WITH MATES LIKE THESE

We’ve all got ‘that’ mate. The one bloke in the crew, who forgets his own beer, sleeps on top of his swag, handles clay in bare feet like a dog on lino and for the most part has some degree of dodgy facial hair, often containing crumbs. If you don’t have a mate like this, chances are you’re the mate! I’m lucky, I’ve got two mates like this; I shouldn’t name names so let’s call one Brendo and the other…well stuff it, the other bloke is Joel!

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”Three mates, three days and a bunch of the toughest tracks you’ve ever seen”[/blockquote]

I first met Joel the day before an epic Gulf barra fishing trip and over the course of the weeks we travelled north and back I witnessed him do such unspeakable acts that I still shudder when I think of them (anyone who has ever met Joel will know exactly what I’m referring to). Oh and he’s the only bloke I know with a tattoo of a barra…but hasn’t caught a barra! The thing with mates like these though, is that they are always bloody top blokes and the sort that ya can’t wait to hit the tracks with again soon enough.

I was pretty stoked to learn we’d be heading bush not only with old mate Joel but also Mitch and Alex; all of whom love a brew, using the stubby lever and rolling out a swag around a campfire. The idea being that we’d grab a mate a day and let them show us, some of their favourite haunts as close to home as possible. Pretty good idea if you ask me cos’ as we all know, there ain’t nothing like local knowledge.

First port of call for us was a feed of the finest pre-track breakfast money can buy, yeah you betcha, a chilli pie. Nothing says let’s do this like a chilli burp at 7am. The camera crew don’t always appreciate my morning food fetishes so with bacon and eggs down their gobs (and something called a jam croissant for Shauno…) we were ready to find the human goblin, Joel.

Handshakes and jokes about how many barra Joel has caught over with, we figured it was time to push that red button and start driving a few tracks. We didn’t get far! It hadn’t exactly rained a lot but then again, that weird baby poo mud out the back of Forster doesn’t need much for it to turn into bearing grease. I didn’t walk more than a dozen steps from the D-MAX before going down hard – thanks to my beach thongs providing exactly zero grip. If I couldn’t even walk on the stuff we had our work cut out driving it. I was amped!

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”One things for sure – you just can’t beat local knowlage![/blockquote]

Our good mate Nick, who drives one of the smickest looking GU wagons you’ll ever see (did anyone notice that cool rear quarter window?) was suitably apprehensive. See the idea was to test the absolute heck out of the GIC camper range and this was the perfect location to do some down and dirty field testing…in the dry. In the wet, it sure would be interesting.

True to the name, we struggled to even walk up that cracking section of track known as ‘Slippery track’. Everyone and I mean everyone took a heavy fall or three with Shauno winning the award for hardest hit, literally nearly knocking himself out. That mud would have to be almost as slippery as the Creb track in the wet.

OK, I’m going to have my five seconds of glory here and now…how freaking epic was that drive in the D-MAX? I can only take about 95% of the glory (that figure may not be accurate) given how well the combination of tyres and traction control worked but struth, nobody could believe we made it all the way under our own steam. I just kept enough right boot to maintain forward momentum and somehow we found small sections of traction and just kept crawling. That little rig just continues to impress me.

After a few hours spending more time slipping over and winching than actually driving, I had the bright idea that perhaps we could gain back some dignity with a quick blat out onto the beach. That’s the beauty of the mid north coast of NSW, you’re never really that far from just about any type of 4WD terrain you want – it’s pretty hard to beat!

The lads agreed so we ripped our tails out from between our legs and headed for the beach. It’s no secret that ocean life is my passion and the freedom of a 4WD on a long stretch of beach just can’t be beaten in my books. Being able to set up an awning, fold out a chair, open a fridge and grab something cold, all on a stretch of soft sand that only a 4WD can reach is to me pretty much everything that 4WD ownership means! So yeah, I was as happy as a dog with two tails to be cruising along the beach checking for fishing holes and swapping mud for sand.

We didn’t arrive into camp at the beautiful Swans Crossing ‘till late arvo. Nick set-up the camper and we got down to the serious business of swag site selection, campfire lighting and of course, making sure Shaun’s fridge wasn‘t too full of beer for tomorrow. We had a few crew from around the traps come over for a couple more of Shaun’s beers after dark and the campfire was populated till late into the night.

 

I’m a sucker for a SWB GQ. No shock there hey? When Alex came rumbling into camp I just about choked on my bacon sandwich and was directly over to sniff the guards and piddle on the tyres. Shorty owners are among the country’s smartest and most attractive humans, many of the world’s leaders have owned shorty GQ’s and as most of you know, all supermodels drive SWB GQ Patrols (these facts may not be accurate). After we had the secret SWB GQ handshake out of the way, Alex and I got down to planning just how our second day on the tracks would pan out.

Turns out Alex knows the back of Bago better than the back of his hand and when I quizzed him on tracks and locations he was a full bottle; right down to current track conditions and obstacles. As I said, nothing like local knowledge! Rock steps and shale were the order of the day and crikey we got plenty of that. We had also decided to leave the trailer setup at camp, while we took the 4WDs exploring.

It’s funny ya’ know, the first time you roll up the base of a new 4WD obstacle, it can be downright bloody daunting. Your first thoughts often are ‘how the hell am I going to climb that?!’ My trick has always been to try and ignore the whole hill and instead break it down into small challenges. Pick a line through each of these, then link those lines together….Then just jump in and drive and hope for the best…Works most of the time.

Our camera 80 works harder than a one legged soccer player but complains a whole lot less, so I wasn‘t surprised to find it had busted a hub. Lots of people wonder how the DVDs are made, does a helicopter fly in and help when needed, does Shaun get hair and makeup done in an air-conditioned caravan? NO! It just happens as it happens and we push on the best we can. If that means in 3WD then that’s what we do and that’s exactly how Rob our stills photographer and stunt driver took the 80 onward for the remainder of the day! Bloody good effort brother!

In most cases, heavy touring trucks are really best suited to touring…with heavy loads. Shaun was apprehensive about tackling the big step-up on the Bago Steps track and with good reason; it’s a huge jump up that’s off camber to the driver side, covered in shale and his center of gravity in the 79 is roughly 14 feet off the ground. I was nervous just watching the damn thing…when he got into strife and I saw it do that typical see-saw motion I nearly soiled my pants.

Not because I was concerned for Shaun’s but because I knew he’d be angrier than a fat kid who just got his fried chicken leg stolen if he dented his brand new pride and joy. He freaking loves that truck and I think all of us breathed a sigh of relief when that winch line came taught and we started him back down the hill.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”The mud would have to be almost as slippery as the creb track in the wet”[/blockquote]

Even the sensible line saw his canopy come within a bee’s dick of hitting a tree; they build the tracks around Port and Bago tough… real tough. Once again I was just utterly chuffed with the way the D-MAX performed on lines that even the big boys with lift, lockers and 35s scrambled through. Of course, as I‘ve said, that mostly comes down to expert driving and being born with mad skills…

Day three saw us up bright and early ready for what our good mate Mitch, who was our guide for the final day, had in store in his backyard of Cedar Park. The tracks out that way range from forestry roads to vertical flaming insanity. It’s a magic area and one I doubt is on any tourist map. I was stoked to see how clean and tidy the tracks and facilities were in as well, don‘t think I saw one scrap of rubbish the whole time.

That is until we got to the top of that lookout and well, it was a bloody disgrace. You know what though; it’s an all-wheel drive access location. Of the half dozen 4WD tracks we drove that day, the pristine rivers we crossed and the 4WD only viewpoints we saw I didn‘t even see a damn Minty wrapper. But when we got to the one public access view point it was trashed. As humans we don‘t do ourselves many favours.

I’m out and out a proud West Aussie, I’d be hard pressed to live anywhere else but I’ll say this, as an even prouder 4WD owner the stretch of scrub from mid coast NSW north up toward Byron really has grown on me. I’m not about to ship out from Gods Country just yet but I tell you, I don‘t mind spending time in those hills. So I imagine I will be back pretty soon. Give us a wave next time you see me drive by hey?

GRAHAMS TOP FIVE

Mid North Coast NSW
Slippery Track: Kiwarrak State Forest: Think you’ve driven zero traction mud? Think again. Challenge yourself to the infamous Slippery Track after rain.

Prawning: nothing better on a summer night than netting a bucket of prawns. Choose a night with a full moon

Lake Wallace: A cracker of a spot to wet a line, its full of flathead and sand crabs

Farquhar: A brilliant beach run on the right tide and one of the best campsites on the east coast

Blackhead Beach: fishing, swimming, surfing and all available to anyone with a 4WD

DRIVING TIP

Driving for economy
As 4WDers fuel economy is so important. The less you spend on diesel, the more you can travel. While modern diesels like the D-MAX have spectacular fuel economy, there’s certain ways to drive that ensure you get the most economy from your 4WD. Increasing your tyre pressures when you’re on the blacktop/high-speed dirt – don’t get lazy. The higher the tyre pressures, the less rolling resistance, which translates to improved economy.

As well as this, driving technique is also critical to excellent fuel economy – gentle and smooth acceleration rather than limiter bashing the vehicle and planting the foot is key – this is especially the case in low range. Drop 10km/h off your speed and see how much of an improvement it makes to your economy. When it comes to hills, gradually increase your speed in preparation, so you don’t need to find yourself stamping on the accelerator mid-way up the hill. Likewise, make sure you up-shift rather than allowing the engine to labour on an ascent. If you take all of these steps into account with your driving style, you are guaranteed to save a bit of coin next time you’re at the pump.

FACT FILE

WHERE:
Forster is just over 300 clicks north of Sydney on the mid north coast of NSW.

CAMPING:
Many options exist but some get very crowded, especially the coastal locations. We choose to stay at Swans Crossing when filming in the area as it a huge campsite. However other crackers include Kylie’s Campground in Crowdy Bay NP and one of my all-time personal favorites is Farquhar at the south end of Manning Point (getting into and out of this campground can often be dependent on the tide).

WHAT TO TAKE:
Realistically you are never far from major centers and fuel stops so it’s best to travel light so as to maximize your rigs capability. That said, you will need full recovery gear and every vehicle should have a winch. Mud terrain tyres 33in and bigger will be a huge advantage. You will not have mobile coverage for some of these tracks however for the most part you can get service if you climb to a high point.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
This location is truly all year round. Heavy rainfall will turn mild tracks into virtually impossible so be prepared for that but otherwise this place doesn’t get too cold and in our opinion the perfect climate for 4WDing.

FUEL AND SUPPLIES:
Dozens of options with Forster and Taree being your most convenient and biggest.

TRIP STANDARD:
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. Really is it’s a matter of choosing what you want to tackle. From sedate beach runs to vertical winch climbs, honestly this part of the country has literally something for anyone. Many of the tracks we did would be rated a B-C.

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