Historic Frys Hut is nestled in a picturesque, grassy river flat in the Victorian High Country, with the bubbling headwaters of the Howqua River completing an almost perfect campsite. It’s a stone’s throw from the snowfields of Mount Buller, with crisp mountain mornings giving way to sunny days and brilliant, star-filled skies through the billowing smoke of roaring open fires. This is a destination that teases the senses with magnificent views, the smells of the bush and crispy bacon, the gentle tumble of a mountain stream, a myriad of birdlife singing their sweet tunes, roos and wombats merrily grazing on the green fields, the chill of an early morning frost and the warmth of a sun-filled sky.
Frys Hut is a fitting place to hold the annual Australian Off Road (AOR) Campers jamboree, where a large assembly of proud camper owners gathers for a week of fun, relaxation and offroad excitement.
A HOMELY WELCOME
I first met the organisers, John and Annie Robinson, a few weeks earlier across the hills at Dargo, when the enchanting couple represented AOR at the 2016 Camper Trailer of the Year event. They brought their own AOR Quantum and showed its strong offroad credentials on a gruelling High Country circuit. Back at camp, the Quantum blossomed with its gentle demeanour providing extremely high levels of facility and comfort in a beautifully presented and well-equipped package.
John and Annie live in Bright and the High Country is their home, hence, Frys Flat in the Howqua Hills, not far from Merrijig, was the obvious destination. I found them to be exceptionally lovely people; however, after spending a weekend with other AOR owners, I came to the conclusion that such appealing characters are endemic to the brand.
This year’s annual get-together brought more than 40 AOR campers to Frys Flat; each presented by happy customers with marvellous tales of personal adventures in their own respective models. There were Quantum, Matrix, Aurora and Odyssey models galore surrounding a central marquee and huge inviting bonfires that attract campers like bees to a honey pot.
I sat around the campfire on the first night talking with David from Manly, NSW – a keen beach and rock fisherman who just loves the convenience of travelling with his Quantum. He has towed it all over the country pursuing his outdoor passion. Camped next door to me were Will and Melissa, who now live in Canberra, ACT, but have travelled the wilds of Western Australia in the comfort of their own AOR Quantum.
There was Glenda and Neil from Melbourne, with their three-year-old Matrix, who had just returned from their last trip through Adelaide, on to Alice Springs, Darwin and Litchfield and Kakadu national parks, across the Savannah Highway to Cairns and then home via the Queensland Coast. Their favourite spot was Carnarvon Gorge but they just loved Lorella Springs.
Helga and Douglas from Melbourne popped in to join us and I asked the group what was their favourite part of the AOR camper? “The ensuite!” was the unanimous reply.
Helga went on to tell me that they had progressed from travelling with an Oztent to the Matrix and were amazed by how much more camping they are enticed to do with a comfortable AOR, especially with the added warmth of the diesel-powered heater.
“We come up into these foothills of the snowfields during the winter months and enjoy the place virtually alone. It has amazed me how much more we enjoy our travels with the Matrix,” she said.
When I asked the same question of a large group around the campfire and their common reply was that their AORs gave them great towing confidence being no wider than their towing vehicles.
“All we have to worry about is the air-conditioner up top but we wouldn’t give that up for quids!” said Douglas.
“We will come back to Frys Flat in the winter and use it for a base for our other great love of snow skiing,” he added.
Every owner had magnificent travel tales to tell in their respective AORs. Many commented on how well the AORs performed on the miles of heavy corrugations that are common all over this huge country.
John and Pam from Inverloch, Vic, shared their exploits from their latest trip to Cape York, then on to the Pilbara, down the west coast through the Central Road, Broken Hill to Cairns – including a jackknife incident on the Bloomfield Track which resulted in virtually no damage other than a slightly bent stoneguard.
I also spoke with Deborah and Gary from Sydney, NSW, whose last trip took them down the New South Wales coast, through the High Country to Cobram, to Adelaide and the Eyre Peninsula, Nullarbor, Kalgoorlie, Margaret River, Albany, Esperance and back across the Great Central Road through Kata Tjuta and Uluru. The couple, who towed their camper with a 200 Series LandCruiser, said their favourite destination was the Margaret River area of Western Australia.
The other common love was the ease of setup when you finally arrive after a big day on the road, or the fact that you have such easy access for a road-side break, meal or rest.
Many people feel a little unsure, and perhaps a tiny bit scared, to take off by themselves on extended trips around Australia so I asked a large group of owners if they had ever had trouble on the road. I was amazed with all of the shaking heads saying ‘never’.
“You’re never alone,” Pam said, although many confessed that back-to-base GPS and Personal Locator Beacons eased their minds when out in remote regions.
There was an amazing feel to the whole weekend with owners coming from as far as Queensland and South Australia to join the festivities. John estimated that there was about $4.8m in campers and $4m in vehicles in attendance – a mightily impressive figure. This was the third such annual gathering and from the overall response, it won’t be the last.
Photography is a primary interest to many travellers, and equipment tips are a hot topic for discussion. A drone buzzed above the campfire, giving a new professionalism to the sacred road-trip flick. John and Annie hosted a photographic competition, at the suggestion of keen photographers Rob and Peggy Hendry, and I ended up being invited to judge. There were some magnificent displays of on- and offroad exploits, wildlife, destination and landscape photography captured en-route. Two prizes were offered with one for the best set of six images as voted by all of the campers, and another for the overall best image which I got to judge! The concept was a social success, as every attendee got to visit every other camper to view the exhibitions under their annexes. It didn’t take long for the campers start talking about their favourite destinations and experiences interspersed with handy traveller tips.
The winners were announced at a ‘Pirates’ Dinner’ on the Saturday night when everyone brought a plate, and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t strung from the nearest branch for my final photographic selection!
For every AOR owner, there’s also a 4WD and the campfire stories are full of tales of adventure. The morning calm is scattered with pockets of chatter about cars, campers, destinations and personalised fit-outs and ideas. Team leader John was up early to light the campfire and boil the billy for that important first coffee, as others were bustling around preparing for yet another day of adventure. There were groups tackling some of the regions more extreme 4WDing, others simply touring or bushwalking in groups, while some of the more sedate simply preferred a lazy day in comfort with a group of like-minded friends.
It’s each to their own with the campers as well, ranging from AOR’s old-school hardfloor campers, right through to the magnificent, award-winning hybrids.
The camaraderie of this event is terrific and the hospitality warming. This is the place where long-term friendships are forged and travelling companions meet to make plans for their next sojourn. It’s also a great place to share knowledge with those of similar interests playing with gizmos and gadgets, cameras, fishing gear and exchanging their own experiences of products that make life on the road all the more successful. All in all, the AOR owners’ gathering was a refreshing success and a hearty congratulations goes out to all who attended – and a big Bear hug to boot!
Check out the full feature in issue #97 February 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.