We’re back in the High Country and this adventure has it all – tough and scenic 4WDing plus camping that will literally blow your mind!
DIFFICULTY: Very Difficult
MODS NEEDED: Quality mud or all-terrain tyres, sat phone, water, suspension, bulbar, recovery kit, traction aids and winch
ADVENTURE RATING: 4/5
CAMPING RATING: 5/5
FAMILY RATING: 2/5
There’s no doubt about it, this year my most memorable trip has been down to the Victorian High Country. I’ve been to some incredible spots including the Cape, Fraser, Lorella Springs and still, I rate the trip I’ve just done in the High Country as the best adventure I’ve done this year. What’s not to love about the High Country? The tracks are nothing short of amazing, the camping is spectacular and the scenery is second to none.
You might be reading this and think that I’ve sucked up a bit too many diesel fumes over the years, “of course the High Country is spectacular, we all knew that”. Well I’m a little behind the eight-ball when it comes to the High Country and to be honest, I’ve never explored this area, until now. I reckon, like a lot of 4WDers I’ve always been hell-bent on heading north to the tropics. Before I got to experience the High Country, I was under the impression that if you wanted remote places and proper untouched wilderness, you would have a better chance of finding them up north. As it turns out I have been very wrong, the High Country is a huge area that has some of the most remote and untouched wilderness that you’re going to find in this great country of ours. I fell in love so much with the High Country that I decided to stay an extra few days in the High Country, by myself so I could explore this beautiful place a bit more. Solo camping is an amazing experience and something that I’m happy I did after the conclusion of this trip. I could write a story just on those three days, but as you know being solo in the bush for a few days recharges your batteries. I walked a bunch of hills looking for deer (with no luck) and just exploring some of the lesser travelled parts off the beaten track. Having no other human contact for a few days and taking the time to really soak up my surroundings was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in the bush. In fact, I’ve already planned my next trip down that way to do just that again. I can’t wait!
We spent two weeks exploring the tracks and in true 4WD Action style we covered a fair amount of ground in that time, moving camp every night and the crazy part was that we could have literally counted the number of other 4WDs we saw on the tracks on one hand. Many parts of the High Country are extremely remote and untouched. You only need to travel up one of the thousand steep tracks to get a sensational view across dozens of uninhabited valleys and mountains to get an appreciation of just how vast and remote this place is. Our adventure started in a motel car park in Mansfield as we had all the 4WDs covered in mud and filling them with supplies for another week out in the bush. Justin and myself had parts and tools spread across the ground as we changed a CV in his Patrol, while the other fellas were cleaning out vehicles and topping up our food and beer supplies. We had just finished a track that was supposed to take us an afternoon, and ended up taking us four days. We had big ambitions to drive several tracks that would take us right down into the Avon Wilderness Area, but we weren’t holding our breath because if the last trip was anything to go by, we can plan as much as we like but had no idea what curve-balls the High Country might throw at us for this second leg of the adventure. One of the things you quickly learn about the High Country is that you can’t just look at a map and figure out how long it will take to drive to a destination. The kilometres are small, by Aussie standards in between many places but it’s very hard to know just how slow some of these tracks are. You will find that the tracks are very steep and winding, not to mention covered in mud with the odd river crossing thrown in and it can take a lot of time to only cover a few kilometres, and I’m only talking about the main tracks, not the hard ones. The last tough track we did took us four days to travel around 60km, and one of those days was a full day of winching where we only covered 1.6km. We could literally see our old camp from where we ended up after a full day of driving! That’s insane in anybody’s books, but that’s the High Country and one of the reasons why we love this place so much.
So, we had a rough goal to make it down to the Avon Wilderness Area and some tracks that were suggested to us by Alan and Michael from Piranha Offroad. Now before I digress too much from this adventure, I think it’s timely that I thanked Alan and Michael, as they planned a lot of this trip for us and guided us to some very amazing places. These guys just don’t live and breathe the 4WD lifestyle, they are also experts in this kind of terrain and know the area very well. Without the expertise of these top blokes, we wouldn’t have had the same introduction into the High Country.
When you’re planning a trip down to the High Country for the first time, and I know you’re already thinking about a trip down here now that you’ve seen our recent DVDs, make sure you give yourself enough time. Like I was saying before about slow going, due to the difficult terrain, you don’t seem to cover many kilometres even after big stints behind the wheel. Work on an average speed of around 30km/ hour for all the main tracks and you’ll be about right. The High Country is a huge place and even if you had a two-week holiday down here, you’d still only just scrape the surface. When it comes to vehicle preparation, there are two things that I wouldn’t leave home without. Firstly, a winch is a must and secondly, a good chainsaw. You can almost bet your last dollar that you’ll be using the chainsaw as trees over the tracks are extremely common, especially if you venture off the main thoroughfares. Other than that, though, any reliably 4WD will have no dramas in the High Country unless you are there to seek out the toughest tracks. And if it’s tough tracks that you’re after, then you’ll have no problems finding some stuff that will absolutely test you, your 4WD and the size of your kahunas.
There’s only ever been a few times that I’ve actually been whiteknuckled and proper scared behind the wheel of the Dirty 30 and the High Country is one of those. Having driven hard tracks all around the country, I can say that some of the steepest terrain you’ll ever find yourself driving is here in the High Country. The bit that scares the heck out of me is just how long and steep some of these hill climbs are. The fact that I was towing a camper trailer up these hills also adds to the challenge as a lot of the weight is transferred to your rear tyres and you feel yourself scrabbling for traction. If you get it wrong and loose traction and start to slide backwards, there’s no telling where you would end up, but it wouldn’t be pretty!
Some of these climbs are straight up the steepest side of a mountain and you find yourself driving 800m straight up and all you can see is blue sky and the tops of trees the whole way up. My saving grace for many of these hills is that you don’t normally see what you’re in for until you’re committed and half way up. Otherwise, I probably would have chickened out of some of those hills when I was towing the camper. I haven’t seen the footage just yet from this trip, but it’s very hard to gauge from video footage of just how steep these hill climbs are. We found that dropping tyre pressures down to around 22psi and crawling up these hills in 1st gear low range was the best way to tackle this steep country. Going downhill was just as daunting and the same techniques were applied. In the really steep downhill parts we had to feather our brakes so we wouldn’t lock up and slide and tried to rely on engine braking to take us down slowly.
Like I’ve mentioned before the camping opportunities we found in the High Country were nothing short of amazing. Although we had planned to camp a few sites that are all listed on the GPS, we found some of the best ones by sheer fluke as we were behind schedule and just decided to camp as we started to run out of light. Some of these no name campsites would have been hugely popular sites had they been in other states, but because they are in the High Country and there are just so many great campsites, they don’t even have a proper name. One that stands out for me as one of the better campsites was around 20km south of Licola as we popped out of the thick bush into open grassy spaces on the side of a mountain overlooking the Macalister River. Spectacular camping and it doesn’t even get much publicity because you are so spoiled for choice down there. The other thing to keep in mind about our trip down to the High Country is the time of year that we travelled. This trip took place at the end of August into early September and as you know, when many of the famous or iconic parts of the High Country is closed. That of course didn’t even act as a dampener on our trip as there is just so much of this area is open and accessible. To think I was so impressed with what I saw of the High Country and didn’t even experience the more well-known tracks and landmarks like Billy Goats and Blue Rag, just shows you how amazing this place is. So, if you’ve been tossing up whether you will go to the High Country or not, I’ll save you the deliberation and tell you to lock it in for your next adventure. If you can’t already tell, I have a new-found love and appreciation for this part of our country and will be back a heck of a lot more in my own time. Because like I mentioned before, I reckon I’ve only just scraped the surface of the High Country and I’m busting to do a lot more exploring.
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Rollover protection on a 4WD is akin to paying for a monthly insurance policy – it really doesn’t do much, you hope you never have to use it but while it stings the back pocket you figure it’s just gotta be done. Then the day comes that you’re upside down thanking the gods for pipe benders, welders and the strength of steel tube. The insurance policy just paid itself off!
We’d been in Coffs for roughly a week or so filming the first of two DVDs in the hills above town. I was riding shotgun with whoever got hung up long enough to let me jump in. With Shorty literally weeks from completion I was silently thankful it had taken longer than planned – this was no place to blood a brand new fourby! It had been a tough few days tackling some pretty gnarly tracks and while we’d had our share of “moments” everyone had got through unscathed. We were all pretty pumped – bring on part two.
Then Brenno went and opened his gob after a couple of beers at the local in-between filming. Actually I think Brenno genuinely had a hankering for extreme, he’s not exactly like the rest of us in the head. Regardless, he made the call to our two local guides, Rohan and Grant to ramp things up for the next week – Brenno wanted carnage and Grant was only too happy to oblige.
None of us figured things would turn out the way they did.
Following the usual day one shenanigans of fuelling up, mounting GoPro cameras in the trucks and allowing Brenno to go buy some new shorts (my friend, that’s a time and place none who were there that morning will ever forget) we finally managed to get underway with Grant and Rohan leading the procession. No track is that far in Coffs and the base of Commando was literally a five minute blacktop commute from the CBD. We were literally direct from breakfast and into one of the toughest tracks I’d ever seen. Yep, that’s Coffs.
Now from the outset, let it be said; Commando is a donkey of a hill. It can be broken into two distinct parts; the base climb with ruts and huge rock steps is probably the hardest but it’s the shortest section, then the second half which is steep, rutted and slippery that seems to keep climbing forever into the canopy. It’s just one hell of a hill.
Watching Grant then Rohan confidently and easily climb the first stage had me truly lulled into a false sense of security – it just didn’t look that bad. That said, I’ve been doing this long enough to know better. Watch Kelly Slater at Pipeline and you would probably think much the same – that doesn’t look that bad, easy in fact. Then you paddle out and get your butt handed to you and nearly drown in the process. Yeah, Commando was the 4WD equivalent.
Having attempted and been defeated by this track once before, coupled with stories from others that had filtered through to Shauno in the days leading up to the trip, it was with good reason that he had more than a few butterflies while waiting at the base. That’s a crap feeling and I’ve found the best thing is just get into it – sit around and think about something too long and you psych yourself out of it, just have a crack.
I honestly thought he had it and for want of just maybe two or three metres more, he would have. Right at the pinch of that last rock step, with the front just hovering over the lip, the big 30 started pig rooting and in doing so he lost ground and momentum, started to pivot to the right and then dropped over when the old girl rolled backwards by only a precious half a trucks worth. This all happened in a split second.
Thank goodness for the bank on the right, without that the 30 would certainly have gone over again. We hope it won’t happen but the fact is, play out on these style of tracks and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
Of course, the recovery and subsequent engine management was shown on DVD in a matter of several minutes, the reality however was a lot different. We spent the majority of that day getting Shauno back on his wheels with engine running right then tackling the remainder of the hill. It was late arvo by the time we reached the lookout and with a massive tropical front about to smash us that was that. Heck of a way to start day one hey?
Back in town and under cover (when it rains in Coffs it really damn well rains) we had a safety look at the 30 to make sure all was OK. Amazingly, the only damage to result was a small, cricket ball sized dent in the front right quarter; heck you could get a bigger ding in a car park. The new canopy design plus the front scrub bars had taken the full weight of the rig and dealt with it perfectly – there’s that insurance policy paying off.
No rest for the wicked, up at sparrows and back into it for day two. The call had actually been made the night before by Grant and our producer Pete to pick his son Danger up and bring him along – something the little weapon was totally unaware of so that look of utter stoke on his face was 100% legit. Yeah he ended up missing a few days of school but let’s be honest, reckon he would have got as much out of the same time in a class room; nah, no bloody way. There is a heck of a lot more to education than a classroom can give. I was just amped to no longer be the shortest member of the team!
We wanted to visit a couple of swimming holes today, something I was dead keen on as I’ve now had a good look at a few different rainforest waterholes in the hills above Coffs (mostly from when I was doing camper trailer DVDs for our sister mag) and given my enjoyment for all things saltwater and ocean related – these crystal clear streams are still a real novelty for me. Of course we could have taken the standard gravel access tracks out there but where’s the fun in that? Nope Rohan had other plans.
I once spent a month or six weeks living out of a backpack while doing some research work for the Queensland museum, studying a whole bunch of rainforest related critters. I had me a heck of an experience but I left knowing that rainforests just aint for me. Damp, dark and claustrophobic bits of real estate I reckon. No denying though, they make for epic off roading. Rain plus clay soil plus the Great Dividing Range equals tracks that go directly up or down and are never dry.
Whilst I wouldn’t want to live in those hills, I’ll drive in them all day long.
Now I’ve no idea just what that little waterhole is called we visited but I’ve been there now a handful of times and only ever seen locals out there once, maybe twice. I think I’ve figured out why too; cos locals are smart and that water is the kind of cold that makes male penguins turn female. Yeah it’s pretty, it makes for great images but sweet fancy Moses, that water has never seen sunlight and trust me, certain parts of your anatomy wont either for some time after.
I’m not a huge fan of bananas – I maybe eat half a dozen in a good year. Coffs is not a town that you admit to taking or leaving bananas – it’s a local delicacy. Children are brought up on dried bananas, old folk mush them up and eat them when their teeth have fallen out, teenagers distil them and drink the frothy juice and the local men smear themselves in banana pulp to attract the ladies in night clubs. In Coffs you either love bananas or you leave town. I just nodded and smiled as we were given enough stinking yellow fruit to fill an F-250. Then I was made to eat my yearly total in one go on camera. That’s it for me and bananas for a while now, OK?
Despite the almost limitless 4WDing potential in the hills above Coffs, there are actually very few quality campsites. Pretty weird arrangement but I think it’s the result of a few factors; the town is so close there’s no need to stay out, most of the area is surrounded by private property and then the rainforest doesn’t make for the greatest campsites, coupled with the ultra-steep terrain. Often though, it’s not what you know but who. Grant made a quick call to an old mate and we had access to a top notch private campsite perched on a hill overlooking the town and further out past the boat ramp to sea. To be honest, I have only camped in a handful of better sites around the country. Pretty darn special it was. Even Shauno’s deep fried yellow mushy fruit in custard was tolerable up there – just…
If I thought the sunset from up on that hill camp was special, I’d forgotten that the sun rises out of the ocean on this side of the country – talk about sensational. Laying under canvas watching the sky come alive with color over the Pacific Ocean from a private campsite on a hill above Coffs on a work day – just had to pinch myself that morning. Probably should have grabbed a camera but sometimes you just gotta soak it all in… and it was warm in my swag.
Our plan for the final day didn’t involve much by way of distance but Grant and Rohan had a fair bit to show us. Once again it was back into the rainforest canopy where the dark things live and all of the country’s mud comes from (yeah if you can’t tell yet, I file rainforests in the same category as bananas). Over a beer the evening before, I’d been talking all things off-road with Rohan and asked how he goes in the enclosed, overgrown tracks with that soft top G60. The answer was as simple as me; the rainforest just comes in, the rainforest and all that lives in it; bugs, snakes, spiders, leeches, they’ve all dropped in on Rohan at one time or another. I just had to have a go at this!
From just that short period in the passenger seat I was hooked, soft top is the way to go. OK, not all the time and not for all occasions but heck, the feeling of smashing through tracks with no roof or windscreen was infectious – I now want an old G60 of my own. In all seriousness, if you’ve got something in a back paddock or in the shed you don’t want, I will give it a home. Buzz me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look, if you do ever visit Coffs chasing the tough stuff (and no reason why you shouldn’t, the place is crazy) I urge you to seek out some local knowledge and spend a day out and around “the Promised Land”. Follow your nose out there, so many secret campsites, water holes and untouched country. This is true postcard style scenery. I for one was blown away, totally impressed and could have easily spent more time poking about down there. Just be warned, when you thought water couldn’t get any colder and not be ice, there is that place. Tasmanians will be right at home.
It was down an overgrown track way out the back of the Promised Land that we filmed our closer on a stretch of river pulled directly from a Hollywood movie set, so perfect was it. That is a side to Coffs that I’d very much like to head back to someday in my own time, just a photo camera and perhaps a dog – I think you get me hey? For us though, we could well and truly call it job done.
Till next time Coffs, thanks for another memorable trip, one none of us will soon forget. Oh and I was only joking about the bananas (OK, no I wasn’t, you can keep ‘em… blueberries however…) Catch ya next time!
Coffs Harbour is just over 500 clicks north of Sydney, right on the coast. From town the tracks we explored are all within a very short radius. Head out towards Mt Coramba (passed the Big Banana) then follow your nose.
Despite the acreage in the hills behind Coffs, campsites are somewhat limited. The pick would have to be Pebbly Beach to the north out on the coast, from there you must head west and inland to campsites like Platypus Flat, the Junction or the Cod Hole which still place you in great and quick access to all the tracks, all within 50km of town.
WHAT TO TAKE
It really depends on why you are in Coffs as to what to take but let’s assume you are here for the tracks. If that’s the case, bring a quality mapping solution as it’s easy to get lost out there. Back that up with UHF comms and mobile phones (plus chargers). Be sure to pack every bit of recovery gear you own as well – chances are you will need it all.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
Summer storms are very common, dumping huge volumes of rain, usually of an afternoon. This will change track conditions radically, something you need to be aware of and prepared for. Conditions are more stable the remainder of the year, not to mention far less humid.
FUEL AND SUPPLIES
The Coffs CBD has everything you need from a supplies and fuel perspective and you should rarely find yourself more than 50km’s out so fuel range won’t be an issue.
Trips are rated A though E, with A meaning only suitable to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modifications and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles… Without doubt Coffs is a solid A or perhaps B – mostly A though, make no mistake, it’s gnarly.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS
None needed for the most part except for certain campsites requiring you to pay to stay.
I’ve been camping for as long as I can remember (not continuously, I do go home occasionally). It’s what we did as kids growing up in the country, we went bush – fishing, surfing, hiking, hunting and as a result, would more often than not have to stay out overnight – camping. During the years since, I’ve camped for leisure, work and necessity all over the globe and in all manner of styles. Here are the locations I’ve loved.
I actually like camping in snow if done right. In Australia it’s a rare novelty and one to be savoured. Its big fires using weathered and hardened wood that burns a treat, beanies and jackets and a winter wonderland as your surrounds. Done wrong though and you will suffer through wet boots, freezing nights and frost bitten fingers. It’s also a challenging environment for 2am toilet runs…
I’ve camped above 5000m and while it’s not for everyone and took some getting used to, I loved it. The nagging elevation headaches can be managed and the weird quirks of life up high are just part of the experience (you can’t have hot coffee because water boils below 100 degrees). The air is pure and the views are to die for. The night sky is second to none and sand flies can’t do elevation!
I grew up on southern beaches. They are wild places of rocky outcrops, monstrous oceans, tall timber and few people. You can drive for hours and not see a soul, camp within dune systems that have never had footprints and fish and surf the pristine southern waters all year round. This is where I call home and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
As odd as it may seem, I am of the opinion that Australian deserts offer the single best camping experience you can have. Firstly the landscape is otherworldly and compelling in its own right. Then add endless horizons and massive skies plus spacious sites that allow for sprawling camps. An abundance of dry, hard and seasoned wood makes for the best campfires you can have, around which sitting under a million star night just can’t be beaten. I’ll take an outback desert campsite any night.
How about you? What’s your favourite location in which to unroll canvas, rub a few sticks together and enjoy life outdoors?
Is it just me or is there a definite discrepancy in the way in which vehicle mods and attitudes towards 4WDs are shown dependent on location? Of course I know laws change across state lines but within a single state, you’d think things would stay fairly static right? I mean an illegal modification is illegal regardless of whether you are in the city or driving the Nullarbor…right?
…perhaps there is one or two things I get away with that maybe the very same rig up in the city might not.
See I don’t even know if I should be opening this rusted old can of worms because I have to be 100% honest here and say that for the most part this choice of attitude tends to be in my favour most of the time. No, I’m not for a second saying I’ve got a truck full of illegal mods but yeah, perhaps there is one or two things I get away with that maybe the very same rig up in the city might not. More on that later.
See I’ve done a fair bit of work and play in the central and northern extremes of WA, where 4WDs rule the show for both earning a crust and living the dream. I’ve noticed that without exception, there is a definite difference in what a 4WD can get away with in the Kimberley Vs Perth. A solid case in point is that of bullbars. See in the city, even my fully legal three poster on my GU ute gets its share of attention from the lads in blue at random breath tests and the like (despite it being 100% legit) however head north into Kimberley country where the very same laws exist and you will see five poster bullbars on utes and 4WDs on every corner (five poster bullbars are illegal in WA). Now you can’t tell me that these trucks are getting booked and yellow stickered regularly. They just aren’t – nope it’s local authorities choosing to look the other way because of location and circumstance.
Likewise spend a bit of time in any outback mining community and get a good look at some of the elaborate mods made to ute trays and roof racks. Every second 4WD has some form of backyard tube bent and welded structure with poles and wood and tools hanging off it. Can’t be legal. Yet just the other day I was driving back south outside the Perth airport and got pulled up and fined a $100 for having a fishing rod holder on my bullbar. You’re kidding me right?
Now as I was saying up top, I probably shouldn’t be too vocal on this given other than the minor run in with my fishing rod holder, I get away with more than I get caught with. I live in a very rural part of the south west and to say life is relaxed is an understatement. More than once I’ve driven home from down the coast with four beach rods hanging off the front and pulled into town for fuel! Can’t do that in the city (it’s been proven to me and my bank balance). Likewise I had a rear brake light out and I got chatting to the local cop while putting wetsuits on to go for a surf and he just mentioned it. “Your rear right brake light is stuffed mate – struth surfs pumping, catch you out there…”
Yep, dependent on where you live and to an extent what you do for a living, there are laws for all of us but only some of us need to follow them. Here’s my take on this; I bloody love it! See it’s all about common sense (not very common these days). Laws are there to protect the lowest common denominator (often from themselves) but in some (I’m not saying all) instances there certainly is wiggle room based on good old fashioned common sense. I for one am damn glad I live in the country and I’m also really damn glad my local police officers all surf, fish and drive 4WDs.
Now, reckon I could get away with a five poster on the GU… nah might be pushing my luck there hey!
What do you think about the vast difference in enforcement of 4WD laws in different areas? Is this okay or is it creating double standards for people in different areas? Shoot us an email to email@example.com
Like just about every red-blooded Aussie, I absolutely love this time of year. What’s not to love? For me this time of year signals beach driving and coastal camping and it’s something I look forward to each year. As much as I love letting the tyres down and getting sand in between my lugs, I can tell my 4WD cringes every time it goes to the beach. Of course salt usually means rust, especially when your 4WD is involved. Believe it or not, some people I’ve met wouldn’t ever dream of putting their pride and joy on the beach just because they fear rust so much. If you ask me, you are sacrificing some of the best 4WDing and camping you can possibly do by ruling out sand driving.
However, take the right precautions before and after you drive on the beach and you can have your off-road cake and eat it too!
…you are sacrificing some of the best 4WDing and camping you can possibly do by ruling out sand driving
Many people preach about spraying the underside of their vehicle with products like WD40, Lanolin or even fish oil. While the theory is right it does cause just about everything to stick to the underside of your vehicle, including the sand and salt. For me I like to simply take the time to wash the vehicle properly and make sure I’ve got all the salt off. Some people swear by electronic rust protection devices, but I’ve never had the chance to test one, so I’d rather not comment or advise either way.
As soon as I get off the beach I get to work on washing it off and getting rid of all the salt. This can be a very time consuming process, but is well worth it in the long run. Many people are happy enough to run their 4WDs over one of the dedicated wash stations at some of the popular spots like Inskip point when you drive off Fraser, and while these wash stations are good my opinion is that a quick run through there will not suffice.
It’s pretty common knowledge that using a garden sprinkler under the 4WD works well to rid the sand and salt, and I couldn’t agree more. But first get a hose into your chassis rails and spend a good five minutes for each rail washing it out. You’ll be shocked at how much sand gets stored in there. I really recommend you then put the 4WD on the front lawn when you get home and get a garden sprinkler working underneath and spend at least 15 minutes concentrated in each part of your vehicle. After 15 minutes move the sprinkler to concentrate on another area, spending around 45 minutes in total washing the under carriage. Then you can go to work on washing the rest of the vehicle. It seems excessive, but these are the lengths you need to go to if you want to be confident that your pride and joy isn’t going to turn into a rust bucket!
Tired of forking out your hard earned to keep your old bus on the road? Well selling and buying something newer might cost you more.
Some new 4WDs are the duck’s nuts, but don’t think they will be cheaper to run than your old faithful, it’s a false economy if you think otherwise.
The old versus new 4WD debate is something that I’m very passionate about. Many people often ask me for advice in what they do with their old 4WD and whether or not they should sell it and buy something a bit newer. It’s usually the time when the starter motor goes on the blink just after they’ve forked out a stack on new injectors, fixed that leaking swivel hub and replaced the uni joints. They are starting to get fed up spending the coin to keep their old ‘trusty’ on the road. It’s a tough question to answer, but I suppose when you buy an old 4WD get ready for a bunch of maintenance to keep it on the road. But don’t think for a second that buying a newer model 4WD will stop you from breakdowns and constantly fixing issues. Once we start driving tough terrains that are hard on 4WDs, like mud, water and corrugations, we can expect even the newest of 4WDs to have issues.
Most of you know that I own one very old 4WD, a highly modified 1988 Toyota 60 Series that’s racked up about half a million kilometres or more and a 2014 model Toyota Landcruiser 79 Series. I’ve driven both vehicles hard off road in remote areas around the country, I’ve broken and fixed things on both numerous times. After owning the 79 Series for 20,000km and putting it through its first bit of tough mud driving, the alternator packed it in 2 weeks later. I suppose it doesn’t matter what 4WD you own, if you put it through its paces in the toughest 4WD testing ground in the world, Australia, you can expect issues to pop up.
After owning the 79 Series for 20,000km and putting it through its first bit of tough mud driving, the alternator packed it in 2 weeks later.
While I didn’t get around to putting a sealed alternator in the 79 (and yes you can apparently get them) I was short of time before a big trip and opted for another factory. Chances are that will pack it in if the 79 goes through a bunch of mud again. The good news about breaking something is that us 4WDers usually rebuild it bigger and better than before, so we end up with an over engineered 4WD that is suitable for our tough Aussie conditions. I was tired of breaking CVs in the 60 Series and made the call to put strengthened CVs and axles in the front end. While I have stopped breaking things, there will be no stopping the amount of maintenance I will need to practice to keep the Dirty 30 on the road because of the conditions I drive. The same goes with modern 4WDs. The kicker with modern 4WDs is, that unless you do most of the work yourself, you can expect to pay somebody more to fix modern vehicles. They’re usually more complicated and take longer to spin spanners around due to poor access and expensive replacement parts.
People are often under the false belief that buying a newer vehicle will mean less servicing and effort to keep it on the road. Take rocket Rod’s 79 Series for example, after every 4WD Action trip that vehicle is stripped down to its axles and all seals and bearings are inspected and new grease is added. More times than not, the bearings need replacing because of water and mud ingress. Those service intervals (around 5,000km) is a far cry from the Toyota’s Service guide for changing the bearings in the vehicle.
So I suppose if you’re sick and tired of fixing and maintaining your 4WD and think your old one is costing you the earth, a new 4WD might not solve all your problems. As tough as a 4WD might seem to be, they don’t cope with being subject to the toughest off road conditions in the world without regular service, new or old.
When I sold the 80 and jumped into the Nav, I thought I was pretty happy with something modern and reliable for a change. Not that 80s aren’t reliable in general, just that my old 80 was at the tail end of its life, much more suited to leisurely runs up the local state forests than crossing the country back and forth like I wanted. So I bought the Nav, did it up and started punching out the kays.
As I write this I’ve done just on 25,000km in about five months and it hasn’t ever let me down, it’s started every morning and ran til I turned it off. Can’t really complain about that. But there was something missing. The Nav was economical, reliable, surprisingly capable for a little touring ute and comfortable to drive, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that makes you grin ear to ear when you’re behind the wheel. Regular readers will know my mate Joel. He lives an hour down the coast and most weekends we’re out bush camping and letting the dogs run around. We’d both been talking about the desire to build something older, something cool and get back to the basics of 4WDing. We also had a little side project coming up that we needed a tough old hero truck for, and after a lot of campfire sessions, decided that we were gonna go halves in an old Cruiser ute and build it in the shed over the course of a couple of months for a bit of fun.
When it was my turn to drive I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
Geez it’s tricky finding a good old 40 if you don’t have a million bucks to spend. You’d be amazed how many times ‘light surface rust’ turns into full-blown holes in panels. Not sure you can call it surface rust if there’s no surface left eh? We spoke to dozens of blokes, and in the end narrowed it down to three, all around Brissy. We barrelled up one night after work, rolled out the swags behind a backpacker-type pub and showed ‘em how Aussie blokes have a drink or seven, then spent the next day cripplingly hung-over looking at utes. The first was a bitsa, a tough old girl but a bit rougher than we wanted. The second one though… Wow. That’s all I could say. A genuine old rig that’d be in the same family since new. The original owner’s great nephew was the one selling it, and it had just had an A-grade rust repair and paint job. Completely original throughout, even had the original sales docket from 1984 that showed it as a genuine HJ47, one of the very last ones built.
We did a deal and made it ours, picked up an unreg vehicle permit and started punting home. When it was my turn to drive I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. This was it, this was what was missing! The old ute was an absolute ripper of a thing, torquey as hell – it’d pull fourth gear from 40km/h out of the roadworks, from 700rpm as smooth as you’d like. Basic, with mechanical connections between the driver and the steering, brakes and injector pump. I was almost disappointed to get back into the Nav. Stay tuned as we build this up in the shed over the coming months.
I’d love to hear about your old 40s you’ve got or had over the years. Email me via firstname.lastname@example.org eh?
I can’t remember a track that had so many conflicting opinions surrounding it. I’d never driven the Old Coach Road so could only go off the say of others which was where the problems started. One group suggested it was nothing more than a slow and boring slog along a bumpy road with little to nothing to offer. Other opinions suggested it was perhaps the best track in the Cape and yet another whisper on the 4WD grape vine told of a truck that had rolled just a few days earlier. I was at a loss as to what to believe but I sure was interested.
Then, just a couple of weeks prior to leaving for the Cape, we received a call from none other than Brenno. On a hot lap of the island, sucking the guts out of life and doing his bit to keep the Australian beer industry afloat, he’d just finished the Old Coach Road and for the first time I had an opinion I could count on.
Gnarly sections of track, epic views, relics of mining history, spectacular camping – Brenno rated the drive from Maytown to Laura as one of the best he had ever done; anywhere. Mate I gotta tell ya, I finished that call and couldn’t get the D-MAX fueled up quick enough; you had me frothing like a dog that’s just drunk dishwashing liquid. Bring on the Old Coach Road!
Then I caught the man-flu and nearly died.
I kid you not; a bloke can’t get sicker and still walk. Of course if you’re female and reading this you simply won’t understand; the man-flu is about as sick as a human can get – you ladies are damn lucky you can’t catch it. I don’t want your sympathy but I felt like I was burning up whilst freezing to death and coughing up creatures that are as yet unknown to science – it wasn’t a pretty sight.
However the show must go on and even though nobody would go near me and I was under strict instructions to sit on the downwind side of the fire at night, we saddled up and turned off the highway onto the dusty stretch of road that leads towards the Palmer River. Now the sandy banks of the Palmer is no secret location, it plays home to countless caravans and campers throughout the dry season and with good reason as it’s truly a magic bit of real estate, so I was surprised to see only one camper in the whole area. We stopped to grab a bite of lunch (and for me to cough and sneeze myself dizzy) before heading on. Sometimes it kills me to just get a taste for a location but not have the time to stop and stay a while and really get to enjoy it and the Palmer River was one such time and place. I’ll add it to my very long list of places I must one day return minus a film crew!
I’ve visited many an old mining town, mostly just a few ruins, bricks, broken bottles and rusted lumps of metal are all that remain, so it’s so very hard to picture the thriving communities that once stood. Maytown is no different; very little remains today, yet it was once a thriving hub of activity. It blows my mind to think that it can all just vanish and exist only in books. Looking through at what does remain and remembering that everything was hand built and carted in via the most primitive of means really suggests a different time. Now we use our phone to call a cab which takes us to the pub; when Maytown was going nuts you packed your belongings in a wheel barrow (if you were lucky) and walked. Like I said, a different time.
Despite being little more than ruins and dust, I recon old mate Shauno wishes he had of stayed there and thrown out his swag on the main street. The poor bloke didn’t exactly have the best of luck on this particular trip. Seeing the Dirty 30 retreat on the back of Justin’s tilt-tray truck was a kick in the guts, especially when we hadn’t even really started the journey yet. However, he and I are on the road most of the year and push our gear to the limits on all occasions. It can’t always go well and breakages are expected. Oh and he drives a Toyota!
All jokes aside, seeing that trusty old truck get carted off really got me to thinking about a few things surrounding the Old Coach Road. See it’s not what you’d call one of the more popular tracks up the Cape and I know why; it doesn’t get the publicity other tracks get. There must be a million articles, web clips, blogs and images of the OTL but rarely to never do you hear about the Old Coach Road. As such, people being creatures of habit, simply head for locations they’ve been told about rather than exploring for themselves. Those that do poke their noses across the Palmer however, are richly rewarded. It’s a tough track demanding skill and preparation. For sure, it’s one of the better tracks up the Cape; top five in my books (and the OTL isn’t on that list!).
Shauno broke not one, but two 4WDs on this track
The next thought to occupy my mind as I watched the back of the Dirty 30 evaporate into dust, was just how the hell did “the old coach” make this journey? I came to two conclusions; the first of which was one of maintenance. Of course the track hasn’t been looked after for a long time, coupled with a number of Cape seasons and it’s bound to end up in the condition it’s in today. In short, it wasn’t always the rutted mess it is today. That said though, given the carts and coaches that crawled its length, it wouldn’t have been a picnic. Which led me to conclusion two; it was a different time inhabited by different people. Distance and travel were measured in ways we have long forgotten (it’s nothing for us to smash out a thousand clicks on corrugated roads today and think nothing of it) and bush living is a concept even those of us who spend a lot of time out there can’t fathom. Add all this together and it began to make sense; the Old Coach Road has always been a tough place filled with tough characters. It’s still handing out lessons and I had to tip my hat in respect.
Then the camera 80 threw a shoe and I swore at the bloody track and all who had built the darn thing!
Over the years of filming we’ve had our share of things go wrong and for the most part it happens exactly where it hurts most. I mean not once, not bloody once have we busted a kingpin bearing in the car park of Maccas or smashed a CV driving into the local pub; nope it always happens on the side of a rutted hill in the middle of nowhere. So when I saw the 80 lurch sideways and that passenger wheel wobble like a loose tooth, I just nodded my head and thought to myself; well played Old Coach Road, well played.
Now my immediate thought was that limb is out of action and we need to make a wooden leg. I’ve never done it but I’ve seen it done; cut a sturdy tree and create a “sled” using ratchet straps and gumption. The lads acknowledged my concept and put it on the plan B pile as they figured they could get the one remaining bolt in place and with the same ratchet straps and gumption might just get the wheel back in the game. Several hours of swearing and bush mechanics later, the 80 rolled into camp like a new one (actually it was nothing like a new one but it was moving forward and for that we were all grateful).
By midmorning the next day we‘d covered about the same distance as the original coach would have but with one saving grace; all four wheels on the 80 were pointing in the same direction. Shaun was under strict instructions to go slow and not to break anything else. The rest of us were not going to miss out on the best bit of the Old Coach Road.
It’s one of my top five tracks in the Cape
The detour up towards the site of the old Folders Hotel is without doubt the toughest part of the track and also the most worthwhile. Just to experience driving those cut out rock gulleys is worth the whole trip alone. I once again was boggled as to what would have been a thriving community out there. I mean Maytown and the Palmer region alone was home to over 20,000 people including over 10 hotels, bakers and butchers, surgeons and chemists; it was a proper thriving community. And it all came in via horse and cart, Cobb and co-coaches and for many, just a wheel barrow or a simple backpack. Just out of this world, literally.
I cannot recommend that detour enough should you decide the Old Coach Road is for you; missing it is to miss the essence of the whole track (just don’t tell Shauno that). Speaking of old mate, he’d been within ear shot of our UHF banter for all of the detour as he sat in first gear low range and crawled painfully slowly towards Laura. Too say he didn’t look impressed when we all met back up down the track were an understatement.
I began the Old Coach Road full of expectation and excitement and wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. We saw one other group the whole way, camped in some amazing locations, saw views you rarely get up the Cape and busted a few 4WDs along the way. I now rate the Old Coach Road as an absolute must see on any Cape journey but heck, don’t take my word for it, go judge for yourself. Don’t take it lightly though, it’s been breaking old coaches and Toyotas for years now…
WORDS BY GRAHAM CAHILL, PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVE WOLTSCHENKO
If the sound of this LS swapped and coiled FJ45 Troopy doesn’t get you going then you might need to check for a pulse…
Don’t miss Billy McKinnon and his barn find Cruiser in episode 7 of Born This Way Offroaders presented by Nulon – it’s an absolute cracker!
The laws that define what modifications we fit to our vehicles can often be difficult to interpret and differ depending on what state you live in. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time driving my vehicles between all the states and territories each year and I find it ridiculous that modification laws differ in each state. Last time I checked, we are all part of the same country and have open roads between all of the states and territories. We need one set of modification laws for the country.
I believe that you should be able to engineer any tyre size you want if you can prove that your vehicle is safe on road.
I must state very clearly from the start, that I certainly believe there needs to be strict modification laws in order to make our roads safe and get dangerous vehicles off the road. However, I believe that you should be able to modify a vehicle to your requirements so long as it is deemed safe for the road and signed off by a qualified engineer. Sure, this will require you to no doubt pay a stack of money and put your vehicle through a series of tests and stringent inspections, but if you are willing to go to this effort you should be able to submit any modifications within reason for engineering. Take tyre size for example; QLD and WA have some of the strictest laws in place. I believe that you should be able to engineer any tyre size you want if you can prove that your vehicle is safe on road. This would mean you would have to go through a swerve test and brake test as a minimum and have an independent engineer signoff on all of your modifications. So, if you want to run 37s (not that I do) you should be able to run them as long as you can prove that your vehicle is safe on the road with them.
Shauno’s 79 series is heavily modified and has been engineered, but is that enough for every state and territory?
In my limited knowledge, QLD and WA seem to be the nanny states when it comes to modification laws and in particular tyre size, yet these same states seem to have some of the slackest rules when it comes to making sure that all road vehicles are safe. Except when buying or selling a vehicle, you don’t need to get your vehicle inspected for safety. What you get then is a bunch of cars on the road with bald tyres, buggered brakes that don’t steer well or stop and rust holes so big you could put your hand through them, driving on our roads. These are not safe vehicles yet too many people get away with driving these clapped out vehicles yet the transport departments only seem to target lifted 4WDs and lowered vehicles.
What is ironic (or plain stupid) is that many of these vehicles have expensive modifications that probably make them handle better lifted or lowered than they did when they were new. It’s a double standard and an unfair system. I think it’s about time that we made the modification laws the same across all of the country and allowed people to modify their vehicles as much as they want, so long as it can be proved safe by an engineer.