GUESS AGAIN. We take you to Victoria’s best-kept secret when it comes to awesome low-range driving.
Words, Images and Video by Glenn Marshall
I reckon Victoria is the best state in Australia for using your 4WD the way it was intended. Dirt, sand, mud and water crossings are what it’s all about. Unfortunately, the café latte-sipping bureaucrats in the Melbourne CBD make inane decisions and close tracks with the click of a send button. One place they haven’t discovered yet (which we are extremely thankful for), is the Pyrenees in Western Victoria, one of our best-kept secrets.
Major Mitchell reckoned the area reminded him of some French Alps and the winegrowers who dominate the region appear to have agreed with him. What he didn’t know is that the small mountain range is the quintessential 4WD area; it has something for everyone. Oh, and the scenery is pretty bloody spectacular too. Victorian 4WD clubs know all about the Pyrenees, with annual trips to the area by the Pajero 4WD Club, Ballarat 4WD Club and the Werribee District 4WD Club just to name a few. A group of ExploreOz forumites have a gathering here every November that attracts over 50 people each year; this is one gathering we always attend.
The jewel in the crown is Glenpatrick Recreation Reserve. This free camp used to be the cricket ground when gold was the focus in the area. Now it is a large open space complete with shelter shed, flushing toilets and dispersed firepits. There is a donation tin onsite with funds going back into the reserve to improve the facilities, so it is worth emptying your ashtray of coinage while you are there. If a bloke turns up in a Daihatsu ute, that’s Colin, the local caretaker of the reserve and he loves a chat.
I always get excited when closing in on Glenpatrick; I can’t quite pin why, but it could be the perfect campsite, sitting around a fire with mates as the stew cooks in the camp oven, the gnarly tracks or the cracking Shiraz from Mount Avoca vineyard. Whatever it is, I’m never disappointed. In the 1850s, Glenpatrick was a gold mining town, with some 200 diggers and their families plus 150 Chinese living in horrendous conditions. It was a short-lived rush. These days it’s all orchards producing apples and pears and cattle. However a number of stone chimneys are still visible in the valley as are some of the mining tunnels that have been cut into the hillsides. A pretty picnic spot is located next to the remains of the old dairy. The cows were communally milked here before being transported up and over the range to Avoca.
Having set-up camp, I relaxed in the shade, waiting for a mate to arrive. A Nissan man through and through, I was gobsmacked when Geoff turned up in a 1986 HJ75 Series LandCruiser! Complete with a bed hidden in the foldup roof! Obviously he had no need to set-up, so we aired down our tyres and hit the tracks for a late afternoon of off-road adventure. We firstly tackled the Old Glenpatrick Track, a mere couple of kays away from camp.
With the Prado locked in low, I scrambled up the hill, spitting stones and dust from my tyres, searching for grip on the steep and eroded track. The HJ75 with its leaf sprung suspension and wearing tyres showed that despite its age, it would take more than the Old Glenpatrick Track to halt its momentum. With the highest point being Mount Avoca at 747m, the Pyrenees are not a tall range. What makes it such a special 4WD region is the array of tracks that suit all types of off-road vehicle. From steep, rocky tracks where picking the right line is the difference between making it to the top or ending up with your wheel pointing to the sky, to scenic tracks across ridgelines with views to die for.
We reached the summit of Mount Avoca, a perfect spot to park the rigs and take some happy snaps, before turning onto the Main Break Track. This track is suitable for 2WD vehicles and almost circumnavigates the higher reaches of the Pyrenees State Forest, allowing good access for firefighters. Our objective was the Point Patrick Track that follows a ridgeline in the southern edge of the forest before dropping back down into the Glenpatrick valley. A drone would be perfect to capture the beauty of this track as you begin the steep drop down into the valley, mountain ranges on both sides and the farmed land below.
Low range is required to slow down the descent, allow you to pick your line and just enjoy what the eyes can see. A gate greets you at the bottom of the track; please leave as found and drive slowly past the farmhouse as you follow their driveway down to the main road. Back in camp, I set about cooking up a beef stew as Geoff replaced the bushes in the front suspension of the HJ75 (as you do). The story goes that the ‘Cruiser belonged to Geoff’s wife’s brother’s father-in-law who had owned it from new, modifying it for camping over the years. Now too old to use it, he gifted it to Geoff, who had been salivating over the vehicle for years.
Next morning, we set about exploring the Pyrenees further. Tracks such as Old Bluff, Emery, Fraser and Slate Quarry all keep you on your toes. All of the tracks require different driving techniques depending on whether you are scrambling up the rough and rutted tracks, or crawling down. Clay-based tracks where good tyres and momentum are the key and rocky tracks where tyre pressures and good low-down torque are the only things that allow you to get through.
One of the most challenging tracks is a section of Old Tiger Cat Track. The first time I led a group of vehicles down this track, upon reaching the bottom young lads spilled from one LandCruiser yelling “that f@#k%^g track was awesome!” We then learned that their Mum was white-knuckled holding onto the Jesus bar screaming “f@#k, f@#k, f@#k” …. all the way down. And just like that, the track had a new name.
Recovery gear should always be carried and a chainsaw may come in handy too. The Pyrenees are dominated by box-ironbark low down and mixed stringybark varieties healthily covering the higher elevations, and they often cop blustery northern and westerly winds. It is common to come across a fallen tree blocking the track, some bigger than others. Keeping the tracks clear of trees also helps the CFA.
With so much to offer, I for one am thankful that the greenies haven’t yet discovered what lies among the trees that cover the Pyrenees. Get up there with your mates and families and enjoy the area, you won’t be disappointed.
REGION: Central Victoria with the nearest town being Avoca.
CAMPING: Glenpatrick Recreational Reserve, which has flushing toilets, water tank, shelter shed, dispersed firepits, heaps of space, and is nice and flat in bush camping terms.
Camerons Track Campground is a small flat area with a shelter that can be accessed easily from the Main Break Track or with a challenge via Camerons Track.
TIME TO VISIT: Any time of year is okay; most tracks would be gnarly in the wet but you might get to see the creek flowing.
RECOVERY GEAR: A must, you don’t leave home without it, do you?
4X4 DIFFICULTY: From Easy to Diabolical, the reason why it is all things for all-comers.
CONTACTS: Ring Colin before you head up in case the Reserve is booked out (03 5354 8290).
WHAT ELSE: Avoca for limited supplies and fuel, a bucket load of top wineries to get your vino fix. Waterfall’s picnic area (waterfall flows irregularly).