Article from Unsealed 4X4.
Melbourne is perhaps the 4X4 capital of the world; home to the likes of ARB and Ironman, with a very strong club scene and state association, access to tracks other states just dream about, and a range of terrains from rainforest to rock to sand to snow, all within a few hours’ drive. You’d be hard pressed to pick the five best areas for off-roading, but this selection should get you started. Remember, prepare well beyond what you think you may need as Melbourne weather can turn in an instant. You should also be independently confident with your navigation and carry recovery gear as you never know when you’ll end up bogged far from help.
Perhaps the most famous off-roading forest in near Melbourne, Toolangi is home to many a difficult track from the aptly named Rocky Track, which has kept panel beaters in business for years, to numerous mud and hill challenges. The forest starts from south of the town of the same name, and runs as far north as Yea, where it’s known as the Black Range State Forest. Yet while Toolangi is beloved of the hardcore, it’s also accessible by dirt roads leading to the pretty Murrindindi Scenic Reserve with its cascades, camping areas, walks and suspension bridges.
Further south, near Toolangi itself, is the Wirrawilla nature boardwalk, or if you’re in the north the old-times Cheviot Tunnel is near Yea, and although it’s been closed to vehicles for a few years now you can still walk through. Toolangi is a wet, temperate forest and at the right time in winter you may well find snow amongst the tall trees, or on rainy days, lyrebirds gliding through the mist.
There’s something for everyone in the Marysville area. There are plenty of difficult tracks – take your pick from hills, mud and rocks, or all three, or just keep to the dirt roads. As an example, head east from Narbethong over the Acheron River then choose between Paradise Plains Rd or Strickland Spur to roll into Marysville itself. The area is hilly for a challenging drive or just great views, for example from Keppel Lookout just south of Marysville. There’s plenty of lush, wet forest and water runs on the scenic dirt road loop that is Lady Talbot Drive.
Marysville itself has everything from fuel to cafes to playgrounds, and is the gateway to snow – if you follow the C512 past Lake Mountain it narrows, then turns to dirt as you travel on to Mt Matlock, which has an elevation of nearly 1400m, perhaps the most reliably accessible place for car-based snow fun near Melbourne. But if you’re just after a forest drive you need not go much further than Marysville into the Big River State Forest – there is a vast network of tracks and campsites off Big River Road, but watch for rain as any water can change a track from easy to hard in moments.
So named because early explorers Hume and Hovell ascended the ‘mountain’ and were not impressed with what they saw. “Mount Diss” has been a firm favourite with Melbourne off-roaders for many years. It was severely burned in the 2009 fires, but has recovered and enough tracks have reopened to give the area many options for daytrips, but be warned, many tracks are quite overgrown with regenerated green life. The driving is easy to medium, but the wet ups the difficulty level. Those looking for a real challenge should head a bit further north to Tallarook. Still, Mount Diss has some very decent hills, a few bushwalks here and there and while there is the large Sugarloaf reservoir there’s not really many places to view it. Our favourite post-drive destination is the Hume and Hovell Cricket Ground, a themed pub/café that makes an ideal post-drive airing up and coffee point.
Wombat & Lerderderg
Moving out to the west and we have the Lerderderg State Park and Wombat State Forest. You can drive right through Lerderderg on O’Briens Rd, via Ractcliffe’s Track if it’s open and you want a harder run, stopping off at O’Brien’s Crossing for a river dip, then wandering in via a network of muddy tracks to Blackwood, which is my favourite town in the area. It’s kind of a smaller, prettier and less pretentious version of Daylesford, and it is also home to two mineral springs which are worth a taste.
From Blackwood to Daylesford the Wombat has lots of tracks to explore, or you can take the Wombat Forest Drive, which is just a pleasant dirt road following the Lerderderg River with lots of options for secluded river stops. But if you’re after hard off-roading then forget Lerderderg, and you’d better like your challenge muddy, not rocky or hilly if you venture into the Wombat. I’ve even had to recover a HiLux from the carpark, let alone the tracks!
Otway National Park
Mostly seasonally closed due to wet weather, in summer the Otways nevertheless offers a wide variety of tracks that often lead south to the internationally famous Great Ocean Road. Many of these tracks are muddy, but the Denham’s track near Anglesea has good views, requires decent clearance and even includes a sandy section. The area is full of waterfalls, walks and other tourist attractions so you can break up your off-roading with a wide range of activities, and there’s myriad coastal towns and beaches for walking on, but not driving. The park extends a long way east, and the further you go that way the less traffic you’ll see. There will be no beach driving, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find a fairly quiet beach for a walk once you’re away from the major towns.