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4WD off-road adventure on Tasmania's west coast

  • By Tom White
  • 20 March 2020
  • 16 min read
  • 3 Three day trip
    Some of Australia’s most overlooked and challenging 4x4 trails
  • Heavy
    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'
  • 3 Three day trip
    Some of Australia’s most overlooked and challenging 4x4 trails
  • Heavy
    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

It’s easy as a mainland Aussie to be familiar with Tasmania’s most notable three cities.

Hobart, Launceston, and Devonport are all stand-outs for being the capital, being the second biggest town, and being that place where the Spirit of Tasmania docks, respectively.

The trouble is, commuting between those three means you miss the stunning vistas and challenging off-road environments served of the island’s west coast.

It’s a wild place, filled with unique foliage, wildlife, and landscapes shaped by the infamous roaring forties wind currents – the same ones which were largely responsible for European settlers' discovery of the continent.

Unsurprisingly then, it’s also a great place to get off the tarmac, and onto some of Australia’s most hidden and challenging off-road tracks with some truly special views and landmarks served up as a reward.

We visited Tasmania’s west coast with Isuzu on a curated tour as part of its 4x4-focused I-Venture owner’s club, but the general tour of locations can easily be undertaken by anyone. Is it worth the journey? Read on to find out.

First up: Isuzu organised our itinerary through the aforementioned I-Venture Club, which is a surprisingly unique offering in Australia. Isuzu hosts tours several times a year for owners of its 4x4 D-Max or MU-X range, via the club. The club is a fantastic initiative through which owners can explore the abilities and limits of their vehicles while visiting some of the country’s most iconic locations in the process.

Isuzu organises hotels, meals, the itinerary, necessary permits, and an off-road tutor for the duration of the trip, but it’s up to owners to make their way to the starting location – in this case, Devonport. Consistently surprising is how far some people are willing to travel for these Isuzu experiences: two owners had driven from Queensland.

The I-Venture Club usually runs one or two of these multi-day-spanning location adventures a year – and the staff go to great pains to make sure no two itineraries are the same – as a result, many owners come back for seconds.

The first stop on our tour of contrasting locations took us into the Tassie highlands. The first stop on our tour of contrasting locations took us into the Tassie highlands.

This particular tour came at a cost of $1950 for punters (per vehicle - twin share accommodation), and keep in mind that doesn’t include the cost of getting there, or if you’re from the mainland, the cost of the Spirit of Tasmania fare to get your vehicle across and back. (At the time of writing, a return fare on the ferry cost roughly $1018 for two people and a 4WD).

The first day trip, which took us from Devonport to Cradle Mountain was light on in terms of off-roading, but showcased some of the region’s specialities.

Part one of our trip was short distance-wise, but took up much of the daylight hours. Part one of our trip was short distance-wise, but took up much of the daylight hours.

In this case, our first stop was in the Upper Natone Reserve, 60km to the south-west, where a farm hosted us for a course on trout fishing and smoking with event guests, the hosts from the Hook Line and Sinker TV show.

The accommodating owners of the Upper Natone Reserve farm walked the group through their trout breeding process. The accommodating owners of the Upper Natone Reserve farm walked the group through their trout breeding process.

Our exit from the reserve proved to be the first off-road challenge, a muddy hill-climb back on to the main gravel trail – this section required high-range 4WD mode.

Less than ideal weather made for a choppy spurt, and just a few vehicles conquered the climb, but it proved too much for some as the conditions worsened. A reminder on the risks of off-road activity, assessing the conditions, and how terrain can deteriorate quickly when multiple vehicles have to traverse the same section of track.

The soggy hills had our hosts demonstrating the recovery process sooner than expected. The soggy hills had our hosts demonstrating the recovery process sooner than expected.

After almost 90km blast through the forest across sealed and unsealed roads in the afternoon we arrived at the Cradle Mountain Hotel, ready for the next day's adventure.

Day two kicked off with a short journey to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Information Centre, from where a tour bus took our group to the lake near the peak. A short session for photos and walking among the mossy rocks followed.

Tasmania’s wild regions are quite unlike anywhere on the mainland. The foliage, colours and, topography have their own unique lustre. The jagged peaks of Cradle Mountain itself, shrouded in clouds, was a breathtaking sight. This part of the world, as far-flung as it may be, is well worth the visit. Even without considering the difficult off-roading we were about to be treated to.

Cradle Mountain is worth the journey on its own and is surrounded by hiking trails if you have more time than we did. Cradle Mountain is worth the journey on its own and is surrounded by hiking trails if you have more time than we did.

As the morning drew to a close, we returned to our vehicles and continued westward on a 140km mixed-surface drive towards the coast.

Day two took us to the west coast proper. Day two took us to the west coast proper.

The next stop on our trip was the Henty Dunes, an expanse of sand stretching north of the township of Strahan, perfect for a tutorial on the principles of sand-driving. After a short lunch, we dropped our tyre pressures for a bit of sandy fun.

Isuzu’s off-road guide for this trip, David Wilson, took a moment to note ideal pressures for these kinds of conditions, informing us that cars with standard 18 or 19-inch wheels would need less deflating than their aftermarket 16-inch companions – this was so the slim tyres stood less of a chance of being ripped off the rim.

Generally though, the more you deflate, the more traction you will be able to get. We proceeded in 4WD low-range, with an extra tip to start in second for a bit of get up and go.

Correct tyre pressures are the key to successful sand driving. Correct tyre pressures are the key to successful sand driving.

As it turned out, recent rain had made the sandy track up to the dunes firmer than expected, and not as challenging as I had experienced on my previous sand-driving itinerary on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.

After a crash course in summiting dunes and not experiencing a rollover, one or two vehicles inevitably became bogged. These trips provide a good entryway to off-roading recovery with a safety net. All attempts are made to rescue vehicles with the use of manoeuvring or Maxtrax alone, but one vehicle, which became stuck at the top of a climb, required snatch straps to extract. An invaluable experience for those wanting to learn the principles of recovery and also a none-too-gentle reminder that you should never ease off the accelerator until you’ve fully crested a dune.

Cresting dunes is as challenging as it is entertaining. Cresting dunes is as challenging as it is entertaining.

After several hours in the dunes, the convoy returned to the entry-point, proceeded through the town of Strahan (pronounced Strawn by the way), and made a quick run south on the even firmer sand of the local beachfront.

After a picturesque sprint (but not a swim in the choppy ocean), the group re-convened at the night’s accommodation, Strahan Village. This picturesque hotel, which sits atop the town’s cliff-face and overlooking its bay, is reminiscent of similar unreal vistas, such as those of New Zealand’s Queenstown – just without the mountains and relative population.

The entire region is so sparsely occupied, it’s quite possible to drive for 30 or 40 minutes without spotting another vehicle or populated residence. Stands to reason that a photograph from the town’s earliest days looked near identical to what it looks like today.

The reason for our stay in the remote town of Strahan is its proximity to a hallowed off-roading destination: Climies Track.

The start of the track is near Granville Harbor, just over an hour’s drive north of Strahan, and works its way back down the coastline to Trial Harbour, roughly a third of the way back south.

Day three featured less travelling with more intense off-roading. Day three featured less travelling with more intense off-roading.

It’s certainly the hard way though, as we discovered just a few kilometres into the trail.

Our D-Max and MU-X vehicles were more than a match for the rocky, actuating climb up around the coast, but due to recent heavy rainfall we ran into trouble at the next crest.

It’s there that we ran into some fellow off-roaders in fifth-generation Nissan Patrols. These blokes had all the gear: lift kits, mud-terrain tyres, locking differentials, the lot.

So as to not slow them down, our column let them past, but despite all their gear and experience they immediately became stuck, first in a water crossing that was far too deep – good thing, too, as our standard-height test vehicles would have quickly drowned – and then on the ‘chicken track’ around the edge of the water crossing.

There's always a bigger truck... There's always a bigger truck...

Their recovery attempts made a mess of the already soft and chopped-up mud of the chicken track. Determined though, our Isuzu hosts decided to give it a go anyway.

The more experienced drivers among us were able to make it through with a mix of momentum and determination, while the better-equipped cars could make it through with use of a third-party-installed differential lock.

The other vehicles, it seemed, were not as lucky, so the team set about creating bridges out of Maxtrax over the softer sections of mud. This worked well, aside from one press vehicle which became well and truly stuck. It took six or seven people to free it through a combination of Maxtrax, muscle work and spotting, a reminder of the difficulty off-road tracks can pose when using just one or two vehicles.

Regardless, even experienced off-roaders would likely not attempt this trail, especially in the condition it was in on the day, on their own.

The Maxtrax bridge technique was time consuming but effective. The Maxtrax bridge technique was time consuming but effective.

After we managed to get our entire column through the muddy mess, we proceeded further down the track toward a steep descent.

The descent would prove challenging for our largely stock vehicles, but when we realised the well-prepared Patrol crew were well and truly stuck at the bottom, the tough decision to call it quits was made.

Lunch was prepared, and the track's condition was the topic of discussion. While the track was entered with every intention of getting out the other side, it seemed it would have taken our crew far too long with the gear on hand. The next descent also posed quite a serious roll-over risk for Isuzu’s customer’s cars and, as such, we would turn back.

Nevertheless, the experience gained just from the track thus far made the way back much easier than the way in, with the entire column making its way across the choppy, muddy terrain in around half the time it had taken to get there in the first place.

After a total of just 3km on the track and roughly four hours spent, the crew exited, stopping only to re-inflate tyres.

It would have been nice, of course, to have defeated the 19km stretch known as Climies Track, but one of our Isuzu companions found the Patrol owners on Instagram, noting it had taken them over eight hours to come out the other end.

The track's mix of surfaces was challenging and entertaining, but the rain-damaged terrain ended up turning us around. The track's mix of surfaces was challenging and entertaining, but the rain-damaged terrain ended up turning us around.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson then, is when to call it quits.

Our day ended with another swift beach-drive past the Henty Dunes, with plenty of time for fishing at the mouth of the Henty River. It made for a solitary and beautiful afternoon among the unspoiled dunes and shimmering ocean.

Had the trail not been recently drenched in rain, our vehicles would have stood a better chance at making more progress, but the rare sights of the Tasmanian wild west had been more than worth the trip on their own. So, despite a slightly anti-climactic ending, this was an itinerary well worth exploring.

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