While pondering our next High Country Cruise, it struck me that over the years we’ve probably enjoyed more of our own backyard than most people could ever dream of doing and perhaps even wanting to do. While many do go out and about visiting Australia to experience that 4WD adventure, far more just prefer to hop on a plane and find a different sort of ‘adventure’. In a similar vein to my story about The Last Photography Frontier, for many people adventure is found somewhere else in the world, such as those ‘little known’ places that I mentioned in that story. For others, the likes of an Alaska, Rhine River or South Pacific cruise is the adventure of a lifetime. Adventure does mean different things to different people.
That led me to thoughts about 4WD travel and what people think of as the ultimate 4WD adventure. I often read or hear about queries as to where one should go for the 4WD adventure of a lifetime and, invariably, the responses suggest the Cape (Cape York Peninsular), the Outback (various desert destinations – Simpson Desert, Birdsville, Gibb River Road, the Kimberley), the Flinders Ranges, Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon etc, hardly anyone ever considers the High Country in Victoria, even if they are from Victoria. Most 4WD magazines and newspapers also just keep rehashing one or other of their desert trips when it comes to another 4WD adventure story. There often seems to be this attitude that you can only have a 4WD adventure by going to the outback or some desert region. And 4WD tests are invariably undertaken in the outback, where just about anything will cope.
Having done a number of desert trips, as well as the Cape, Flinders Ranges etc they will of course be an interesting trip for the first timer, and they were great fun for us (especially being a lot younger), but after having done say Birdsville twice, I have no interest in doing so again. After a while the interminable hours of driving over flat, featureless terrain and endless bull dust and heat becomes extremely tedious when you’re doing it day after day and usually with nothing to see in-between, or even at camps. And it’s not like you can get away from others nowadays, as these places are simply full of travellers doing the same thing; supposedly getting away from civilisation on ‘their’ big adventure. An old joke years ago went along the lines that if you broke down in the Outback, pull out a deck of cards, start playing Patience (the manual version of Solitaire) and soon someone will look over your shoulder and point out where a card can go. I suspect that applies even more today.
Additionally, you can no longer just camp wherever you like, most places now require you to camp in established resorts, caravan parks and similar, because of the sheer numbers that are travelling to those places. When we did our first trips to the outback, we could camp anywhere we wanted; right next to Dalhousie Springs, no problem, at the base of Kings Canyon, fill your boots. Nowadays, that’s not an option and, in many cases, you’re even restricted to where you can go in the area itself. With major attractions such as Ayers Rock, camping is only allowed at designated locations such as the Ayers Rock Resort, a local caravan park, as well as tents at a ‘refined wilderness resort’. And, quite frankly, it’s so commercialised that it’s not that far removed from what you’d likely get at the Gold Coast, including the tourists. Kings Canyon is much the same and so it goes.
Ayers Rock Resort and surrounds
The other thing about the outback, which so often made me long for the High Country, was the lack of safe rivers and swimming areas. After days of driving across barren land to the Cape, you’d finally come across a waterhole or creek and, invariably, you couldn’t go for a swim because of the crocodiles, the water was polluted or it was a boiling spring (south Australia). Other than a few rare places such as Dalhousie Springs in South Australia or Elliot Falls on the Cape, it’s rarely safe to go for a swim in any river, creek or waterhole. Even the beaches around Cooktown had crocodile warning signs. While swimming is not conducive all year round in the High Country, at least you can safely go into any river or creek any time of the year, or just sit by the river, without fearing for your life.
And nowadays you often don’t need a fully fledged 4WD to get to these outback places because the roads have been made usable enough for just about any sort of vehicle. Even the Cape appears to have become a doddle, with reports of the Peninsular Development Road being sealed from Laura to Weipa. Dalhousie Springs apparently has tour buses turning up and the roads to Kings Canyon, Ayers Rock and similar appear to be fully sealed, if Google Maps is anything to go by. The Simpson Desert crossing and the Gibb River Road may be the few places where the lesser vehicle might not get through, but I’m not so certain of that either. However, it’s quite a different story come the High Country.
All the stories that I write about our trips to the High Country cover what we have, for nearly 14 years, termed the High Country Cruises. We’ve done many other off-road trips over nearly 40 years whilst in clubs etc and they always bring back memories. However, the Cruise has become a means of getting away from crowds with the minimum of hassles, free to go where we want, when we want and do what we want, and no paperwork required. Our Cruises aren’t the sort of vehicle breaking trips that some like to do, but they can be challenging, especially as our vehicles are pretty much stock standard apart from minor modifications. We don’t like ‘buggering the bush in a 4WD’ (as that old song goes) and, as the vehicles are everyone’s daily driver, a degree of caution is always observed. And looking back at old photographs, not much has changed, apart from the vehicles.
I guess you can gather by now that I’m an ardent fan of the High Country and value it above all else in Australia and never tire of being up in the mountains. I managed to plan our first Cruise for the 2017 New Year and now that the school holidays are over, we’ll need to plan a few more. It’s still a expansive High Country out there, with plenty of room for everyone, and no need to cram into campgrounds, caravan parks or resorts with everyone else. And I sincerely hope that commercial ideas don’t begin to affect the broader bush loving community. And of course our 4WD adventures aren’t just about boy’s trips, they have always included family trips where everyone can enjoy the High Country in a safe and beautiful environment.
While the High Country and bush camping isn’t for everyone, I simply haven’t found any place that doesn’t draw me back again and again, never tiring of going back as often as possible. I guess if there’s one sad aspect that’s increasingly common, it’s finding places that are still pet friendly. With national parks being declared everywhere and instantly banning pets, and even state forests becoming pet unfriendly, the number of places where you can go family camping in the High Country is becoming rare indeed. So while feral goats, deer, horses, cats and dogs roam freely, our furry family members rarely get to see more than a glimpse of this great country.