A CAMPFIRE in the million-star hotel, a good meal and comfortable bed, like-minded travellers for company, and another day ahead of good touring on rarely travelled tracks. Sound like a grand idea? Of course it does.
While some folk have nearly as much fun researching and planning the route, there are plenty of others who’d rather pack up and drive without the hassle of organising permits, working out fuel stops, and ensuring a big group travels harmoniously.
Not to mention setting up and pulling down overnight campsites, digging latrine holes, cooking meals after a tiring day, and attending to rigs that require urgent bush mechanics. On balance, the highs of a trip away far outweigh the lows, but there is a better way to organise it: get someone else to do all the hard work.
Joining a 4WD club means you can depend on a trip leader to do the heavy lifting of planning a getaway, but you’d need a fully catered tagalong tour to take care of some of the other hassles. Even then, chances are you’ll be asked to help with all the chores, as the crew will be a small group to keep costs down.
There is a third alternative: the Variety 4WD Challenge, a charity motoring event that raises money for children in need. The 2017 Variety getaway included 880km of travel in seven days through the Southern Flinders, with only about 40km on bitumen.
The route passed from Port Pirie to Spear Creek, Horseshoe Top End, down through the Clare Valley to Marrabel, and finished up in the Barossa Valley. It was designed to test the limits of a standard 4WD and provide even experienced 4WDers with some challenging sections.
Newbies need not be concerned, though, with trip leaders providing expert coaching when required and planned workarounds for the tougher terrain. There’s no need to modify your fourbie to tackle a Variety trek, but the one strict requirement is that strong all-terrain tyres be fitted.
The event not only travels with a mobile tyre support vehicle to fix and repair damaged tyres and keep your vehicle mobile, but also a fully equipped mobile workshop to tackle any mechanical issues that may arise, including dealing with damage from encounters with unfortunate ’roos.
The amazing levels of professionalism and support the officials bring to a Variety Challenge make it a smooth adventure and enable the convoy to travel through normally inaccessible terrain.
Gavin Gillett of Summit eXpeditions said, “What really impressed me was how well the organisers managed the tricky tracks. With 55 cars, I would have deliberately lowered the difficulty of the tracks to ensure we didn’t have massive delays. I break up my tours to 10 or 15 cars per trip leader and spread the load on the track out.
Variety is so well-organised they can send all 55 cars down the same track without bottlenecking, without disturbing other track users. And when there is a recovery of some kind to be made, they are very quick at getting the convoy moving again. I think the longest we were ever delayed might have been one hour for the whole trip.”
All of this sensible business acumen and professionalism means Variety has the credibility to gain access to areas that a single tourer, or even a well-organised club, simply couldn’t drive through. For this trip, Variety worked with SA Water, SA National Parks and Forestry SA, as well as private land owners, resulting in plenty of tracks that had rarely seen a tyre, let alone a convoy, before.
Guests traversed the rocky slopes of Spear Creek Station and experienced spectacular views as they scrambled up Mount Horrocks, stopping for an ice cream at a spectacular waterfall hidden away on private property. The unique route through Mambray Creek to Horrocks Pass along locked fire tracks provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views across the Spencer Gulf.
Explore more of South Australia
So, the Variety Challenge entails unique terrain and a well-equipped convoy, but what else makes it an ideal camping trip? Firstly, let’s deal with the camp set-up. Not only is the campsite fully set up by the service teams, who erect huge marquee tents and arrange dining tables and chairs, but it’s complete with mobile off-road trailers with hot-water showers and flushing toilets.
Every night kicked off with a complimentary happy hour of drinks provided by sponsors, followed by gourmet food prepared by expert chefs – think crayfish, oysters, giant prawns and succulent 600g rib-eye steaks.
Given guests were similarly well fed at breakfast and lunch – as well as morning and afternoon tea – it’s a good thing most nights included dancing to the live tunes of John O’Dea, Antonio Villano and Kate Lara. Side-splitting laughter, thanks to comedy acts like the cheeky Mikey D, also helped burn off calories.
It’s no wonder plenty of guests are repeat offenders – some had even participated in up to 20 similar events! Entire families get involved, and multiple generations come along with two goals: to have a great time and to raise as much money as possible.
Variety does plenty of work to make fundraising as easy as possible: they organise an army of volunteers to act as the service teams to manage campsites; most of the professional folk donate their time and expertise; sponsors provide food and drinks; and landowners, like Jim and Terese Connell of Horsehoe Top End, donate the usage of their property for campsites.
Auctions offer everything from wine, helicopter rides and luxury holidays, to a cardboard tube turned into a “didgeridoo” and signed by all participants.
When the Barossa/Gawler Historic Car Clubs chauffeured everyone to a final dinner, it was announced this year’s event raised $577,000 (net) for children in need – the second highest amount in the event’s 23-year history.