Lux Girl continues her off road adventures tackling the sandy playground of Portland’s Discovery Bay Coastal Park.
The heavy steering wheel wanting to go left and right is a little unsettling. I apply additional throttle which helps stabilise my Lux in its forward momentum as it bounces over the sand. As time passes, those first few moments of apprehension and disorientation turn to delight. Assured in my Lux’s capability, fitted with 4×4 accessories, I press on through the dunes. Slowly I begin to make sense of natural landmarks, the odd bush here and there, and the slope and shape of the dunes forged by strong coastal winds.
With a flick of a switch I activate my rear Air Lockers, giving me instant traction when I need it most on the soft, steep inclines. The functionality of these Air Lockers in delivering effective traction, cannot be overestimated in such unforgiving terrain. It’s quite liberating to drive on a landscape with no dedicated tracks or paths. There’s absolute freedom in this place and it’s unmistakable behind the wheel. The freedom to choose my own journey is, I suspect, something that will keep bringing me back here. Thoughts of my urban lifestyle seemed to melt away with each passing moment. I couldn’t help but think how earlier that morning, like most early starts to a four wheel drive weekend, was a completely different scene.
By 6am the turbo diesel was idling in the garage ready for my departure to Discovery Bay Coastal Park, some four and a half hours drive west of Melbourne. The traditional custodians of this land are the Gunditjmara people, stretching back more than 30,000 years, while the nearest town and oldest European settlement in the state of Victoria, is Portland. Evidence of Portland’s whaling history can still be found in the picturesque bluestone, cement rendered and basalt buildings peppered throughout. Although today’s whales migrating through its coastal waters have nothing to fear, the town still holds true to its fishing traditions, boasting a thriving fishing fleet which relies on the sustainable harvest of a wide variety of marine life.
At 10:30am, my travel companion, Art, a freelance photographer and business partner, and I arrive into Portland and in desperate need of coffee. We find a great little café with a beautiful view overlooking the Port and Marina and sit down to enjoy one last latte before hitting the dunes. With some last minute provisions organised, we travel approximately 25km north-west (of Portland) along the Portland-Nelson highway until we reach Telegraph road. Turning left, we travel a further 4km off the highway, passing the beautiful pine forests that make up part of Discovery Bay Coastal Park. We stop to collect some firewood and in no time we reach Swan Lake camp at the entrance to the sand dunes. The excitement builds, knowing that just over the hill lies our four wheel drive playground.
The “no flag no entry” sign is a clear condition of entry to these dunes. Flags are a must here due to poor vehicle visibility from the steep undulating terrain. While Art secures our flag onto the bull bar, I air down to a tyre pressure of 15psi and turn my thoughts to four wheel driving. Everything from tyre pressure, gear ratios, when I might engage my Air Lockers, right through to effective approach and departure angles all race through my mind. I don’t profess to be a four wheel drive expert, but I do understand what works and what doesn’t, thanks to my own experience and research. I’m a little nervous and eager at the same time. “I’m ready for this!” I tell myself. All my planning and experience have led me to this moment.
After some last minute checks, we head off. Cresting the first rise I experience a moment of pure shock and excitement. It’s truly amazing to find myself in, what is, the biggest sandpit I’ve ever encountered. These dunes are like nothing I’ve experienced before. The disparity of sand to the towering trees and thick undergrowth I’ve been accustom to is astonishing. It seems completely unforgiving and wild. The wind is relentless as it howls over the whistling turbo diesel. The dunes seem endless. I wonder how anyone could ever find their way in this seemingly indistinguishable landscape. Art tells me the dunes are softer than usual this time of year due to strong coastal winds shifting the sand. He’s photographed this landscape before and welcomes the opportunity to accompany me on this trip, I can see why!
Navigating the crest of dunes, I’m quickly reminded that this desert-like landscape is, in fact, surrounded (to the south) by ocean and (to the north) by lush pine forests. A contrast from the arid scene beneath me. Occasionally I find myself skating down extra steep slopes. The first one takes me by surprise and a mix of excitement and unease takes hold. I tense up my grip on the wheel and nervously negotiate it. Thanks to a well-designed bull bar, I can navigate steep departure angles without burying the nose of my Lux deep in soft sand. The constant undulation takes me back to my youth, of days riding on roller coasters and screaming at the top of my lungs. I catch myself laughing and realise I’m completely hooked on this place now.
After a few hours playing, exploring and photographing, it’s time to head to camp for the night, unwind and have a laugh over a glass of red while reminiscing on the day’s events. Upon exiting the dunes, I quickly air up to around 42psi thanks to my vehicle-mounted compressor conveniently fitted under the bonnet. It’s important to have your vehicle set up right in a place like this.
Carrying a flag to reduce the risk of accidents is also a must. Essential recovery items like a long handle shovel and a set of MAXTRAX provide additional insurance for getting out of a bog – and you will get bogged. Soft sand is often in unexpected places in the dunes and it will catch you out.
Sand dune driving is a very thrilling experience. It’s all about having fun, so remember to take the time to enjoy it with good company and always be respectful of the environment.
Carrying a flag to reduce the risk of accidents is a must. As with any sand driving, good traction means you spend more time playing than you do digging yourself out of bogs, so I air down my BFGoodrich K0’2s to 15psi and rely on ARB’s rear air locking system to see me through those tricky sections. Of course, after airing down, you also need to air up again, so a good compressor makes this process quick and painless. Essential recovery items like a long handle shovel and a set of MAXTRAX provide additional insurance for getting out of a bog – and you will get bogged. Soft sand is often in unexpected places in the dunes and it will catch you out.
Join Lux Girl in edition 3 of 4×4 CULTURED as she explores the challenging trails of Lerderderg.
Lux Girl, or Jayne, is an IT/High-Tech professional, a mother of two and an off road adventurer. Her love for the outdoors stems back many years but it’s in the last two years that her passion for off roading has really taken off. That passion has led Jayne to take a factory standard Toyota HiLux, fit it out with 4×4 accessories and explore the Australian Outback as Lux Girl 4x4ing. Along the way she’s continuously challenged the boundaries of the off road adventurer stereotype and hopes to inspire others to do the same while promoting a responsible and eco-friendly way of life. You can follow Lux Girl 4x4ing on her Facebook page luxgirl4x4ing and her Instagram page lux_girl_4x4ing.