Despite seasonal closures in Victoria, there are still places you can explore in the region during winter if you do your research. And if you can get there, you are guaranteed an adventure you won’t soon forget. As the old saying goes though, ‘with great power comes even greater responsibility’, and the responsibility of you and your travelling party is to be prepared. Winter driving presents different challenges to summer driving – one minute you could be on a lovely dirt track and the next minute buried axle deep in mud. By having these seven really simple bits of equipment with you, you’re going a long way in ensuring a fantastic time in the Aussie bush. Oh, we hope you see some snow … just please respect those seasonal track closures!
- Chainsaw … ring ding ding
Fallen trees in the High Country are a given. You will encounter trees blocking tracks, basically. If you are lucky, someone will have beaten you to it, and removed the offending wood. However, we wouldn’t advise on surviving off luck. So while we definitely recommend having a chainsaw on your trip, ensuring it is in good condition and knowing how to use it safely are even bigger considerations. A chainsaw course is a brilliant idea, and at least one member of your group should be certified. The elephant in the room here is legalities. In national parks, carrying a chainsaw is not permitted. It pays to contact the park’s office of the areas you are travelling through to see what their take on the matter is before heading off, however.
- Alpine diesel is cool
If you own a diesel-powered 4WD, and are visiting the High Country in winter, you need to run alpine diesel. If you don’t, I can assure you your 4X4 will be pretty darn unhappy in the morning if you are parked up for a few days. The reason for this, is diesel waxes or coagulates at approximately 1-2°C (it gels up, basically). This blocks fuel filters and lines, resulting in poor running – if the vehicle starts at all. The good news is that alpine diesel is available out of the pump at most service stations in the Vic High Country. So you don’t need to do anything differently, just remember to use it when filling up before heading for the hills. Alternatively, you can use additives and carefully mix your own. Heating oil is another option according to online forums, but when there is fuel readily available it begs the question as to why you would bother? If you do experience hard starting of a morning, you will need to warm the fuel system somehow. We’re not telling you to light a fire under your fuel tank either … that is bad advice. Warm water, or waiting for the sun to do its thing, is the smart call.
- Paper maps … ink isn’t dead
GPS units and apps are fantastic these days, but as far as I’m concerned a good paper map is still a very handy addition in the Vic High Country. Rooftop or Hema maps are available cheaply and readily from service stations, 4X4 stores and tourist information centres throughout the High Country, and I wouldn’t travel the area without one. A quick look online shows they sell for about $15, which is beyond cheap insurance. A paper map makes planning your adventure easier, as you can lay it out (on your rooftop … sorry, bad joke) and get an overview of the trip you’d like to do. I’d still recommend a GPS, but for the cost of two pies at Omeo Bakery (worth a stop, by the way) a paper map is hard to beat. Pro tip … get the map laminated, you can thank me later.
- Did you pack warm clothing?
As a good mate of mine once told me, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Goes without saying, but it is really important. You will need some very substantial warm weather gear in the Vic High Country. The big thing to remember is to have good quality warm shoes and socks. You can rug up, or get warm around a fire, but your feet still need to touch the ground. A woollen beanie is another solid investment, and a weatherproof jacket. You will experience all seasons in one day, from sun to snow. So it’s not just about keeping warm – keeping dry is just as important.
- Recovery kit … no, not Berocca
I feel you can sometimes bring too much recovery gear, and not what you will actually use. If you don’t have a winch, why do you need a snatch block and extension strap? Now, I know that isn’t a popular thing to write, but hear me out as I’m certainly not saying don’t bring recovery gear. If you are travelling in a group, share the load. You won’t need a full recovery kit per vehicle; that is extra weight that you don’t need to lug around. If you are travelling on your own and have a winch, then yes, bring a full kit. A bit of pre-trip planning will go a very long way here. So, what would I suggest? Here are my 10 most used recovery items in High Country conditions. Oh, please ensure you have rated recovery points front and back, that should go without saying.
- A shovel
- Recovery tracks (bring one for each wheel)
- Correctly rated snatch strap (per vehicle)
- Recovery damper
- Rated shackles
- Drag chain (handy for moving trees)
- Winch extension strap
- Tree trunk protector
- Snatch block
- Snowchains … tyre bling
If you are planning on visiting the Alpine National Park, you will need to carry snow chains. Diamond-pattern chains are the widely accepted type of snow chain for Victoria. If you are purchasing or hiring snow chains this snow season, stick with diamond pattern. In NSW, ladder pattern and spider chains are allowed, however, and are only mandatory for 2WDs as of yet. So while snow chains won’t apply to all, it is something to put on your radar, as the cost of purchasing or hiring them could hurt the alpine diesel budget. If you are hiring chains, have them show you how to fit them (even if you are a pro) to ensure a good fit. Once installed, please keep your speed down to 20 or 30km/h or whatever speed is recommended to you. If you can hear the chains making anything other than a rumbling sound, they are most likely loose and will need adjusting. Click here to check out this article we put together last year on snow chain etiquette.
- Forget the gas cooker
You know those small butane lunchbox cookers that every four-wheel driver seems to have? Yeah, they suck in cold weather … take my word for it. Couldn’t boil water, if they ignite at all. Sure there are ways around this, like warming the canisters in your jacket, etc., but the reality is butane (even when mixed with propane) doesn’t perform well in cold weather. The preferred cooking source for really cold climates is liquid fuelled such as a kerosene cooker. Or use that fire you should have roaring! I always bring my Biolite 2 stove with me personally, as it uses small sticks and leaves to heat. This saves carrying additional fuel too. Give it a go next time you are winter camping though, I assure you your little butane cooker won’t be much chop; I’d never rely on one in these conditions.