As 13 vehicles rolled to the beginning of Climies Track on an icy cold summer’s day in Tasmania, adrenalin was high yet scepticism lingered.
Were we really expected to overcome a highly technically 20km track with a convoy of D-MAXs and MU-Xs, three of which were unmodified and wearing 18-inch wheels? “Hell, why not? Let's give it a crack,” seemed to be the overwhelming consensus from the group, despite relentless rainfall smattering the area for the past few days.
Said group had gathered two days previously for another Isuzu I-Venture trip, an endeavour by Isuzu UTE Australia (IUA) to take its loyal customers – in their own vehicles – on guided 4x4 trips to iconic destinations around the country.
It’s a plight that has been part of the IUA mantra since March 2015, when the first I-Venture trip traversed the sandy beaches of Moreton Island in Queensland. Five years later and the program has now had close to 3500 customers roll through more than 160 events, leaving them with enhanced driver knowledge and new like-minded friends.
The latest contingency of eager participants, hailing from all over Australia, gathered in Devonport for an introductory briefing led by 4x4 trainer, David Wilson, an eccentric tour guide with a wealth of driver-training experience.
With the mandatory dos and do-nots out of the way, tyres hit the tarmac heading west for a blast into the Highlands in search of the famous Tasmanian trout at a family-owned-and-run farm located in the Upper Natone Fly Fishing Park. Here, the crew sampled freshly smoked trout, tried their luck by dangling a lure – not great odds for Mr Trout, it must be said – and took a hatchery tour of the facility.
With bellies full, the convoy crept their 4x4s deep into the Leven Canyon Regional Reserve, where pressures were lowered for some mild escarpments and off-camber tracks. The destination was the Leven Canyon Lookout Track, where the group stretched their legs on a brisk 20-minute return walk which leads to a 275m-high viewing platform overlooking the spectacular reserve and the river far below.
4x4 explore: Bay of Fires, Tasmania
The next leg of the trip required a 75km jaunt over bitumen and dirt to the Central Highlands, home to one of Tasmania’s most iconic landmarks rising 1545m above sea level: Cradle Mountain. Lying within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, tourists flock from the world over to witness Cradle Mountain’s overwhelming beauty and to walk the many trails scattered within its boundaries. It was here, beside an open fire at the Cradle Mountain Hotel, that the rugged-up crew ended the first day with a sundowner or two.
With beanies clad the following morning, it was an early start to catch the tour bus to Dove Lake – an essential attraction when touring this part of Tasmania. The almost sub-zero temperatures didn’t stop the tourists who had swarmed to the region to try their luck at one of the many walking tracks, the most famous of which is the 65km, six-day Overland Track hike ... but maybe another time for us, as this group was itching for some 4x4 action.
As the mercury rose, beanies were traded for hats, and the team motored toward the West Coast in search of some of Tassie’s iconic sand dunes. With tyre pressures lowered, the convoy spent the afternoon carving tracks in the Henty Sand Dunes, getting stuck in said dunes, getting out of said dunes, and then trying slightly easier dunes – perhaps the first warning sign that the looming Climies Track was going to be a long, tough slog.
A run along Ocean Beach led to a perfect little spot at the mouth of the Henty River, where rods and reels were once again unpacked – better odds for Mr Trout this time. An exhausted group pulled the handbrake for Day Two in the small coastal town of Strahan, with Climies Track lingering on everyone’s mind.
Excitement was palpable the following morning, and the drizzle that was settling on the D-MAX and MU-X vehicles in the carpark raised both adrenalin and concern in equal measure. We fuelled up for what would be a long day on the tracks and then ventured to the marker that signifies the beginning of the bucket-list Climies Track.
Climies is a notoriously unforgiving ocean-side track, overlooking the freezing waters returning from Antarctica. It was once used as a route between two shack towns at Granville Harbour and Trial Harbour, but years of neglect have resulted in a track with deep gullies, enormous boulders, steep descents and brutally hard challenges. It’s a track that technically minded 4x4ers would savour, purely for the centimetre-perfect wheel placement required on many sections.
Still, why not? Let’s give it a crack. It wasn’t until we crawled to a stop at the first impassable obstacle – a considerable water trap, with a chicken route that was just a slush of knee-deep mud – that I remembered the previous weekend was a long one due to a public holiday. Just another hurdle ... a pretty steep one. That a quartet of lifted Patrols and Cruisers decked to the nines in aftermarket gear – which we let through to ‘test the waters’ – bogged in the water crossing right in front of us was perhaps the first warning sign that we may have bitten off more than we could chew.
Experience dictated we attempt the mud-slathered chicken route rather than the water crossing, but first David and co laid-out a makeshift track of MaxTrax in the mud. Precise wheel control was required to get the convoy through, but an hour or so later and the last D-MAX cleared the obstacle to the jubilation of all, none more so than our mud-covered tour leader.
That jubilation was only fleeting, with the previously encountered quartet of far-more-prepared vehicles once again stuck just a few hundred metres farther up the track – and this time they were in a fair bit of strife. It was here, glancing at the 18-inch wheels of the MU-X we were piloting, that Dave decided it was time to throw in the towel.
Despite travelling less than 3km in half a day, the technical experience learned by attempting Climies Track will prove invaluable to those in attendance, and it’s an adventure few there will forget and perhaps ever again experience to that degree of difficulty. One member of the touring party, Paul Gollagher (see New Record below) explained to 4X4 Australia how he loved Climies Track, but he was disappointed they couldn’t go farther.
“It was a massive undertaking to even attempt the track with mostly stock vehicles, all with variable driver ability,” Gollagher said. “I don't believe the size of the convoy would have made any difference after seeing pictures of the fully kitted Patrols struggling, I really believe there was no choice (to turn back). Although having said that, it sure would have been fun to give it a go.”
Pride was parked as we backtracked and made our way to the beginning of Climies, ending another I-Venture adventure – definitely the most daring and challenging IUA trip to date.
And those lifted Patrols and LandCruisers that were winching relentlessly when we last left them? They finished the 20km journey, but not before the sun set, apparently clearing the last section close to 10pm that night.
Isuzu UTE Australia runs both single-day events ($300 per car, per couple) and multi-day packages (from $1950 per car, per couple). The cost for the single-day events include permits, ferry transfers, breakfast, lunch and driver training. For the multi-day events, costs are inclusive of accommodation, permits, ferry transfers, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and driver training. One of the great benefits of the program is that all the annoying paperwork and research is done for you!
“Since its introduction, the club has developed into an experience that not only enables our customers to learn vital off-road skills and techniques, but one that allows them to build the confidence to use the vehicles for what they were built to do – opening their minds to the limitless opportunities this lifestyle can offer them,” said David Wilson, lead I-Venture Club trainer.
When is the next I-Venture?
The IUA team is currently planning single-day events at Stockton Beach, NSW, and Eagleview in South Australia, both new locations for I-Venture. They are also in the midst of planning towing-focused events in both Sydney and Melbourne, following the success of a single-day towing event held at Mt Cotton in Queensland, in 2019. It’s a smart move considering close to 50 per cent of Isuzu owners buy their vehicles with the intent to tow with it, according to IUA. Perhaps we’ll even see some next-gen D-MAXs at the next event...
Paul and Kathleen Gollagher set a new IUA record on the recent Apple Isle adventure, notching up their ninth I-Venture trip in their reliable 2015 D-MAX, now with 175,000km on the odo since it was purchased new. The couple from Queensland have now travelled to six of seven states in Australia – they’re waiting for an NT trip – as part of the I-Venture club, beginning with a single-day course on Moreton Island.
“There are many reasons we keep backing up,” Paul told 4X4 Australia. “First and foremost are the people behind I-Venture experience. All our dealings with any of the I-Venture crew has been fantastic. Every one of them have been an absolute pleasure to deal with. The level of training and experience provided by Dave Wilson has given us the confidence to get in to and out of most situations.
“Also it’s enjoyable travelling and experiencing some of the finest destinations in Australia with a group of like-minded individuals. We have kept in touch with many other participants from these trips and continue to do trips together.”
Paul and Kathleen were complete novices when they first got the keys to their D-MAX, but thanks to the I-Venture experiences, they now feel comfortable that the skills they’ve learned, in combination with their capable vehicle, will get them home in one piece.
“We have truly enjoyed and taken away so much knowledge and skills from this program, and we believe everyone who owns a 4WD could benefit from these events,” Paul said.