ROCKS, rollovers, breakages, beer, bonfires and a bunch of down-to-earth human beings – our definition of an epic weekend.
Die-hard 4×4 enthusiasts will know of The Springs 4×4 Park, but for those who don’t, it is located about 20 minutes’ drive outside Warwick and is a haven for off-roaders. Spontaneity is both a gift and a curse, and my partner Sammy and I are very spontaneous people. We have become accustomed to hitting the tracks in the morning by ourselves and leaving in the afternoon with a completely random group of people.
Earlier this year we made a last-minute decision to head to Levuka 4×4 Park for five days, during which time we met a great group of enthusiasts and clicked so well that we ended up tagging along with them for the remainder of the trip. This new friendship led to an invitation to The Springs 4×4 Park, and that’s where this hectic adventure kicked off. The plan was to travel up to the park on Friday night, find our camp and catch up with the couple who invited us while meeting the group they were with. Unfortunately, the couple we were planning to meet were running late, so we decided to venture out on our own and see if we could spot some of the rigs that had been described to us. Soon enough we found them and began hitting some of the harder tracks. Those who know us will know that casual banter is simply a way of life and there was no exception for this group who we had known for no longer than 10 minutes.
The first track we drove was one-way due to its steep angles. First up was an 80 Series LandCruiser that surprisingly didn’t make it up, followed by a 60 Series LandCruiser that also didn’t make it up – cue the well-known comment: “Cruiser life hey?” Not surprisingly, their response was: “Go on then, get that shiny white Patrol up there.” Without hesitation, we crawled the hill as slowly as possible, conquering it with ease before returning to the bottom with dirty great grins. After staring at us in amazement, the group returned to their rigs and the games began, with a weekend of banter from all parties and the Milk Carton showing off as usual.
After about 45 minutes of exploring the tracks, we came upon one that was perfect for a car v car challenge. After investigating the track further, we decided it would be better tackled from the bottom, so around we went. Unfortunately the name of this track escapes me, however it is located among the competition tracks to the right of the homestead. Looking up from the bottom, this track begins with fairly low-key shale that becomes deeper and more slippery the further you go. The shale came to an end about halfway up where it turned into a mixture of deep ruts, large boulders and some inconvenient roots before switching back to loose shale with shallow ruts and finally reaching larger tree roots that made for nice step-ups.
First up was Josh with his well-lifted GQ shorty Patrol running 35” tyres and twin lockers. Josh handled the shale without any hassles, however required some guidance and packing around the large boulders. After about 20 minutes we eventually got his GQ up to the last tree roots, which seemed to cause him the most trouble. The roots were perfectly located to catch both front and rear wheels of the shorty and stop him right in his tracks. After more packing and a bit more right boot, Josh was able to conquer this hill and became the first and only truck to make it to the top without winching or turning around.
Shane, the group’s mechanic, was driving his lifted 60 Series running 35s and a very worn-out LSD. Shane really struggled with this track because each time he hit the loose shale his diffs displayed exactly how loose they were and he simply could not gain the traction needed to get up the track. Though he didn’t make it up, boy did he put on a show.
Now let’s just say I was quietly confident going into this track knowing the Milk Carton’s capabilities. As expected, the Milk Carton crawled up through the shale and onto the boulders, and with a pre-determined line I stuck to it and proved our abilities to the group. Well, that was until the rear wheel got caught on a step that swallowed it like it didn’t exist! It’s an abnormal feeling when all four wheels are turning but only three are properly driving. We were thrown violently to the left and landed perfectly on the exact rock we were trying to avoid. After a few failed attempts to get off, I jumped out to evaluate the situation and found that I was bellied out on a rock that was so large our rear left tyre was at full flex and still not touching the ground. With a few laughs and photo opportunities we hooked up the winch, packed the rear tyre and recovered ourselves. With adrenalin pumping through me, I couldn’t wait to finish the track, and off I went. We tackled the tree root step-ups without any struggle and made it to the end, but after our lengthy time on the track we all decided to head back to camp for lunch and to hang out until the rest of the group arrived.
When we arrive at any 4×4 park we like to have a chat with the owners and get a feel of how they like to run things. Owners of The Springs 4×4 Park Neil and Carolyn Taylor are always open to talking about track conditions and retelling the history of the park. Neil and Carolyn always knew they wanted to create a destination where they could host masses of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts in both recreational and competition capacities. They spoke about their love for 4WDing and explained that they looked for the perfect property for a number of years before stumbling across a place that would soon become known as The Springs. Finding a property with natural rock formations, secluded gullies, flowing creeks and breathtaking 360-degree views was a dream come true. Neil and Carolyn have hosted a number of competitions and many other events that always draw big numbers of competitors (including their own children) and large crowds. They always suggest their guests venture to the top of Bald Knob and Love Hill for a photoshoot with a stunning backdrop.
After a quick run to get a full group shot from the top of the property and some firewood, we returned to camp and got settled in for a great night. I tell you what, these guys had the best camping setup we have ever seen, and with a qualified chef on board dinner was no doubt going to be next level. Hot chips, wood-fired pizza in a home-made pizza oven and a pig on a home-made spit – what a feed. The following morning the final group member arrived and we immediately hit the tracks again – not knowing our adventure would be cut short. After no more than 10 minutes on the track, the steering on one car locked up on an extremely steep hill, causing the driver to ride the bank and roll their rig in spectacular fashion.
With everyone struggling to keep their own cars from sliding down the hill, we slammed on the hand brake, put the car in gear and chocked the wheels before racing down to check if the occupants were OK. Thankfully, the driver braced well for the crash and both the driver and their dogs came out without any injuries. Now how on earth were we going to flip over and recover a vehicle on this insane hill? We attempted to reverse up the hill and get another rig out of the way to start the recovery, however it simply was not possible and we were going nowhere fast. Josh, who was at the bottom of the hill, looped back up behind us and hooked his winch up to us, allowing us to make it up the hill and winch the next car in line up backwards as well.
With chatter over the UHFs of a rollover, Neil jumped into one of the competition rigs and belted it through the tracks to find us to make sure everything was OK and to assist with the recovery. Soon enough we had the Milk Carton’s rear end secured to a tree and the winch holding onto the back end of the rolled rig. With Josh using a snatch block we were able to flip the rig onto its wheels and lower it down to the bottom of the hill, but not without one last drama. Once the car was on its wheels, we had one of the boys jump in and assist with the steering and brakes, but with minimal brakes all he could do was hope they would hold. About 3m from the bottom of the hill we ran out of winch line and were in a horrifying position – to run all the spool out or try to hold the rig with its brakes while disconnecting the winch?
After ensuring there were no bystanders at the bottom of the hill, we attempted to winch the rig back up a few metres, just enough to chock the wheels and release the line. But with the angle of the track, the weight of the rig and only four rolls on the spool left, the line let go. Old mate in the rig had a fun little ride back to the bottom of the hill before the brakes gripped on the flat and the car came to a safe stop. After towing the battered 4WD back to camp, we decided it was time for lunch and one last run later in the afternoon.
Are you ever unsure if you should do something one last time, and then after deciding to do it something goes wrong and leaves you wishing you had just left it alone? Well this was one of those times. Beer O’Clock Hill, the steepest track at The Springs, is only opened with permission from Neil and prohibited to novice drivers. This was a track we had to try at least once but we probably won’t hit it again. About 100m directly up the side of a mountain, with shale all the way up and a very large rock step at the top, this track is not to be taken lightly.
To set the scene, you really need to understand how steep this track is. I first walk every challenging track and this one was no different. Once I made it to the rock steps, I could not physically climb them. These rocks were taller than me and steep enough that even on my hands and knees I was not able to make it over them. Now, when you’re walking up a hill this steep, even though you’re still technically on the ground, you can still become anxious about heights. I tell you what, my pants were filthy after this descent because I had to slide back down on my butt!
Shane was first up for the challenge. Champing at the bit, he went up in his 60 Series without hesitation. Shane made it all the way up to the rock steps before his hub exploded and he lost all drive to the front, beginning rolling back to the bottom. Shane soon found out his brakes had no chance of stopping him on a hill this steep and the only option was to jam it into reverse and try engine braking. Thankfully, and after cleaning a few teeth, the Cruiser went into reverse and Shane was able to pull up safely at the bottom. My turn!
You can bet your bottom dollar I was determined to conquer this hill, but this was definitely not my day. I chose the wrong line when climbing the rock steps and bounced sideways, which caused the front wheels of the Milk Carton to lift about 1.5m into the air. The Patrol leant on the rear bar and the wheels came back down to the ground. Slightly shaken but still well and truly determined, we reversed back down and tried again. The Milk Carton climbed the rock steps with ease this time before an unexpected challenge was thrown at us. Just as the rear wheels finished climbing the rock steps, a mere 20m from the end of the track, we lost all power. We had no option but to reverse back down the steps and roll to the bottom.
This was probably the sketchiest thing we have ever done. Once at the bottom, we could hear the engine fan hitting the shroud and upon further investigation found the force of lifting both wheels and bouncing on the rock step caused the passenger side engine mount to break and the motor to lodge itself on a nasty angle. Because of this, the intake pipe split after the MAF sensor, causing the ECU to cut all fuel and result in a loss of power. Thankfully, and with some assistance from the token mechanic Shane, we manipulated the motor back into place, secured the engine mount with a ratchet strap and taped up the intake before limping the Milk Carton home.
That was certainly one expensive weekend. This trip will definitely remain in the memory banks for years to come. To keep up to date with all our adventures, like and follow Flexible 4WD Solutions on Facebook. Until next month, stay safe and keep on wheelin’!