The Victorian High Country is a magical place, one of the best off-roading destinations on the planet. It's full of awesome tracks, picturesque camping, and the type of wilderness usually only available when places are hard to get to. If you've got a 4x4, you're well on your way to visiting the High Country in your own time, and on your own terms.
You will need a bit of gear though, the right gear, to ensure you tackle the High Country in a safe and self-sufficient manner. Here's our guide to stuff that you might want to consider packing in, or fitting onto, your 4x4 before you head off-road.
We travelled through the High Country over four days with two vehicles shod with vanilla OEM rubber. And truth be told, they performed okay. They offered enough traction in very dry conditions when aired down, and we didn’t have any trouble like stakes or bead issues. Throw in a bit of bad luck or a few millimetres of rainfall, and it could well have been a different story.
We were also travelling with the CarAdvice Nissan Navara, which has aftermarket Toyo R/T rubber fitted onto some Dynamic steel wheels. I noticed a couple of instances where the Navara was able to drive a couple of challenges first go, whereas the Suzuki Jimny and Holden Trailblazer needed a re-attempt with a different line.
In a nutshell: good tyres makes your 4WD better at being a 4WD. While you might get away with the stock offerings, you’ll be in a better place with something more off-road focussed.
There’s a veritable maze of tracks that criss-cross, intersect and overlap the High Country. You could spend months of your time exploring, and not cover the same track twice, such is its vastness. Good quality mapping is key to your planning and preparation, and managing your journey’s movements.
You want something with decent topographic details, because steep tracks quickly go from challenging to downright dangerous with just a bit of rain. And if you can avoid really steep climbs in these situations, then it’s probably a good idea.
You’ve got the choice of paper or digital maps, through a variety of providers. We took Hema maps loaded onto a smartphone, as well as the Rooftop Dargo-Wonnangatta Adventure map for the areas we were visiting.
Strangely, we found the paper Rooftop maps to be more up-to-date than the digital Hema maps, as well as having more useable details for our travels. However, when you are on the move, digital maps are still indispensable. You have the option of an expensive navigator unit, or paying a lot less money for a subscription to maps on your phone. As long as you have enough memory and RAM to run the maps well enough, I still think it’s the best option.
This is an important one, because a log across the track could mean hours worth of backtracking, and a potentially ruined trip. You don’t need a huge two-stroke monster with a 20-inch bar, however. Chainsaws at the smaller end of the scale are quite good, letting you get through a fairly large log (provided your gear is well kept and you use the correct technique). Being smaller is easier to handle, too, and takes up less space.
When it comes to setting up camp and getting a fire going, a chainsaw remains a handy tool. In fact, after you travel with one and get some use out of it, you’ll find it difficult without one. You don't need to go to the effort of carrying fuel and oil these days either, as battery-powered chainsaws (which can be charged on the road via an inverter) are quite impressive bits of gear. However, you'll still need bar oil, basic tools and a chain sharpener, and maybe a spare chain if you're on the road for a long time.
Or, you can dial things back even further with something like a hand saw. Don't nick one from the build site, grab yourself something like a Silky hand saw. Along with an axe, this will help you trim wood for the fire, as well as clearing lumber from the track. Provided you've got the elbow grease handy.
You might get into trouble, or you might not. Regardless, you'll want to have a suite of decent recovery gear at the ready in case you, or somebody else, needs it. Your most crucial bits of gear will be a shovel, air compressor and tyre gauge. And along with some rated recovery points on your vehicle, a snatch strap, dampener and shackles should also be packed in.
If you've got a winch on your vehicle, then you'll need some additional gear in your recovery kit. Throw in some extra shackles and dampeners, along with a winch extension strap and tree trunk protector. Typically, a good quality recovery kit will have all of the basic bits you need. Don't be afraid to throw in a few extra bits you might need, like a drag chain for shifting around big bits of lumber.
Self-sufficient camp gear
There ain't no caravan parks or motels up in the hills or down in the valleys, just beautiful, unspoilt wilderness. You'll need to bring anything and everything you'll need or want, with food and shelter the two most pressing. This is where having a 4WD with a good load capacity and space becomes important.
While we travelled with a basic setup of swags, the addition of an awning or gazebo would be a fantastic idea. Campsites are mostly flat and sprawling, with a good supply of firewood in the surrounding bush. Carry your own drinking water, and extra food and water in case you get stuck for some days.
Beyond the basics, you'll need to think about emergency communications. We carried a GME Personal Locating Beacon (PLB), but consider something like a satellite phone (which you can hire or buy) or a Spot Tracker.
When we travelled through the High Country, rivers were running low. This is a seasonal thing; when snow and ice starts to melt after winter releases its grip, the bass run fast and the rivers swell. If you’re travelling through the High Country around these times, you’d be much more confident and capable with your air intake sorted out. River crossings can be handled safely, as long as you do the right thing.
If you don’t have a snorkel, all bets aren’t off; you'll just need to be more cautious. Throw in a water bra or tarpaulin for when water levels are getting a bit high, and walk crossings beforehand. One good trick I have used before is a cheap set of waders. You don't need to buy the big-dollar gear that fly fishers use; an el-cheapo rubber set will let you walk a crossing without worrying about wet clothes (especially when it's bloody cold).
If you are travelling during the the colder months, you'll see a very special side of Australia: very white, and particularly cold. If your vehicle is diesel-powered and temperatures are very low, you'll be well served by filling up with some Alpine Diesel. This fuel has a different mixture to standard diesel, and stops the fuel from waxing up in your tank.
When the mercury drops, the condition of your electrical systems will also be under the microscope. If your starter battery has been on the blink lately, I'd recommend replacing it before taking on some winter wheeling. One night of voltage-sapping cold could be enough to render the battery useless.
And of course, you can't forget yourself. Where there is snow and ice, there is the potential of getting wet when things thaw out. Along with ensuring your clothing is warm enough, pack a layer or two of something waterproof or water resistant. Your boots, in particular, should be quite able to keep the wetness out and the warmth in.
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