Ron and Andrea Camier established Mountain-Top Experience (MTE) in 1998 following Ron’s retrenchment from brown coal research and development due to the privatisation of the power industry. MTE’s 4WD tag-along tours throughout the Victorian High Country and passenger tours around Walhalla became very popular, winning many accolades including a Victorian Tourism Award in 2003. With its enthusiastic team of tour guides, MTE initiated a network of inter-related small businesses. This included Advanced 4WD driver training courses, and the Mt Baw Baw Transport Service to the snow each winter. Starting with the MTE fleet of vehicles, MTE4x4 was established in 2002 by Ian McCowat of Morwell, specialising in Land Rover modifications and accessories. Ian’s skills were in great demand by many other customers, until ceasing business in 2015. This work is now carried out by Land Rover specialist Will Heily of Bob’s Tuning & Repairs.
The hiring out of 4WD vehicles expanded into a Mini-bus Hire joint venture with Gippsland Fleet Maintenance in 2004, adding a fleet of four 12-seater mini-buses. This led to regular mini-bus rentals and transport services including significant logistics support to land management authorities during several major bushfires in Gippsland. We also were able to support Fusion Gippsland in their local youth and community work. We subsequently purchased three mini-buses from GFM when it restructured.
In 2005 bushman Mike Thomas, who had a horse trail riding business at his property, Mountain Rivers Lodge in Rawson, joined the team. Mike was a colourful character and popular tour guide on both the trail rides and later 4WD tours. However the impact of escalating insurance costs for horse riding led to the closure of his trail ride business. In 2007 the Camiers bought a half share in the 40 acre property. This was for the dual purpose of assisting Mike stay on there following the closure of his trail ride business, together with assisting friends David and Sarah Bush find a site to establish their paintball sports facility. Then in 2008 Mike’s deteriorating health caused him to sell out entirely and move interstate. The Lodge accommodation business initially was managed by Sarah Bush. In addition to the Bush family, the Mountain Rivers property became the home of Phoenix Paintball. Commencing in late 2007, this adrenalin-based sport became popular with young adults. The varied and picturesque location of the fields, and friendly but professional style of operation helped to establish Rawson as Gippsland’s premier location for this sport.
Being near Walhalla enables us to operate 4WD tours through the ghost towns, mines and mountains nearby. These include the Copper Mine Adventure for day visitors to Walhalla as well as half day Historic Ghost Town tours. The MTE team has run tours for up to 128 students in a day from Rawson Village school camp, and worked with coach companies and Walhalla’s Star Hotel in catering for international visitors on cruise ship excursions from Melbourne, and demonstrating world-class standards of tour operation. With the growth in both the paintball and accommodation businesses, in 2009 we welcomed Geoff and Tasha Heyblom and family to manage the Lodge and join the MTE team, while the Bushes continued operating the paintball business, living at home in Drouin.
During 2008~2010 another MTE team member and accomplished handyman, Peter Holliday, assisted with a series of building projects on site, which included the addition of two bedrooms to the managers’ residence, building two sensational new Spa Chalets and a Bunkhouse, deck extension and kitchenettes at the Lodge Motel. Peter, with sons Matt and AJ, then took on the operation of the paintball fields as well. In 2013 we added two Family Chalets and re-named the property Mountain Rivers Tourist Park. In 2014~15 we augmented facilities with a Campground featuring large amenities building and two Alpine Cabins, a huge project assisted by Simon Cook and Alan ‘Tex’ Coward. Brad and Rebecca Harris moved from Perth to take over as Resident Managers in 2015, bringing youthful energy and marketing skills. This resulted in greatly improved occupancy rates, however they needed to return home for family reasons in 2017.
As the mini-bus business grew, in 2006 we imported and adapted a Toyota Super Custom 4WD 10-seater bus for our Melbourne City/Airport-Mt Baw Baw snow transport service. An old friend from Fusion, Murray (Muzz) Brown joined the MTE team in 2007 as part time Mini-bus Business Manager. By 2010 his networking skills had built it to a size where we needed a full time manager, allowing Muzz to retire. This role was filled by Dr Christine Sindt, whose background was in chemistry, education and community work, also eventually leading to her election to the local Council. Her position was filled by Jerome Johnston, and then Bevan French.
During 2010 we replaced an old Toyota Commuter 12-seater with a newer one, added another 8-seater 4WD Super Custom, plus a Commuter 12-seater automatic. In 2011 we purchased a luxury 22-seater Mitsubishi Rosa Mini-coach and trailer from Gippsland Getaway Tours, followed by standard 25-seater Rosas from Coal Valley Coaches in 2012 and 2015. There was demand for larger buses by many of our customers, including PowerWorks at Morwell, and for Latrobe Valley Power Industry Tours.
In 2016, following Andrea’s diagnosis with a serious illness, and Ron’s need to reduce his workload, a new Operations Site at 143 Princes Drive Morwell was purchased, comprising yard and office. This was renovated and the business relocated there with assistance from Barrie Cook. Sadly, Andrea passed away in November 2017. Management was restructured with Russell Camier as Chairman and Jerome Johnston as full-time MTE Operations Manager, bringing fresh initiatives and management skills.
In 2017 MTE was approved by VicRoads to become a provider of Hazardous Area Bus Driver Training, mainly to enhance our ‘Mt Baw Baw Transport Service’, through enabling bus use in alpine areas during winter. The mini-bus hire business in 2017 was developed into an accredited bus hire and charter business, as an Approved Operator by Transport Safety Victoria, and using mechanical service partners WRW Mechanical Services and Livesey’s Motor Works. The bus business was also re-branded as ‘Experience Bus Hire & Charter’, with the 4WD business continuing as ‘Mountain-Top Experience’. To meet changing demand the two older 12-seater manual mini-buses were replaced with a Toyota Commuter 14-seater automatic, and a 58-seater Higer Roadboss coach. We also built a fully-equipped Catering Trailer for 4WD or bus use. At Mountain Rivers Tourist Park in 2017 new resident managers Matthew Pawley and Natalie Merrett are bringing a new level of professionalism in the accommodation business operation. 2018 will be our 20th year of business operation and the future is exciting!
Mountain-Top Experience aims:
- To promote Gippsland and the Victorian High Country as a prime destination for 4WD adventure tourism.
- To inspire, challenge and educate our customers with experiences that enrich their lives.
To achieve satisfying, worthwhile and profitable employment for our team of leaders, working in cooperation with local communities.
Transport Safety Victoria Accredited Operator (AO 005954)
Parks Victoria Licenced Tour Operator (PV1417)
Taxi Services Commission (RHV 0046)
Walhalla & Mountain Rivers Tourism Association member
Latrobe City Business & Tourism Association member
Latrobe Visitor Information Centre member
Wellington Visitor Information Centre member
Victorian Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs member
Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria member
Winner 2004 PIGD Regional Tourism Awards (Tour & Transport Operators)
Winner 2003 Victorian Tourism Awards (Significant Tour & Transport Operators)
Winner 2003 PIGD Regional Tourism Awards (Tour & Transport Operators)
Winner 2002 PIGD Regional Tourism Awards (Adventure Tourism)
Bob’s Tuning & Repairs, Engine building and tuning, and general mechanical repairs. Independent Land Rover specialist, Chickerell St, Morwell. Ph 5134 4023.
Four Wheel Drives, Land Rover spare parts, 4/34-36 Melverton Drive, Hallam. Ph 9796 4834.
WRW Mechanical Repairs, Car, truck and bus servicing and maintenance, 157 Princes Dr, Morwell 3840. Ph 5135 3232.
Valley Tyre Service, Princes Drive, Morwell. Ph 5134 1388. We use and recommend Maxxis MT tyres.
Our team of leaders are familiar with our written Standard Operating Procedures detailing:
- Human resources
- Contractor payment guidelines
- Baw Baw Snow Transport procedures
- Copper Mine Adventure procedures
- Vehicle maintenance checklist
- Chainsaw operation procedure
- Booking procedures
- Customer service procedures
- Emergency procedures
- Insurance issues
Staff receive appropriate training and a trip Running Sheet as necessary for the jobs to which they are assigned.
1. Business plans are based on ‘normal years’. But in our first 13 years we had 3 major bushfires, SARS, 2 flu pandemics, a world recession, the Ansett collapse, a GFC and 2 major fuel crises. That left about three ‘normal years’, which is hardly worth planning for. So we just make decisions based on a few sound principles, as below.
2. We treat customers like friends, and that’s usually what they become.
3. We aim to have lots of small customers, with small profit margins. That’s more reliable than a few big-paying customers such as companies or government agencies.
4. Enthusiasm is our best sales ‘gimmick’. So our best marketing opportunities involve meeting people.
5. Strategic planning just means thinking about obvious trends, and what we like doing in relation to them.
6. Our highest priority is looking after our team of workers. We encourage them to take on as much responsibility as possible.
7. We prefer not to employ others, but assist them to fulfil their dreams, often starting their own complementary businesses. In 10 years our 4WD business has been a ‘launching pad’ for 5 others.
8. We try to form alliances with our suppliers, promoting their products, and paying their bills promptly. Often this results in sponsorship deals.
9. We learn to do as much as possible of our own equipment maintenance, accounting, marketing and website development. It keeps us ‘in touch’, saves expenses, and reduces dependency on outside ‘experts’.
10. We try to work hard and stay active. It’s good for our health and that’s good for our business.
11. By working 12/7 we don’t have much time to spend money. That seems to make the bank account go up.
12. When we enjoy our work, so long as we don’t make a loss, it doesn’t really matter how much income we earn.
13. We try to be generous within our means. If we can’t give money, we give time. We encourage colleagues and support industry organisations.
14. By reinvesting profits we build capital value, and don’t have to worry about paying too much tax.
15. We don’t borrow money for anything that depreciates. Then when hard times make business slow, we can relax and wait for recovery.
16. When faced with setbacks, we never, ever, ever give up.
Ron Camier, June 2009