With a busy year at Club HQ and a lot to do in 2020, I had a shorter break than usual this year. The minister for recreational activity was keen to get away up the coast and away from everyday life which was fine, ordinarily. You see, I haven’t yet had a chance to get away in our Tvan and I was hanging to go bush. Some quick research revealed closed National Parks, fire risk and packed seaside caravan parks and campgrounds. With only a week available, longer range travel wasn’t an option either. Reluctantly relinquishing the reigns on accommodation selection, I started investigating off-road day trips on the mid north coast.
Some casual googling and chats with a couple of 4WD Clubs that we partner with in the region revealed the option of beach driving. After some more research, we decided to head up to Crescent Head through the Point Plomer Track and stop at some beaches along the way. Different online sources classified this track as medium difficulty, requiring lift and off-road tyres as minimums. The main reason for this seemed to be based on standing water in deep ruts along with some sections of sand. Knowing water wasn’t going to be an issue, I felt comfortable taking our completely standard Ford Ranger Raptor on the journey.
What you need to know:
- Port Macquarie is an easy 4.5hr drive north of Sydney
- Point Plomer is accessible using the Settlement Point Ferry
- Point Plomer Track requires off-road tyres and recovery gear as a minimum. With recent rain, lift and a snorkel is advised
- Best to fuel up before you get on the Ferry, otherwise your next stop for fuel is in Crescent Head
- Beach access permits are required
Our first stop was to get a beach driving permit. The Port Macquarie Hastings Council website was very informative and proved to be a great resource throughout our travels. There are several outlets where a permit could be purchased, but we chose to go to the Visitor Information Centre at The Glasshouse in Port Macquarie. Aside from helping us with permits, the facility had a lot of interesting information about the area. We opted for the 12-month $64 permit which allows access to all accessible beaches in the Nambucca Shire, Kempsey Shire and Port Macquarie Hastings Council.
With the tub full of gear, I hit the button on the HSP electric roll-top (more to come on this one later) and set off for the Settlement Point Ferry. The Ferry runs around the clock and at $5 each way isn’t a massive impost. Despite it being a busy time, we were able to get straight on and were disembarking after a short 10-minute crossing of the beautiful Hastings River.
Disembarking the ferry towards the right on Northshore Drive takes you to a T intersection, where you need to take quick left onto Plomer road which quickly turns into a narrow gravel road. I hadn’t yet aired down so I found a spot to park up and let the factory BF Goodrich All-Terrains on the Raptor down to 20 pounds. The road was quite pock-marked with deep undulations, so the extra compliance was well received by the crowd in the cabin and made a notable difference to ride quality and control.
A few kilometres down the road we entered Limeburners Creek National Park, where the warnings around deep standing water became apparent. Despite being completely dry, with some of the dips you would certainly need to have some extra clearance and in some cases, a snorkel to get safely through. As the undulations continued, it was interesting trying different options in drive modes and pace. I found that high-range 4-wheel drive and carrying a little bit of speed helped. This is where the engineering centered around the Fox Shocks on the Raptor makes sense, with the cabin remaining composed as the chassis fought frantically to dampen the blows. There were also some pockets of deep, soft sand at points, which were straightforward.
Point Plomer really is a beautiful spot. With a great campground including facilities such as toilets and showers, it was chock-a-block as you’d imagine. After a quick look around we continued on our way through the lush rainforest-lined track. A quick break at Malaleuca Campground revealed another large and well-equipped facility – more protected from the wind and combining a unique rainforest outlook whilst still having close access to the beach.
Just before you get to Crescent Head, there is a pretty unassuming turnoff to the right with a simple sign that reads “Beach”. This access point takes you down to 5kms of 4WD-accessible goodness called Goolawah Beach. Without a soul in sight, I wasn’t going to take any risks and flicked the rotary dial to Low-Range 4WD and traversed the very soft, very dry and incredibly fine sand down to the beach. Beach driving isn’t the hardest 4WDing and the reality is most factory 4WD vehicles can do it with the right pressures and momentum, but I was impressed at how the Raptor just seemingly floated on the sand. I felt no need at any point to drop the pressures further. Having driven the GU in similar conditions, I reflected on the need to stay “on it”. This was probably a factor of the heft of the rig, but either way it was a welcome surprise to kick back and enjoy the view. I did try High-Range 4WD without traction control but ultimately felt everything was under less stress in Low Range so flicked back and cruised comfortably at up to 40 km/h. Interestingly, I was also testing the different driving modes and notice with the “Sand/Mud” mode there were moment where I was losing power. Speaking to the guys at Ford (and checking the manual!) I uncovered that ESC remain engaged in this mode which explained that all away. Further to this the rear diff locks up under 70km/h and the steering is adjusted to a comfort setting. I didn’t see this as a massive issue as it only triggered where I was probably going to fast and being a little erratic with the steering, so a good fail safe in my opinion. If I really needed too, I could have selected rock mode to switch all electronic wizardy off.
The wind was pretty strong on the day we went, so out with the kite for the kids and a quick lunch on the tailgate of the Raptor before settling in for a swim (or two). Of note, there was a pretty strong current and the beach is not patrolled, so you need to keep your wits about you if you do go in. In the 2 hours we were there we saw 2 cars come past, a welcome reminder of why we love this hobby; getting away from the crowds!
With mid-afternoon making its presence known, it was time to pack-up and head back. We followed the same route home which took just over an hour-an-a-half including the ferry transfer.
If you’re ever in the area, definitely check out the Point Plomer Track and the magic beaches along it – just make sure you get your tyre pressures right and bring some basic recovery gear along with your compressor, the rest will do itself!