Ruari Dowdney – aka the ‘quasi ex-pat cockney Mick Dundee’ – and friends recently went 4WDing in Watagan State Forest for the weekend and got more curve balls thrown at them than Captain Scott’s ill-fated polar expedition. Well not quite but there were a few challenges along the way to say the least. Oh, and did I mention they had two toddlers on board for the ride? Here’s Ruari’s account of the microadventure…
Keen for an all-expenses-paid (flights included!), beginner-friendly climbing escape with The North Face?
- Accessing parts of the bush that not everyone can get to
- Pitting your wits against an off-road track
- A good bit of banter
- Getting your car dirty
My First 4WD Expedition
Four 4WD vehicles – check
Full tank of fuel – check
Winch – Check
Snatch strap – Check
Two cute little Australian home-grown toddlers strapped into their car seats – Check
Vague recommendation of Watagan state forest having some great off-road trails – Check
I had recently bought my 4WD from a departing German backpacker and was quite chuffed with the low price tag. Initially I thought it was mainly to be used for poncing around Bondi Beach in, looking like some sort of quasi ex-pat cockney Mick Dundee, but after relaying news of said vehicle purchase to my friends, Keith and Tim, (who already owned 4WDs) they had different ideas – namely driving it to its limit and attempting every terrain possible to “break” (and then fix) my new pride and joy!
4WDing In Watagan State Forest
As you can imagine, I was apprehensive to say the least, but as the cloud lifted heading north over the Hawksbury River towards Watagan State Forest my apprehension was replaced with a desire to explore this country I have called home for four years.
We rendezvoused at the McDonalds on the Pacific Highway not too far from Wyong and headed inland. The tarmac ran out pretty quickly and after some gear grinding four wheel drive was engaged. The anticipation of boldly driving across some tough terrain and getting back to “bush” was upon us.
We passed a troop of extremely serious looking vehicles, mainly utes with mega-lift suspension kits and adorned in a variety of lights and tough looking cable attachments (winches). Surely that was just for show, we wouldn’t need any of that…
There was a fair amount of confusion over directions. Strangely enough no-one’s smartphone worked outside of the 2026 postcode that well. The terrain quickly turned into dense woodland and fire trails. We were finally in the middle of nowhere surrounded my nothing but nature (and a bit of 2Pac on the stereo).
The first test was a muddy track that we all seemed to get through with minimal issues. Soon enough we were confidently climbing rocky inclines and confidently engaging low range (who knew there was a 4x4x4 gear!)
After a few dead ends and numerous u-turns we found ourselves at the start of what can only be described as a walking track. Heads were scratched, points made along the lines of “You can squeeze through that” and “it’s not that steep” – It was collectively agreed that because my vehicle had the highest clearance I should go first. So, not wanting to look like a petrified city boy who was about to break his favourite new toy I set off down the track.
The undergrowth closed and with it went any option for u-turns. We were going in and it was getting steeper. I stopped short of a fallen tree trunk that was across the path, it was generally concluded that I’d get over it “no worries”. I did, but not without the largest bang and bone crunching sound I’ve ever heard as my axel chipped away at the ancient stump under me.
High And Dry
Tim was next in the Pajero (Baxster), an Australian classic vehicle driven by an Australian Legend. He made it half way and promptly got stuck, no amount of clutch burn outs or weight distribution management would help.
Whilst I was getting increasingly concerned about the fact we were in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal and a stranded vehicle my peers were getting increasing more excited about getting the various implements of recovery out.
First came the axe. We all displayed varying degrees of manliness by attempting to chop the log up and out the way… that lasted about 3 minutes. Next came the spade that we used to fill dirt in under the wheels and attempt to get some traction. Then the real gem… the chainsaw. Yes ladies and gents, a full blown chainsaw, petrol and everything! Unfortunately it had a slight issue with a broken rip cord but the intention was there and in my eyes, that was all that mattered.
I was thoroughly impressed with my new gang’s stock of Mad Max weaponry. It was actually the 4,000kg manual recovery winch that saved the day in the end, promptly strapped to a tree. With a grind and a scrape Baxster was off the tree log! With lots of cheering and back slapping we were on the road again. “Mitzie” Keith’s sexy 4WD campervan held its own pretty well and attempted more than a few obstacles a monster truck would have difficulty getting over .
A Loose Afternoon
The afternoon was spent exploring varying tracks with different levels of difficulty, trespassing unknowingly on farmers’ fields and then retreating rather quickly after being told quite confidently that “Australian farmers usually shoot first and ask questions later”.
Tim completed the world record attempt at having the least number of wheels on the ground whilst trying to navigate a 45 degree dirt road, and not rolling a vehicle in the process. We passed burnt out and abandoned vehicles deep in the wilderness, dudes who had obviously pushed their pride and joy too far (and didn’t pack the winch). A 4WD left to RIP was a serious danger around here.
Lunch was an impromptu sausage sizzle on a gas stove as vehicles were inspected for battle scars. Pretty epic chat to be honest.
As the sun was setting the final test of our machines and manliness presented itself in the form of what I would describe as a lake on a muddy track. As my vehicle had the only “snorkel” in the group it was communally decided I should go first…again.
I conquered the deep with no issues at all and damn, what a buzz! The water came up to the windows and up over the bonnet without even a whiff of a leak into the cabin. Score!
The others followed suit concluded by the long suffering “Baxster” who made it but promptly cut out and started emitting rather worrying electrical fusing noises. Bring out the snatch strap! Luckily after about 30 minutes of towing he came back to life and we concluded our day.
If you get a chance to drive a vehicle at the limit of its capability I would recommend it, Sydney and surrounds has a plethora of places to explore, discover and/or get lost in. Get amongst it.
N.B Pleased to say that no children were harmed in the completion of this adventure.
More down and dirty 4WD adventures…