When we first arrived in Melbourne, one of the many things we had to do was buy a car. Although there is some overlap, Australia tends to have different makes and models to the cars we were used to in the UK – Holden Commodores, Toyota Camrys, Mitsubishi Tritons etc – so we didn’t really know exactly what we were looking for. The clock was ticking too; our lovely friends who had so helpfully lent us their house for two weeks had also let us borrow their car but they were returning from holiday and, not surprisingly, needed both back. We’d seen enough of Australia to know that there are some seriously remote places here that your standard saloon or hatchback just can’t get to and we also knew that we wanted to go to places just like that! So we went round various used car dealerships wondering about an old Ford Territory, Toyota Kluger or Subaru Forester; so-called ‘soft roaders’ which basically means they can cope with a bit more than your average car but aren’t in the rugged terrain league of the more expensive true 4WDs – with no income and relying on our savings we had to be very mindful of cost. At one of the endless car places we happened to come across a Mitsubishi Pajero. Now this was more like it! A proper 4WD that you had to step up to get into. We’d never heard of one before but it looked like just the ticket. And it was completely unaffordable. We lingered for a while, sat in it a few times and then went away.
On the ‘used cars for sale’ websites a bit later we spotted a Pajero. It was old and with a lot of kms on the clock but it was just about within our price range so we went to take a look. It belonged to a family just about to emigrate to the USA who had been on some adventures in it and were regretfully having to put it up for sale. A couple of days later it was ours.
We went on a few easy off-road trips – the Dandenongs rainforest, the Tasmanian beach and wilderness, to Wreck Beach off the Great Ocean Road – and it was great. On the lookout for something to do one weekend I saw there was a Explore Australia Expo at the Melbourne Showgrounds so we went along for a day out. Amongst the stalls there was one for the Pajero Club of Victoria – ‘Hello’, we said, ‘we’ve got a Pajero’ and before you know it we’d joined the club, been trained on the bundled 4×4 Proficiency driving course and booked ourselves on our first 4WD trip to Mount Tamboritha in Victoria’s Alpine National Park. That was a week ago and this is the trip report we’ve just written for the club magazine.
Hi Country Mount Tamboritha Trip Report, 21-23 Aug 2015
As brand new members of the Pajero Club of Victoria, we didn’t know quite what to expect on our first trip. The description sounded perfect – an ‘Almost Beginners Weekend’ in the Hi Country staying in a chalet on Mount Tamboritha – so we booked ourselves on. While our Paj already had a CB radio from its previous owner, we had to get ourselves kitted out with a couple extras; a snatch strap and a shovel so we were prepared for any ‘getting stuck’ moments.
In the days leading up to the trip we kept an eye on the weather forecast. Melbourne was forecast a glorious weekend of 17 degrees. Mount Tamboritha, on the other hand, was showing 2 degrees and snow. The forecast steadily improved during the week to 6 degrees and showers and we loaded up the car with winter coats, scarves, gloves waterproofs, blankets, hot water bottles and enough food to feed our family for the weekend. Plus extra food, just in case.
We met our fellow adventurers at a service station in Officer; a friendly bunch of people who made us feel very welcome on our first outing. We set off in our convoy of 14 or so vehicles, mostly Pajeros with the odd Land Cruiser and Jeep for good measure, keeping in touch on the CBs as we went. The radio chat about ice-creams clearly made everyone hungry so when we stopped for fuel at Licola, about 250km from Melbourne, it was ice-creams all round. We were delayed in Licola after someone, not a member of our group, left without paying for their fuel. Rather than leave the General Store out of pocket, we had a whip round and everyone contributed to covering the cost. We’ll never know whether it was deliberate or an honest mistake (given the specific circumstances I’m inclined to think the former) but the incident showed the generosity of our group and that we were travelling with a good set of people.
Then it was onwards, through the foothills and up to the Sambain Chalet. We stopped en route to let a bit of air out of the tyres to give us a more comfortable ride on the dirt road and also at Bennison Lookout at about 1000m. We arrived at the chalet before sundown and set about choosing bunks and getting our things sorted out while the kids made good use of the basketball hoop outside. The view from the chalet was lovely.
The kitchen was well equipped with fridges, cooking facilities and more crockery than we’ve ever seen in our lives and the evening was a great opportunity to be sociable over food and drinks and get to know our companions a bit better. With the fires burning, it was plenty warm enough and there was certainly no need for all the blankets we’d brought along. The sleeping arrangements were comfortable, though there wasn’t much headroom in the bunks and the noise of being in a large shared dormitory was a little distracting but we all got a reasonable night’s sleep and woke up ready for a full day on the mountain tracks.
Our planned departure time was 9:30am but we were all ready about an hour earlier and keen to get started. Others had arrived during the previous evening and our convoy now made 18 vehicles. We set off up the mountain and fairly quickly made it to the snow line where we stopped for photos and a spot of snowball throwing in the sunshine.
Then it was onwards and upwards to the absolutely amazing views from the Pinnacles Lookout.
On the way down we passed signs for the Billy Goat Bluff track. We hadn’t used this track to get to The Pinnacles as it is considered a bit more challenging than the ‘Almost Beginners’ rating this trip had but, after a quick radio chat, we decided we were all up for it.
Due to time constraints we decided to go over the Razorback to the helipad and then turn round and come back. The track was very rocky and driving was slow and bouncy and our large convoy meant we needed to be very mindful of others on the track. After a quick photo stop on the Razorback (more stunning views), we continued on down a very steep hill and then up to the helipad where we just about squeezed all 18 cars onto but it was tight!
Back the way we came, more bouncing around, until we reached a good spot for a lunch break. Then off again, this time to the Moroka Hut via some muddy tracks through the woodlands.
We headed back to Sambain Chalet via yet more muddy tracks and, much to the delight of the kids, a river crossing:
It was after 5pm when we got back with time for more socialising, food and drinks before heading off to bed, tired but ready for more adventures the next day.
Again, we were all up early and had everything packed and the chalets cleaned by 9:30am – keen! Mount Margaret was the plan for this morning, again a challenging track so a few people decided to head back home. This track is tough from the outset. No sooner are you off the paved road than you’re in low range and heading up a very steep and rocky hill. Some of the more experienced members of the group went first and posted themselves at various stages along the track so they could tell the rest of us which line to take, which parts to avoid, etc.
We went up carefully, one by one, each car waiting at the bottom of the hill until called forward. We got stuck once with our wheel on a large rock and had to pull back before trying again but we made it, along with the rest of the group to the first stopping point. Once we were all together, it was off again up more steep rocky hills towards the top of Mount Margaret.
At the top we stopped for a break, a snack and a chat with, you guessed it, yet more beautiful views of the Alpine National Park. We returned the way we’d come and it was certainly easier going downhill although our car did ground a couple of times on rocks and made a few graunching noises. A few of us stopped at the bottom to re-air our tyres while others headed off to Licola to do the same. We all met up in Licola a bit later to refuel, clean our headlights & registration plates so as not to get pulled over, and eat yet more ice-cream in the warm sunshine before saying our goodbyes and heading home.
Our verdict on our first 4WD weekend? We loved it. We had a fabulous time, saw new places that we couldn’t have got to easily on our own, met some great new people (special thanks to our trip leader Barry Walker and our various Tail End Charlies) and the kids, the eldest in particular, were in their element. We probably need to invest in some car upgrades – bash plates would have been handy, the suspension could do with raising a little higher and the kids are angling for a chainsaw. We’ve already booked ourselves on our next trip – sand dune driving in Portland – and we can’t wait…
Tom Verlaine: Days on the Mountain