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4WD off-road adventure in South Australia's Eyre Peninsula

  • By Tom White
  • 7 March 2019
  • 15 min read
  • 3 Three day trip
    This far flung peninsula is a hidden 4x4 gem.
  • Heavy
    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'
  • 3 Three day trip
    This far flung peninsula is a hidden 4x4 gem.
  • Heavy
    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

When you live in the heart of Australia’s largest city, it can be easy to forget the overwhelming scale of the country.

That is, until you spend a few hours in a plane, with nothing in sight out the window but a brown expanse that seems to go forever, segmented between the geometric order of farmland and the chaos of untamed wilderness.

It’s diesel country. Unsealed. Raw.

Home terrain for 4x4s. From the sky, it’s suddenly easy to make sense of the incredible sales figures these vehicles put on the board year after year.

Say you’re like me though. Say the necessity of diesel isn’t a daily one. Say the allure of a capable 4x4 is one of escape and adventure.

For those of you with an Isuzu D-Max or MU-X, Isuzu run ‘iVenture’ programs on a monthly basis. The fairly unique (in Australia) programs help you to learn the limits of your vehicle and the kinds of destinations you’re able to reach using those skills.

Not all of Isuzu’s monthly events are equal. Most are single-day activities hosted at 4x4 centres, but two or three times a year the ‘club’ hosts a multi-day adventure extravaganza in an idyllic location. The trip we experienced was a three-day course held in South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.

The cost of the course, excluding reaching the start-point and going home is $1750.

The starting point for the day was Port Lincoln Hotel, almost 700km by land from Adelaide. The day started with an introduction to the trip’s guide, David Wilson, and a quick explanation of the 4x4 features and abilities of the D-Max and MU-X range.

Then it was a dash down to the vehicles, fitment of club-provided UHF radios and the convoy set off.

The objective of the day was to reach Coffin Bay on the other side of the Eyre Peninsula, but not before investigating Lincoln National Park, just to the south of the port.

Our very first stop offered a preview of the stunning scenery we'd experience throughout the trip. Our very first stop offered a preview of the stunning scenery we'd experience throughout the trip.

After driving for 23km to the south we stopped at Lone Pine Lookout at the national park's edge. This spot  offered up the first phenomenal sight of the day, where the clear arctic waters meet the red Australian dirt, separated by a small rocky cliff face. We used this stop to drop tyre pressures before continuing into the park on the 4WD access only Sleaford-Wanna Track.

The track consists of mixed surfaces: gravel, sand and rock. Much of this part of the trail wasn’t challenging, but patches of soft sand where the dunes had blown over the track presented significant hazards.

Much of the initial trail was made up of a bushy gravel track occasionally buried under the edge of a dune. Much of the initial trail was made up of a bushy gravel track occasionally buried under the edge of a dune.

David, the guide, was there to scout ahead, let the convoy know the conditions and then walk each vehicle through the more challenging parts. There were no signs along this route to let drivers know when to change from 4H to 4L and, while the conditions would have been obvious to more experienced drivers, the radio advice from David was invaluable.

Crawling along the cliffs of the peninsula was quite the experience. Crawling along the cliffs of the peninsula was quite the experience.

The reward for all of this effort was – of course – the views. You would think after seeing one turquoise-splashed cliff-face you’ve seen them all, but somehow the sheer awe of nature kept every bluff breathtaking.

Sleaford Track descends onto the dunes, then the beach. On the beachfront, lunch was served and a hands-on demonstration, of how to use Maxtrax to escape being bogged, was staged for our benefit – this proved useful for activities later in the day.

Getting bogged was a near certainty at some points of the trip. David walked the group through the use of Maxtrax. Getting bogged was a near certainty at some points of the trip. David walked the group through the use of Maxtrax.

Shortly afterwards, each vehicle had to climb a dune. A solid run-up was required. If you’ve never done it before, sending two tonnes of diesel wagon barrelling towards a wall of sand is quite the experience. There was a relatively high chance of becoming bogged if a driver made an error in the approach.

In comparison, the remainder of the day was fairly tame (aside from the awesome scenery) as the convoy headed back onto the gravel heading north, toward the park exit. Then, after re-inflating tyres, it was a 54km afternoon drive to the night’s accommodation at Coffin Bay on the other side of the peninsula.

It's rare for those that live the east coast to be treated to a sunset over a west-facing beach It's rare for those that live the east coast to be treated to a sunset over a west-facing beach

To top off a great day, we watched a glorious sunset over the water from the west-facing Long Beach.

Day two of our tour was dedicated to exploring the town of Coffin Bay and learning about the area.

The morning kicked off with breakfast, then a mild hike along the Oyster Walk, which runs around the town’s periphery, onto Long Beach, then a climb up a dune at the end, which granted us a stunning view across the bay.

A short hike familiarized us with the town's immediate surroundings. A short hike familiarized us with the town's immediate surroundings.

During our travels David educated us on the area: how it was mapped by Matthew Flinders, how it came to get its name (turns out it's not to do with its shape or some nefarious story, it’s simply the name of one of Flinders’ most prominent expedition sponsors) and a bit on how the town supports itself with local industries.

The town is most famous for its oysters, which made our next stop a sensible one.

We waded out across the shallow part of the bay to experience the culinary highlights the area is famous for. We waded out across the shallow part of the bay to experience the culinary highlights the area is famous for.

The group re-convened at the aptly-named Oyster HQ, more or less in the centre of the town along the inlet.

Here, we were taught how to shuck oysters and we sampled different kinds. The program also featured a bit on the workings and history of the oyster industry.

Of course, shucking and eating Oysters yourself was part of the experience. Of course, shucking and eating Oysters yourself was part of the experience.

It was a well-timed break from off-roading, which we launched straight back into that afternoon.

After lunch, the group hopped back into a convoy, dropped tyre pressures and set across 15km of unsealed national park to Gunyah Beach.

The importance of tyre pressures was stressed by our guide throughout the trip. The importance of tyre pressures was stressed by our guide throughout the trip.

Dune crossings here allowed some of us to put our earlier vehicle-recovery-using-Maxtrax training into action. We were also lucky enough to see a demonstration of the lead vehicle using a snatch strap to extract yours truly as I'd managed to get myself and an MU-X royally stuck atop a dune.

A short view of the beach and the group returned the way it came, across the dunes. Returning could be as tricky as arriving, with the afternoon light made it difficult to see over some of the drops that we had climbed on the way there.

Light and moisture play a large part in your chances of becoming bogged on sand. Light and moisture play a large part in your chances of becoming bogged on sand.

Dinner was served at a local farm with the region’s pork on display.

The final day was a more thorough tour of Coffin Bay National Park, which extends about 30km into the ocean to the north-west of the entry-point.

The trip put all the learnings of the previous two days to use as the trail, which meandered around the periphery, consisted of a mix of materials. It was mainly sand, but also involved heavy gravel and rock faces.

The sand varied in depth and consistency throughout the day. The sand varied in depth and consistency throughout the day.

There were some challenging climbs as well as declines that required a fair amount of caution. One of the biggest potential dangers was keeping your eyes off of the consistently incredible scenery and on the trail. Even at 20km/h it was easy to miss the bigger ruts.

Our guide was constantly on the UHF letting us know facts about the surrounding area’s history and a lot about its wildlife. It helped to keep your mind off the rutted parts of the track rattling the vehicles.

Soon, we broke away from the track and onto Seven Mile Beach. Almost the entire length of the beach is able to be traversed via 4x4 and up the end we were rewarded with lunch. Somewhat amazingly, a catering company had shipped our meals out there by 4x4 ahead of us.

The middle of the day was traversing Seven Mile Beach, a thin strip of sand along a calm bay. The middle of the day was traversing Seven Mile Beach, a thin strip of sand along a calm bay.

We re-traced our steps back across the beach, then back onto the trails towards the very tip of the park, Point Sir Isaac. There were some final stunning views before spending the afternoon finding our way back out of the park the way we came.

A final detour had us putting our sand-climbing skills to the test to overcome one last dune to get onto Sensation Beach on the opposite side of the park.

One last steep climb on and off Sensation beach put the skills of each driver to the test. One last steep climb on and off Sensation beach put the skills of each driver to the test.

For those on the road long-term, we spotted plenty of campgrounds along our route, although I think bringing a camper-trailer through the mixed terrain would be a nightmare. It may be more suited to camping in tents or with a 4x4 campervan.

After six hours on rutted sand and gravel, tarmac never looked, or felt, so good.

The last item on the itinerary was dinner at Coffin Bay’s classy 1802 Oyster Bar, which also featured local beverages, steak and kingfish.

They Eyre Peninsula may be a remote location, but it is packed full of challenging 4WD tracks on varied terrain set amongst stunning and uniquely Australian vistas.

Whether it’s worth making the pilgrimage will depend on your willpower and starting location, but it’s hard not to recommend experiencing it at least once.

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