4WD trip report on the Dingo Hill and Caledonia River Tracks in the Eastern Victorian High Country, 2017
Our launching pad for the trip was Cheynes Bridge, just south of Licola. I use this spot a lot if I’m heading to this region of the High Country. It’s an easy drive from Melbourne, only about 3 hours depending on traffic. The spot has heaps of space (enough for a few big groups), it has fire pits and drop toilets, not to mention it’s on the river so a quick cast isn’t out of the question.
When we arrive at camp for the first night the excitement is palpable! It’s been a while since a few of the lads have been out bush and you can tell they are hanging to hit the tracks. It’s an all Nissan convoy for this trip, three GU Patrols and two D22 Navaras. Will this mean no recoveries? We shall see!
Dingo Hill Track
Packed up and on the road by about 8.30am, I have to admit a few of us have felt better but a stop into the Licola general store for a coffee and pie, saw us right.
As I always like to do, we had a quick chat with the locals at the store to get the latest news on our planned tracks. According to old mate, the rivers in the area have never been so low but everything else was good (except the bloody dust).
Our first track for the day was Dingo Hill Track. To reach the start of Dingo Hill from Licola, head north for several kilometers along Tamboritha road. It’s a windy, high-range gravel road. I’d definitely advise dropping your tyre pressures to about 25 PSI for this drive, it’s pretty rough and the lower pressures really help smooth out those corrugations (along with increasing traction and breaking distance).
Arriving at the start of Dingo Hill Track, we drop the tyre pressures to low range levels. For me, that starts at 20 pound in the fronts and 22 in the rears. I leave a little extra air in the rears, as the majority of the extra weight in my vehicle is stored over the rear axel. Of course, if the terrain gets hardcore, I’ll drop a few more PSI. The choice all depends on the track in front of you.
The track starts off pretty easily as you make your way into the forest. There are a number of short creek crossings, which were nothing more than streams. Looks like old mate wasn’t exaggerating, it was incredibly dry.
With conditions this dry, the ruts and bog holes that scatter the track were easily tackled. Traction was abundant and most of the rigs made it though with ease. Matt did manage to diff out his Patrol on one section, but a gentle snatch backwards had him quickly on his way.
In the wet, when its muddy and the rivers are flowing, this would be a very different challenge.
Further down the track there are some steep hill climbs. Again, traction was easily found and everyone made it up without issue. A couple of these hills might get interesting in the wet, but most rigs with good tyres and suspension should be sweet.
What goes up must come down. On Dingo Hill Track this means switchbacks, lots of switchbacks! As you descend through the hordes of 3-point turns, it’s a good time to take in the stunning views. The lads with IFS rigs will have no dramas, but as fellow Patrol owners will know, bloody B-doubles have better turning circles!
I really wouldn’t advise towing a trailer on this track, but if you do, be aware that the switchbacks are very tight and the drops are deadly steep.
At the end of Dingo Hill there is a fork, you can either take the Butcher Country Link Track (marked steep on the Hema), which leads onto Butcher Country Track or you can take Caledonia River Track. They both run parallel to each other and finish up on Howitt Road.
Caledonia River Track
At the fork, there’s enough space to get the convoy off the tracks, we took the opportunity to pull over and cook up a feed. After a much needed bacon and egg wrap we pointed the rigs at Caledonia River Track. As the name suggests, there are a few river crossing to negotiate along this track. I love a good river crossing, its one of the aspects of 4WDing that really gets the blood pumping.
Sadly, there wasn’t much blood pumping this time, mostly due to the river crossings being so low. Honestly, I’ve driven through deeper puddles! On the bright side, I’ve now got a good reason to come back closer to winter.
Caledonia River Track does however offer more than just river crossings. There are plenty good hill climbs to keep you entertained and for those of us who enjoy a good view (who doesn’t?) there is some stunning scenery.
One particular section of the track provides the biggest challenge. It’s a steep, uneven hill climb containing a few step-ups. There is also a heap of very loose rock and bull-dust, which makes traction harder to find. Matt made his way up first in his GU Patrol. After watching him disappear into a cloud of dust, we heard a call over the UHF asking for a spotter. He’d lost traction and slid sideways, into a position you never want to be in on a steep hill.
After assessing the situation, we maneuvered him into a safe position to have another crack at the climb. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough traction and combined with the lack of momentum, he failed to make the climb again.
This time we elected to use the winch. There’s no point in risking damage to the vehicle or the track. After all, this is why we bolt the things to our 4bys. We quickly had the winch recovery setup; a simple single line pull from a strong anchor would do the trick. In no time, the Patrol was safely pulled onto a section where it could find traction and continue the climb.
Next it was my turn. As traction was at a premium, I hit the front e-locker button and the big GU Patrol, “The Great White”, as its better known, just walked up the track. When I came to the section where Matt had gotten into trouble, I picked a slightly different line (I had the advantage of inspecting the track during his recovery), the big girl took it all in her stride and I was at the top without a worry. Tell you what; I bloody love that Harrop e-locker, it makes an amazing amount of difference to the trucks performance.
This harder section can be bypassed, but as the rest of the convoy discovered, the bypass track does take a long detour before it rejoins the main track.
Further along the track we passed though some beautiful country, the drive wasn’t too difficult, I just cruised along admiring the bush. The last obstacle of note was a potentially tricky, rock step up. There are a few lines to choose from, I hung to the right and didn’t have any issue. Judging by the diff marks on some rocks, a few people have got it wrong.
Caledonia River Track isn’t a short track; it takes a few hours to negotiate. You gain a fair amount of altitude too; finishing up at around 1500m by the time you complete the track. It was about 4pm when we pulled off the track at Howitt road. By this time we were all ready for a frothy and a good feed, so we called it a day and set up camp near Howitt hut.
This is a cracking camping spot, there’s heaps of firewood near by, which is a bloody good thing because it gets cold up at this altitude (even in the summer). There are good drop toilets up at the hut and most of the formed campsites have large fire pits.
Time to swap the drivers seat for a camp chair beside the fire. Does it get any better?