Getting away for a family holiday is an adventure in itself.
In this instance, it was not so much the six-hour drive from Sydney to Warrabah National Park that’s an exploration, as it’s a mix of freeway and country B-roads finished off with some snaking gravel - but the trek into remote farming country that’s rarely regarded as holiday material by city folk. Or the myriad stopovers that perfectly showcase country Australia.
Northern New South Wales is fantastic destination to do some exploring, which for us meant saddling up in Toyota’s Fortuner wagon. The new 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine from the Prado delivers a stout 450Nm of torque, perfect for towing the Patriot X1 camper we’ve got hitched to the back (see sidebar). Mated to the six-speed auto gearbox in our top-of-the-line Crusade it makes for easy touring, comfortably devouring all but the steeper hills enroute. With towing fuel use hovering around 11 litres per 100km it’s respectably economical, too.
Heading to Warrabah – one of the little known of 516 national parks dotted across Australia - from Sydney you’ll pass through Tamworth, best known for its annual country music festival, plus its numerous equine events and its 12-metre golden guitar on the southern edge of town.
From there it’s quieter road north towards Manilla, right in the heart of cattle country. The quaint country town is the gateway to some local surprises, a list of which we’re taking note of to explore during our stay. Having a proper 4x4 – ladder frame chassis, low range and full-size spare tyre – ensures you can point the nose down any track that takes your fancy.
The Fortuner is well set up to smaller families (the Prado and Land Cruiser cater for larger ones) with seven seats for suburban duties and loads of space for luggage once the rear seats are folded against the sides to maximise load space. The top-of-the-range Crusade comes with plenty of creature comforts, such as leather seats, climate control air-conditioning, automatic headlights and smart key entry, which allows you to leave the key in your pocket to open the doors.
A reversing camera makes parking easier, and also makes it a snip to back the car up to the trailer. In the latter parts of the journey, though, we’re looking at what’s out the front and sides, not the back.
Pock-marked bitumen quickly turns to dirt and within kilometres reveals rolling, occasionally jagged hills that give a spectacular insight into the granite-strewn countryside ahead. The rocks are part of the Bundarra Granites that stretch to Queensland. River glimpses add to what is a scenic drive.
The harsher rocks are also part of the reason Warrabah exists. Being difficult to access and even more difficult to farm meant it was largely overlooked as productive land, instead turned into a nature reserve before achieving National Park status in 1984. These days it spreads across a relatively compact 5216 hectares, a land size that’s increased over the years as the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service bought up available surrounding land.
Enter the park and there’s a broad smattering of camp sites, each with easy access to facilities. We headed for the Gum Hole site a few kilometres away, along what’s recommended as a four-wheel drive-only road. A two-wheel drive on its own should handle the undulating and occasionally steep track, although with the trailer in tow it pays to have some extra grunt – and ability.
Once there it reveals a spectacular camp ground on a much wider section of the river. It’s the perfect spot for a canoe or kayak, or even an inflatable pool toy for exploring the edges of the river. Kids – and the occasional adult – will love the giant rope swing that makes for a more spectacular aquatic entrance. The biggest appeal of Warrabah is the serenity. Crack open a book or just sit back with a glass of wine and soak up one of the most picturesque waterholes in the country.
We’re also here to explore the surrounding region, and while the X1 camper claims to go anywhere your tow car can we went solely in the Fortuner. First stop for us is the steep, twisting road to Mount Borah. A four-wheel drive isn’t mandatory but it definitely makes life more reassuring on the challenging road with its sharp pinches.
The Fortuner’s accurate steering and supple suspension deal nicely with the jarring bumps and tight bends. Cresting the hill gives a spectacular view of the surrounding area, and there’s a fair chance you’ll spot some paragliders using what’s regarded as one of the best launch locations in Australia. If you’re game you can even book a tandem flight through the local paragliding school.
Next it’s off to Split Rock Dam, an enormous water supply for the local region. It’s great for a swim and all sorts of water sports; perfect if you’ve got a boat.
We found some more challenging tracks, one on a private road where the owner allowed us to test the mettle of the Fortuner. The excellent 225mm of ground clearance ensures easy rock-hopping, while solid underbody protection gives confidence in tackling some of the more challenging obstacles. The steep approach (30 degrees) and departure (25 degrees) angles it makes for a formidable off-roader, and one unlikely to scrape its chin.
But as we learnt on 4x4 of the Year it’s the A-TRC active traction control that expands the Fortuner’s talents. It’s beautifully calibrated for serious off-road work, to the point where the locking rear differential isn’t really required. Even on gentle throttle applications it cleanly delivers torque to the wheels with traction, the low range gearing allowing low speed control when the going gets rough.
Being based on the rugged underpinnings of the Hilux also gives reassurance the Fortuner can handle some tougher treatment and still get you home reliably.
Our home away from home was the clever Patriot X1 camper. Fully laden it’s a little over a tonne, yet cleverly folds out to a two-bedroom home with a comprehensive kitchen, BBQ, fridge and even a shower.
As Camper Trailer Australia’s Camper Trailer of the Year it’s a rugged package claimed to go wherever the car can, which is lucky, because we decided to put it to the test. It’s good knowing you can get a tad more adventurous without having to worry about what’s hitched behind.
It takes about 15 minutes to assemble with everything in place, including the optional second bedroom attached to ours. Complete with a king-sized main bed, loads of storage pockets and even in-built lighting it’s a luxurious way to go camping – anywhere.