A MATE of mine (Matt) has owned a Discovery 3 for about a year, so I was surprised when I bumped into him at a pre-Christmas barbecue to out he’d yet to take it off-road. We planned to resolve the issue with a run through Meryla State Forest sometime early in the New Year.
My brother-in-law Josh, who’s a Southern Highlands local, decided he’d tag along in his Navara, and so it was that we met up one warm morning in January just past Moss Vale for a day in the scrub.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
AS I MENTIONED in the last ‘In The Shed’ update, the Defender had a leaking injector pump and, as my wife was getting sick of the slippery diesel stain on the driveway, I decided to book it in with my local diesel specialist for a pump rebuild. After they’d worked their magic on it, the rebuilt injector pump looked like new, and my wallet was significantly lighter as a result. Who would have known owning an old Land Rover could be so expensive, eh?
Since the pump was rebuilt the Defender has been running like a dream, which isn’t really surprising considering all the other items that have been fixed or replaced over the past couple of years, but I’d much rather spend money on preventative maintenance than repairs, so I shouldn’t complain.
Still, the more I spend fixing stuff the less money I have to spend on new accessories like a winch and rock sliders, which are both still on my wish list. I did, however, manage to find the funds to buy a cheap drawer to bolt in the cargo area, alongside which I’ve fashioned a homemade shelf with a lift-up lid. Being able to secure stuff in the back is obviously quite important and I also like to stow gear where I can find it, and with the new setup I know where everything is and can easily access it.
THE LAST time I went for a drive in Meryla SF I was on my Pat Malone, and as many of the tracks now have huge muddy ruts in them, I wasn’t too keen on testing their depth.
This time, however, with recovery tracks and snatch strap packed, and two other vehicles along for the drive, I felt much more confident I’d make it through any unforeseen sticky situations.
We started off at the base of a small climb just off the side of Meryla Road called Patons Clearing. After dropping tyre pressures I jumped in the Discovery 3 to see what 4x4 hardware it was armed with, and then suggested Matt raise the air suspension, select low range and opt for the Terrain Response system’s Rock Climb mode.
I jumped back in my Defender, locked the centre diff, grabbed low first, locked the rear Air Locker and started the climb. Ultimately all three vehicles made it to the top with ease, so we pushed deeper into the forest towards Gunrock Creek Fire Trail.
There’s a rocky climb on Gunrock Creek Fire Trail with an alternate ‘chicken’ route. The Defender made the climb easily enough, albeit with both air lockers engaged, while Matt and Josh wisely opted to take the easier track. We then peeled off onto Gunrock Falls Fire Trail, which appropriately heads down to Gunrock Creek. There’s a great water hole here and an impressive waterfall, but despite some local rain in the preceding days there wasn’t much in the way of water flow and the creek looked almost stagnant.
With the exit on the other side of the creek in poor condition, we backtracked to Meryla Road and followed it south to where the forest borders Morton National Park and the Ettrema Wilderness Area.
Several years ago there were no locked gates here so you could drive to the end of Wombat Hill Lookout Trail, but unfortunately this is now known as Morton Trig Walking Track. There was also a time you could drive down Griffins Fire Trail to a fantastic camping area below the escarpment, however, this too has now been closed to 4x4s and bikes.
We headed back to the north and then turned left onto Patons Fire Trail, which has some seriously deep washouts due to inappropriate use in wet conditions. We had to meander around various ‘chicken’ routes, in and out of the trees, backing and filling, to eventually reach the end of this track, but our reward was a spectacular view looking down the escarpment to Bundanoon Creek and an icy cold pale ale I’d earlier packed into the Engel.
THE DRIVE back out along Patons Fire Trail was much quicker than the way in, because we knew which holes we could drive through and which we’d have to drive around.
Back out on Meryla Road we reinflated tyres, discussed the day’s drive (which was more technically challenging than novice Matt expected) and planned our next one-day escape. We’d all had a great day and all the vehicles came out unscathed.
As I pointed the Defender back down the Illawarra Highway towards home, I had a grin from ear to ear. Yep, it’s safe to say that I love nothing better than being in my happy place.