Around the coun­try, Isuzu own­ers trek to the bush (or the beach) to gain and hone their skills — and see what their utes and wag­ons will do

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - BRUCE McMA­HON

It’s a rip­per day in the chilly Wol­gan Val­ley. Un­der clear blue skies, a steady con­voy of four-wheel drives clam­bers over the sand­stone ridges. Crawl­ing up and down the fire trails in this land of wal­la­bies, wom­bats and wat­tle, 14 Isuzu 4WDs reach yet an­other spec­tac­u­lar look­out in the forests.

Around the coun­try, in the bush or on a beach on one day each month, D-Max and MU-X own­ers get to know what their ve­hi­cles can do, or­gan­ised and shep­herded by Isuzu Ute Aus­tralia. As well as the learn­ing, there are the scenery, the bon­homie and beers at day’s end.

There are also a hand­ful of three-day out­ings each year, like this one in the moun­tains about 150km north­west of Syd­ney.

I-Ven­ture club­bers pay $1500 per ve­hi­cle, with two peo­ple aboard, to cover guide, in­struc­tor, ve­hi­cle per­mits, meals, ac­com­mo­da­tion — and lessons and laughs.

Our trek be­gins on a Fri­day at the Hy­dro Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel with quick words and quips from I-Ven­ture trainer Dave Wil­son about how 4WDs work, how 20-22psi in the tyres is best for this part of the world and how best to have that rip­per time. Our guide is Bathurst lo­cal Simmo.

There are folk from three states in a mix of wag­ons and utes, all au­to­mat­ics.

Paul and Kath­leen Gol­lagher from Bris­bane are on their sev­enth I-Ven­ture in a three-yearold D-Max. Rook­ies Tony Cha­houd and Daniel Fedrigo from Syd­ney have teamed up in Tony’s newish MU-X (Daniel owns an Isuzu, too) to see how it’s done.

The Isuzu four-door 4WDs are com­pe­tent and ca­pa­ble ma­chines and good value, with the utes start­ing from $39,490 and the wag­ons $44,990.

The shared 3.0-litre turbo diesel (130kW/ 430Nm) is a re­li­able worker that will go all day. The chas­sis and sus­pen­sions are ro­bust and the build qual­ity good, even if there’s an over­sup­ply of hard plas­tics in the cab­ins.

The Isuzus may not be as so­phis­ti­cated as some — more Blund­stone than RM Wil­liams — but at th­ese price points there’s room in the bud­get for cus­tom ex­tras. High on the list would be tyres with more ag­gres­sive off-road tread and a rear dif­fer­en­tial lock.

Fed, briefed and packed, we’re all good to go. We scale and de­scend the tracks to the Lost City — nat­u­ral sand­stone sculp­tures in the Newnes State For­est — then head off to an­cient art work at Black­fel­lows Hands cave.

There’s gen­tle coach­ing and coax­ing on chan­nel 20 from in­struc­tor Dave: “Let’s pull the speed down a lit­tle … good … hold that line … now left, a freckle more.”

The stan­dard Isuzus ne­go­ti­ate rough and ready tracks as eas­ily as those with mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Se­ri­ous sec­tions of off-road work pre­cede some dirt drives and then a bi­tu­men run to din­ner and the night’s ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The Gol­laghers didn’t know much about four-wheel driv­ing be­fore buy­ing a base D-Max and head­ing out with the I-Ven­ture club. Now, af­ter adding $12,000 worth of up­grades, the Queens­lan­ders are reg­u­lar off-road­ers.

“There were a lot of places we wanted to see and it’s a bit daunt­ing when you don’t know how (to four-wheel drive),” Paul says.

“If you don’t know what you’re do­ing you could get into strife. Th­ese are well-or­gan­ised trips, noth­ing overly dif­fi­cult and the more you do, the more ex­pe­ri­ence gained.”

Mates Tony and Daniel knew they needed bet­ter off-road skills to get ac­cess to a farm block. “We’d def­i­nitely do it again,” says Daniel. “And it shows stock ve­hi­cles can do a lot.”

The “lot” is ev­i­dent on the next trek, to the ma­jes­tic Wol­gan Gap look­out in the Ben Bullen for­est and more for­est tracks, fol­lowed by a gold pan­ning break in the Turon River, be­fore an overnighter at Ry­dges Ho­tel on Con­rod Straight, Bathurst.

Day three starts with laps of the famed Mount Panorama cir­cuit be­fore an­other scenic drive and back into scrub in Maranga­roo Na­tional Park and a splash in the Coxs River near Mount Walker.

Home­ward bound, there’s pre­cious lit­tle sign of any ve­hi­cle dam­age but plenty of signs and sounds from sat­is­fied Isuzu own­ers to high­light why I-Ven­ture out­ings book out smartly.

Af­ter three days of wan­der­ing for­est trails, climb­ing and de­scend­ing some dif­fi­cult lowrange ter­rain, wad­ing through rivers and lunch­ing in the wild, all agree they’d do it again.

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