High Country with a Hybrid Camper
The Victorian High Country was a region that I was very excited to explore on our Lap of Australia, but I really struggled to find out what was suitable with a camper trailer, and what wasn’t.
If you were a local you’d know this already, but for someone coming from a different part of the country, and wanting to do the right thing, whilst not stay at caravan parks it took a bit of research, confidence and erring a little on the side of caution.
This post is purely to help those in a similar situation as us; wanting to explore the high country with a camper trailer or caravan, but not do the wrong thing and end up in major trouble, and that is the right attitude to take; its a remote, dangerous place if you go in like a bull at a gate towing something.
I will quickly mention that one thing I didn’t factor in was completely and utterly falling in love with the Victorian High Country, after it exceeded my expectations ten times over in the first couple of days in the region.
We then decided to spend the rest of the time we had available (just under a month) to explore more of it before heading to Wagga, and did it with our Reconn R2 in tow. I didn’t want to upset anyone, get stuck with the trailer or block any access tracks, but we wanted to see as much as we could.
What’s our Hybrid Camper like?
I guess we’ll start off with stating some figures about out Lifestyle Reconn R2 Hybrid Camper Trailer. This is not a small, light weight soft floor that you can push around with one person, and that makes life a bit more complicated.
Loaded, its around 2300kg, with about 130 – 150kg tow ball weight, and it’s the same width as our Isuzu Dmax, with a similar length and height. It’s the perfect unit to tow around and camp out of, giving access to tracks you can’t physically fit a full size van down, and we were excited to see what we could see with it in the high country, without doing the wrong thing, or pushing it too far.
A lot of the High Country is not camper trailer friendly
It didn’t take long for us to realise that the ideal way to explore the high country is camping out of a 4WD, without towing anything. That stems from a number of reasons, but doesn’t mean if you have a camper you can’t have a truly amazing time (as we did). It’s certainly doable, but you have to be much more cautious about where you go, and here’s why:
The first couple of 4WD tracks that we saw in the high country had me laughing at the sheer angle that they go up, and down. Even the ‘roads’ have really, really steep hills and you have to drive up them, and back down them. This is a problem with a trailer for a number of reasons. For starters, towing a trailer up a hill makes your vehicle work really hard, and we saw the automatic transmission temperatures on our Isuzu Dmax (which has an external automatic transmission cooler) hit 110 degrees a couple of times, in sub 25 degree temperatures.
Some of these occasions we had the Dmax in low range too, so it wasn’t exactly struggling to move along, but they are just insanely steep.
The bigger issue for many though, is that when you come down the other side you need to be going at a slow speed to control your vehicle and the trailer, and to be able to stop if someone comes around the corner the other way. The more weight you have, the harder it is to keep slow, and we found on several occasions that even in first gear low range, our Dmax would speed up and you’d have to use the brakes.
This is fine for short term use, but if you use them too much your trailer brakes, and 4WD brakes will get too hot and you’ll end up with limited brakes, or damage done to wheel bearings.
If you want sharp corners, head to the Victorian High Country. There are corners that you struggle to get a 4WD around without going back and forth a few times, and trying to do this with a trailer would be impossible without disconnecting, which isn’t practical either.
Passing other people
When you’re heading down a track that is just wide enough for your vehicle, with a big drop down one side and a cliff on the other, you’re glad when you don’t meet another person. This does happen though, and inevitably one person has to reverse back to a suitable spot for you both to squeeze by, and if you are towing something this makes life so much harder.
Ever tried to reverse a trailer along a tight track, with a big drop on one side, for hundreds of metres? Not only is it difficult, but you’ll make no friends by inconveniencing other people.
They greatly reduce your off road ability
Camper trailers do absolutely nothing to help your off road ability. Sure, you can get some pretty light weight, and incredibly capable ones (like the Patriot camper trailers), but they are still a drag on your setup, and if you have something heavy it only gets harder.
A steep gravel track in a 4WD alone can make you lose traction often, and when you add a 2 tonne boat anchor on the back its not uncommon to see all 4 wheels scrabbling for traction. Add in a few ruts and holes and you can be in trouble really quickly, and that’s before you consider the risk of breaking components due to the extra stress.
We did it anyway
We wanted to see the High Country, and we have no option of camping from the 4WD only, so decided to take the R2, and take a conservative approach to where we took it. We’d find a base camp, and then explore from that, and move camps once we were confident we were able to take the trailer in. Every place we went to was thoroughly researched prior to going there, and we didn’t take it on any 4WD tracks that were considered beyond intermediate, or without reading the comments about its suitability.
We did do a lot of narrow tracks, and met a few people going the other way, but never had too much difficulty getting past.
I don’t want to promote doing the wrong thing, but if you are sensible, you can take a camper trailer, Hybrid or even a Caravan to select places in the Victorian High Country without any nasty ramifications.
For example, we saw several on road caravans camping at Frys Flat, and they had very limited clearance. Providing you have a capable 4WD, the road conditions are OK and you take it carefully, it can be done.
Where did we go?
Our high country adventure started off at Lake Eildon, before heading through Rubicon and Cathedral Range. We then did Lake Mountain, and headed into Big River State Forest, before going through Woods Point and spending a couple of nights at Jack Scotts campground.
Leaving the trailer here meant we could explore Comet Flats (although I reckon you’d get it in there, just), and we headed up Mt Terrible via Moonlight Spur, Mt Terrible Track and down Poletti (with the camper left at camp).
From there, we went back up the hill to Matlock, and towed it along the Walhalla Road, before spending a night at Merringtons Campground.
We then finished off the Walhalla Road (except for the final 25km as it has a 3 tonne load limit, and isn’t recommended for caravans). We drove into Walhalla from the southern end and totally loved the town, before turning back around at the gravel on the southern end and camping at Coopers Creek.
I think you’d comfortably get it into Bruntons Bridge Campground (watch the water crossing if coming from the south), but there’s so many choices for places to camp!
From there, we headed into Traralgon to stock up on fuel and food (spending nearly $800!), and then we spent a night at the Glengarry Pub, before heading to Paradise Valley (easy to access), and then some of the Licola Free Camps.
We then towed the Reconn R2 through Licola on the Jamieson Licola Road, and through the detour around the landslide, up to Jamieson, which was OK, except for the section around Mt Skene which was truly awful. There’s a heap of big rocks that are exposed, and its slow, rough and realistically quite unpleasant.
From there, we spent a few nights at Grannys Flat Campground, and drove into Jamieson and Mansfield, before camping near Mt Buller and driving out to Craigs Hut without the camper.
We then towed it into Sheepyard Flats and Frys Flat Campground and spent a number of days exploring the Howqua 4WD Tracks (and Bluff and Lovicks Hut) then Teatree campground near Mt Buffalo, before winding (sadly) our High Country adventures up for now!
No where we took the Reconn R2 did I feel like we shouldn’t have, or that we were pushing the friendship in any way. We did drive into a few dead ends and had a fun time turning around, and we found a few places where we needed the clearance, but I was incredibly glad of its size over a full size van!
Check the weather and road conditions
They say you should be prepared for all kinds of weather in the High Country, and this is even more true when you are travelling with a trailer. We regularly got updates on rainfall, temperatures and fire risks, and planned our travels accordingly. A bit of rain will make some tracks extremely slippery, and when you have two tonnes behind you that can get bad really quickly.
When it did rain, we made sure we were camped somewhere appropriately, and able to exit easily, as the last thing you want to be is stuck at the bottom of a slippery hill after 50mm of rain.
On the same token, make sure you look at the road conditions, as they change regularly, and even get closed on occasions, and you can make a huge plan to do different parts of the High Country only to find it destroyed by one road closure, or a road in terrible condition that isn’t suitable for towing.
We missed a chunk of the High Country
If you know the area, you’ll know we missed Dargo, Omeo and a number of other places nearby, and as much as I really wanted to see them, we had to be in Wagga Wagga at a set date to meet family, and have left this section to come back and do another time.
You can do parts of the Victorian High Country in a Hybrid or Caravan
As we proved, you can do sections of the Victorian High Country towing a camper trailer, Hybrid or even a Caravan, providing you do some research prior to going, and you take a conservative approach. There were certainly places that we went to, and tracks that we did that would not be suitable for caravans, and you want to respect the area.
One thing that we found very useful was to download Newtracs, which is a fairly new 4WD mapping app. We’ll do a full review soon, but it was instrumental in helping us find tracks that were suitable for our 4WD, and rule out anything that clearly wasn’t suitable for towing on.
Tyre pressures and engine braking
For the large majority of the High Country, we had our Reconn R2 running about 30% less air than it would normally on the bitumen. That’s around 40 PSI, instead of the 58 PSI, and this was enough to absorb the bumps, and give us some extra braking when it was slippery. It also hugely helps the camper to stay in one piece, and not fall apart, which we all like to see.
In regards to engine braking, and speeds, you absolutely need to know what you are doing towing something. I did meet a few people who were using their brakes (and also the camper brakes) every step of the way, and its a guaranteed way to cook your brakes, or end up with a nasty accident.
We followed one of them, and whilst they were braking almost continuously, we just cruised down the hill in 3rd gear low range, with the vehicles engine doing all of the work. Yes, you will need to use the brakes from time to time (especially when its really steep and the engine can’t keep up with the braking), but avoid using it as much as possible.
The Victorian High Country is amazing
We’ve seen a lot of Australia, but the High Country whacked me so much harder than I ever imagined. It’s a place of beauty that really exceeds my ability to write about, and I’d happily compare it to places like the Kimberley.
If you like camping and 4WD tracks, you’ll love the Victorian High Country, and I can’t wait to be back later this year, towing our Reconn R2 again and finishing the areas that we missed.