COFFS HARBOUR…The rollover! Does the Dirty 30 survive?

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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

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.

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.

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.

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.

None needed for the most part except for certain campsites requiring you to pay to stay.