“We might have just uncovered the best kept 4WDing and camping secret in NSW!”
Our adventure kicked off in Kempsey on the mid-north coast of NSW, a place that we’ve been to before but never really spent the time uncovering the full 4WD and camping potential this place has to offer. When people think of tough 4WDing on the mid-north coast of NSW they automatically think of Coffs Harbour, probably because it gets more coverage than just about any other spot. But you might be surprised to hear that some of the toughest 4WDing in the state and one of the best kept secrets in the 4WD world is Kempsey. Well, until now…
We drove from different ends of the country to meet up in Kempsey, I drove down in the 79 Series and met the fellas at the campsite in the late afternoon. Graham had Shorty, which was its first trip since the Kimberley last year and he was busy pulling the insides of that little truck out on the lawn. Apart from all the red dust and rancid things he left in the vehicle, there was about a dozen XXXX Gold cans left in the fridge. Most of the gold paint had faded from being bashed around a heck of a lot and they did smell a little funky, but inside the can everything was how it should be and it was the perfect way to start a 4WD Action trip.
Also along for this trip was Jock who is based at 4WD Action HQ and who drove the Zero Dollar Zook up from Sydney, a solid 6 hour bumpy and noisy trip. In fact, the 4WD equivalent of driving a modified Suzuki Sierra that far would be driving a LandCruiser across the Tanami a couple of times in one sitting. A monumental effort if you ask me, and I should know, having owned a little Zook for the first five years of my 4WD career.
Funny story, I once moved house in my Suzuki Sierra when I was a young bloke, from Brisbane to Sydney. Luckily I didn’t own much stuff back then and it could all fit into that little 4WD and I made the 1,000km trip in the Zook. It was so jammed packed with stuffthat I couldn’t recline my seat or even move around properly in the driver’s seat. After reaching Port Macquarie, about the halfway point, I was so buggered that I just pulled off the highway and slept for an hour sitting upright in the driver’s seat. That was one of the hardest 16 hour drives I’ve ever had to do, in fact it makes the Dirty 30 feel like a luxury cruise ship compared to that little Zook.
“Some of the toughest 4WDing in the state and one of the best kept secrets in the 4WD world”
Anyway, I’ve strayed a bit. So Jock was at the campsite propped up against Shorty after his epic drive in the Zero Dollar Zook, ears ringing and hands still shaking from the vibrations of the Zook. If you ask me, I reckon he kind of enjoyed it. Also along for the ride was Nick in his beast of a GU Patrol towing a flash Black Series Camper Trailer. He was keen to push his trailer well beyond the limits of any sane person and Kempsey was just the place to do some hard-core RnD testing. If it could survive the bashing it was going to receive this trip, you know it will be good for many families to punish right around Australia.
Like I said, I was driving the 79 Series down to Kempsey, but I wasn’t taking that on DVD. I too had drawn a short straw and had to drive along with Jock. Now I could handle driving in the Zook, but with Jock? In all seriousness, Jock is one of the deadest keenest 4WDers I’ve ever met and you will see a lot more of this bloke in the coming years. I swear he lays in his swag at night reciting torque settings on his Hilux and reading up on every 4WD track between here and the Cape. Well that might not be entirely true, but there is a heck of a lot of noises coming from his swag at night.
I was leaving the 79 Series with a good mate of mine in Kempsey, who will also be joining us for parts of this trip, Mitch Riddel. He knows just about every track and campsite in the mid north coast of NSW and is one handy bloke to know. You will see on the DVD that he’s driving a mint GQ diesel that basically looks like a stretched version of Shorty. Well the cool story behind that turbo diesel, manual GQ is that it started life out as a petrol/LPG auto GQ before Mitch got his hands on it. He converted it with the diesel, turboed and intercooled it and put the manual up to it. All said and done this 4WD owes him about $6k and its fully engineered!
Once this DVD trip kicked off we started in the Collombatti region, just out of Kempsey and drove a couple of fun tracks. It really wasn’t long into the first day when we were driving the Zook, or more accurately, with Jock behind the wheel, there was no surprise when an almighty ‘crack’ was heard, trying to get up a rutted hill. This was just about the same time as the vehicle stalled and we lost all brakes and flew backwards at warp speed.
We spat a tail shaft out the back and to make matters worse we realised we didn’t have any front wheel drive at all. First track of the day on the first day of filming, this is never a good start. Luckily we had a spare uni joint and started fixing that trackside so we could at least drive the Zook back to camp. While this was happening, Mitch was behind the scenes ringing a mate of his, Fredrickson local and fellow Zook owner, Dale Cook. Dale has one of the neatest Sierras I’ve ever seen and he also has (or should I say had) a bunch of spares laying around in his shed.
Now what happens next is nothing short of embarrassing, but if I can save somebody else from making the same mistake, then this part of the story is worth telling. In our defence, the three of us knuckle-heads (Graham, Jock and myself) all agreed on the same diagnosis, front diff. It made sense too, there was no front wheel drive and the CVs seemed to be fine and weren’t clicking under full lock.
Now in retrospect, we should have dropped the front diff oil there and then and looked for metal, but you see we didn’t need to do that because we were gun mechanics. So later that night back at camp after we raided Dale’s place for a new front diff centre, hub and two CVs for good measure, we got to work. More accurately, Jock got to work and I went for a bass fish because we were camped on the Macleay River about 20 minutes outside of town.
Now of course it’s a bit of a process to remove the front diff – CVs and axles need to come out first and we worked on a dodgy hub too. By the time the diff centre was out, the fridge was looking empty and it was near enough to midnight because we filmed a cooking segment and still had the meat sweats. Once the centre came out we were looking for broken teeth and any obvious signs to confirm our suspicions. Nope, looked brand new. Bugger!
“With Jock behind the wheel, it was no surprise when an almighty ‘CRACK’ was heard!”
So it turns out the front diff was fine and the transfer case was buggered. We should have known better, but it did give Jock some more practice striping the front down and Graham and I did get to drink beers and give Jock a hard time, so that was a positive. Back to Dale’s to get ourselves a spare transfer case that he had laying around and we were good to hit the tracks again.
It was a good thing we had a transfer case in the Zook because the next track we had planned was a real winner. It was a wicked little track up the side of the Collombatti mountain that led to the trig point. It started in a creek and worked its way up the side of the mountain with a stack of ruts and a tough rock step thrown in for good measure.
One of the hardest parts of that track is that rock step, which is off camber half way up the hill. There is a clear line on the right hand side, but it does look very committing when you’re standing there looking at it for the first time. Graham led and picked the perfect line, making it look very easy, which isn’t something he normally does in Shorty. The Zook had a spirited drive from Jock to get up, with a bit of scrabbling and a wheel in the air for good measure.
You have to love that little Zero Dollar Zook, apart from being just about as much fun as you can have with your pants on, it is a very capable little truck. Since fitting the auto locker (which makes it bloody hard to steer) it is a little weapon. The plan is still to get it up to the Cape, but it might be a year or two in the making, because we can’t help ourselves to point it at every tough track in between. Nick had a tough job getting the Black Series trailer around a very tight turn that even the Zook needed a three point turn to make it, but Nick gave the GU some serious curry and somehow the trailer followed. We were all convinced that Nick was going to need the winch, but a lot of right boot and determination got the job done.
This part of Australia is hugely underrated and doesn’t get the praise and coverage that places like Coffs Harbour gets, but it is home to some tough tracks, pristine campsites as well as cracking swimming and fishing holes. If you ask me, it’s one of the best kept secrets in NSW. In fact, if you look at some maps you will find that there is a vast network of dirt roads from about Bulahdelah in the south to Grafton in the north.
If you had a week off and wanted to explore some of the best 4WDing NSW has to offer, then you couldn’t go wrong planning a route just on dirt up the Great Dividing Range. Just don’t forget to make sure you include the Pub with No Beer in your plan. Trust me, they do have beer (a lot of it) and there is free camping across the road from the pub. Actually, that’s got me thinking, it’s about time I took a week off.
This trip started off in Kempsey as we headed into the Collombatti State Forest and followed a series of dirt roads north, until we got to Taylor’s Arm (The Pub with no Beer) and further north to Coffs Harbour were we drove up England’s Road to Prior’s Track.
You will find that the terrain is like most of the 4WDing you find on the Great Diving Range. It’s steep, nasty and a heck of a lot of fun. When it rains the clay is almost un-drivable for any 4WD, so even the easy tracks become A grade tracks.
The pick of the campsites are George’s Junction (yes, that’s still open) and across the road from The Pub with No Beer, for obvious reasons!
WHAT TO TAKE:
Bring tools and spare parts with you, but the good news is that you’re never more than about an hour from town if you do need to duck back in.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
It’s good to travel all year round, keeping in mind that it can get very humid in summer and the Cicadas will turn up in force from Jan – Feb and can literally send you deaf.
FUEL & SUPPLIES:
Kempsey, Macksville and Coffs Harbour will be your best place to get supplies.
The best news about this part of the world is that there are so many 4WD tracks that you could spend a couple of weeks driving A – E grade tracks and never have to drive the same track twice.
TRIP TIME OF YEAR:
We drove these tracks in late Jan – early Feb
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
Open to all vehicles, all year round