After two testing days at the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground, we had a fair idea of our six 4X4OTY contenders’ capabilities.
Here we drove each vehicle back to back on the same lines over the same challenging obstacles, to give us an idea of each vehicle’s suspension flexibility, traction control, hill-descent control and more. But, no matter how good a proving ground is, there is no substitute for being out in the real world on real 4x4 trails that can vary from easy to extreme. And what better trails are there than those of the Victorian High Country? We were lucky that the High Country was so close – it offers not only a very challenging driving area, but also great camping and fabulous scenery.
After we left the steep-sided gorge of the Werribee River at the proving grounds, we skirted around the edge of Melbourne and took to some good dirt roads around the Yan Yean Reservoir. That took us through to Kinglake and more blacktop to Mansfield at the base of the High Country.
We dropped tyre pressures once we were on the dirt road to Sheepyard Flat and then crossed the Howqua River at the Flat, without stopping. From here the route climbed steeply to Eight Mile Gap, and we pushed on along a variety of trails that slowly deteriorated as they passed under and around the sheer rock face of the Bluff on the way to Bluff Hut.
First built in 1956, the hut was ravaged by the 2007 inferno but was quickly rebuilt by the Stoney family, which had built the original hut. It’s a top spot to stay overnight and to enjoy the views and play of light across the mountains.
The next morning, we dropped down the relatively steep 16 Mile Jeep Track to come to Pikes Flat on the edge of the Howqua River and then, a little farther upstream, Bindaree Hut, with its extensive flat dotted with huge mountain ash.
A quick climb and then a drive around the Circuit Road had us at Speculation Road before we took a break at the long, narrow clearing that surrounds King River Hut. From here, our route took us along more challenging tracks as we climbed up on to the Cobbler Plateau, although the section of track known and revered as ‘The Staircase’ no longer offers the tough challenge it once did.
After a quick stop at Lake Cobbler (another nice camp spot), we were on our way again, taking the ridgetop run along the Abbeyard Lake Cobbler Track. Again, this has some steep sections and the views across the ranges are superb.
At the bottom of that not-so-terrible descent, we turned to follow the Buffalo River downstream on what was a pretty good dirt road. There are some enjoyable camps dotted between the road and the river and we pulled up at one to enjoy the tranquillity and to discuss the merits of each of the contenders.
For the last day our route took us farther downstream until we crossed the spine of the range on the Goldie Spur Track, which cuts across the southern edge of the great rock massif of Mount Buffalo. Once in the historic Buckland Valley, we amused ourselves on a variety of short, minor 4WD tracks for the benefit of the cameraman and the photographer, before turning north and meeting with the bitumen for the long run home; our job complete for another year, almost.
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HOME: 4X4 OF THE YEAR 2016
On the shortlist for 4X4OTY 2016 were the Hilux, Triton, Fortuner, Prado, Navara and Everest.
The six best 4x4 vehicles of 2015 battling it out to be crowned 4x4 Of The Year 2016.
Only one of the six best 4x4s from 2015 can be crowned 4x4 Of The Year 2016
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