I STILL remember my first time driving on the sands of Stockton Beach. I would have been 14 years old and my dad had just bought a Range Rover Classic.
He had always wanted one, and as I was entering my troubled teenage years, it was something we could bond over. But we had no idea what we were doing. The smart call was to join the Range Rover Club and attend its beginner sand-driving course at Stockton Beach in NSW.
Within the first five minutes of driving down Lavis Lane towards the beach, my old man barked, “What the hell have you gotten me into?” Not what you want to hear at the start of the day. We nearly threw in the towel and headed home.
Thankfully, by leaning on club members who had experience, he had a smile on his face pretty soon. By the end of the day, we were cruising up and down dunes like experts, and still enjoy sand driving to this day.
So, what does all this have to do with anything? Well, I was recently invited on a training drive-day with the Isuzu I-Venture Club to Stockton Beach. To say it brought back many happy memories would be an understatement.
While I’ve personally done loads of sand driving over the years, it was my first time on sand in our recently modified 4X4 Australia D-MAX. It was also a brilliant opportunity to see a group of Isuzu enthusiasts learning new skills and gain confidence along the way.
The day started with a driver-briefing at a nearby hotel, where lead trainer David Wilson engaged with the punters on everything from how to engage 4WD, to convoy etiquette. This set the scene for the day, if at any stage someone wasn’t confident with an obstacle, there was a team of people available who could help.
"It was an educational and non-competitive environment to learn and gain an appreciation of how these vehicles perform"
Once the briefing was out of the way, we headed to the Anna Bay end beach access and aired down our tyres to 20psi initially. Thanks to recent rain, the sand was hard-packed here, and we made our way to the beach for the first activity of the day.
David had yours truly create a bit of a course, snaking up and down the beach, designed to show people how best to steer and use throttle inputs on sand. It was an educational and non-competitive environment to learn and gain an appreciation of how these vehicles perform.
After a quick (and delicious) lunch break, we met up with rangers from National Parks, who took us through the dune system behind the beach. I still remember when you could drive these dunes freely, however only those with special permits or tour operators can access them these days. A real shame that it’s become a pay-to-play system, but let’s not go into that now.
Dune driving is still permitted towards the southern end of the beach, in the designated Recreational Vehicle Area. There’s also a designated camping area if you wish to stay overnight. So, it’s certainly not all doom-and-gloom.
In this massive dune system, we were shown through the proper way to descend sand dunes, selecting the right gear and taking correct lines. We were also introduced to the benefits of lowering tyre pressures further, dropping down to 15psi.
Everyone agreed it made a massive difference to traction and ride quality. Attendees were gaining confidence, and it was interesting to see them comment on how others were performing. You could see the off-road bug beginning to bite, and that’s what these events are all about.
As the day was getting away from us, we decided to drive out south along the beach towards Lavis Lane. It’s amazing to see how much the beach changes in conditions. The sand is so hard-packed at the Anna Bay end, you could take any SUV there. But things get much softer and more chopped out the farther south you head. You need a proper 4WD to take on the beach, as we were soon to find out. On a side note, keen bird lovers will have a field day here, spotting various species along the way.
As we approached the beach exit, and end of the day, we came across a very bogged Ford Territory. Talk about how to make someone happy and sad at the same time. Seeing 14 or so vehicles coming towards you to help, but then becoming the subject of a recovery masterclass would be an interesting feeling.
As the tide was coming in fast, the decision was made to join two snatch straps together, and recover the vehicle backwards. We also helped the couple let their tyres down; something they had forgotten to do …
With the sun well and truly setting, we had them out of the mess and on their way. It was a great experience for new members of the I-Venture Club, to show that things can go wrong quickly if you aren’t prepared.
Once off the beach, tyres were aired up, recounts of the day’s experiences were discussed and goodbyes said. It’s safe to say everyone had a great time, and even the most experienced sand drivers gained something.
QUICK FACTS: STOCKTON BEACH
- Permits are required and available locally at service stations, tourist information centres and fishing shops etc.
- Dune driving is allowed in the Recreational Vehicle Area in the southern end of the beach.
- You can camp at Stockton Beach. There is one allocated camp zone, with sites available. You do need to book, and you must have your own toilet. Cost is $33 per night for two people, $16.50 per additional adult.
- Lower your tyre pressures to between 20 and 15psi, and turn your stability control off in a modern vehicle.
- Driving is only permitted on the beach and designated areas, a $300 fine applies if caught on the frontal dune.
THE I-VENTURE CLUB
I-Venture Club is an exclusive community, made specifically for the owners of Isuzu 4x4s. Regular trips are planned all around the country, ranging from one-day training sessions all the way to week-long explorations across remote destinations.
Qualified 4x4 instructors are present at all time, offering peace of mind if you find yourself out of your comfort zone, not to mention the comradery found among fellow enthusiasts. If you own or are considering purchasing an Isuzu 4x4, do yourself a favour and check out the I-Venture Club.
For more information, visit: www.isuzuute.com.au/experience/i-venture-club
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