4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - DEAN MELLOR

ILOVE camp­ing. Whether I’m sleep­ing in a swag, a tent, a camper trailer or the back of a 4x4, there’s noth­ing quite as lib­er­at­ing as get­ting out there and enjoying the great out­doors.

Ev­ery time I prep my­self for a camp­ing get­away, my mind’s eye is al­ways fo­cused on the per­fect trip: a pretty sun­set, a roar­ing fire, some juicy steaks, a few chilled bev­er­ages, some laughs with good mates, a clear night sky lit­tered with stars, one tall story af­ter an­other, a rip­per sun­rise, a freshly brewed cof­fee, and siz­zling ba­con and eggs for brekky.

Of course, the re­al­ity of camp­ing is that it doesn’t al­ways pan out the way you think it will. Af­ter all, there are many vari­ables, most no­tably in­clement weather, which can al­ways put a damper on any camp­ing trip.

The first time I did the ‘big lap’ of Aus­tralia with a few mates back in the ’80s, I re­mem­ber al­most be­ing washed out of the tent in Townsville when a river of wa­ter rushed through it thanks to an early morn­ing down­fall. Sleep­ing on an air mat­tress, I didn’t wake up un­til there was so much run­ning wa­ter that I be­gan to float. By the time I was alert enough to re­alise it, half of my body had al­ready ex­ited the tent.

Since then I’ve slept in plenty of leaky swags and tents, but with a bit of prepa­ra­tion – se­lect­ing the cor­rect camp­site, set­ting up a tar­pau­lin, peg­ging­down prop­erly – I have never again been washed away.

On a re­cent trip to the NT’S spec­tac­u­lar Red Cen­tre we copped a buck­et­ing as we neared Rain­bow Val­ley, our planned stop for the night. As the only vis­i­tors brave (stupid?) enough to be out there in the rain, we had plenty of space to set up our swags on the camp­ground’s un­der­cover tables, so we man­aged to stay out of the rain. With a bit of liq­uid ac­cel­er­ant we even got a fire go­ing, although we used the fa­cil­ity’s gas bar­be­cues to cook the pre­striped sausages we’d bought ear­lier that day in Yu­lara.

In fact, it was those dodgy look­ing snags – not the tor­ren­tial rain – that would prove to be my un­do­ing that night.

Then there was the time I camped in a thun­der­storm out at Rob Em­mins’ Mel­bourne 4x4 Train­ing & Prov­ing Ground at Mount Cot­trell. The tent I was in had an ex­ter­nal alu­minium frame and I was al­most cer­tain I’d be struck by light­ning that night. I wasn’t, and the tent proved re­mark­ably wa­ter­proof de­spite the con­di­tions. Nev­er­the­less, I didn’t get a hell of a lot of sleep.

Without a doubt the most un­com­fort­able camp­ing I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced was on a Land Rover G4 Chal­lenge trip to Bo­livia. In fact, it was like the per­fect storm. I had griev­ances with the weather, the al­ti­tude, the camp­site, the tent, the food and the ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

While it wasn’t rain­ing, it was ex­tremely bloody cold. So cold, in fact, that sev­eral lay­ers of cloth­ing topped off with one of the puffi­est of puffy jack­ets didn’t stop the shiv­er­ing in the sub­zero tem­per­a­tures. As for the al­ti­tude, we were si­t­u­ated on the 10,582km² Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt lake, which sits 3656m above sea level. As I’d only just ar­rived in the coun­try I hadn’t the time to ac­cli­ma­tise, which made it aw­fully hard to breathe the thin air. Then there was the camp­site; have you ever tried to pitch a tent and then find a com­fort­able sleep­ing po­si­tion on the rock-hard sur­face of a frozen salt lake? And the or­ange G4 Chal­lenge tent was the sil­li­est thing I’ve ever tried to erect, es­pe­cially when wear­ing thick win­ter gloves.

The food and the ablu­tions de­serve their own note. Put sim­ply, we were fed spot­ted dick out of a bag. The main cour­ses were also in a bag and in­cluded casseroles and cur­ries that we would heat on the ex­haust man­i­fold of a Dis­cov­ery TDV6. And when it was time to process said ‘food’, we would have to line up at the dunny tents with our own poo bag, which was de­signed to fit over a fold-out seat. The in­struc­tions were quite sim­ple, but some­thing must’ve been lost in trans­la­tion with some of the trip par­tic­i­pants be­cause sev­eral peo­ple ne­glected to fit said poo bag be­fore crap­ping on the dunny seats.

Did I men­tion worst of­fence? There was no beer on that first night!

De­spite the con­di­tions, I look back on that trip to Bo­livia fondly. Sure, it re­mained cold for the rest of the trip, and we drove to even higher lo­ca­tions re­sult­ing in a de­cent bout of al­ti­tude sick­ness, but it was a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a wild and spec­tac­u­lar land­scape with some good mates, and I will never for­get it. The fact we found a lo­cal willing to sell us plenty of Bo­li­vian Pil­sner helped, too.

The Land Rover G4 Chal­lenge was last held in 2008.

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