Four nights of camping in cold, wet and blustery winter conditions in WA’s great south might have some people questioning their sanity. Especially when you find out that these crazy campers drove halfway across the country for the event.
Allow me to introduce the FJ Cruiser Club of Australia, where common sense may be lacking but passion and determination certainly aren’t. When it comes to can-do attitude and a real sense of community spirit, these guys have it in spades.
While the eclectic bunch of singles, couples and families all own FJ Cruisers, each vehicle is as individual and unique as their owners. Their hardcore love of the outdoors and respect for the Aussie bush is a common bond. This is a club with a family-friendly atmosphere, camaraderie and genuine desire to simply have fun. And neither rain, hail or shine, freezing temperatures, mud or burning heat could dampen the enthusiasm of these members for their National FJ Cruiser Summit.
This year’s bi-annual national summit was held on the Rainbow Coast. During winter, when the sun is just 42 degrees above the horizon, rays stream in from the north and refract through raindrops in the air off the vast southern ocean to produce an idyllic array of rainbows. It’s a mix of spectacular sandy beaches and harsh, rugged, rocky coastline set against a backdrop of timeless karri and tingle forests on WA’s southern coast; ranging eastwards from old timber town Walpole in to historic Albany, Western Australia’s first settlement.
When planning the summit for September, the organisers – James Mandy, Troy Shortland and Gavin Gillet – were expecting typical clear balmy days and cool but comfortable nights. Certainly not what you’d consider to be a particularly testing experience. However, the weather gods had other ideas.
Halfway between Walpole and Denmark (the Australian town, not the European destination), Ayr Sailean was the perfect base for the summit, offering onsite chalets, 52 campsites and a fully enclosed camp kitchen.
As James explained: “Club members had the opportunity to explore incredible karri forests, beautiful beaches and magnificent dunes; do a spot of fishing, great 4WDing or kayaking and could plan their trip via winery regions or other scenic destinations.”
The organisers planned thoroughly, including a couple of recce trips to plot out the weekend. “All destinations had to be accessible by a factory standard FJ,” Troy confirmed.
The day trips provided every club member with the opportunity to experience the best the WA south coast has to offer, with varying degrees of difficulty and expert assistance for any less experienced 4WD jockeys.
There were plenty of activities to entertain the family, starting with a group sausage sizzle at base camp where Richard Nicholls from Adventure Offroad Training provided some handy tips on driving techniques, safety and vehicle recovery. A fun-filled quiz night on Sunday evening with awesome prizes kept everyone happy. For those who needed a rest day between 4WD adventures there were options to explore local tourist destinations, restaurants and wineries.
Despite being unable to control the weather, no-one could deny Troy, James and Gavin made a herculean effort to provide something for everyone, including plenty of 4WDing.
On Sunday, Troy Shortland led a convoy of some 30 FJ Cruisers through the Yeagarup Dunes, the largest land-locked mobile sand dune system in the southern hemisphere, approximately 20km from Pemberton.
Yeagarup Lake, at the end of Ritter Road in the Warren National Park, provided the perfect opportunity for everyone to air down and extend their tyre footprints before following a 4WD track to the constantly moving entry point of the dunes. This time it was a straight hill/dune climb up around 50m high. By airing down, the vehicle’s weight was distributed over a larger surface area, allowing the Cruisers to be driven on soft sand with little compaction.
The need to air down became apparent when a family was found with their Grand Jeep Cherokee precariously resting on its chassis rails halfway up the climb. Troy was quick to respond to the father’s distress; unstrapping the MaxTrax, a long-handled shovel and a snatch strap. Within minutes the Jeep was out and Troy provided the grateful driver with some helpful advice on tyre pressures and techniques for negotiating the troublesome soft sand.
Richard’s advice on how to correctly set up vehicles for dune driving immediately paid dividends. With tyres correctly set and controlled to moderate momentum, almost all the FJs successfully conquered the dunes on their first attempt to the cheers
of supportive onlookers.
After negotiating the entry, the drive through the dunes to the Warren River is well marked and easy to follow. It’s not only safer to follow the marked route, it avoids any unnecessary vehicle access to sensitive areas. Fortunately the majority of the 4WD community respects the guidelines.
On a good day it’s possible to cross the Warren where it meets the ocean and enjoy a further drive along the beach before tackling the very long and challenging climb back out via the steep gradient of Calcup Hill, which is guaranteed to test any traction control system due to the steep, soft and deep-shifting sand.
However, the Warren River is unpredictable and, depending on the weather conditions, it can be a calm stream or a raging torrent. After several days of rain and hail the Warren looked dark and ominous, flowing at such a speed that large plumes of sand erupted through the water and carved a deep channel through the beach.
Luckily, saner heads prevailed and the team leaders put the safety of every club member first, deciding not to indulge the curiosity of those who hadn’t experienced how a sandy base can rapidly and disastrously turn into the consistency of quicksand. Unsurprisingly, the Warren crossing was a no-go zone.
The following day club members chose from a range of smaller excursions. Troy invited me to ride shotgun on the Peaceful Bay excursion. Only a few kilometres from base camp the scenery was spectacular with lots of twists, turns, climbs and dips as we followed the many 4WD trails through an ancient landscape.
Some of the sandy climbs had rubber mats (and there’s the odd wooden section), which have been installed due to track damage. With the rubber mats offering good traction, it’s unlikely you’d have any trouble traversing even some of the steeper sections.
Mother Nature had kindly topped up some of the larger hollows with long, deep puddles as we made our way down to Rame Head beach. This was nothing the FJs couldn’t take in their stride, and it provided a perfect opportunity to soak the photographer. Down on the beach, members sat back to enjoy a little sunshine after another cold, wet night, while drivers tested their skills by reading the cyclic pattern of the waves and running the gauntlet of a small beach crossing to a rocky outcrop on the other side.
James Mandy took another group to Bornholm Beach. As James explained: “This drive wasn’t for the faint-hearted, while the trails are basic and easy-going, the incredible descent to the beach is the only way in and out. Coming out of this beach will test a driver’s skill, vehicle set-up and patience. It may require tyre pressures as low as 5psi, and it has earned a position on the bucket list for most difficult beach exits in Australia.”
Gavin Gillet headed a group out to Boat Harbour. Gavin told me: “It’s an enjoyable drive, as you travel easy sandy trails lined by shady peppermint trees to make your way to the stunning location of Boat Harbour. A simply beautiful bay lined by rocky outcrops. A perfect place to enjoy a cool dip or cast a line.” Spoiler alert: keep an eye out for Gav’s rig in an upcoming edition. It’s well worth the look.
Despite very cold overnight conditions, including hail and rain that turned base camp into something of a mud pit, it was an excellent weekend with every attendee having nothing but praise for the event.
There’s also a serious side to the FJ Cruiser Club of Australia, and special mention has to go to hard-working club administrators Walter Meerza and Robert Hardpan. This is a club where members don’t take their personal good fortune, the environment, or the privilege to explore it for granted.
They work hard to engage with local businesses who donated products for auction and prizes – all to raise funds for a very worthy charity. Over the course of the summit the club raised a very impressive $9243 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation to help grant a special wish for a seriously ill child.
A huge thanks for the community-minded spirit of the many sponsors involved: ARB Wangara, Rhino Rack, Camera Electronic, Adventure Offroad Training, Spotters Sunglasses, BA Mufflers, Pussyfoot Socks, Pure FJ Cruiser, Ellis Precision, Drifta Camping & 4WD, Getaway Outdoors, Vasse Felix Wines, Toyota Insurance, Ayr Sailean, Vanos Personalised Gifts, and Redarc.
And my thanks to Troy Shortland who invited me along and allowed me the opportunity to contribute to the fundraising by donating the photographs for attendees to ‘purchase’ via contribution to Starlight.
SWAG OF PRIZES
Check out these awesome prizes and giveaways members were awarded during the summit – talk about setting the bar high for future summit meetings!
FIRST PRIZE: J. Fitzpatrick, WA
ARB 60L Fridge, one year of Toyota full comprehensive insurance, BA Mufflers cat-back exhaust system for FJ Cruiser, Bushranger Nighthawk spotlights, ARB air compressor in case CKMP12, Spotters Sunglasses prize pack, MaxTrax, Vehicle Recovery Device, $300 Online Voucher from Pussyfoot Socks, and an ARB Ezy Deflator tool.
TOTAL VALUE: $5301
SECOND PRIZE: B. Jacobs, WA
ARB Skydive Double Swag, ARB air compressor in case CKMP12, Spotters Sunglasses prize pack, MaxTrax, Vehicle Recovery Device, $300 Online Voucher from Pussyfoot Socks, Fenix Titan XT LED light bar, and an ARB Ezy Deflator.
TOTAL VALUE: $2405
THIRD PRIZE: S. Brown, SA
ARB Premium Recovery Kit RK9, $300 Online Voucher from Pussyfoot Socks, Fenix Titan XT LED light bar and an ARB Ezy Deflator.
TOTAL VALUE: $1156
Rhino Rack donated a Rhino Rack platform and backbone set-up specifically for an FJ Cruiser. The winning
bid was C. Cheetham of
Victoria for $1370.
N. Lambert of WA secured an impressive Redarc Tow Pro for a cool $220.