I’m not your usual off-road travel writer. For many people, a trip away is all about the destination, but for me, the journey is everything, and what I’m driving, well, that just adds to the adventure of it all. Remember National Lampoon’s Vacation, when Clark looked over the Grand Canyon, bobbed his head twice and bolted? That’s me, folks. If I didn’t have someone with me, I wouldn’t bother stopping, I’d just point my fourby’s nose in the direction of the next destination and keep rolling.
Which takes me back to my last adventure in February 2020, and a pre-Covid trip I attended with Isuzu’s I-Venture Club (IVC). I never say no to these invitations, because they are always, without question, life experience off-road adventures to some of the most beautiful places in Australia. In this case, it was Tassie and as it turns out, it would be my last stint behind the wheel of what we now consider ‘the old’ Isuzu D-MAX, a vehicle that I’ve spent a lot of time with over the years and grown a fuzzy fondness for. Interestingly, the blue D-MAX on this trip was the same car that I’d taken to Alice Springs in search of a decent coffee in 2019. Those were good, pre-COVID times.
There’s an almost all-new D-MAX now and it’s good enough to be rubbing shoulders with the very best of these 4X4 utes, but I’ll miss the simplicity of the previous model. The lazy torque of the rattly old 4JJ1 turbo-diesel, the ‘she’ll be right mate’ gearbox shift tuning and the total absence of highly-strung, in your face, electronic safety systems, made it a more relaxed and less hysterical drive than the new one.
When it comes to off-road adventure destinations, Tasmania is the island with the lot. A works burger of impenetrable forests, rugged coastlines, weather that wants to kill you and tracks that put your heart firmly in your mouth. It’s also home to some of the world’s best wines, cheeses, and fish, if you can catch them, which just goes to show, you can’t hold a good convict back.
This Tasmanian adventure started at Devonport, where the usual rag-tag bunch of motoring journalists assembled and met their Isuzu hosts along with many many (I didn’t count them) proud Isuzu owners who’d paid to spend three days being led astray by David Wilson, and the rest of the IVC team. You see, you’ve got to own, borrow or steal an Isuzu to attend an IVC event and no, trucks don’t count.
David led a not so brief breakfast briefing, after which we convoyed with many many other Isuzus to our first stop, the Upper Natone Fly Fishing Park. It was here that we patiently assembled along the bank of a lake, jiggling our rods in anticipation and ultimately wondering what the feck had happened to the fish. Was it the inclement weather? Were we using the wrong lures? Perhaps our wrist actions needed work?
It was none of the above.
It’s what happens when Tassie’s most famous fishermen, Nick Duigan and Andrew Hart from Hook Line And Sinker, teach you to fish. You want these guys on your next camping trip because you won’t stop laughing, but if you’re relying on catching fish for sustenance, you’ll go hungry. Thankfully the fellas had some trout they’d ‘caught previously’ in the smoker so we all got a taste of genuine Tassie trout and it’s bloody delicious.
We also managed to catch a few genuine Tassie trout, when the best fisherman in Tasmania – the farm owner – turned up and lined us up along the bank of a better lake, the one with the fish in it.
Our next stop was the Leven State Forest, where I had a Clark Griswold moment stepping very briefly out onto a viewing platform at the Leven Canyon Lookout. It was a mind-blowingly stunning view from this perch, where we were whipped relentlessly, like naughty convicts, by a bitingly cold wind as we stared gobsmacked up a huge canyon. It was also the first location where I sensed that ancient dark and brooding essence that sits in the shadows of Tasmania’s rugged beauty, like a Stephen King character, watching you and waiting. The ‘Dark Watcher’ also joined us up on Cradle Mountain, our final, misty, remote, desolate, and slightly spooky, day one destination.
The next morning we journeyed by shuttle bus to the start of the short walk up to Dove Lake, the only lake in Cradle Mountain National Park with a boat shed. At least I think it is. You can walk up Cradle Mountain if you want to, there’s even an 80km/h hike that will take you from Cradle Mountain, through to Lake St Clair and I do not doubt that it would be a magnificent life experience, as when you’re there, it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful place. You get a sense that many people do walk off into this wilderness to seek solace, an escape if you like, from their everyday lives. I’d only ever want to go as far as the bus would take me.
Mid-morning saw Cradle Mountain and the Dark Watcher dwindling in the rearview mirrors of many many Isuzu’s as we headed South, or maybe it was West, towards the Henty sand dunes and our first serious off-road experience. You’ve got to love a good dune, particularly the ones you can drive up and the Henty sand dunes are big, white, sugary dunes that seem to stretch for miles. There’s an overgrown single-file entrance track to negotiate, that pops you out onto a blinding white expanse of sand where David Wilson led the procession around while explaining the basics of sand driving, which is, drop your tyre pressures a lot, and go go go.
That afternoon saw the convoy roll proudly into Strahan, where not a whole lot was happening. You get the sense that not a whole lot ever does happen in Strahan, where you’d be tempted to spend most of your day drinking wine and staring out across the glorious bay, so that’s what we did. While we drank and stared, the Dark Watcher left Cradle Mountain and headed west, or maybe it was south, to envelope the Climies Track region, our destination the following morning.
In the scheme of tough Australian 4X4 tracks, Climies is well known. It’s not considered the toughest, but it is a track that demands respect, is best tackled in modified vehicles and if it’s a wet day or weekend, you’re probably better off leaving this track to its own devices and heading for the nearest pub instead.
We’d been watching the weather since we arrived in Devonport and in typical Tassie style, it’d been dark, brooding and precipitous for half our journey to-date but was now starting to dry out. Ever the optimist – this guy looks at tracks that I’d turn my back on and happily waves novices through, comfortable in his ability to get them out the other side – David Wilson gave Climies the thumbs up, and the convoy of many many Isuzus headed north, I think, to get stuck in.
Climies Track winds its way through a coastal region, and it’s picture book tough Tassie wilderness, with a raging ocean off to your right, boggy marshlands to your left, technical rocky tracks punctuated by bog holes that’d happily swallow your average stock 4WD and that dark brooding presence that sits behind it all, waiting.
Our group of many many Isuzus ventured in and spent the next 5 hours or so punching through just 2.5 kilometres of Climies Track. Water was the problem. The first bog holes we encountered were too deep for mostly stock vehicles to get through and the chicken tracks around the outside of the bog holes were little more than grassy clumps floating on sloppy black mud. We all made it through with the use of dozens of traction boards that quite literally floated on the mud and had to be located and reset before each vehicle had a crack. I’d have turned around rather than attempt this, but David Wilson worked hard and got the group through.
It wasn’t going to be his day though.
The next obstacle was a steep downhill run that was so rutted, off-camber and slippery, that there was a reasonable chance at least one vehicle was going to end up on its side. If we’d made it down that hill, we’d then be stuck behind a group of lifted and locked LandCruisers and Patrols that were all bogged and going nowhere, and turning around once down, would mean driving back up that slippery off-camber hill to get out.
Wilson stood at the top of the hill and looked down, nodding his head. He then looked over to where the bogged super-rigs had floundered and knew the game was up. If it was a drier time of year, if such a time exists in Tassie, then he’d have had a crack for sure, and no doubt got us through. He’d driven this track in two mostly stock D-MAXs a few months before and made it, but not today and not with the many many Isuzus that were assembled behind him.
So we turned around, and for two hours retraced our steps out of Climies Track. With the sun still high in the sky, we headed to Ocean Beach and the mouth of the Henty River, where the Hook Line and Sinker guys had been doing some filming. They set us up with rods and lures, gave us some expert tips and nobody caught a thing.
We left Strahan the next morning for the drive-through to Devonport and the flight back to the mainland, which gave me time to ponder our little adventure. Tassie is just as beautiful as everyone who’s been there has told you it is. More beautiful if that’s possible, and the ‘Dark Watcher’ that brooding sense of mystery that hangs in the air of the more rugged and remote areas is real and wonderful and always watching. Combine that with a smorgasbord of off-road driving experiences that range from pedestrian to weapons-grade, and it’s fair to say that if you’re adventure-driven like me, Tassie is a wonderland.
The fishing is meant to be good as well.
Fittingly, my last drive ever in the old D-MAX was a hot-shoe shuffle down Ocean Beach and me being me, that’s my fave Tassie moment. Not the beach itself, but the drive along the beach in an old friend. Weird huh.