When we left the GoSeeAustralia caravan in Canberra and headed to One Mile Beach Holiday Park, Port Stephens it was a great opportunity to stretch GoSeeAustralias big Sahara 4.2 TD automatic Land Cruiser. But, now, as we settled in the soft, wet sands of beautiful, Stockton Beach the 4WD adventure was suddenly a real reality check. Bursting surf foamed white over the nearby rusting remains of the wreck of the bulk carrier, the Sygna Bergen and focused our minds as we got down to the serious matter of not becoming a similar part of the breathtaking ocean beach scenery.
We had been fooled by Quadbike tracks on the apparently firm, damp sand. We thought we were going where 4WDs had gone before. But as there is a massive difference between the impression left by a light vehicle and a three tonne Sahara Land Cruiser our stop to view the shipwreck was unsettling in every sense.
Editors note: Pleasehold your cursor over pictures to read the captions.
Our halt had been a little too sudden, sand shifted quick time and despite low range and careful applications of power we could not get out and on our way.
So we considered our options, climbed out of the Sahara and noted that the twin running boards were too close to the beach sand for comfort.
Our mighty machine had certainly been working. Heat radiated from it in waves after about 23km of carving through surprisingly soft sand.
In hindsight we had been too confident of the powers of the Sahara and had not dropped the tyre pressures as far as we should have as we came onto shimmering, white Stockton Beach.
So lesson learned we took them down to about 15 psi and got down in the sand to hand smooth the way for the four big tyres. No stoppers wanted when we next tried to leave the Sygna.
Sure we have more tricks in the GoSeeAustralia get out of trouble bag. Big winch, strong cable, a spare tyre which when buried in the beach makes a fine sand anchor to pull on and if it comes to it we have a snatch strap to snap us out. But you need assistance for that and we prefer to solve our own problems.
Gentle throttle and real 4WD grunt got us going and we headed up the beach to the white, flat apparently powder sand nearer the dunes of Stockton Beach. We found low range used massive amounts of fuel. It was like driving in powder snow. We saw 79.6 litres a 100km on the instantaneous fuel consumption indicator.
Compared to 20 litres a 100km from the Sahara with a 23 foot Jayco Heritage caravan behind on the Snowy Mountain Highway the big 4.2 Turbo Diesel was doing it tough.
We switched to high range, drove high on the beach and our fuel consumption and general progress improved as we headed southwest for Stockton and Newcastle. The fuel consumption settled in the high 50s. This is expensive motoring. Before we completed our 32 km Stockton Beach, Anna Bay to Newcastle run we all but emptied the 46 litre diesel secondary tank the other tank in the Toyota Sahara being a 86 litre main tank.
Not a problem in the civilized 4WD fun area we were playing in, but a real issue in remote places like Cape York where tough going can make a joke of the best planned fuel consumption estimates and leave you literally stranded.
We headed for Stockton Beach from the GoSeeAustralia base camp at One Mile Beach Holiday Park. Manager Jenny Dietrich and Clive Pilley advised us to get a $5 Vehicle on Our Beaches Day Permit from Port Stephens Council.
The rules are clear. Drive below the mean high water mark. Never drive on dune vegetation. The speed limit is 40km per hour. Drivers must slow to 20 km an hour when within 100m of people on the beach. Beach users have right of way over vehicles at all times.
The beach stretches 32km from Buribi Point near Anna Bay to Stockton, near Newcastle.
It is certainly the ticket to an interesting 4WD experience. The shimmering, white Stockton Beach sand dunes rise to heights of more than 30m. It is a system that covers 2500 hectares. It is the biggest moving coastal sand mass in Australia.
Activities include, 4WD scenic tours, surfing, sand boarding on 60 deg sand dune slopes, visit Tin City. Tin City is a small cluster of shacks at the northern end of the Stockton Bight, fishing weekenders occupied by squatters who pay no rent, land tax or council rates. See the Sygna Bergen shipwreck, ride Quad bikes, Off-road Go-kart and horses or go beach fishing. There are Second World War relics and historical sites in this strangely beautiful sandy wilderness.
About the Sygna Bergen
The Norwegian bulk carrier the Sygna Bergen was driven onto Stockton Beach on her maiden voyage in a huge storm on May 27, 1974. Caught too close to shore in winds that reached more than 185 kmh the 58000 tonne bulk ore carrier had no chance and split in half after she ran aground in pounding seas. The crew of 30 was lifted to safety by helicopter. The ships bell is on display at the Fort Scratchley Maritime Museum.
About Tin City
Tin City is 11 fishing shacks, squatters have lived in desert condition, battling the natural elements for 50 years. When the wind rises and the sand dunes become mobile, residents band together into digging shifts, toiling around the clock to save their shacks from being buried; the sand advances nearly one metre per year.
The water near Tin City is referred to as Coca Cola. Dig a small well by hand only a few feet deep and it will quickly fill with black water that is said to taste as pure as rainwater.
Parts of the Australian Movie Mad Max were filmed at Tin City.