It’s becoming increasingly difficult and fraught with consequences to enjoy the roads close to centres of human habitation. So what better way to appreciate the performance of some very capable drivers’ cars than to take them on a mountain escape.
Participating in this four-day 2000km romp were Sporting Register members Kevin Riley (SL55 AMG), Ray Youlden (E63 AMG), Ian Holdsworth (RX7 Turbo), Glenn Campbell (M3), Steve Schmidt (Z4 35i) and regular ring-in Rob Morley (SL350). Plans were made to exclude major roads where possible, but to search out routes where a car’s handling and performance could be exploited.
Day One began with a breakfast at Frankies in Warragul before heading east through the back blocks north of the Princes Highway to Lake Glenmaggie, Genaladale and onto Bruthen for lunch. From Bruthen we headed for Buchan – purely so that we could drive the 60-odd km from there to Orbost on a delightful piece of road that rarely straightens out. Unfortunately, once at Orbost, there was no alternative than to join the truck and caravan convoy east along the Princes Highway to Cann River where we took the opportunity to refuel before heading north to Bombala. The pattern of fuel consumption evidenced here was typical of each stop. The rotary-engined Mazda was always thirstiest by a fair margin from the two forced induction V8 AMG Mercedes, then came the V8 M3 BMW, the 3.5 litre V6 SL 350 and then the twin-turbo 3-litre straight six BMW Z4 which averaged 9.6 l/100km for the whole trip. Traffic was light as we headed north on the scenic Cann River Highway and the truck drivers were courteous enough to allow us to overtake when the opportunity arose. Our overnight destination, the coastal town of Merimbula was reached by traversing the ranges through the small picturesque hamlets of Cathcart, Tantawangalo and Candelo. Once settled in and visiting the obligatory car wash, we all enjoyed a Mexican meal in a café overlooking the harbour.
Day Two saw us back-tracking to Candelo before joining the Snowy Mountains Highway for the climb across Brown Mountain. Unfortunately, one particular caravaner spoilt our fun until the road opened up after the summit. Beneath cool, blue skies with little wind we made good time crossing the Monaro High plains, the three convertibles enjoying the perfect roof-less conditions. A pause at Dalgety for morning tea gave us a chance to renew acquaintances with the café owner and an over-the-road neighbour who remembered us stopping here during a similar run twelve months ago. From there it was northwards around the eastern side of the Eucumbene Dam to Adaminaby for lunch. Continuing northwards on beautiful roads through the Kosciusko National Park we noticed in our mirrors a car catching us from behind. We slowed to let it pass, thinking that it may have evil intentions, but it turned out to be a harmless tradie who knew the road well and was having a bit of fun sticking to our tail. A twenty-minute stop for roadworks just south of Talbingo gave us a chance to meet our tag-along tradie as well as a caravanning family who offered to let us go in front of them once the road opened up again. After being escorted seven kilometres down the hill and past the site of the afore-mentioned roadworks, which was nothing more than a blocked lane as they filled a table-sized area of damage in the road, we turned off to Talbingo which is a pretty little town on the banks of the Blowering Reservoir. The 40km run alongside the reservoir to our over-night stop in Tumut was uneventful for all except Kevin who must have frightened his Merc’s roll-over sensor into believing disaster was imminent – it duly activated its pop-up roll-over bar with an unexpected explosive bang startling the wits out of Kevin. Figuring out how to retract the bar, took a couple of phone calls and some research of the owner’s manual back in the motel carpark, but it was eventually reset and the roof closed for the night.
Day Three began with a refuel before we turned south towards Tumbarumba and the scenic Paddy’s River Falls. A certain Z4 driver was on point duty, but missed a critical signposted left turn onto the Elliot Way which was going to take us the long way around through the mountains to Corryong. No-one else saw the sign either, so we ended up on a scenic valley drive that still arrived in Corryong, but a couple of hours early! The day was warming up quickly, so air-conditioners and fixed tops seemed to be the way to go, although Kevin decided to keep his roof stowed. The run along the Murray River was a nice drive, but the fun stuff began once we turned south through the Mt Granya State Park. Lunch then followed at Tallangatta which was becoming quite hazy as the hot northerly winds carried the NSW bushfire smoke south. With temperatures now in the high thirties, we headed down the Kiewa Valley towards Mt Beauty, then across the Towonga Gap to our overnight destination, Bright.
Day Four dawned nice and cool after a thundery, but dry, cool-change overnight. The cars needed a decent wash to clear the combined dust and sparse raindrops from the overnight storm, but with a carwash nearby, relief was in sight. We breakfasted at a café overlooking the Ovens River with lycra-clad cyclists and leather-clad, trike riders who had descended upon Bright in plague proportions. During breakfast the council lawnmower contractor decided it would be an ideal time to mow the parklands surrounding the car park where our recently washed vehicles were parked, so some car shuffling was required to avoid them being showered in clouds of dust and grit, unfortunately the café patrons couldn’t avoid such a fate. After breakfast we farewelled Ian who needed to save time (and fuel) by taking the direct route home. The rest of us headed back over the Towonga Gap to Mt Beauty and up the mountain to Falls Creek. The last time we attempted this route it was snowing heavily and we were forced to abandon our plans to cross the Bogong High Plains to reach the Omeo Highway.
This time, the weather was in our favour, the roads were clear and the only snow in sight was small patches in sheltered hollows. The run across the roof of Victoria was magnificent and we made such good time to the Blue Duck Café (Anglers Rest) on the Omeo Highway, that we arrived well before their opening time. It was decided to continue on to Omeo for lunch. Rob had followed Glenn’s M3 down from the high plains and had obviously worked his brakes hard. When leaving the Blue Duck as Tail-End-Charlie, Rob found he had no brakes. Heat from the brakes whilst stationary had boiled the brake fluid resulting in a very low pedal and next to no retardation. With no way to contact the rest of the group who had walkie talkies, Rob continued on at 40km/h reaching Omeo just as the rest of the team were finishing lunch and about to send out a search party. The brakes eventually recovered and Rob was able to continue on home to Traralgon with no further problems, but it’s probably worth thinking about how long it’s been since your brake fluid was last replaced.
From Omeo to Swifts Creek and on through Tambo Crossing to Bruthen is a great drive with a mixture of open flowing roads and some tight twisty sections over the ranges. At one stage we caught up to a newish Corolla that was being stirred along nicely at a speed slightly less than what we were sitting on. We overtook the Corolla, but didn’t shake him. He tagged on the back and followed us all the way to Bruthen. I hope he enjoyed the ride, because we’d had a terrific four days driving fine cars on some magnificent roads in great company.
Many thanks to Kevin for piecing it all together and running point the majority of the way. One day we’ll go back and drive that Elliot Way.