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.