Tiger Trails

WRITTEN BY: SCOTT MASON

I-Venture Club tackles the legendary west coast of Tasmania. Next time, why not join us?

Tasmania is not often considered a four-wheel driving destination by those living on the mainland. It can seem intimidating even before you begin; its rugged, largely unpublicised country can be as daunting to some as it is a drawcard to others. Throw in the wintertime chill, the fact that you have to get your rig there for starters and the (admittedly rather remote) possibility of thylacine attack, and Van Diemen’s Land can easily be filed in your mental ‘too-hard’ basket. Don’t be put off. Getting there, at least, is easily sorted.

For the keen, a simple overnight ferry crossing from Melbourne to Devonport is a little adventure in itself—and the effort is well worthwhile. Tassie is home to some of Australia’s most stunning scenery and 4WD trails, including one that I-Venture Club’s most recent three-day trip across Bass Strait had on its agenda: the famous Climies Track. It’s a trip that sits on many an off-roader’s bucket-list. The other points are equally manageable—but we’ll address them as we go.

After a quick meet-and-greet, our fleet of D-MAX and MU-X driving enthusiasts were on the way to our first stop, the Natone Hills Fly Fishery. We’d arrived on an overcast March day—a few weeks before state and federal coronavirus shutdowns came into effect—and despite the forecasted rain, spirits were high. The Nantone Hills is famed for its trout and the anglers among the group were looking forward to trying their luck. There were some earnest efforts from all in the fishing department and some scary moments as lures went whizzing past nearby heads. After a solid few hours of fishing—with a break for the most beautiful fresh smoked trout for lunch—we’d bagged quite a few plump beauties.

It was great start—and a lovely way to immerse ourselves in Tassie tradition. Our destination for the night was another Tassie icon—the stunning Cradle Mountain. But instead of a quick blacktop sprint we weaved along a dirt path taking us through tall timber country and a scenic lookout. We were steadily climbing at altitude now and, jeez, despite it being late summer, was it ever getting chilly. Cold, rosy faces and warm smiles prevailed and it really was the perfect way to get to our digs—and a very welcome feast.

Up early, we kicked the tyres, lit the fires and cranked the heaters as we convoyed down to the Henty sand dunes. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was making its presence felt as we made haste for a few hours of play in the sandhills. There were some challenging dips and rises, and even a vehicle recovery on one particularly steep dune, but overall, we felt like kids in a candy shop. If you have not tried it before, make sure you get out and drive on soft sand. It’s so much fun, it almost feels illegal. (If you’re not on an I-Venture trip, obviously, make sure you’ve got sufficient expertise—and recovery equipment—along for the ride.)

The largest town on the west coast is Strahan and that was to be our base for the next two nights. Another welcome meal and beer under the belt and we were fuelled for our biggest challenge yet. We’d had a good build-up in confidence to this point, but there were nervous faces in the group as we learnt the coming challenges were going to be pretty damn legitimate. Climies Track has earned a fearsome reputation over the years for its big bog holes and rocky, technical terrain.

The start of the track is marked by a stunning little bridge crossing, a tiny Tasmanian Rubicon signalling that business is underway. We were committed. It was only a few hundred metres into this beast and we were already weaving through narrow tracks with careful line selection paramount. This was no lolly, but for those brave enough to take eyes off the track momentarily, the views of the rock and beach-lined coastline nearby were stunning. And thank God for heaters.

About a kilometre into the track we neared a crest and pulled up with precision timing to allow another group of offroaders to overtake our large, long, winding convoy. I say ‘precision timing’ because directly ahead of us lay one very serious, muddy and wet obstacle. The first of the four overtaking vehicles—all with big lifts and tyres fit for a crack at K2—took on the morass and promptly got bogged ... and with water lapping halfway up the doors. His mate took a side track and found himself stuck also, but happily not in interior-dousing water. After they sorted themselves out, we elected to take the muddy, but less drenched, side route and with no fewer than 28 traction boards eventually got through, with only one notable bogging (a car journo, funnily enough. Weird).

Pushing on, we encountered more challenging terrain and, upon a high point, could see the same four vehicles ahead… bogged for the third time. A quick scout of upcoming terrain on foot during our lunch break sadly confirmed the worst: the track ahead was way too damaged, eroded and dangerous due to sustained rain over the previous few weeks. It would be folly to carry on.

Sometimes the wise choice is to concede victory to mother nature. So, net result: we had travelled roughly 2.5km into the 21km track and spent over five hours on the process. Five wonderful hours. Once again, we negotiated our previously travelled obstacles and took off: muddy, slightly dishevelled, yet pleased we’d had a taste of what is one of the most serious tracks in Australia, in cataclysmic conditions to boot. It still felt like a more than worthy accomplishment, especially considering we had many factory-stock rigs in the mix.

Celebratory drinks were complemented by the traditional award ceremony on our final night, an evening filled with laughter, stories, fond memories and new and old friendships forged in a very convivial sort of battle—a battle that only those lucky enough to own a 4WD will ever understand. Wintertime? Well, traffic during this year’s coldest season was reduced by COVID-19, but regardless, Tasmania’s endless charms are just as delightfully sampled in the summertime.

Rugged country? It’s par for the course in Tasmania—but with the right attitude and equipment, the more you experience, the more you’ll chase. And, if in doubt, discretion is always an equally valid option. You’ll still have a complete ball. And thylacine attack? Well, you never know—you might just get lucky. Tassie, you were a ripper.

To find out more about our I-Venture Club events and to see if there is an upcoming event near you, click here.

More Featured Articles