LIVING THE DREAM (Part 1)

After decades of long weekend and Christmas time camping, it was inevitable that like anyone, we would want to take an epic year-long 4WDing trip around Australia. At first you might just dream about camping around the country, boring your friends and family silly with plans they reckon will never happen, but don’t hold off any longer. Make a plan and make it happen! That’s exactly what we’ve done, and we’re going to take you along for the ride.

WHO ARE WE?

Dean and Rebecca, a 30s something couple from Melbourne, have a passion for the outdoors and 4WDriving. Dean inherited his passion for 4WDing from his late father and got Rebecca hooked on the lifestyle. “There’s so much more to life than just working” Rebecca tells us. After realising they couldn’t get to the Top End on a long-weekend camping trip, they decided it was time to quit their jobs and travel Australia to make sure they could get to all those iconic places they dreamt about. “I love camping whether it’s for a night or a week and the thought of camping for a year was irresistible,” says Dean. “I also love 4WDing and travelling down a new track everyday was incredibly exciting.”

BUDGETING

One of the most difficult things in the preparation stage is deciding how much to budget for a trip like this. How much does a year travelling around Australia really cost? After looking online at various equations like $1 per kilometre or $100 a day and reading the travel blogs of people doing the big lap, we settled with $700 a week ($350 for diesel, $140 for food, $70 for camping fees and $140 for anything else) and a $10k emergency budget. It’s also a good idea that you’re prepared to stop and work along the way if you need to.

VEHICLE PREPARATION

If your 4WD needs heaps of maintenance, or isn’t right for your needs, then you’ll likely need to upgrade into something else. Knowing that our short-wheel base ’89 Pajero wouldn’t cut it for such a big trip, we bought a 2000 model turbo diesel Patrol. With the Patrol already having a snorkel and subtank, the basics were there. We also fitted a 2in lift kit, steel rims with 33s, a roof rack, 50l fridge, new driving lights, UHF radio and a winch.

We also knocked up some shelving for the back and we threw an Oztent and MaxTrax on the roof racks. There was just the little matter of selling our house, quitting our jobs and then we were set. No jobs, no home, no worries. Just us, the Patrol and a whole big country to explore – it’s a liberating feeling.

HEADING TO THE APPLE ISLE

Leaving from Melbourne, we decided to head over to Tasmania for a 6 week shake-down trip. For the first couple of weeks, it’ll feel like you’re on holiday, and then it becomes real life. Travelling, exploring, 4WDing, camping and having a fire every night will become your reality.

It’s the little things that really remind you of how incredible your big lap is. One Tuesday morning, we were sitting on the rocks at the Edge of the World beach on Tassie’s wild west coast and we realised everyone we knew was at work at that moment. While we sat and looked out at this wild, crashing ocean around us we couldn’t help but have massive smiles on our faces. If you’ve dreamt about doing this trip for years, it’s moments like these that make it worthwhile.

While on the west coast, you can try your luck taking on the Balfour Track. We met the ranger who explained that there were currently two 4WDs stranded there with water in their electrical systems, a reminder to not try it alone. If you’re lucky enough to have mates in tow, then you have to check out this epic track.

BRUNY ISLAND

There are plenty of 4WD hotspots in Tassie but one of the highlights is definitely Bruny Island. Take the ferry from Kettering, just south of Hobart, over to the island where you’ll get your first taste of beach driving as you cross Cloudy Bay Beach. The hard-packed sand meant low range wasn’t required, but you still need to be wary of the tide. Across the beach is the Cloudy Corner campsite and being accessible only by 4WD means it is a lot quieter than other campsites on Bruny Island. The epic East Cloudy Head hike leaves from the campsite and if you’ve got strong legs and a few hours, it’s worth the walk to the summit as it offers an excellent view out over the ocean.

Another great trip is tackling the Lagoon Track, which is rocky, off camber and best travelled in first gear, low range. Southport Lagoon looks like the sort of place that would get busy on the weekends and holidays, but being there mid-week, you can have the place, and the awesome scenery, to yourself.

Tassie has no shortage of beach, lagoon and riverside camping. If one campsite is too full, it’s just a short drive before you stumble on another. One beaut little spot we found was the Tungatinah Lagoon, which is part of the Bronte Lake system, and also a good fishing spot. There are plenty of campsites around the lagoon and 4WD tracks throughout the surrounding forest worth exploring.

WHY YOU NEED TO TOUR TASSIE

Some of our highlights from Tassie were having so many animals around our campsites- pademelons just checking us out, possums sniffing out the camp oven while it was still in the fire, quolls strolling past us, wallabies coming right up to us and echidnas sharing walking tracks alongside us. Of course, the animals weren’t always so friendly all of the time – a few times possums got inside the Patrol and ate anything they could find.

One night, a possum even chewed through our solar lights cord completely destroying them. If you’re lucky you may even spot Tasmanian Devils in the wild – a rare sight! Camped at Lower Liffey Reserve we managed to spot a couple running past and listened to their screams at night, which was a creepy but awesome experience.

Some other highlights you should aim to visit are Liffey Falls, the amazing orange rocks along Tasmania’s most easterly beach at Eddystone Point, climbing The Nut, a volcanic plug in the north-west, looking out over The Walls of Jerusalem from the Devil’s Gullet lookout and the scenery at Derwent Bridge camping area.

BACK TO VICTORIA

After 42 days, 4135kms and 26 campsites in Tasmania, we headed back to Melbourne. We made the mistake of not booking our return trip on the Spirit of Tasmania in advance and luckily snagged a spot from a last-minute cancellation, otherwise we would have been stuck in Tassie for another two months.

The traffic in Melbourne will make you miss 4WDing after about two minutes, so don’t waste any time and head straight for the Victorian High Country and its iconic tracks.

When we drove up Blue Rag, the track wasn’t overly difficult and could be done in an unmodified 4WD – though decent tyres are necessary. In winter the High Country will be very cold and it can get foggy, on the day we tackled Blue Rag the fog was so thick we didn’t see much of the fabled views and decided to come back and try again. Most people don’t realise that once you pass Blue Rag’s trig point, the track continues down to scenic campsites on either side of the Wongungarra River.

Being in the High Country means you’ll have the chance to wet your wheels with plenty of river crossings, something you should be pretty excited about. They quickly became a regular highlight of your days. It’s also worth heading to Mt Terrible, where you can tackle a lot of steep, rocky climbs where low-range and second gear are the way to go. There is a fire tower at the trig point, making a good lunch stop and lookout. Beyond the trig point, we encountered a really washed out part of the track. Rather than risking panel damage, we decided to turn around.

Just over the border in NSW, stop and camp for a few days at Tom Groggin, it’ll likely became one of our favourite campsites. It has it all: a grassy, riverside camp with an abundance of kangaroos, snow-capped mountains in the distance and a bunch of 4WD tracks right nearby. Perfection. Tom Groggin is actually right near the start of the Murray River and it is pretty strange to drive across this shallow, rocky river as many people know it as the deep, muddy, fast-flowing river it turns into further along its length. After 1,030kms, 19 days and 10 campsites throughout Victoria, it’s time to leave the cold weather behind and head north.

WHERE TO NEXT

Knowing that we would be back for summer, we had a pretty speedy trip through the High Country so that we could head north and enjoy the dry season in the Top End. In the next article, we explore the Blue Mountains, have mechanical dramas and get towed off Fraser Island and then return, only to drown the Patrol in Awinya Creek…

THE TALLY SO FAR

Kilometres: 5,165
Days: 61
Campsites: 36
Total cost: $4,435
Coldest night: -4 (Italian Flat, near Dargo)
Warmest day: 31 (Hobart, a record-breaking temperature for April)

FACT FILE

WHERE:
This trip was through Tasmania and up through the Victorian High Country in the Gippsland area. In Tasmania, the trip covers ‘The Nut’ (near Stanley) and the Arthur Pieman area (including the Balfour track and Edge of the World beach) in the state’s north-west. Bruny Island is a short ferry ride from the town of Kettering, just south of Hobart. Southport Lagoon is located near the town of Southport in the state’s south. Liffey Falls is located south of Deloraine in the state’s upper north area. Tungatinah Lagoon is located south of Derwent Bridge and is surrounded by other lakes popular for their fishing and camping. Derwent Bridge campsite is located just out of the town of Derwent Bridge and is a good stop-over for those exploring the Cradle Mountain area. Scamander Forest Reserve is located in the state’s north-east in between St Marys and St Helens. In Victoria, we camped in areas near Dargo, Jamieson, Omeo and just over the Victoria/NSW border at Tom Groggin, south of Jindabyne.

INFORMATION:
Tasmania has very scenic bush and beach areas and a number of fascinating animals like Tasmanian Devils and pademelons. The Victorian High Country is iconic for its mountains, rivers and 4WD tracks.

CAMPING:
Tasmania and the Victorian High Country have literally hundreds of campsites to choose from. In Tasmania we liked Cloudy Corner (fees apply), Southport Lagoon, Lower Liffey Reserve, Scamander Forest Reserve, Derwent Bridge, Tungatinah Lagoon and campsites around the Arthur River (fees apply) area. In Victoria, we camped at Italian Flat, 7 Mile Flat and just over the border at Tom Groggin. Most of the camping areas in the High Country are free.

FACILITIES & AMENITIES:
Scamander Forest Reserve, Derwent Bridge, Lower Liffey Reserve and Tungatinah Lagoon are bush camping sites with no fees or facilities. Southport Lagoon has no fees, but does have long-drop toilets and small boats can be launched from the day-use area. Cloudy Corner has drop toilets. There is a camping fee applicable as well as the National Parks access fee. Arthur River offers three campsites- Manuka, Peppermint and Prickly Wattles. These have drop toilets, fire pits and camping fees are applicable. In Victoria there is Italian Flat, 7 Mile Flat and Wongungarra River (at the end of the Blue Rag Range Track), which are free camping spots. The first two offer drop-toilets. Tom Groggin is just over the Murray River in NSW. There are no fees and long-drop toilets have been installed. It’s recommended to be prepared to take all rubbish with you as most campgrounds will not offer rubbish facilities.

WHAT TO TAKE:
None of these campsites are particularly remote and the surrounding towns offer all the mechanical services possibly required. We always recommend travelling with plenty of water and food, just in case you love the site so much you want to stay for a week.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
Tasmania is pleasant to travel in Summer, Spring and Autumn. Some of the High Country tracks are seasonally closed through wetter months, so it’s best to check with Parks Victoria. The High Country gets very cold in Autumn and Winter, with temperatures often dropping below zero.

FUEL & SUPPLIES:
All supplies, spare parts and fuel are available in the towns surrounding these campsites.

TRIP STANDARD:
Trips are rated A through to E grade, with A meaning only suitable for vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modifications, and E meaning suitable for all types of 4WDs. The tracks on this trip range from E to B in difficulty and will be significantly more difficult during or after wet weather.

TRIP TIME OF YEAR:
We travelled Tasmania through March and early April then spent mid-April to early-May in the High Country.

RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
Campfires are only allowed in some of Tasmania’s National Parks, it’s always best to check prior with Parks and Wildlife (Tasmania). Campfires are permitted through most of the High Country, except on days of Total Fire Ban. A ‘National Parks Entry Pass’ is required for Tasmania, the cheapest option for us was an eight week pass for $60. We bought ours from the Spirit of Tasmania, but they are also available at Parks’ office, Information shops and online.

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