Each year, we at the magazine like to gather a group of our favourite supporters and get away for a weekend of what we love most – 4x4ing.
Past trips have been to Fraser Island, Broken Hill, the Victorian High Country (VHC) and other great off-road locations, but when we asked our Melbourne contingent for ideas on where they would like to go this year, they all agreed the last VHC trip was so good we should do it again.
Taking a trip to the VHC in the middle of winter does restrict the number of tracks you can cover, but it also presents the opportunity to drive though some snow if you know the right tracks and have the appropriate permits. Snow covered tracks are something you won’t find anywhere else in Australia, and we were keen to explore them.
Most of the invited crew met in Mansfield on the first day of the trip and the who’s who of the aftermarket 4x4 industry lined up with some pretty impressive rigs. Representatives from ARB, Cooper Tires, Lightforce, Marks 4WD, MSA Products, Narva, Terrain Tamer and TJM were all there – some with two cars – while the crew from Ironman 4x4 would meet us later that night with another two vehicles.
There was no shortage of equipment or the knowledge to use it, so we thought we were ready for anything the tracks could throw at us.
With clear skies overhead and the promise of snow on top of the range, the convoy left town and after a quick stop to unload some gear at our accomodation, Jamieson Valley Retreat (see sidebar), we set off for the mountain tracks.
The Jamieson to Licola road is closed through the winter, but permits to drive it can be obtained via 4WD Victoria. Since it crosses Mount Skene, we had obtained the permits and weren’t disappointed as we approached the summit.
At just over 1500 metres high, you can be pretty sure of encountering snow on Skene during winter, and the white stuff lined the road from about one kilometre from the top. At 500 metres from the summit it got deep and untracked, so it was time to drop tyre pressures and put the vehicles to the test.
Our ride for the weekend was the recently completed MQ Triton from TJM, and, with front and rear Pro Lockers in, its 33-inch muddies cut a track though to the top.
We thought we’d made it easy for the rest of the group to get up through the snow, but after Jason, in the TJM Mazda, slid off the side of the track and needed a lengthy recovery, it took some time before we all got to the summit for the obligatory group photos.
Due to that delay and the weather closing in fast, we headed back to play on some of the tracks further down the mountain. The permit to cross Mount Skene is for the main road only and rules out any off-roading, with stiff penalties for getting caught doing so.
Jason led us up one steep and gnarly track that soon stopped his Mazda despite his best efforts, so we challenged Leigh in the Marks 4WD LC79 to have a go. The Cruiser is a formidable bit of kit, with a tuned V8 diesel, six-speed auto conversion and a set of prototype Marks 4WD portal axles. Marks has been doing portals for Nissans for years; these are the first set for the Land Cruiser and we were keen to see how they performed.
The V8 bellowed up the hill and, as expected, the Cruiser went further than the BT-50, but then it slid sideways and backed the tray hard into the bank. The mud here was greasy and another lengthy recovery was needed to get the Cruiser out.
This recovery highlighted the best part of these trips. We had all the big names in the 4x4 accessory business there, many of them rivals in the market, but on these weekends, rivalries are pushed aside and everyone pitches in to help.
And while you can only have so many hands on in a vehicle recovery like this, those who weren’t actively involved were only too happy to stand back and offer friendly advice. This camaraderie continued back down the mountain at the retreat and later in the pub for dinner.
There aren’t many industries where you can have staff from competing companies all enjoying time together over some 4WDing, a good meal and a few beers. It just shows that these great Australian 4x4 brands are built on the fantastic people staffing them; it’s no wonder our products are so well regarded around the world.
The group went back over Mount Skene again on Saturday, this time crossing over the now icy summit and enjoying the 4WD tracks on the other side, taking a steep and circuitous route to reach the old mining town of Woods Point. A stop for a pot at the Kevington pub on the way back to Jamieson Valley paved the way for another good night.
After a look through Valley Retreat owner Freddie’s photo gallery, some of the group had to make their way back to town, while the remainder took off on another 4x4 trip out toward Mount Terrible. It was a more relaxing drive this time – the perfect way to end a great weekend with top people.
So where are we going next year, guys?
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