There are a few things that make working for this magazine bearable; driving cool cars and visiting some awesome places are two of the obvious ones.
But what makes it most interesting is working within an incredible industry that makes amazing off-road products considered the best in the world. Top gear with great people behind it is certainly a highlight of this game and, while most of the time it’s a business relationship, sometimes we like to get away for a bit of fun on the side. And fun for us means four-wheel driving.
With spring upon us we took one last chance to experience the Victorian High Country in the colder months, and we invited a few of our friends in the industry along for a few days of off-roading. Alan and Michael from Piranha Off Road, Mark and Shannon from ARB 4x4, Jake from Narva, Adam, Kirstin and Samuel from Ironman 4x4, and Hayley and Ben from Hayman Reese joined us for a mid-week adventure.
With The Gap Getaway at McAdams Gap near Matlock as home base, we explored a few steep tracks as our little convoy wound its way up into the hills. The Getaway is a rustic pub atop the range above Woods Point. It has accommodation, a cosy bar and serves hearty home-style meals to groups that book there. It’s not a public hotel but is ideal for four-wheel drive or dirt-biking groups.
After a big feed and a few beverages at the pub – followed by a warm night’s sleep – we ventured towards Mount Skene which, at 1500 metres, is one of the highest places you can drive in the High Country during winter.
The road is officially closed through the cold season, but you can get access permits via your 4WD club or association. It had been a bumper winter for snowfalls and we were told the top of Skene was near impassable, but figured we’d take a look anyway.
With enough drizzle falling to make the tracks wet – and some vehicles had all terrain tyres and no lockers, no less – we took a circuitous route to avoid some of the more challenging tracks. However, these still included steep climbs, river crossings and, when you could see through the clouds, great views. Eventually a steep, wet clay track brought the convoy to a standstill as most of the vehicles couldn’t drive up the slippery slope.
Alan had made it up in his double-locked HDJ79 on 35-inch muddies and he set-up at the top to winch the other vehicles through; his twin-motor Gigglepin winch making light work of the hauling. Adam’s portal axle-equipped VDJ79 was the only other truck to climb that hill.
As our altitude increased the mud was replaced by snow on the tracks and, as we ventured up the Licola-Jamieson Road, it became heavier. Even the rigs on mud terrains and lockers were struggling, and it wasn’t long before we were pulling up to fit tyre chains.
Piranha Off Road is one of Australia’s leading suppliers of snow chains and the only one that still custom-makes them to suit specific applications like 4x4s. Knowing where we were heading, Piranha was kind enough to loan chains to us and help fit them for those who hadn’t done it before. They certainly made a difference in this crunchy snow that was more ice than soft snow, but it was still deep and slippery.
It was a slow process of two steps forward and one step back, as each vehicle pushed ahead only to bog down and need dragging back over its own tracks. Even Alan’s Cruiser with chains on all four of his 35s was struggling.
We were approaching Mount Skene from the Licola end of the road and knew that once we reached the summit, it would be a relatively short drive back down the mountain to Jamieson. But it was tough going as we winched and pulled the vehicles through, and the navigator said we were still at least a kilometre from the top.
Michael donned a set of snow shoes and a heavy jacket and slogged on ahead to see how far it was and check the conditions while the rest of us continued to winch the vehicles. The afternoon was getting late and we soon got a call on the radio from Michael saying, “It doesn’t get any easier and if you guys are still struggling down there, it’s going to be a long night.”
With the warm bar at McAdams Gap on our minds we admitted defeat and turned tail for the long run back. It was after midnight when we reached The Gap, yet Brian and Heather had kept the fire stoked and had dinner waiting for us. It had been a 14-hour day of driving and it only took a few drinks before the cabins called.
A more leisurely drive back to Melbourne via Mount Terrible still held more mud, snow and steep terrain for us all. There was even one instance when Ben’s Defender had to be helped over a hill on the end of a line.
The old saying goes that any day in the bush is better than a day in the office, and our three days in the mountains when we’d otherwise be at work were certainly fantastic. Incredible country, brilliant people, great accommodation and hosts, competent 4x4s and the best accessories all made for a memorable occasion.
We had folks from a handful of companies with us, some of them competing brands, yet we were all mates when out on the tracks, with everyone pitching in to help each other out in the tough conditions. It’s trips like this that really make working in the four-wheel drive industry the best gig in the world.