EMERGING from the forest on the track into Rover Park leads to a ridgetop, where in all directions the land stretches away in folds of green. You could be excused for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn, but you haven’t.
For 20 years this had been the domain of its founders, Hans and Heidi Hautle. They had welcomed untold numbers of 4WD enthusiasts to share it with them, but in December 2017 they stepped down in favour of new owners Matt and Meg Maloney. However, Matt and Meg want to continue where Hans and Heidi left off.
“We don’t intend to change anything much,” Meg said. “We want to continue keeping Rover Park as a family oriented place.”
One of the keynotes essential to the Rover Park way is that campsites aren’t organised. You may choose to camp in the main area not far from the kiosk where there is an amenities block, or you can joss down in a number of campsites scattered throughout the park.
The idea is for the visitor to get back to the feel of bush camping that was done before the advent of National Park-style signs and barriers. However, each of the remote campsites still offer the convenience of a long-drop dunny.
To reach one of these campsites you must negotiate the network of tracks within the park. Each track is graded according to its level of difficulty, with the toughest ones labelled Extreme. If you’ve come here to ride your trail bike then it’s a different matter, as bikes are restricted to a designated track system in the base area, for safety reasons.
Other options include static accommodation built around on-site caravans that offer higher levels of comfort (electricity, and some even boast a fireplace). You still have the use of the amenities, though, with flushing toilets and showers.
Long-time Rover Park regular Tony Parry volunteered to be our guide for the day, so I climbed into his modified 80 Series Land Cruiser. The 80 Series took the tracks in its stride, and right behind us and along for the ride was a group from a Lismore-based 4WD club called the “Foot Flat”.
Tony is someone the Maloneys have come to rely on a fair bit, as Meg explained. “Some of our regulars, Tony in particular, do a lot to help out around here,” she said. “When it gets busy, like in holiday times and people get stuck on a track, it’s usually blokes like Tony who go out to recover them.”
I asked Tony about this and he said it can get a bit “interesting” at times. “We usually take a team of up to three vehicles out on a recovery,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to be in for, and an extra vehicle or two can make all the difference if someone has slid half-off the track.”
The Cataract River, with about a four-kilometre frontage, is the back boundary of the park, and there are some great camping opportunities along here – I’m reliably informed there are bass and eastern cod in the river, however, fishing was far from the minds of those in our convoy as we came to the base of a pretty gnarly looking Mullet Mountain Track, which was labelled as Extreme. As Tony’s 80 Series is his daily driver, he decided not to go up. “I’ve got my other car in the shed at home for this sort of thing,” he said. A couple of others were not so restrained.
Ron Borton showed up in his little but extremely modified Suzuki LJ30. His son Chris was already busy trying to get his Patrol ute up there, and Ron sat none too patiently waiting for his young bloke to get out of the way.
Chris decided it wasn’t going to happen and let Dad have a go. The little three-cylinder wheezed and belched out some blue smoke, then trailing more fumes it waddled its way to the top with barely a wheel spin. There was a trolley jack in the back of the Zuke and I asked Ron if it was some sort of recovery tool. “Nah, just keeps a bit of weight over the back wheels,” was his reply.
4x4 Parks Guide: Land Cruiser Mountain Park, Qld
A mud map of all the tracks in the park is available, but Tony has plans to upgrade it. A big GPS unit sits on the top of the Land Cruiser’s dash and he aims to put all the tracks on a map, complete with ratings, nearby campsites and names. He believes this will not only help newcomers to find their way around, it will also help to keep them out of trouble.
The entire property covers about 16km², but the main area that contains the trail-bike track, a waterslide and a flying fox takes up about 7km². Once again it’s all about being family friendly, and there’s a pet llama and an alpaca keeping the weeds down in the stockyards. There are also some ponies, goats and donkeys to keep the kids amused.
Speed is strictly controlled and any offenders will be asked to leave. This means no donuts in the camping areas; there’s a spot set aside for that sort of thing called a ‘play area’. Besides, burnouts and other stunts don’t do the nicely grassed camping areas any favours. For safety reasons, night driving is also not permitted.
The entire locality here was once a gold-mining area. Back in the late 1890s all sorts of fortune seekers came looking for that elusive metal. Today, you can still do a bit of gold panning, and Meg will be happy to help you out – or at least she’ll point you in the right direction. Just don’t count on getting rich, the old timers gave the place a pretty good seeing to.
Destinations for the adventurous on 4x4 Explore
ROVER PARK is situated on the Bruxner Highway, roughly halfway between Tenterfield and Drake. Fuel is unavailable at Drake, but Tenterfield is more reliable and about 40km away.
Coming from Tenterfield you’ll see the sign on your left; if you come in via Casino you’ll turn right. If you come from Brisbane the best way would be to go to Warwick or Toowoomba and follow the New England Highway to Tenterfield, then take the Bruxner Highway east. From near Ballina on the coast it’s about a 400km round trip.
WHAT TO BRING
COME fully provisioned and have sufficient fuel and water to explore. Some basics can be bought at the kiosk. Firewood can be gathered in the park and Meg or Matt will show you where, as they don’t want trees cut down. Alternatively, you can buy precut wood.
SORRY, but mobile phones won’t work here, and you’ll also be deprived of email. There is a pay phone at the kiosk, though. All comms are by UHF radio and channel 16 is monitored at all times.
IF YOU stuff up big time and need to get pulled out, you may find yourself making a donation to the recovery team. The fee will depend on how badly you blew it and how much gear it takes to get you out. Remember, vehicle recovery is potentially dangerous, and these blokes are using their gear and vehicles on their own time. It’s best not to put yourself in that position.
CHECK out the Rover Park website at: roverpark.com.au
Phone: (02) 6737 6862