Family Matters

TOYOTA FORTUNER CRUSADE & PATRIOT X1 CAMPER drIven 078

WORDS CHARLIE WILLIAMS PHOTOS MARK ALLEN

Toyota bills its Fortuner wagon as a family-friendly 4x4, so we loaded the family on board, hooked up a Patriot X1 camper and hit the tracks.

The six-hour drive from Sydney to Warrabah National Park in Northern NSW involves a mix of freeway and country B-roads, as well as snaking gravel treks. Not to mention the myriad stopovers that showcase country Australia. So, we saddled up Toyotaís Fortuner wagon.

The new 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine from the Prado delivers a stout 450Nm, perfect for towing the Patriot X1 camper we had hitched to the back (see sidebar on page 66). Mated to the six-speed auto gearbox in our top-of-theline Crusade it makes for easy touring, and it comfortably devoured all but the steeper hills en route. With fuel use around 11.0L/100km it was respectably economical, too.

Heading to Warrabah National Park from Sydney youíll pass through Tamworth, best known for its annual country music festival, plus numerous equine events and its 12-metre golden guitar on the southern edge of town.

From there itís quieter road north towards Manilla, right in the heart of cattle country.

The quaint country town is the gateway to some local surprises, a list of which we took note of to explore during our stay.

Having a proper 4x4 Ė ladder frame chassis, low range and full-size spare tyre Ė ensured we could point the nose down any track that took our fancy.

The Fortuner is well set up for smaller families (the Prado and Land Cruiser cater for larger ones) with seven seats for suburban duties and loads of space for luggage once the rear seats are folded against the sides to maximise load space. The top

The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine delivers a stout 450Nm, perfect

for towing the Patriot X1 camper we had hitched to the back

of-the-range Crusade comes with plenty of creature comforts, including leather seats, climate control airconditioning, automatic headlights and smart key entry, which allows you to leave the key in your pocket to open the doors.

A reversing camera makes parking easier, and it also makes it a cinch to back the car up to the trailer.

Back on the road and the pock-marked bitumen quickly turned to dirt, and within kilometres it revealed rolling, occasionally jagged hills that provide a spectacular insight into the granite-strewn countryside ahead. The rocks are part of the Bundarra Granites that stretch all the way to Queensland. River glimpses add to what is a scenic drive.

The harsher rocks are also part of the reason Warrabah exists. Being difficult to access and even more difficult to farm meant it was largely overlooked as productive land, instead it was turned into a nature reserve before achieving National Park status in 1984. These days it spreads across a relatively compact 52.16km≤, a land size thatís increased over the years as the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service bought up available surrounding land.

Upon entering the park thereís a broad smattering of campsites, each with easy access to facilities. We headed for the Gum Hole

Travel Planner

WARRABAH National Park is about 80km north of Tamworth in country NSW, itself 400km north of Sydney. Follow the road north to Manilla then cross the bridge to Barraba before looking for a right turn to ďNational ParkĒ.

The 52.16km≤ park is open all year, subject to fire warnings and flooding. Winter and autumn are better for those planning to bushwalk and get active, while summer and its warmer evenings make for the perfect time to go for a dip in the Namoi River.

Phone the Glenn Innes National Park office on (02) 6739 0700 or visit www. nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/ visit-a-park/parks/Warrabah- National-Park for information on Warrabah National Park.

There are two main camping areas with toilets and barbecue facilities, or you can hire the self-contained open plan house. Three-night weekend bookings start from $630 Ė contact the Armidale National Parks office on (02) 6738 9100.

Go four-wheel driving on the way up (the Nundle State Forest has plenty of challenging options) or explore the local area. Split Rock Dam is one of the largest in the state and is great for water sports and fishing. Or you could head to Mount Borah, which gives a fantastic view of the surrounding area and is popular with paragliders.

Take the long way home via the Waterfall Way (Armidale to Coffs Harbour), taking in spectacular sights such as Ebor Falls, Dangar Falls and Wollomombi Falls. Thereís also the Dorrigo National Park with its many walking trails and elevated Skywalk.

The Fortunerís accurate steering and supple suspension

dealt nicely with the jarring bumps and tight bends

site a few kilometres along whatís recommended as a four-wheel-drive-only road.

A two-wheel drive on its own should handle the undulating and occasionally steep track; although, with the trailer in tow it paid to have some extra grunt Ė and ability.

Once there it reveals a spectacular campground on a much wider section of the river. Itís the perfect spot for a canoe or kayak for exploring the edges of the river. Kids Ė and the occasional adult Ė will love the giant rope swing that makes for a more spectacular aquatic entrance. The biggest appeal of Warrabah is the serenity. Crack open a book or just sit back with a glass of wine and soak up one of the most picturesque waterholes in the country.

We were also there to explore the surrounding region, and while the X1 camper claims to go anywhere your tow car can, we went solely in the Fortuner. First stop for us was the steep, twisting road to Mount Borah.

A four-wheel drive isnít mandatory, but it definitely makes life more reassuring on the challenging road with its sharp pinches. The Fortunerís accurate steering and supple suspension dealt nicely with the jarring bumps and tight bends. Cresting the hill gives a spectacular view of the surrounding area, and thereís a fair chance youíll spot some paragliders using whatís regarded as one of the best launch locations in Australia.

If youíre game you can even book a tandem flight through the local paragliding school.

Next it was off to Split Rock Dam, an enormous water supply for the local region.

Itís great for a swim and all sorts of water sports; perfect if youíve got a boat.

We found some more challenging tracks, one on a

Steep approach and departure angles makes for a formidable off-roader

private road where the owner allowed us to test the mettle of the Fortuner. The excellent 225mm ground clearance ensures easy rock-hopping, while solid underbody protection gives confidence in tackling some of the more challenging obstacles. The steep approach (30 degrees) and departure (25 degrees) angles makes for a formidable off-roader, and one unlikely to scrape its chin.

The A-TRC active traction control expands the Fortunerís talents and range of terrain.

Itís beautifully calibrated for serious off-road work, to the point where the locking rear differential isnít required.

Even on gentle throttle applications it cleanly delivers torque to the wheels with traction, the low range gearing allowing low speed control when the going gets rough.

Being based on the rugged underpinnings of the Toyota HiLux also gives the driver reassurance that the Fortuner can handle some tougher treatment and still get you home reliably.

A-TRC active traction control is beautifully calibrated for serious off-road work

Patriot Games

OUR HOME away from home was the clever Patriot X1 camper.

Fully laden itís a little over a tonne, yet cleverly folds out to a two-bedroom home with a comprehensive kitchen, barbecue, fridge and even a shower.

As sister magazine Camper Trailer Australiaís Camper Trailer Of The Year, itís a rugged package claimed to go wherever the car can, which is lucky, because we decided to put it to the test.

Itís good knowing you can get a tad more adventurous without having to worry about whatís hitched behind.

It takes about 15 minutes to assemble everything in place, including the optional second bedroom attached to ours. Complete with a king-sized main bed, loads of storage pockets and even in-built lighting, itís a luxurious way to go camping Ė anywhere.

Visit www. patriotcampers.com.au for the full range of options.