachometer, along with fuel and temperature gauges and, in the middle, the multifunction driver performance assistant (DPA) – an interactive programme to assist the driver to achieve more fuel-efficient driving.
On the steering wheel to the right are the cruise control switches and to the left are the stereo volume and station select and phone controls. Off the steering column are two stalk controls – on the right are the AMT controls and engine brake and on the left are the wipers and indicators.
In the centre of the dash are the usual stereo and aircon controls and various switches such as diff locks, ride height etc.
In general operation there’s really no need for drivers to take their hands off the wheel, as all major functions are operated on or close to the steering column.
As we’re up in the mountains, once we take off I immediately select Power mode for the AMT, by pushing the button on the end of the control stalk....
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