30 FJ Cruis­ers de­scend on the Yea­garup Dunes as part of the bi-an­nual Na­tional FJ Cruiser Sum­mit.

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FOUR nights of camp­ing in cold, wet and blus­tery win­ter con­di­tions in WA’S great south might have some peo­ple ques­tion­ing their san­ity. Es­pe­cially when you find out that these crazy campers drove half­way across the coun­try for the event.

Al­low me to in­tro­duce the FJ Cruiser Club of Aus­tralia, where com­mon sense may be lack­ing but pas­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion cer­tainly aren’t. When it comes to can-do at­ti­tude and a real sense of com­mu­nity spirit, these guys have it in spades.

While the eclec­tic bunch of sin­gles, cou­ples and fam­i­lies all own FJ Cruis­ers, each ve­hi­cle is as in­di­vid­ual and unique as their own­ers. Their hard­core love of the out­doors and re­spect for the Aussie bush is a com­mon bond. This is a club with a fam­ily-friendly at­mos­phere, ca­ma­raderie and gen­uine de­sire to sim­ply have fun. And nei­ther rain, hail or shine, freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, mud or burn­ing heat could dampen the en­thu­si­asm of these mem­bers for their Na­tional FJ Cruiser Sum­mit.

This year’s bi-an­nual na­tional sum­mit was held on the Rain­bow Coast. Dur­ing win­ter, when the sun is just 42 de­grees above the hori­zon, rays stream in from the north and re­fract through rain­drops in the air off the vast south­ern ocean to pro­duce an idyl­lic ar­ray of rain­bows. It’s a mix of spectacular sandy beaches and harsh, rugged, rocky coast­line set against a back­drop of time­less karri and tin­gle forests on WA’S south­ern coast; rang­ing east­wards from old tim­ber town Walpole in to his­toric Al­bany, Western Aus­tralia’s first set­tle­ment.

When plan­ning the sum­mit for Septem­ber, the or­gan­is­ers – James Mandy, Troy Short­land and Gavin Gil­let – were ex­pect­ing typ­i­cal clear balmy days and cool but com­fort­able nights. Cer­tainly not what you’d con­sider to be a par­tic­u­larly test­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, the weather gods had other ideas.

Half­way be­tween Walpole and Den­mark (the Aus­tralian town, not the Euro­pean des­ti­na­tion), Ayr Sailean was the per­fect base for the sum­mit, of­fer­ing on­site chalets, 52 camp­sites and a fully en­closed camp kitchen.

As James ex­plained: “Club mem­bers had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore in­cred­i­ble karri forests, beau­ti­ful beaches and mag­nif­i­cent dunes; do a spot of fish­ing, great 4Wd­ing or kayak­ing and could plan their trip via winery re­gions or other scenic des­ti­na­tions.”

The or­gan­is­ers planned thor­oughly, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of recce trips to plot out the week­end. “All des­ti­na­tions had to be ac­ces­si­ble by a fac­tory stan­dard FJ,” Troy con­firmed.

The day trips pro­vided ev­ery club mem­ber with the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the best the WA south coast has to of­fer, with vary­ing de­grees of dif­fi­culty and ex­pert as­sis­tance for any less ex­pe­ri­enced 4WD jock­eys.

There were plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties to en­ter­tain the fam­ily, start­ing with a group sausage siz­zle at base camp where Richard Ni­cholls from Ad­ven­ture Offroad Train­ing pro­vided some handy tips on driv­ing tech­niques, safety and ve­hi­cle re­cov­ery. A fun-filled quiz night on Sun­day evening with awe­some prizes kept ev­ery­one happy. For those who needed a rest day be­tween 4WD ad­ven­tures there were op­tions to

Nei­ther rain, hail or shine could dampen the en­thu­si­asm of these mem­bers for their Na­tional FJ Cruiser Club Sum­mit

ex­plore lo­cal tourist des­ti­na­tions, restau­rants and winer­ies.

Despite be­ing un­able to con­trol the weather, no-one could deny Troy, James and Gavin made a her­culean ef­fort to pro­vide some­thing for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing plenty of 4Wd­ing.

On Sun­day, Troy Short­land led a con­voy of some 30 FJ Cruis­ers through the Yea­garup Dunes, the largest land-locked mo­bile sand dune sys­tem in the south­ern hemi­sphere, ap­prox­i­mately 20km from Pem­ber­ton.

Yea­garup Lake, at the end of Rit­ter Road in the Warren Na­tional Park, pro­vided the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one to air down and ex­tend their tyre foot­prints be­fore fol­low­ing a 4WD track to the con­stantly mov­ing en­try point of the dunes. This time it was a straight hill/dune climb up around 50m high. By air­ing down, the ve­hi­cle’s weight was dis­trib­uted over a larger sur­face area, al­low­ing the Cruis­ers to be driven on soft sand with lit­tle com­paction.

The need to air down be­came ap­par­ent when a fam­ily was found with their Grand Jeep Chero­kee pre­car­i­ously rest­ing on its chas­sis rails half­way up the climb. Troy was quick to re­spond to the father’s dis­tress; un­strap­ping the Max­trax, a long-han­dled shovel and a snatch strap. Within min­utes the Jeep was out and Troy

pro­vided the grate­ful driver with some help­ful ad­vice on tyre pres­sures and tech­niques for ne­go­ti­at­ing the trou­ble­some soft sand. Richard’s ad­vice on how to cor­rectly set up ve­hi­cles for dune driv­ing im­me­di­ately paid div­i­dends. With tyres cor­rectly set and con­trolled to mod­er­ate mo­men­tum, al­most all the FJS suc­cess­fully con­quered the dunes on their first at­tempt to the cheers of sup­port­ive on­look­ers. Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing the en­try, the drive through the dunes to the Warren River is well marked and easy to fol­low. It’s not only safer to fol­low the marked route, it avoids any un­nec­es­sary ve­hi­cle ac­cess to sen­si­tive ar­eas. For­tu­nately the ma­jor­ity of the 4WD com­mu­nity re­spects the guide­lines. On a good day it’s pos­si­ble to cross the Warren where it meets the ocean and en­joy a fur­ther drive along the beach be­fore tack­ling the very long and chal­leng­ing climb back out via the steep gra­di­ent of Cal­cup Hill, which is guar­an­teed to test any trac­tion con­trol sys­tem due to the steep, soft and deepshift­ing sand. How­ever, the Warren River is un­pre­dictable and, de­pend­ing on the weather con­di­tions, it can be a calm stream or a rag­ing tor­rent. Af­ter sev­eral days of rain and hail the Warren looked dark and omi­nous, flow­ing at such a speed that large plumes of sand erupted through the water and carved a deep chan­nel through the beach.

Luck­ily, saner heads pre­vailed and the team lead­ers put the safety of ev­ery club mem­ber first, de­cid­ing not to in­dulge the cu­rios­ity of those who hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced how a sandy base can rapidly and dis­as­trously turn into the con­sis­tency of quick­sand. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the Warren cross­ing was a no-go zone.

The fol­low­ing day club mem­bers chose from a range of smaller ex­cur­sions. Troy in­vited me to ride shot­gun on the Peace­ful Bay ex­cur­sion. Only a few kilo­me­tres from base camp the scenery was spectacular with lots of twists, turns, climbs and dips as we fol­lowed the many 4WD trails through an an­cient land­scape. Some of the sandy climbs had rub­ber mats (and there’s the odd wooden sec­tion), which have been in­stalled due to track dam­age. With the rub­ber mats of­fer­ing good trac­tion, it’s un­likely you’d have any trou­ble travers­ing even some of the steeper sec­tions.

Mother Na­ture had kindly topped up some of the larger hol­lows with long, deep pud­dles as we made our way down to Rame Head beach. This

It was an ex­cel­lent week­end with ev­ery at­tendee hav­ing noth­ing but praise for the event

was noth­ing the FJS couldn’t take in their stride, and it pro­vided a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to soak the pho­tog­ra­pher. Down on the beach, mem­bers sat back to en­joy a lit­tle sun­shine af­ter an­other cold, wet night, while driv­ers tested their skills by read­ing the cyclic pat­tern of the waves and run­ning the gaunt­let of a small beach cross­ing to a rocky out­crop on the other side. James Mandy took an­other group to Born­holm Beach. As James ex­plained: “This drive wasn’t for the faint-hearted, while the trails are ba­sic and easy-go­ing, the in­cred­i­ble de­scent to the beach is the only way in and out. Com­ing out of this beach will test a driver’s skill, ve­hi­cle set-up and pa­tience. It may re­quire tyre pres­sures as low as 5psi, and it has earned a po­si­tion on the bucket list for most dif­fi­cult beach ex­its in Aus­tralia.” Gavin Gil­let headed a group out to Boat Har­bour. Gavin told me: “It’s an en­joy­able drive, as you travel easy sandy trails lined by shady pep­per­mint trees to make your way to the stun­ning lo­ca­tion of Boat Har­bour. A sim­ply beau­ti­ful bay lined by rocky out­crops. A per­fect place to en­joy a cool dip or cast a line.” Spoiler alert: keep an eye out for Gav’s rig in an up­com­ing edi­tion. It’s well worth the look. Despite very cold overnight con­di­tions, in­clud­ing hail and rain that turned base camp into some­thing of a mud pit, it was an ex­cel­lent week­end with ev­ery at­tendee hav­ing noth­ing but praise for the event.

There’s also a se­ri­ous side to the FJ Cruiser Club of Aus­tralia, and spe­cial men­tion has to go to hard-work­ing club ad­min­is­tra­tors Wal­ter Meerza and Robert Hard­pan. This is a club where mem­bers don’t take their per­sonal good for­tune, the en­vi­ron­ment, or the priv­i­lege to ex­plore it for granted. They work hard to en­gage with lo­cal busi­nesses who do­nated prod­ucts for auc­tion and prizes – all to raise funds for a very wor­thy char­ity. Over the course of the sum­mit the club raised a very im­pres­sive $9243 for the Starlight Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion to help grant a spe­cial wish for a se­ri­ously ill child.

A huge thanks for the com­mu­nity-minded spirit of the many spon­sors in­volved: ARB Wan­gara, Rhino Rack, Cam­era Elec­tronic, Ad­ven­ture Offroad Train­ing, Spot­ters Sun­glasses, BA Muf­flers, Pussy­foot Socks, Pure FJ Cruiser, El­lis Pre­ci­sion, Drifta Camp­ing & 4WD, Get­away Out­doors, Vasse Felix Wines, Toy­ota In­sur­ance, Ayr Sailean, Vanos Per­son­alised Gifts, and Redarc.

And my thanks to Troy Short­land who in­vited me along and al­lowed me the op­por­tu­nity to con­trib­ute to the fundrais­ing by do­nat­ing the pho­to­graphs for at­ten­dees to ‘pur­chase’ via con­tri­bu­tion to Starlight.

A 50-me­tre hill climb on sand will test even the best driv­ers, but ev­ery­one made it to the top... even­tu­ally!

1. The bi-an­nual sum­mit is an

event for the en­tire fam­ily. 2. Water cross­ings? All in a

day’s work for the FJ. 3. De­fy­ing the weather, some

amaz­ing 4Wd­ing was had. 4. Air­ing down al­lows eas­ier

climb­ing on soft sand.

1 3 2 4

Sandy banks can be treach­er­ous. It’s best to avoid salt water!

Sin­gles, cou­ples and fam­i­lies joined to­gether for a fan­tas­tic week­end away.

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