As the roads began winding and the trees became dense, we knew we were heading into a weekend of adventure and we could feel the anticipation in the air.
We arrived at the base point of the Mountain Top Experience Advanced 4WD Training course and were greeted by a line-up of four wheel drives, each with their own unique set ups and impressive modifications. We pulled up on the gravel and set off into the group to meet and greet the other drivers. Amongst them was Ron Camier, a well-known local throughout the Victorian High Country and our mentor for the training ahead. He immersed us in stories from his history in the region and the many experiences he had from his work with emergency 4WD recovery.
We spent the morning in the classroom covering everything from suspension to safe recovery procedures and were handed a guide book overflowing with in-depth information and quirky antidotes from Ron’s 40 years of four wheel drive experience. By lunchtime we were all eager to hit the tracks and test the capabilities of our vehicles, each with their own strengths and limitations. Before we knew it, we were in the midst of Walhalla, low range engaged and heading to our first training exercise. Rolling up to the banks of Cooper Creek, we were given extensive instruction on how to prepare for a deep river crossing, things to watch out for and the ideal speed to create that sought after bow wave.
The river bed was lined with pebbles and had a rather fast flowing current. One by one, our convoy crossed and when it came to our turn, we engaged our rear differential lock and dipped into the cool waters of the crossing. With a little momentum we made it through with the water seeping no higher than our bonnet.
Travelling further down the track, the grey clouds started to gather and with a steep climb before us, we were showered with heavy rain, instantly transforming the dry sandy road into slippery clay. We used this opportunity to learn how to safely reverse hill start but the rain was relentless and the day was nearly done, so we took the old coach route back to town. This was probably the most valuable lesson of the weekend; with night falling on a convoy of 4WD’s, take the safest route out. There’s no point in tackling a steep climb in heavy rain, coated in slippery mud just for the sake of doing it.
The local pub was our choice to dry off, grab a cold beer and a meal for the night. The Stockyard pub in Rawson was covered with quirky décor from the regions history and the food did not disappoint. We decided on the ‘Stockyard Special’, a chicken schnitzel topped with vegemite and avocado. Does it get more Aussie than that?
Day two dawned upon us as our convoy made their way to Holly Plains State Park. After some theory lessons relating to the day ahead, our tyres hit the sand and we were rolling over kilometres of sand hills before stopping at a hidden quarry for lunch.
This is where we practiced our winching techniques and snatch recoveries, demonstrating the importance of safety and more importantly, basic common sense when out in the bush.
The day threw a few more exciting challenges our way with a combination of rally driving through tight bends, climbing steep sand hills and even some rock ledges for us to navigate through. We left the park with smiles on our faces and regrouped nearby with our convoy to debrief on the weekend and say our goodbyes.
Overall, the weekend really exceeded our expectations. Not only did we meet a great bunch of people and indulge in the stories shared amongst the group, the knowledge and experience shown by Ron is truly commendable. Considering ourselves seasoned four wheel drivers, we managed to soak up an incredible amount of information which goes to show that this course is designed for drivers of all levels. Beginner or advanced, we would recommend this course to anyone wanting to expand their knowledge and learn the limitations of their car in a controlled and safe environment.
The course is held throughout selected weekends of Spring & Summer. Cost is $310 per driver and $60 for passengers.
Budget accommodation is available at Mountain Rivers Tourist Park.http://www.mountaintopexperience.com/training/