I must admit I was a bit apprehensive to try this experience given I am not into 4WDs (I haven’t even driven a 2WD in 10 years!), I haven’t been camping or in the outback for many years and much as I hate to play into stereotypes, I thought this might have been more of a ‘boy thing’ to do. However, I am always up for challenging myself and getting out of my comfort zone; so I slapped on a hat, grabbed my sunscreen, packed some nerves of steel and headed off to outback South Australia.
And boy, was I proven wrong – I absolutely LOVED it! In a word: EXHILARATING! I am even thinking about organising a trip for my extended family who are scattered across Australia to meet in the middle and spend a weekend together so they can have as much fun as I did.
Where we were
We arrived at Adelaide airport to almost 40 degree heat. It hits you like a wave as soon as you get outside, but unlike the humidity of Sydney it is a dry heat so doesn’t make you feel lethargic – plus there is an adventure waiting.
Our target is Barmera in the Riverland region of SA, which is a 2.5 hour drive down the Sturt Highway, so make sure you get some great tunes pumping. Unfortunately we did see the after effects of the recent flooding, from which the local area is still recovering. We stayed strong and didn’t detour to sample the many delicious wineries which we went past on the way….another time for a different mission.
Barmera is a long established town with a wide main street featuring plenty of shops, excellent recreational facilities for young and old and is perched on the edge of the Lake Bonney Riverland, a fresh water lake. We stayed at the Comfort Inn and Golf Club which is old school motel style suitable for families or travellers and is equipped with a pool, tennis court, BBQ facilities and of course the beautiful golf course. There were plenty of early morning locals (and a few cute bunnies!) taking advantage of the cooler weather to get a few putts in before work.
In terms of dining in Barmera, there are a number of options including those overlooking the lake. The local Club is famous for it’s schnitty and chips and the haloumi burger, steak and ribs all served with chips were also great. And there is a nice sense of community support as they host a meat tray raffle on Friday nights. Make sure you save room for the cheesecake – it is outstanding! And you are in SA territory, so the only appropriate beer to drink is Coopers and of course Barossa Valley wine choices. For breakfast, there are several cafes, all offering what you would see in any major city so you don’t need to miss your regular smashed avo or breakfast burger as you fuel up for your big day ahead.
Onto the adventure…!
It is a short drive from Barmera to Loveday 4X4 Adventure Park and is fully accessible by 2WD, caravans, boats and of course 4WDs. Loveday Park is 8000 acres of private property along the mighty Murray River and was started back in 2005 by Tony with a 40km track for 4WDs and race events. It has since expanded to include a lovely grassed area with kids playground, a shop and a Tavern offering affordable family friendly food like pizza, nuggets and chips (apparently, there is no potato shortage in the Riverland!) and of course more Coopers and much needed cold drinks after a hot day of adventuring.
And since Tony’s partner in business and life, Jodie, joined the helm, they have also amped up the adventure activities. They now offer a 40km and 80km jet-ski adventure on the lake, a kids rally racing adventure and a Gel Blaster Park, which is kind of like paint balling, but with guns and ‘ammo’ in a virtual battlefield with a maze of trenches and obstacles. Tony and his team maintain the 4WD and race tracks themselves with their own grader to keep it safe but thrilling for users of all experience levels.
There is a nearby campsite on the banks of the River and they regularly accommodate up to 500 cars and host thousands of people on big race days and during the holiday seasons. Camping is $60 per vehicle for the first night and $20pn thereafter. Despite the size of the grounds, it is perfectly safe for kids to jump on their bikes and go on bush adventures by themselves – as long as they stay connected to Mum and Dad via their GME handheld radios and abide by the instructions to be back in time for dinner.
One of the things we loved was the big focus on the environment and supporting the local community. There is a strict no rubbish policy and respect for local wildlife and indeed, everything was pristine on our adventures. There are also lots of passionate volunteers and supporters who have helped Loveday grow and equally they support local businesses including through the regular magazine that Loveday publish.
Without a doubt, the standout activity which is guaranteed to get your adrenaline racing and your heart pounding is the Hot Buggy Racing. It is the actual racetrack that the rally drivers compete on and comprises a 3km lap and 9 (massive!) jumps for $50. Jodie is an Australian rally champion who regularly takes these tracks at up to 230km per hour. For guests the pace is a clip or two under 200kmph, which trust us is plenty fast enough to enjoy the thrill of it all.
It’s a bit tricky to get in the buggy once you have your safety helmet on then you are buckled in so securely with a double strap that despite the 2m plus jumps and dips, you don’t move and the landing suspension is excellent so there are no issues in terms of impact on your body. Then it’s Ready Set Go!! Throughout the course you will skid round corners on angles, and Jodie takes the drop-offs and high jumps with ease so you feel the pure rush of excitement from the instant you take-off, leaving a trail of red dust behind you. And don’t worry, Jodie won’t tell anyone how often you screamed, although she has learnt a few new swear words during her time taking guests on the laps!
The buggy racing is suitable for anyone over the age of 8 – in our group we had people ranging from mid 20’s to their 60’s with all levels of fitness, heights and shapes. And we all finished the lap exactly the same – with a humungous grin and feeling on top of the world (and no sore backs the next day).
Whilst you are there, you will also want to take the 4WD track tour, albeit at a rather more sedate pace but still exciting to explore the landscape and challenge your own driving skills doing the big dips, hairpin bends and climbs. Keep an eye out for evidence of Tony’s cheeky sense of humour throughout the maze as you undertake the Boob Shaker, Roller coaster, 150 Bumps and the Divorce track. As the names suggest, these ain’t your casual Sunday drive and passengers are encouraged to hang on! Keep an eye out for kangaroos bounding in the surrounding bush as you travel. Just before finishing, you will unexpectedly come across the stunning vista encompassing Spectacle Lake, where they offer the jet-ski experience. Definitely worth a spot for a photo op or two before making your way back to the Tavern for a well deserved cold drink on a hot and dusty day.
We want you to have loads of fun….but safely!
As well as being environmentally conscious, the team at Loveday are equally safety conscious and like any outdoor adventure, sometimes things can happen. We were lucky enough to have Lewis from the team at GME Australia walk us through the safety equipment you should use at Loveday and beyond.
First up is the handheld UHF CB Radios, which come either as a single or family pack of 3, which is ideal when you visit Loveday as a group, especially if the kids want to go dirt biking whilst Mum and Dad relax with a Coopers at the Tav. The ultra compact radios have long lasting battery life of up to 30 hours and LED lighting for nighttime or caving use. They are almost indestructible in any condition or climate you might find yourself in and have a 3 year warranty. RRP $379 per pack of 3
GME are also the world leaders in offering the GPS Personal Locator Beacon and have been part of a number of high profile rescue operations. The PLB is Australian made, works anywhere in the world and is linked to all safety, emergency and security services globally. Once activated, usually within 1 hour you will receive support whether it be via helicopter, boat or vehicle. It has a 7 year battery life and 6 year warranty and if you do need to use it, they will replace it. This lifesaver can be operated single handedly (inspired by the 127 hours film). It is fully weather proof and tough as nails so whatever situation you find yourself in, it can handle it. All you need to do is flip the switch and hit the button. It acts like a virtual flare and will hit the nearest satellite to transmit your location accurately to receive support. Perfect for any kind of outdoor adventurer – anywhere in the world.
In addition, GME supports the charities Beyond Blue and the McGrath Foundation. You can help them support these causes by purchasing your equipment like antennae in the charity colours of blue and pink respectively and they will donate 10% of the cost.
For those who are into hiking, camping, fishing and other adventures, or even just travelling across the Nullarbor or between country towns with limited mobile coverage, you can feel more secure with the GME suite. Especially given recent weather changes over the last few years, despite the best laid plans and your experience level, unexpected things like fires, floods or even a burst tyre in the middle of nowhere can happen.
Are we Addicted?
You betcha! Even though I am a proper ‘inner city girl’ who usually considers an adventure to be trying a new fusion dining experience and loves her local winebars; this was a surprisingly special adventure that I loved so much more than I thought I would. It was a great way to hang up the heels, leave the city behind, connect with the heart of Australia and enjoy some thrills in a perfectly safe way.