May 16, 2005

Blue Mountains Explorer

It's not often these days that a Suzuki Club trip is comprised of only Suzukis – the zook ambience is usually disrupted with a Nissan or a T'yota or two. And although it's not totally out of the question to have a new member come on a trip, it's unusual for a trip to be attended by only new members. So when I rocked up in Mittagong for the recent Blue Mountains Explorer trip I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had an all-Zook cast and all were new members with the club on their first overnight trip. It was a bit déjà vu for me, as my very first drive with the club was also down the Wombeyan Caves Road and into Limeburners Flat. (Well, it kind of was… long story for another time)

Anyway, Michael (Grand Vitara), Evita (SWB 2.0 Vitara), Steve, Liz, Ethan and Abbey (XL-7), and myself (XL-7) met at Mittagong Information Centre at 9:00am as arranged, and we headed off down the Wombeyan Road. As we stopped at Goodman's Ford to admire the view we were joined by Ron, Andrew and Samuel (XL-7) who were running a bit late and got to Mittagong just after we'd left. And as soon as we continued on to Wombeyan we heard Anthony, Bernadette and Rebecca (V6 Vitara Estate) on the UHF, so by the time we arrived at the caves the whole group had assembled. The Saleme's had just come along for the day and were heading back to Sydney that afternoon, but for the rest of us it was going to be an evening in Limeburners followed by the famous Caves to Caves run the next day.

No one was quite keen enough to do the full cave tour, so instead we just walked down to the grand archway and had a look before getting back on the road towards Limeburners. Since most of the crew was fresh from their driver training, they were eager to get into some proper 4WDing to try out their new skills. Apart from a relatively easy descent down onto the flats, the driving was fairly straightforward, but I promised them they would get a chance on the Sunday when the terrain got a fair bit more interesting. Until then they all seemed quite content to settle into a roaring fire and make the most of their first night camping with the club. I remember one of the best things about learning to camp with the club was the gastronomic delights of cooking around a club campfire. It's embarrassing to admit, but before the club came along I was content to eat very simple food when camping – say, baked beans from a can, or 2 minute noodles. Then I met a guy called Andrew Gordon who used to say that “when camping, one should eat like a king!” Then on a Vic High Country trip one year, we were all amazed when the Victorian guys were cooking up roast dinners and desserts. I thought all our newbies did a remarkably good job of their meals that night and I didn't see anyone eating from a can, so well done guys! (Although I still enjoyed my honey and soy chicken wings on a bed of steaming hot rice with fresh corn… yummy!)

It was cold that night and the squally wind gusts didn't make it any warmer. The fire was a corker and I think everyone enjoyed the campfire atmosphere that night, including the mandatory marshmallow roasting, and a bit of stargazing through Andrew's telescope into the crystal clear Southern Highlands sky.

Next morning we broke camp by about 9:30 and started our journey for the day. The fun and games soon started with the first crossing of Limeburners Creek. The exit from the creek was not difficult but contained an excellent “learning rut”. The terrain had some great opportunities for learning about the importance of wheel placement, line picking, and using the car's gearing to drive smoothly and with control. Sometimes the best line through an obstacle is not the obvious one, and that single big hole in the track seemed to be a penny-dropping experience for some of the crew. Moving on to the first of the day's steep hills, we had further learning opportunities. Michael's standard tyres were not helping his progress uphill, and the very loose surface caused him a few headaches. After several unsuccessful attempts to climb the hill he reluctantly agreed to me attaching a snatch strap and giving him a hand to get up it. Don't worry about it Michael! Everyone needs a bit of help at some stage, and it just shows you why they say never go 4WDing on your own.

The rest of the team followed up the hill, with Evita and Ron in particular taking some great lines and making it look too easy. Some more uphill and downhill terrain and we eventually got to the Oberon Stock Route Road. Turning right would have taken us to Yerranderrie, but we decided to save that for another time, and instead turned left towards Dingo Dell. The road to Dingo Dell passed through the edge of the National Park, then through some State Forestry pine plantations, until we eventually reached the descent into the camping area. We stopped to admire the views of Morong Falls coming down the nearby ridge, and then crawled down the hill into the Dingo Dell camping area for a lunch stop.

Lunch was had and we carried on to the crossing of the Kowmung. Some of the group had heard all sorts of scary stories about crossing the Kowmung River but there was nothing to worry about this time, as the water level was quite low and the crossing has had quite a bit of work done to it by National Parks, so it's nothing like the crossing it used to be back in the good old days.

Coming up the hill from the Kowmung, past Tuglow Caves , we decided to take a short cut along the Morong Creek Firetrail to get to Kanangra. I'd never used this trail before, so was unaware of the roughness of the entry into the creek crossing on Morong Creek. Some more careful line picking was needed, but by this stage the crew was getting pretty confident and were happy to give it a go. Michael offered to walk the creek first, (thanks mate!) and we discovered the crossing itself was pretty straightforward, it was just the actual entry that was a bit tricky… lots of big rocks, a huge hole in just the wrong spot, and an angled rock shelf to throw you offline. I got my XL across first without too much trouble, and then used the portable UHF to help talk the others across. Apart from a few interesting three wheel moments, (probably the highest wheel lift I've yet to see on an XL-7, thanks Steve!) the whole crew got across with a few scraping sounds but no real dramas. You could see their driving skill and confidence improve throughout the day with every obstacle they came to.

Back on the Kanangra Walls Road we got out to the Walls in time to see them catching the full force of the westerly sun, and had our final group photo shoot from the lookout.

We walked back to the carpark, then it was just a quick trip along the 30k of dirt, back to the tar of the Oberon-Jenolan Road where we stopped to air up and say our goodbyes.

Thanks to all who came along on the weekend. The weather was perfect, the 4WDing was interesting and the company was excellent. Everyone got on really well, and I thought the kids on the trip – Sam, Ethan and Abbey – were the best behaved kids I've met in ages. A credit to their mums and dads! I thoroughly enjoyed myself on the weekend and was pleased to hear that most of the attendees had a good time too. A few have even booked in for their next trip already, so they must be telling the truth!

See you on the next one.

Chris Betcher
May 2005

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