August 14, 2003

Packing It All In

Hands up if you used to watch Doctor Who in your youth. If you happen to remember that old TV show you may also recall the good Doctor’s primary form of travel – the Tardis. Used for time and space travel, the Tardis was an interesting way to get around… shaped like a regular telephone booth on the outside, the Tardis was deceptively large and spacious on the inside with room for the Doctor, his fellow adventurers and lots of funky 1960s technology. It was always amusing to see all the people and gear disappearing into this phone booth that looked like it should only fit a single occupant.

Those of us who drive Suzukis are well acquainted with that feeling, especially when packing for a weekend or longer. There always seems to be so much stuff that needs to be taken, it’s often difficult to imagine how it can all fit in, yet somehow we seem to manage it. In this article, I’d like to look at some of the tips and tricks you can use to fit more gear into your beloved Japanese Tardis.

When Donna and I first joined the club with our SWB Sierra, we did a lot of trips, long and short, and we had the packing down to a fine art. Provided you only have two people, Sierras make fine vehicles for both short and long trips. With the back seats removed, you can fit an awful lot of gear in if you pack carefully, but then of course you’re usually only packing gear for two people.

When we rejoined the club with kids we decided that we were more interested in the longer touring style trips, and that a Vitara would make an excellent vehicle for these sorts of outings. In the last year we’ve done trips to the High Country, Swans Crossing, Corner Country, Fraser Island, and have some other big trips planned too.

There are lots of good reasons to go 4WD touring in a Zook… They are capable, reliable and economical. I personally prefer to drive smaller cars – I like the performance you get from the good power-to-weight ratio. I like the light, nimble agility, both on the road and in the bush. They are cheaper to buy, register and insure and are generally easier on fuel, tyres and most other consumables. But most of all they are just a lot of fun to drive… there’s just something about Zooks that I like. With all these positives about Zook-based touring the only real downside is the space issue. For me, I’m not interested in solving the space issue by getting a bigger car; I’m interested in solving the space issue through clever packing, creative thinking and well designed gear, so we can fit in all the stuff we need without losing all those other great Zook advantages.

Let’s start with the obvious. The first thing to do is to look at the sorts of strategies used by other Zooksters. How will you pack it all into the vehicle? Will you use some form of extra storage like a roof basket or roof pod? Will you tow a trailer? This is one of the great advantages of belonging to the Club – you get to check out what other people do and see how these various strategies could work for you. How suitable each of these options are will depend on what you drive, where you plan to go, and your own personal preference.

The second thing to do is to make a realistic appraisal of the sorts of trips you plan to do and the amount of gear you will need to take… things like tents and sleeping gear, chairs, tables and cooking gear. Whenever you shop for this stuff don’t just be concerned with the assembled product but also with how it packs down. You’d be amazed at the variation in size with these articles, especially tents.

Space, the final frontier

I asked a few club members for their advice in packing and got a lot of great suggestions, but they could probably be summarised in one sentence - ‘Look for every bit of unused space in your car and fill it creatively’. There are actually lots of little nooks and crannies around the inside of your Zook and unless you actively look for them, you can easily miss them. On top of that, think about the extra space that can be gained by placing some things outside the car, on the roof under the bonnet or even on external barwork.

David Rossiter sent me a couple of photos of his car fully packed before he and Liz headed off on a High Country trip, and it’s a good example of using all the available space. As well as filling the inside of the car, the customised swingout tyre-carrier at the back enabled extra fuel, water and tools to be carried. Under-bonnet space was utilised for the air compressor. They were also carrying a fridge full of food, clothes, cooking gear, navigation and mapping gear, cameras, Drizabones – and of course David and Liz had to fit in there somewhere as well.

On the Rossiter’s most recent jaunt to the High Country they also added a length of plumber’s pipe to the roof to carry poles, pegs and ropes so they could take a large awning tarp.

Hemmi Voges offers some excellent advice for utilising every bit of space. “Remember to use the space under the seats - Det & I store all sorts of things under there! When going away we use the back of the front seats too - I made up a series of pockets for maps, torches & writing bits for kids etc. It worked a treat on the big trips. Det also made up a storage shelf above for the radio and other handy gear,” she says.

“Utilizing the space between the bullbar and the car body for that fishing rod in a fixed tube is a handy idea. The shovel attached to the spare wheel is always good too. Zip-up plastic bags are great and squash up to nothing and they're see-thru! I also use cloth bags made out of stretchy material with drawstrings… great for storing those bits and pieces that may rattle too, labelling them with texta saves forgetting what's in them.”

Buzz Walker adds his thoughts to the space issue. “Further to Hemmi’s comment about the underseat space, this is a good spot to put the air and watertight plastic container with the First Aid kit, so it's always easily accessible. A big torch is also handy, plus the jumper leads (just in case) and maybe a cloth bag with a snatch strap and two shackles.” Buzz points out that if you leave all this equipment in the car all the time, then you’ll never forget it!

False Positives

Another very useful modification is the simple addition of a rear tray or false floor, or if you really want to get serious, you can build a complete shelving unit into the back section of the car.

John Kemp describes how, in planning for a recent Fraser island trip, he removed the back seats and made up a barrier which attached to the roll cage just in front of the seats. “This gave me a lot more room to comfortably fit a couple of milk crates (1 with recovery gear, spares, tools, and the other with stove, pots, plates, cups, etc).This left plenty of room between the back door for esky, folding table and chairs, with the tent, airbeds, etc sitting nicely lengthways between the crates and wheel arches.
Adding a false floor can make a huge difference to the way you pack the back of your Zook. If you combine this with some suitably sized plastic crates which slide neatly under the false floor, it makes packing, unpacking and accessing gear during quick stops far easier. Of course, most of these false floor solutions tend to be custom built, as everyone will have a slightly different idea of how the jigsaw puzzle in the back of the car needs to be put together. The height of the false floor needs to take account of the size boxes you wish to slide under it, and don’t forget to allow for the height of the rear wheel arches.

Marcus Wilson’s Vitara has a very useful two drawer storage system in the back, which forms the basis of an extended false floor system. It also houses part of his new doof-doof stereo system, and these wooden enclosures can also make excellent bass boxes if you have that type of sound system. The extra rear floor space also fits a BBQ quite well apparently!

My old Sierra had an asymmetrical false floor which could fit a set of packed plastic crates under it, but it also extended across the top of the passenger side wheel arch to give a much wider flat area on top. The driver’s side didn’t extend out, enabling tall equipment like a foldup table to stand upright, making it easy to grab for a quick lunch stop. It also provided a great acoustic chamber for my subwoofers, which were mounted along the front panel.

There are also some nice commercially available false floors with beautifully designed roll-out drawers. Burnie Morgan has one in the back of his GV and swears by it, although he points out they are not cheap to buy. However, they do come fully carpeted and finished, with heavy duty rollers, lock points, etc.

Grant Vella uses a similar system in his work vehicles. “I have a set of commercially built roll out draws in my work ute. We have 3 vehicles in the fleet fitted out the same. They are in constant use all day (our guys visit 8-12 customers per day) and have not missed a beat. Yes, they did cost $1400 each, but are a dream to work with.” says Grant.

Shelf Life

The logical extension of the false floor concept is to create a complete shelving system, customised to fit not only the car, but the particular way you pack. Because these can be built from scratch they can be designed to suit your fridge, your tent, your boxes, so packing truly does become like a well designed jigsaw puzzle. The most impressive one I saw was built by Tim Steele to fit into the back of his Vitara wagon. A marvel of engineering, it was created using Capral Aluminium’s Qubelock System. Qubelock is a collection of high impact plastic corner pieces in a variety of shapes which are designed to work with standard lengths of square aluminium piping – just cut to length and join together with the corner pieces to form whatever shapes you like.

Tim and Leah’s shelving system was designed to fit into their Vitara without the back seat installed, and has storage space for water, recovery gear, camping and cooking gear, as well as rollout drawers for food and fridge. Says Tim, “With that storage system Leah & I were able to pack a whole bunch of other stuff in the back of the Vitara. More than we needed sometimes... I remember Chris's comment on the Victorian High Country Trip – ‘What else have you got in there?!’ That storage system was the best thing since sliced bread. Took me bloody ages to build, but made camping life a whole lot easier.”

With the arrival of little Holly, they sold the unit to James and Amy who now use it in the back of their LWB Vitara. James says, “The storage system is second to none. Load safety has improved 100%. I would suggest a storage system to anyone that goes camping or 4WDing as much as we do.”

For the sort of trips we like to do, fitting as much gear as we need for two adults and two kids raises some interesting challenges. It requires putting more gear in, while having less space to do it with. With the inspiration of Mr Steele’s aluminium masterpiece, I decided to see what could be made to fit the back of our Vitara while still leaving the back seat in place. First step was to measure all the non-negotiable equipment such as the fridge and other camping gear. Our fridge, a 35 litre Waeco, was too long to fit lengthways into the back of the car, which is the normal way fridges are installed. With a bit of creative thinking, the plan was to create a rollout tray that held the fridge sideways instead.

After a couple of quick design sketches, it was off to Capral to buy the bits. I borrowed a dropsaw from a good mate so the cuts would be neat and clean and in a couple of hours had a finished product.

The good things about it are the snug fit and three tiered shelves. The back and sides of a Vitara body slope inwards slightly so you need to account for these subtle shape changes in the design by varying the size of the shelves. Slab sided 4WDs like Sierra’s won’t have this problem. It becomes an important consideration in being able to fit and remove the unit from the car… the back door is actually smaller than the inside space, so you need to be a bit clever in the way it’s designed or you can end up wasting space rather than saving it.

A good storage unit will hold everything in place and won’t rattle. We also have a cargo barrier installed to keep us safe from flying gas bottles and axes, so whenever we use the storage unit we just cable tie it to the mesh of the cargo barrier. The barrier doesn’t support any of the storage unit’s weight, but cable tying it into place stops it from moving or rattling.

Rattle and Hum

Speaking of rattling, a well packed Zook should experience very little of it. If you pack well and think about what items are likely to be resting up against other items, you can try to avoid obvious rattles and shakes. Cooking pots and billys are a good example; to save space try to buy pots that fit neatly inside each other, but to avoid rattles try laying a teatowel between them when you pack.

I was amazed at just how quiet the storage unit keep things. Even on rough corrugated roads at high speeds, there is almost zero rattle coming from the back of the car. If you are anything like me, that is a very important feature! I’ve been known to pull over and repack the car because of a minor rattle in the back. I really hate them. Apparently I’m not alone. Says Tim Steele, “We’ve found when packing plates, billys, camp ovens etc, (things that rattle), it's a good idea to place pieces of paper towel in between, or teatowels. Stops the rattles. Leah hates rattles.”

Buzz has more tips for keeping things quiet in the back of the car…”Don't forget packaging! It’s very important to prevent things rubbing together and wearing holes in themselves. If the Corn Flakes box is hard up against a billy handle it will rub through very quickly, and the flakes will go everywhere. The same goes for plastic bottles of oil or tomato sauce. Glass should always be wrapped to prevent breakages. Use pillows, blankets and other soft items to pack between bins and boxes to prevent rubbing of hard surfaces.”

Similarly, there will always be a certain amount of soft stuff you take with you – pillows, bags, parkas, etc – and these make useful padding which can be stuffed into all those hard to reach places, providing not only storage for the soft stuff but also helping to support and protect some of the other gear. Soft stuff is useful to pack against the windows too, as it can’t scratch the glass, or worse yet, the window tinting film. Constant vibrations on Outback roads can do quite some damage if you have things resting up against the glass.

Beware of flying objects

With the car fully loaded, it can be quite dangerous if you are involved in an accident or the unthinkable should happen and you roll the vehicle. Everything in the back becomes a missile, and if Murphy’s Law holds true, these missiles will be stopped by your cranium. That can hurt.

I’ve already mentioned cargo barriers, and although I think they seem quite expensive for what is essentially a piece of metal mesh on a frame, I highly recommend them. Not only are they much safer, but they really do assist in helping pack more in, as you can pack all the way to the roof.

As an alternative, Buzz again has a suggestion. “I added ratchet strap anchor points to my old Vitara. One set on the wheel arch near the rear door and the other set on the downward curve of the wheel arch below the seat height. These were simply D-handles bolted through the metal skin of the vehicle with spring washers and nylock nuts to retain them. Cost me about $10 plus $30 for two inexpensive straps. This is partly why I didn't get brained when I rolled last Christmas. Only a few things shifted.” Good advice Buzz.

Lighten Up

Roof racks and/or a roof carry basket can be helpful for carrying a whole lot of extra stuff, especially the light, yet bulky stuff like sleeping mats and bags, clothes and even tents.

In our roof basket we fit the tent ( a big one) 4 sleeping bags, 4 sleeping mats, 2 tables, 3 or 4 clothes bags, foldup chairs and other assorted stuff. To keep it dry we use a Bushranger Rack Sack which is quite water and dust proof. We moved the Rola roof racks back as far as they go so the basket can be packed by standing on the rear tailgate or rear wheels.

Having the load on top seems to make almost no difference to the balance of the car. It drives just as well with the load on or off, but I still try to keep the weight on the roof to a minimum, mainly to reduce the stress on the actual roof structure. By the time you add road vibration and wind resistance, you can be adding more stress than just the weight of the load.

Roof bars also provide a useful way to carry long items like tent poles, or even tents. Some tents fold down into long packages and are ideally carried on the roof.

Shop Around

When you buy camping gear, think about how it works in with your back-of-car jigsaw puzzle. Look at the spaces you have available and shop accordingly. There are lots of very cool items on the market which fold down to some amazingly small sizes if you consciously go looking for them. The trick is to buy items which fit your packing plan and not just whatever brand or style the particular shop sells. Be choosy!

It’s also worth looking in the bushwalking sections of the camping stores too, because in many ways we have similar sorts of space and weight restrictions, and you can often find good ideas from products designed for bushwalkers.

Finally, speaking of weight restrictions, if you do a lot of serious camping and touring you will probably be quite loaded up. I used to pull into the weighbridge at Marulan every now and then on trips just to see how much the Sierra weighed fully laden and it was always surprising! The Sierra has a tare weight of about 800kg, so the weighbridge guys were always amused when it weighed in at well over 1500kg. Obviously, all that extra weight can stress the suspension components fairly heavily so if you plan to do a bit of touring then upgrading the suspension with stronger and more robust components is a good idea. The extra weight can also make your Zook handle differently too, so just be aware of it as you throw it into unsuspecting corners.

When it comes to packing it all in, there are tons of good space-saving ideas out there if you keep your eyes open and use your imagination. Many of the best ideas will be gleaned from seeing how others do it, and that’s one of the great advantages of being in a club. Many of the ideas in this article were gathered from other club members, and in fact there are a few more I couldn’t fit in but are worth knowing, so you might like to browse over to the website forum and take a peek. To those who contributed, thank you.

There is so much expertise and experience in this club that if you simply ask for ideas you’ll get more than you know what to do with.

Chris Betcher
August 2003
CB2801 And DBZ00K

April 26, 2003

Fraser Island with the Betchers

I originally had this trip on the Club trip calendar, but took it off for a couple of reasons. The main one was that it was turning into a bit of a mammoth visit-the-rellies trip and it was becoming harder to accurately say we would be somewhere at a particular date and time and actually do it. The other reasons are that we didn’t really think it all that appropriate to run a club trip in competition with the Jamboree, and with four kids under the age of 8 tagging along it seemed a bit much to inflict on innocent club members. So the trip was removed from the trip calendar and we did it as a private trip with ourselves, the Salemes and Donna’s brother’s family in a hired Landcruiser. I took the opportunity to make our visit into somewhat of a reccie however, so hopefully you will find it being offered again as a club trip in the next 12 months or so.

It’s been a long time between visits for us and the Island has certainly changed a lot in 15 years. It’s noticeably more commercial, and I was quite shocked when we actually hit tar at Eurong township! My recollections of Eurong were that of a general store, a petrol pump, and that’s about it.

We left Sydney and headed up the New England highway, stopping at Aberdeen to visit my nan, then cruising on to Tenterfield for an overnight stop. Next morning saw us driving across the Queensland border, through Warwick, Ipswich and into Brisbane for lunch at South Bank. While having lunch in Brisbane, we got the message about Leah and Tim having their baby, so we had a little celebration for them. After lunch we jumped onto the Bruce Highway and heading for Gympie and Hervey Bay.

Arriving at Hervey Bay in the late afternoon we stocked up on supplies at the local supermarket and headed for the local van park where we’d booked an onsite van for the overnight stay before catching the 9:00am barge from River Heads the next morning. Donna and I caught up with a old teaching buddy who now lives up that way and we had a nice barbie on the beach at Torquay and got a few lessons in the laidback Queensland lifestyle.

Next morning we all drove down to River Heads and lined up for the barge. Anthony and I loaded our little twin blue V6 Vitaras on the barge amongst a sea of great big white Landcruisers – it was quite funny to see. After such a long drive, it’s a good feeling to finally be on the barge, sun shining and water shimmering, as you make your way over to Fraser in the distance.

Once on the island at the Woongoolba Creek loading point, we made our way over to Central Station for a look at the camping options. I’d been really keen to camp at Lake Mackenzie, but a Queensland National Parks ranger we met on the barge had been telling us it was the worse place on the island for dingos, and it had some of the girls a bit worried about the kids. Although Gary was pretty happy with Central Station, I hate camping on sloped ground and Bernadette was pretty keen to be near water, so we pushed on to Mackenzie to see what we could get there. It’s pretty difficult to get a site at Mackenzie as there are only 16 spots, you can’t book them, and they are highly sought after. We couldn’t believe our luck when we managed to get three sites! Nice level sites, at the end of the camping ground and only a short stroll to the lake. We decided to stay.

The next few days were spent tooling around the island, exploring the lakes, the beaches, the inland tracks and the resorts. All the tracks around the island are soft sandy roads and are a lot of fun to drive on. It rained on the Thursday and it was amazing how the rain changed the tracks – they became hard packed and much easier to drive on, although they still had lots of big undulations to give your suspension a decent workout.

On Tuesday we visited the beach via Eurong and drove all the way up to Indian Head and the Champagne Pools. We stopped at all the interesting spots along the way – Eli Creek, The Maheno Wreck, Happy Valley resort. I’d heard that Darwin Cheung and his family were also going to be on the island so I asked about him at the resort - they said he was staying there but had gone out for the day. We happened to bump into them when we dropped back into Eli Creek later in the day.

Eli is just beautiful. It’s a crystal clear spring that rises somewhere in the middle of the island and flows out to the sea, and it’s popularity with the island’s visitors is easy to understand. We spent some more time swimming up and down the creek, or rather, walking up the boardwalk and then floating back down to the beach, carried along with the current flow. Good stuff!

We had a few spots of rain – some quite big spots at times – over the next few days, but it didn’t dampen our interest to see more of the island. Over the next couple of days, we visited Central Station again and did the rainforest walk, and learned some very interesting facts about the islands spiders – facts I’m glad we didn’t know earlier! The Salemes joined us for a drive down around the southern lakes where we saw Boomanjin, Benaroon and a couple of others whose names I can’t remember. Got to have a run along an old airstrip too, but we just couldn’t get airborne.

The dingos were a bit of a non-issue… we saw quite a few of them, but none were a problem. A couple wandered through our campsite at night a few times, but they really are pretty timid and I think so long as you stay out of their way, they really aren’t looking for trouble. I think it’s a shame they get such a bad rap.

We eventually left the island on Friday afternoon, doing the long drive back down to Hook Point, got straight onto the barge and was back on the mainland at Inskip Point all too soon. A quick drive down the beach to Rainbow and we took the opportunity to get a high pressure hose under the car to wash out the salt and sand and then we headed for the Gold Coast, where Movie World was on the agenda for the next day. The Salemes stayed on the island for another day as they were off to visit rellies at Maroochidore the next week.

Spent the next few days getting home via Gold Coast, Nambucca Heads, Casino, Grafton, Macksville, (including a very scenic drive across the main range on about 150kms of gravel) and back home via Armidale, Tamworth, and Aberdeen.

It was a great trip, and we’ll have to do it again soon as a club trip when the weather warms up.

Chris, Donna, Alex And Kate Betcher
March 2003

February 02, 2003

Advanced Driver Training Weekend

It was a dark and stormy night. No really, it was. It rained cats and dogs all night. Laying in the tent listening to it pelt against the tarp, it just seemed to continually step up a level in intensity, without ever dropping back. I haven’t heard rain like it for a long, long time.

But let’s rewind the clock a little. We were camped in the Casuarina camping area of the Watagan State Forest, having just enjoyed a terrific day of learning about 4WD recovery techniques. The weekend had been organised by Darren Smith and was aimed at giving people a chance to learn some of the important, but thankfully rarely used, techniques for getting your Zook out of serious 4WD trouble.

The weekend was well attended. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but it was a great rollup, with 13 cars meeting at the Wyong Caltex at 9:30, and still more just turning up at the campsite. After a chance to pitch tents and get set up, we eventually got down to the business end of things, with sessions in using a high-lift jack, power winching and hand winching. Darren divided the group into three and they rotated from session to session every 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see either the power winching or high-lift jack sessions, as Buzz and I were running the hand winch session. It’s a pity as I would have enjoyed learning from the other guys too. Regardless, it was great to see so many keen and enthusiastic people coming along to learn about hand winching. I really like hand winches, as they are so versatile – I managed to buy myself a little 800kg Tirfor many years ago at and it has gotten me out of trouble more times than I care to remember. I like the fact that they can pull from any direction. To prove the point, we “bogged” the Vitara pointing downhill and needing a recovery from the rear – a situation a power winch would find very awkward.

As each group came through, Buzz and I got them to set up a direct straight-line pull, a round-the-corner dogleg pull, and finally a snatchblock pull to see how you can use a pulley to reduce the effort required to extract the vehicle. All the groups get very hands-on, laying out the cables, setting up the winch points, shackling equipment together, and of course, getting physical doing the actual winching. People asked good questions (especially Thomas and Nicholas), and we had a chance to talk about a range of recovery ideas for a variety of different situations.

Overall, the feedback was great and there was a general good vibe about the day. I’m pleased Darren made a distinction between Driver training and Recovery training… I’ve always believed that Driver training was about how *not* to get into trouble in the first place, while Recovery training was about how to get out of it. When you look at the things we covered on the day, it had everything to do with recovery and almost nothing to do with driving. I like that.

After the main sessions, we were all treated to a session on airjack lifting from Nicholas and a session on using tyre pliers from Thomas and Dayton.

With heads full of recovery bravado, a group decided to venture down Creek Road to see how wet it was. Surrounded by monster Sierras, full-on Patrols, and Celia’s Vitara, DBZOOK felt a little out of place once we got to the bottom of the creek. The steps up the other side were really muddy and wet, and proved quite a challenge to the groups. Celia got up on the second attempt, thanks to her twin lockers and Simex tyres (and good driving ability of course). Pete Bailey got up under his own power, not a bad feat considering the state of the track, and in fact he was the only other one to do it. A few others made it up, but only with a bit of snatch assistance. It was a good play session.

Back at camp, we settled in for the night. Dinner was had and a great session was had around the fire telling jokes. There are some funny bastards in this club! Thanks Mick, Dayton and the others, but the “crack-up” award has to go to Ax for his string of Leb jokes. Good one Ax! We even had an STD, but names will not be disclosed here.

We eventually retired to tents about 12:30, all joked out.

During the night was when it really became very dark and stormy. I woke up about 2:30 and it was absolutely bucketing down. The heavy rain made it difficult to sleep.

In hindsight, it was a good thing that I didn’t sleep well. I was awake about 6:00 so decided to get up and I figured with the tracks so wet I’d pack up and get an early start back home. After breaky I packed the tent, folded the tarp and was ready to go. I started the car’s engine to warm it up and then went for a final walk around the campsite to say my goodbyes, but as I was talking with Karen we heard a loud crack, and looked around to see a huge tree fall directly across the front of my Vitara! I’m assuming all the overnight rain had somehow weakened the timber and caused it to break. It hit the car above the drivers side A pillar, then smashed the front of the car, deforming the bonnet and guards, pushing the hinges clean through the metal. The windscreen was completely shattered of course. I was really upset about it, but even more shaken by the fact that had the tree come down during the night, or even just a little bit earlier, or had I decided to sleep in, the tree would have come down directly on top of my tent, with me in it. I was a really scary thought, and kind of put the damage to the Vit into perspective.

It was still driveable, so we very carefully drove the car back down the hill into Cooranbong and tried to make arrangements with the insurance company to get it towed back to Sydney. Everyone from the club was very supportive and helpful. I think I was still in a bit of shock, so if I didn’t say thanks – thanks.

I haven’t heard from the insurance company yet, but given the damage, I’m not really expecting to get the Vitara back. I suspect it will be a total loss. ? What a bugger… I really liked that car.

Chris Betcher
February 2003

PS As it turns out, they didn't write it off, but decided to fix it. I'm pleased about that.

January 15, 2003

Not the New Year’s Eve Trip

Just lately, I’ve been doing a bit of travel up to Coffs Harbour, and as I gaze out the window of Virgin’s 737s, the mountains to the west of the coast have become increasingly alluring. The mountain ranges of the mid north coast extend well away from the coast, and from the air one can still see numerous tracks and trails running through them. I’d become quite fascinated by the possibilities this whole area might hold for 4WDing, and promised myself that it would be good to get up there are take a look around some time. So when Buzz announced his Not the New Years Eve trip into the forest regions around Wauchope, it immediately seemed to be the chance I was looking for to go exploring the area.

We Betchers had originally planned to drive up the coast with the Hammos on the 28th, but due to unforseen circumstances we ended up leaving later that morning and just met the others up there. The trip was uneventful, and slow… the traffic travelling north was unbelievable, with major delays at all the usual spots – Karuah, Bulahdelah and Kew. I can’t get over how many people have no idea how to merge from two lanes into one! It seems that the simple act of merging, and allowing another driver to pull into the space in front of you, really brings out people’s mean-spiritedness and aggression on the road. Anyway, I digress.

Our first shock as we arrived at the beautiful Swan’s Crossing campground was to see Buzz’s restyled Vitara looking much more like a Honda HRV. Seems he had a little “off” and reshaped the roofline somewhat. We were filled in on the awful details by Hammo and Di at the campsite, and informed that Michael and Krissie had taken Buzz to Port Macquarie hospital for treatment. He was a very lucky boy to walk away from it.

After settling in to camp, we took a quick explore of the area, walking up to the Top Hole swimming area. The campsite was stunning… a large flat expanse of green, with tall timber surrounding it on all sides and a charming creek running past our camp. The kids swam and enjoyed it, while the adults took to relaxing around the campfire.

Michael and Krissie eventually returned from the hospital at about 11:00pm after transporting Buzz back to his parents’ place near Byabarra.

Rain during the night and into the morning left many of the tracks quite damp, but the sun shone periodically during the day. A few of us decided to go explore the area, so a convoy of cars headed up the track from the campsite and onto the main ridge. Although Buzz had spent quite some time doing reccies and planning trips, without his expertise we were limited to some blind exploring of our own. Map in hand, we travelled across some good forestry roads, some steep and narrow logging tracks, as well as some tar roads into the surrounding district. After a brief stop at the Mt Comboyne lookout to take in the view, we drove out to the village of Comboyne itself where we had a pleasant picnic lunch in the park, and on to the amazing Ellenborough Falls. I wish we had a little more time here, as the falls dropped over a height of some few hundred metres into a large swimming hole, and it would have been great to do the walk into the valley and take a swim in it. Another time.

After some ice creams and my attempt to gas the locals, we headed back through Comboyne and past the “sleeping cow” towards camp. It certainly is a pretty area and was so green that it seemed almost surreal. A bit like turning the colour up on your TV so that everything seems exaggerated beyond normal. A small detour down a logging track was aborted after it got steeper and wetter and more slippery. As defacto trip leader for the day, I decided to play it safe and call it off when our car, with reasonable tyres, started sliding down the track several metres at a time. With other cars in the group running standard tyres, we decided that without a winch and without knowing what lay ahead, the smart thing was to back out. That was a little easier said than done, and the Hammomobile was used to assist The Harris’s XL7 back up the hill. Michael found out just how critical tyre pressure could be in such a situation, after going from immobile to mobile with a change of only 2 psi. The trip back up the hill took a little while but was quite a lot of fun.

Next day was superb weather, so a trip the beach at North Haven was the go. Buzz was right about the area… there is plenty of variety and things to do. It was actually quite nice to be able to camp in such a pretty and comparatively remote spot, yet still be so close to amenities like beaches and towns. We frolicked on the beach for a while before eventually heading back to camp and then moving out for another drive around the local area, this time with Buzz at the helm.

A drive to the very top of Mt Comboyne took us to a fire observation tower where we met a nice young bloke whose job was to sit in the tower all day and look for bushfires (seriously!)

More logging tracks, more trails - some quite steep ones – where Dave and Liz showed how clever their Subaru was, and Mike C showed us what a good little bus his ex-roo-shooting Sierra ute was. We found some nice loose and rutty hills to play on, with rewarding views at the end of them, and after a very full afternoon of exploring we swung via the pub at Wauchope for supplies and cheap oysters, then back to camp via Byabarra and the Buzzmeister’s mum and dad’s place. With an interesting detour in the dark we got back to camp about 9:00pm.

Brian and Dave showed us why butter knives are not the ideal tool for opening oysters, and Krissie pulled out her guitar and songbook, and another nice night was spent around the campfire.

Waking to more perfect weather on the final day of 2002, many of the crew had trouble getting started this morning. With deliberations still going on as to how to spend the day, Donna and the kids and I decided to drive up to Port Macquarie for the day and see the sights. After a bit of shopping, lunch in the pub, and a sightseeing sea-plane flight over the local area, we returned to camp to begin preparing for “the feast”. New Years Eve was planned to be a huge communal dinner and it was superb. Nibblies and drinks evolved into a virtual cornucopia of gastronomic delights - French casserole, roast chicken, garden salad, dips and chips, apple pie with cream and custard, and more… yumm! It was a great way to spend NYE.

We saw in the New Year with singing and dancing around the fire – it was very tribal – and the final countdown was marked with sparklers and horns, kisses and hugs and a great time by all.

It was great to get to know a few more people in the club, including many I’d not met before. A big thanks also needs to go to Buzz for organising the trip and making it possible for us to come enjoy the area, under what turned out to be fairly regrettable conditions for him.

Chris Betcher
January 2003