WORDS BY SHAUN WHALE, PHOTOGRAPHY BY WES WHITWORTH
The last time I went 4WDing in Coffs Harbour it turned out to be one of the toughest single trips I’ve ever done in the Dirty 30. It was so hard in fact that I put the 30 on its side on a track called Commando, got it back on four wheels and drove a bunch of other challenging tracks. That time Coffs beat me, but I was determined to come back to Coffs Harbour, an old nemesis of mine and take a different approach.
By different approach, I don’t mean choosing a better line up Commando, I mean seeing a different side of this beautiful place because while Coffs has some of the toughest tracks in Australia, it also has some of the most scenic touring as well.
While we are on the topic of the Commando Track, I will be having another go in the Dirty 30, but that will be a different story for another time. On this trip the 30 was out of action up in North Queensland at Justin from NQ Crash’s workshop getting the engine rebuilt ready for a big trip up the Top End that will happen later in the year.
So with that vehicle out of action, I had no choice but to take the 79 Series. A pretty bloody good second option if you ask me. But try telling your better half you’re taking your shiny 79 Series Cruiser to Coffs Harbour. “But didn’t you roll a 4WD last time you went 4WDing in Coffs?”, “Well, yes dear but this trip will be different because we’re just checking out awesome campsites and there will be no silly driving…” She rolled her eyes like she does when I do or say something stupid. But, she bought it! I’m taking the big 79 Series on DVD.
Then it got me thinking, “alright, I better be sensible on this trip and take it easy, it is Coffs Harbour after all”, “what if I rev it too hard and the V8 rumble causes a landslide?” I played out all sorts of scenarios out in my head right up to first day of the trip, I was very excited to be taking the 79 on another DVD trip.
On this trip we had Graham in the D-MAX. When you think about just how many kilometres he’s put on that ute in the last 12 months from the Top End of Australia right down to some of the most southern tracks in Tasmania you can’t help but think that is one of the most used D-MAX utes in the country.
Nick from Black Series Camper Trailers was also on the trip with the Alpha Camper Trailer, one of the more affordable campers in the range, but it still had all of the mod cons you would expect to find at home from a well-appointed kitchen right through to queen sized bed with moon roof. That’s luxury in the bush, but unfortunately for Nick he also brought a swag, because we had also invited a young family to come along on this trip and try camping out of a camper trailer and be on the 4WD Action DVD.
Lee and Claire Dawson plus their two adorable tin lids, Kayla and Tegan met us in Coffs Harbour with their HiLux ready for a big week out on the tracks. Being from down south they were a stone’s throw away from the High Country and they had never done any real 4WDing in northern NSW before and Lee was also very excited to drive on a beach for the first time. These guys were just about the nicest people you could hope to meet, I just hoped they could handle a week of average cooking and below average jokes.
We hit a series of tracks out behind Coffs Harbour with one of the most fun being the Lioness Loop which runs off Plum Pudding Road. It’s amazing how many good tracks there are out behind Coffs, I would have been to the place 4WDing no less than a dozen or more times and I still feel like I’ve only still just scratched the surface. I’m not sure if the epic-ness will come across on DVD, because you start off driving through a track that feels like it hardly gets any 4WD traffic and is slightly overgrown.
Up to your left is a massive rock escarpment that looks like a scene from the Top End. Unknown at the time, but you have to wind your way on top of that escarpment through a series of little ruts and rock steps. One of those little ruts caught me out a little and I found out that the 79 with 1.5 ton over the rear axle doesn’t exactly like to drive off cambered ruts and it popped a huge wheel lift and I made the whole challenge look way harder than it needed to be.
As we finished the track we headed to Dick’s Knob (that’s the real name) where we would camp the first night and the Dawson Family would get to try out the Black Series Camper. Despite having a funny name, this little campsite was nothing more than a little turning circle at the end of the track but it had views right over the valley and mountains facing west. It was here that we chucked a couple of roasts on the coals and Kayla and Tegan showed Graham and myself just how fast they could cook a marshmallow in the fire.
After driving a few more tracks, we found ourselves back on the freeway heading north towards Yuraygir National Park were we would camp. Now usually on a 4WD Action DVD trip we would never get to camp in the mid-afternoon. Nope, we usually pull into camp after dark and leave again early the next morning, but one of the good things about Pebbly Beach where we intended to camp, was the fact that you can’t really choose when you come and go because there is a tidal creek you must cross before you head into camp.
I reckon that little creek is half the appeal of Pebbly because it limits who comes and goes and you know once that tide starts racing in you’re not going to see another soul for about 10 hours.
So obviously, the trick with camping at Pebbly Beach is to pick your tides carefully. When looking at the tides make sure you look at Station Creek Beach tide times and remember that the creek will be an hour or so behind the beach when you’re trying to work out the best time to cross. Now you can cross that little creek about an hour and a half either side of dead low tide and you will only have water up to the hubs of your 4WD as a maximum.
The trick is to drive east (towards the ocean) when you get to the crossing as the shallowest part is around 70m up the creek. It’s always best to walk the creek first so you know exactly where to cross. Even though I must have camped at Pebbly around 10 times or more, I still get out of the 4WD each time and walk it because you never know with a tidal creek as sometimes the channel will move due to big tides and storms. Because it is salt water, I knock the vehicle into low range first gear and drive through the salt as slowly as possible so I avoid flicking up as much salt water as possible.
Speaking with Rob, the ranger and caretaker of Pebbly Beach he’s up to 120 odd vehicles on the tally who have drowned in that creek crossing since he’s been there. That’s an awful lot of destroyed 4WDs, when just a little bit of precaution and awareness would do the trick.
Many people who have come unstuck here have not even bothered to see what the tide is doing let alone walk the crossing first. They just plunge straight into the deepest part, flood their 4WD and sit on the bank scratching their head wondering why they have mullet swimming around inside their vehicle.
Most of them don’t even have a snorkel fitted and are complete write-offs after they are recovered out of there. Oh yeah, and a gut full of saltwater doesn’t do any 4WD any good. When you look at the pictures of this crossing and watch the DVD you will think that I’m exaggerating, but it’s amazing the difference getting the tides right and driving through the shallowest part can do.
So getting into camp at mid-afternoon meant that our next low tide was around two in the morning, or else we would have to wait until after lunch the next day. Being on a tight filming schedule, Bushman Boyley, our producer, was looking for a bit of support when he raised the ideal of leaving at around three in the morning, so as you can imagine that didn’t particularly go down well so we opted to film more around camp and catch the next tide after lunch. Did I mention before how I love this little tidal creek.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”] We need to do the right thing if we want to keep beautiful places like this open to 4WDers for years to come. [/blockquote]
I reckon Kayla and Tegan could have stayed at Pebbly for a few weeks if they were given half a chance. It’s the perfect place for families to camp right on the ocean front on well-kept grass campsites with basic amenities. I have said it for around eight years or more, but I simply love coming here!
Just a word of caution though, the main beach before you get to the campsite is an environmentally sensitive place for little terns and make sure you just stick to the beach where it is signposted and do the right thing. Some people think that it’s ok to do circle work on the beach or drive up into the dunes. To that minority of idiots, pull your head in! We need to do the right thing if we want to keep beautiful places like this open to 4WDers for years to come.
After a late start and a swim while we were waiting for the tide, we got back into Yuraygir National Park and into the State Forest and started exploring some tracks. You will find that there is a huge network of tracks, most of them logging tracks in a grid pattern.
The further into the bush you drive, the further away from civilisation you feel. I reckon that not many people ever explore the tracks down here and it does feel quite untouched.
Do yourself a favour and explore your way towards Wooli on the dirt. There is a track that will make you cross the Wooli River, we drove all the way down to the water and the tide was up too high for us to cross so we ended turning back. But we did find a great little campsite on the banks of the Wooli River that would be worth a look next time.
I reckon if you based yourself out of Pebbly, you would easily have a week’s worth of tracks to explore before you would see the same track twice. If you offer ranger Rob a cold beer, he may even tell you about a track that follows a ridgeline all of the way from the State Forest to Brooms Head with views of the coast.
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