In the previous instalment the I-Venture Club took in the wonders of the Blue Rag Range Track and summited at the Trig Point. Day two sees them going deeply bush and in search of Lake Hovell.
I step outside my Bright apartment room just after the sun has come up and am pleasantly surprised because the forecast on Willy Weather was suggesting today we get some rain. It’s mild and whilst there are a few scudding clouds, nothing up there looks foreboding.
As I’m an ombrophobian (look it up) when I’ve got my training hat on, the prospect of standing outside, in the cold, in the rain, with my wet-weather gear on, never thrills me. Even worse that feeling when the seams gradually concede defeat and a leakage occurs, leaving me standing in soggy jocks and socks by day’s end. But I’m putting on a brave face that that is not happening today whilst we’re in search of Lake Hovell.
So, who were the explorers, one of whom the Lake was named after?
Hume and Hovell were tasked with finding a way over The Great Dividing Range and whether there existed rangelands for farming. Imagine if you will, in 1824, a bunch of blokes set off with some horses and a pile of gear, and following the lay of the land they start from Appin near Sydney, en-route to Lake George near Canberra, then somehow navigate the scrub over the range and back down towards Geelong.
See if you can spot the odd-one-out in their essential travelling kit and quoted from Wikipedia…
“Seven pack saddles, one riding saddle, eight stands of arms, 2.7 kgs of gunpowder, sixty rounds of ball cartridge, six blankets, two tarpaulins, one tent made of “Parramatta” cloth, 544 kg flour, 158kgs pork, 77 kgs sugar, 17 kgs tea and coffee, 3.6 kgs tobacco, 7 kgs soap, 9 kgs salt, 30L rum, one false horizon, one sextant, three pocket compasses, one pram, and cooking utensils”.
Sorry, what? Not the rum. One pram??? WTF?
My perambulator for the day was the lead, black LS-U, D-MAX, powered by Isuzu’s new 4JJ3 TCX diesel and boasting its new-found 450Nm. One thing I do know is that I won’t be pushing it. But what I will be pushing is the rear diff-lock button, because between the mudholes and the rock steps we’ll see today, we’re going to need a bit of help.
Exiting Bright and on The Great Alpine Way once more, we hooked a leftie and onto the Buckland Valley Road, another pretty strip of bitumen en-route for the Buckland River Bridge. Tucked in the scrub is a little turnaround space where the morning ritual of air-down was celebrated before gears are engaged and on up the Goldies Spur Track we go.
Goldies flanks the easement created to loft the powerlines up and past Mount Buller. A swathe of scrub has been clear-felled to position the massive coat hangers that suspend the cables and if you listen, you’ll hear the odd crackle when you’re near the top. Rather than hang around and get irradiated, keep pushing on into the Buckland Valley toward the Wabonga district where you’ll find all sorts of 4WD goodness.
The Rose River Track was an easy one to remember and meanders through farmland that looks like it’s productive for cattle raising going by the mob of black Angas we passed through via a gate to the Basin Track. Their poos looked like they were well-fed and going by the way they oozed when a wheel went over them, I reckon they would have made good plaster in days of old, for plugging the gaps in a timber hut.
This is now densely timbered country and the track follows the contours of the hills and valleys and at the valley floor you can always expect some moisture. Well, we came across a doozy that offered three routes. Straight through the guts looked kinda menacing (remember we had largely stock-standard vehicles) and either the left or right alternatives looked less problematic but with their own unique bog potential.
This is where I need to introduce to you Emma.
Now some of you will know Emma is the host of Drive TVs car review and travel guides and she was the first to admit that her 4WD skills were very much a work in progress.
Whilst I attached a snatch-strap to the front of our D-MAX in anticipation of a stranding, I overheard her talking to her camera bloke about setting up a piece to camera. I heard some mention of a yellow stain (from the water) and up to about “here”.
I turn around to see her jump straight into the pond, boots and all, and maybe taking a little too literally the need sometimes to walk through flooded ruts to check for depth and obstacles. Deep respect. She got her shot in the can and you’ll see that on the box soon.
Fourteen Isuzus later we got everyone through and one had to marvel at the varying driving styles employed, from cheap and cheerful (i.e. sensible 2nd gear in LOW at a walking pace), to send it. One of the better “sends” was my good mate Stacey, another of the I-Venture Club team and a veteran of many programs, and as she said to me after her successful attempt, “there was no way I was going to get stuck in there with all those cameras being waved around”.
At the Sandy Flat Campground we needed a lunchbreak adjacent to the King River and this was the moment you truly realised the import of this program in skills development because the place was abuzz with stories of derring-do and heroism in the mud. I didn’t dare tell them what was next and the last obstacle to Lake Hovell.
The Upper Kings River Track is a beauty because where it intersects with the Evans Creek is a monster of a rock shelf descending into the creek-bed, a fall of around three metres.
Denuded of its surface cover (dirt and scree), this jagged and deeply stepped crag, had two navigable routes that we had scouted the previous fortnight. Both were fraught and overstepping the guidance we were about to offer could have easily resulted in a no-speed roll, once suspension was at full stretch. This is one of those moments I describe as “technical” because it requires ALL of your attention.
Now there was one bloke who could’ve taken a cavalier approach to this descent and that was my new mate John with his Magnetic Red X-Terrain D-MAX. John had gone boldly where some men have gone before and decided a touch of canary yellow down the left hand side of the car would look good. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a vehicle attend one of my programs so banged up.
His darling wife Sonia recounted (and was happy to share around) how John had smacked a bollard a week before the journey and the encounter had crushed the passenger door, sidestep and the door sill. We teased him with the prospect of “evening” up the damage with a dalliance on the rocks on the right-hand-side, but he was having nothing of it.
It takes a fair while to place fourteen vehicles on terra-firma when the guidance you’re providing is of the millimetre by millimetre type and Steve (our intrepid guide and helpful trainer from Brisbane Hinterland 4WD), Corey and I digged-in with the spotting.
Now, in an automatic this isn’t ridiculously hard, placement is about the only thing you have to worry about, but on a manual???
You’ll remember Ron and Di from the earlier essay.
Di got the guernsey to do this descent and as I was shaping this up for her I was torn between doing it properly (that’s in-gear and off the clutch) or in Angel’s-gear (that’s in neutral and riding the brake). I decided to ride shotgun with her and we discussed the options before we took the plunge.
She was up to the challenge, doing it properly, so with first gear selected and the boys below being our eyes, the clutch was sidestepped and we set this train in motion. Di’s job was to leave the clutch alone, press on the brake pedal just hard enough to pull the descending speed to a freckle above the stall point, and of course steer by remote control, via the commands coming from the UHF. There’s a lot going on in that moment and that’s why most folk these days are better off buying an auto.
Once we got the car aligned correctly, she descended like a butterfly, no scrapes and little fuss and it turned out to be the driving demonstration to beat for the whole event, so good, she won our Golden Gong for best driver on the last night. Onya Di.
Just a little further along the track Lake Hovell finally emerges from the trees and a big bitumen car park space, signalling the end of a massive day two.
Phew, we’d just managed to get our convoy through a heady day of proper 4WD challenge and largely unscathed (apart from a couple of scrapes on the undergubbins) AND beat the rain. As we aired up for the bitumen run into Mansfield, the camaraderie on display confirmed once more that I-Venture Club is a winner.
Next: Day three is Hut day, as the gang head off in search of huts on the hills and more adventure!
About the Author: David Wilson’s day job for the last thirty years has been as a professional 4WD driver trainer at his SA-based business Adventure 4WD. He has had a strong Isuzu connection for most of his working career, responsible for the delivery of the Isuzu Specialists Weekends (Holden/Isuzu partnership 1996-2003) and of late, as lead trainer and brand ambassador for Isuzu Ute Australia’s customer retention program called I-Venture Club (2014-present).
He’s also been keen to promote 4WDing to the masses and was the first to produce and present a dedicated 4WD TV series called “Beyond The Bitumen” seen on TEN and Foxtel between 1998-2000. He’s been a freelance 4WD writer for News Corporation for a decade, had stories posted in every mainstream 4WD magazine in Australia and a few overseas in the past, and today manages to squeeze out articles as the “Tech-Head” in Isuzu Ute Australia’s MAX’d Magazine and also subs as Western 4WDriver Magazine’s roving reporter. He’s a partner in the Loaded 4X4.Media and Loaded 4X4.Store businesses and committed to providing fact, not fiction, when it comes to vehicle and travel advice and the development and supply of quality bespoke equipment.