A plan was hatched to get a four-day road trip in before the metropolitan masses with their hulking caravans and sloth-like SUVs were released from the “ring of steel” to clog up what’s left of the best driving roads in the state.
Club members Kevin Riley (Mercedes SL55 AMG), Glenn Campbell (BMW M3), Ray Youlden (Mercedes C63 AMG), Rob Coustley (Mustang) and Steve Schmidt (BMW Z4) were joined by Rob Morley (Mercedes SL350) on a 1500km journey over to the western side of the state, to enjoy some of the lesser-known roads and features that Gippslanders visit less frequently. Overnight stays were booked at Apollo Bay, Halls Gap and Mansfield and fingers were crossed wishing for fine conditions and dry roads.
The time of Tuesday’s departure from Warragul was critical in order to catch the 11am ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff. However, one of Kevin’s newly fitted front tyres had lost several pounds of air pressure overnight and it had to be checked for a puncture before he could confidently head off on the trip. He stayed behind whilst the rest of us headed down to KooWeeRup, Tooradin and the Mornington Peninsula, where rain forced the roadsters to erect their hoods, arriving at Sorrento 30 minutes before sailing time. Kevin’s tyre was given the “all-clear” and he managed to join us at the ferry terminal 20 minutes later. Sorrento is included in the Melbourne Metro area, whilst Queenscliff is regional, so the ferries are not doing much business in these Covid times. Only 13 vehicles were on this passage and the passenger lounge was virtually empty. Roofs came off again in Queenscliff and we headed off down the coast through the busy and bustling towns of Ocean Grove, Barwon Heads and Torquay, stopping for lunch at Anglesea and entertaining the Bowling Club members as we parked and erected the roofs again. After lunch we continued down the Great Ocean Road, but tuned off at Lorne and headed inland on a loop through the Otways to Deans Marsh, Forrest and Skenes Creek before arriving at Apollo Bay for the evening.
Day Two was blustery, but dry, so we continued our westerly trek through the Otways to Lavers Hill, eventually reaching the coast again at Princetown before leaving the Great Ocean Road behind as we headed north to Cobden and Camperdown for lunch. A run up the Mt Leura hillclimb/look-out road was rewarded with magnificent views over the remnants of the region’s volcanic ash cones and craters, many of which are now filled with water, creating the many lakes, large and small, scattered over the landscape. Easy touring from here to Penshurst saw all the cars achieving their best fuel economy figures as lush green pastures flashed past between occasional hamlets and farm communities. The jagged peaks of the Grampians soon appeared on the horizon above the haze as we turned toward Dunkeld nestled at the southern end of the ranges shadowed by Mt Abrupt. Glenn led us up the Victoria Valley Road which runs between the two main mountain ridges before climbing through a pass to join the Grampians Road that delivered us to Halls Gap for our second overnight stay. Somewhere along the route through the Grampians, Rob’s SL350 sensed a roll-over was imminent and popped up its automatic roll-over bar that lives behind the seats – getting it down again took three mature gentlemen a couple of hours to interpret the correct button-pressing sequence from the Owners’ Manual.
Day Three began by giving the Bimmer a chamois down outside the motel room whilst a couple of ‘roos watched on and grazed on the nature strip. We all refuelled and breakfasted at an outdoor café in town. Fuel economy wise, the cars are driven enthusiastically, but the Z4, with its twin-turbo 3-litre straight six, constantly returns between 9 to 9.5 litres/100km, it always ends up just ahead of the 350SL with its 3.7 litre normally aspirated V6. Glenn’s 4.2 litre V8 M3 comes in next, usually a taking a few more litres than the 6-cylinder cars, but well short of the supercharged 5.4 litre V8 in the SL55 AMG, Rob Coustley’s 5-litre V8 Mustang and Ray’s 6.3 litre V8 C63.
The morning’s drive took us up the magnificent Mt Victory Road with a detour to the Boroka Lookout overlooking Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield. We continued onto the Roses Gap Road skirting around the north of Stawell through Glenorchy and Campbells Bridge to Avoca and Clunes for a photo opportunity in the old gold-mining township. Then it was off to another hillclimb/lookout road called Mt Tarrengower at Maldon, where upon finding a suitable photographic parking spot in town, we took a break for lunch. The afternoon’s route took us across the Calder Highway, then across the Hume Highway at Seymour before some amazing back roads around Terip Terip and Gobur bought us out onto the Maroodah Highway just south of Merton where Ray, who’d been watching his fuel gauge intently, relaxed and stopped for a refill. From Merton it was a comfortable drive taking in the serenity at Bonnie Doon and finishing up in Mansfield for the night.
The final day was the “Drivers’ Delight” with 60 kilometres of unending turns and switchbacks around the southern edge of Lake Eildon between Jamieson and the Eildon township. It was still early morning, so there was no traffic to hinder our progress – only the odd marsupial hazard, one of which delivered a glancing blow as it sideswiped Kevin’s SL55 before hopping off into the bush again. Damage was only cosmetic to the left corner of the front bumper, but as Kevin was going to have the bumper’s stone chips repaired and resprayed, he now might end up with a brand new bumper. At Eildon we headed to the Jerusalem Creek Marina for morning tea, but upon arrival found it closed. Plan B saw us heading off to Alexandra via the Skyline Road with a stop at a lookout or two along the way. After a break, our cohort split into two with Rob, Rob and Kevin taking the Maroondah Highway through the Black Spur to Healesville and home, whilst Steve, Glenn and Ray enjoyed a traffic free run from Marysville over the tight and twisty Reefton Spur to Warburton and home via Powelltown.
It had been a fabulous four days of friendship, driving and eating. The cars need a damn good wash and it would probably be opportune to check the wear on their tyres and brakes. Kevin has already been in contact with Shannons as well as his favourite panel shop, and has begun planning the next route – it’s hard to keep a good man down.