TAKING A BACK SEAT

WORDS BY SHAUN WHALE, PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROB CAMERIERE

We always get a lot of feedback from you guys and it’s this feedback from our passionate audience that is one of the biggest driving forces behind the 4WD Action. Some of the best ideas are from you guys and I think it’s what makes 4WD Action so exciting. Last year we got a string of letters and emails saying that we should buy an ultra-cheap 4WD and show what you can do on a beer budget. As a result, Zero Dollar Zook was born. We had a lot of women write in and say that our DVDs needed more chicks in them (apparently Graham wasn’t enough) and once again, we listened and produced Girls vs Boys at LandCruiser Park.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]In this issue we hand the keys over to two young 4WDers on their P plates – what could possibly go wrong?[/blockquote]

Most recently we got some feedback saying, “why don’t you take some young people out who are still on their P plates, teach them some advanced 4WD skills and while you’re at it, chuck them the keys to your rigs on a series of tough tracks.” I think Brenno was putting overtime in at the local RSL during happy hour when he read that letter and decided to run with it. Give some young 4WDers the keys to Graham’s D-MAX and Shauno’s Dirty 30 and point them at the toughest tracks in Tassie and let them cut loose. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe it was a pure coincidence but Brenno reckoned he needed to work on his 80 Series’ flux capacitor and top up his headlight fluid so couldn’t make it on this particular trip. What are the chances?

You might not know this, but the Dirty 30 has only ever been driven in low range by two people, until this trip, Graham and of course myself. Even if it’s only a dirty old cut down 60 Series with battle scars from every state and territory, blows blue smoke and plays up like a second hand lawn mower, it’s my baby and as a result nobody drives it.

Well that is, until now. We put the call out for a couple of young 4WDers who would like to come on a trip with us and get taught the ropes of driving tough tracks. If you’re thinking how do I get to know when you’re looking for people to come on trips, well make sure you’re on our Facebook page and signed up to our free 4WD Action newsletter, because that’s where we put out the call when we’re looking.

There weren’t many conditions of entry other than they had to be super keen, young and be able to steer a 4WD. Oh, they would have to camp with us, listen to bad jokes from sun up to sun down and have a cast iron stomach as they would be forced to eat my camp cooking. As surprising as it sounds, we got heaps of entries and we picked two very passionate and extremely enthusiastic 4WDers to join us on an adventure.

First up there was Luke from the Riverina region of NSW. He owns a beaut HiLux that he and his old man had been modifying and is a country lad who could steer excavators and heavy machinery. While he had done a stack of camping and 4WDing trips, he hadn’t had a lot of experience lifting wheels, but with his earth moving credentials, we thought that he might have a chance at being able to operate the Dirty 30.

Next up, we picked a local Tasmanian’er (err…I think that’s what they call themselves) called Emily. She drove a very kitted out little Suzuki and absolutely lives and breathes the off-road lifestyle. Her biggest fear of the drive was driving Graham’s D-MAX as she’d never driven an automatic vehicle before, but I reckon she was more worried about how she was going to fit a set of 35s to it.

When Graham and myself met up with Luke and Emily just before we set off deep into the Weldborough area (north east Tasmania) to drive some gnarly tracks we had to sort out a few minor issues with the vehicles. Well, minor issues by 4WD Action standards. All of our vehicles were overheating due to radiators being choked up with thick Tassie mud. I had strange noises coming from the rear diff, which I thought was just because of the rear auto locker I was trialing (it later blew on the exit ramp of the Spirit of Tassie) and I needed to borrow a shovel to scrap some of the mud out of the carpet that was still wet from the last trip. With some maintenance on the go, it was time to get as far away from civilisation as possible and hit the tracks.

The next day Graham and I chucked Emily and Luke the keys to our rigs, used the sat phones to make sure our insurance was up to date. It was a strange feeling riding shot gun in your own vehicle, but the newbies handled everything the tracks could dish out. The first real obstacles came in the form of some big rock ledges and off cambered bits, the perfect place to put the rigs and newbies to the test. It would either go well or we’d have to end the trip right there on the first challenge. The guys handled the challenge perfectly and we were one from one… Only a few hundred more without breakages or rollovers and we’d be laughing.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”] We give some young 4WDers the keys to our trucks and point them at the toughest tracks im tassie[/blockquote]

I’ve really got to give it to Luke and Emily, it’s not an easy thing to be given the keys to somebody else’s rigs and be told to drive a tough track, especially when they are sitting right beside you looking at your every move. Like I said, I haven’t been into the passenger seat of the 30 much at all over the years that I’ve owned it, but at least now I understand why the Jesus bar has been broken. If you think it’s hard steering the 30 off-road, then double that for the passenger.

Like most of Tasmania, the camping is nothing short of bloody spectacular. It doesn’t matter where you go on the island, you’re going to find postcard like campsites and, get this, most of them that we stayed at had chopped wood ready to go. That must be a Tassie thing, assuming there’s some sort of Tasmanian code when it comes to firewood, we made sure we left the camp with some firewood for the next group. The first camp we came to was literally a clearing in the dense scrub of the Blue Teir Forrest Reserve that was least expected. We later found out that it was a fishing camp as there was a little stream, no doubt stacked with trout that ran just down from the camp.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”The first big rutted clay hill was a baptism of fire”[/blockquote]

The other amazing little campsite that is worth mentioning came by pure fluke and still rates now as one of the most scenic campsites I’ve ever rolled a swag out at. We dropped into the Weldborough pub again to, err, stock up on some lemonade and ask the publican if he had any campsites that he would share with us. Now he offers camping behind the pub, which I would also recommend as a top place to bunker in as it’s slightly downhill from the pub and after sampling all of the local Tassie beers and ciders, that might come in handy.

The publican told us of this little campsite only 5km from town beside a dam called Maa Mon Chin Dam, a mouthful I know but an amazing free camp that every 4WDer should check out. It’s off the tourist trail and we only found out about it from the publican, and I’m very glad we did. So, my biggest advice I can give you is to stop into as many local country pubs as possible as you’ll generally find the best local campsites and tracks in whatever area you’re exploring. When we set up camp we got the fire going and started cooking up some camp burgers.

No word of a lie, within 30 seconds it turned from fine weather to bucketing down hail. So much hail dropped that it looked like it had just snowed, it was white everywhere. Here’s a tip, and I think I say this nearly every time I talk about Tassie, bring warm and wet weather gear no matter what season you are going. If you are there for more than a few days I will guarantee it will get super cold and rain within your stay, no matter what time of year you go. In case you’re wondering, we were in the middle of December and I think we experienced all of the Tasmanian seasons in just that one day.

I reckon I’ve saved the best of this yarn to last, it’s a track that is famous with 4WDers in the north east part of Tassie and is a track that I rate as one of the most fun tracks I’ve ever driven… err, I mean was the passenger for. Yep, we had a driver swap and I chucked Emily the keys of the 30 on what is one of the toughest tracks in the area, The Jeep Track. I’m not sure why they call it the Jeep track, because I didn’t see a single Jeep on that track. Maybe because there’s a few Jeeps hiding in some of the many deep bog holes that drove in and simply never came out? Not sure, but it’s one heck of a track.

What an introduction for Emily, she was handed the keys to the 30 for the first time and I also said that we would be taking the toughest lines on Jeep Track because we could. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I purposely made Em drive the hard lines of that track and the first big rutted clay hill was a baptism of fire if I’d ever seen it.

We drove that hill on three wheels for the most of it, when half way up the hill we slipped into a big rut. I can’t remember what I said exactly but it was along the lines of “right hand down and drive it”. We were committed to this hill climb in a big way and as we climbed our way out of the big rut which was on a huge hill the front wheel started getting some serious air time and the Dirty 30 pirouetted like an elephant on roller-skates and somehow stayed on its wheels. It was one of the most committing drives I’ve ever been part of and I really have to give it to Em because 9 out of 10 people would have backed off when two wheels were in the air and the 30 felt like it was about to park on its lid. Hats off to Em for driving the old girl like a legend!

Luke steered the D-MAX up, choose a different line and didn’t manage to lift a wheel. He made it look easy, where’s the fun in that!
Over the course of that DVD both Luke and Emily drove exceptionally well and I reckoned became better 4WDers in just a few days. We nearly had to pry the keys off them at the end of the trip and I’ve got to say it was one unforgettable trip. Something tells me you might see a bit more of this kind of thing at 4WD Action, you know, getting readers along for the ride. Actually, that makes me think that we should run a 4WD Action apprenticeship program where somebody gets a job at the end of it.

FACT FILE

WHERE:
North east Tasmania starting at Weldborough and the Blue Tier Forrest to the Jeep Track in Pyengana which starts from the Pub in the Paddock to Columbia Falls the and heading north finishing at the beaches and sand dunes of Bridport.

INFORMATION:
This region is famous for its mountains and valleys, which means one thing to us 4WDers; tough 4WDing in some of the most scenic landscapes Tasmania has on offer. At the end of the Jeep Track you will find Columbia Falls, they are the biggest waterfalls in Tasmania. While we weren’t strictly on a pub crawl, the Weldborough and Pig in the Paddock are two of the best iconic pubs in the country and well worth a visit.

CAMPING:
The best campsites we found were: Blue Tier Forrest in a clearing off the Emu Road Track, which is a free camp and beside Maa Mon Chin Dam, which is also free. There is also some amazing beach camping at Bridport which will rival anywhere in Australia.

FACILITIES & AMENITIES:
All campsites we stayed at are free bush camps with no facilities. However, there is a campsite behind the Weldborough Pub which has facilities if you want toilets and showers… not to mention a great pub.

WHAT TO TAKE:
Bring everything you will need in terms of supplies to be completely self-sufficient. While this is quite remote in Tasmanian terms, you are only a 30 minute drive from St Helens and 90 minutes from Launceston.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
Without a doubt the best time to travel to this area is in the Summer. Expect freezing cold temperatures and rain if you travel outside this season. Actually, expect wild weather at any time when you’re down in Tassie.

FUEL & SUPPLIES:
You can pick up fuel from the tiny township of Weldborough and up the road from the Pub in the Paddock. While you can find fuel and limited supplies up near Bridport. You’re best stocking up at Launceston or St Helens.

TRIP STANDARD:
Most of the tracks are rated at a C level meaning all 4WDs can attempt them in the dry, while the Jeep track is an A grade track and only should be attempted with modified 4WDs.

TRIP TIME OF YEAR
We did this trip in December.

RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
There were no permits needed, and tracks that are closed (and you will find a few if you start exploring) are well signposted.

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