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Life is busy – too often we plan to do something on the weekend, get away from it all, escape the everyday – and rarely do.
But what if you actually did all those things? Sand driving is one of those ‘that would be fun’ ideas that too-often end up falling victim to couch-time or a BBQ and beers.
It was with steely determination that this writer recently decided that laziness no longer ruled weekends – or any other time for that matter. Nabbing the Holden Colorado 7 LTZ, a friend and I headed north from Sydney.
The rolling sand dunes of Stockton Beach may be visually stunning, but they’re also fraught with danger. Sand driving is something you need to be prepared for, research, understand the correct driving techniques and have safety equipment on hand in case you find yourself in trouble.
The Stockton Bight sand dunes are part of the Worimi Conservation Lands. The beach is 34km long with dunes up to 30-metres high and slopes of up to 60-degrees.
The Colorado 7 is a big SUV. With seven-seats and generous room in the cabin, the trek up the Pacific Highway was relaxing – even the truck-like diesel clatter fades into obscurity at highway speeds.
My iPhone connected via Bluetooth to Holden’s MyLink multi-media system – and charging via the USB port – the two-and-a-half hour drive flies by.
Excitement and nerves are building in equal measure by the time we approach the southern entry to Stockton Beach, the weather is perfect and we’re looking forward to carving up the sand. But we’re also conscious of making sure we’re prepared – there is a serious side, driving on sand is tricky and risky, so being prepared is important.
A quick stop at the service station to pay for a permit, a bargain $10 for three-days, and we let the tyres down. The correct tyre pressure is vital and depends on whether the sand is firm or soft – we’re going to start on some relatively flat and firm terrain and under these conditions, tyre pressure should be 18-20 psi. Remember, it’s easier to start with too much pressure and let air out, than the other way around.
The Colorado 7 has shift on the fly 4WD, so you can switch between 4WD and RWD modes while on the move – in this environment we’ll be leaving it in 4WD.
Switch to 4WD High Range or 4WD Low Range and turn traction control and stability control off. The wheels need to be able to slip independently to help maintain steady speed and momentum.
We head into the park and begin the slow crawl through the back of the dunes down to the waterfront.
Keeping your speed and momentum steady is the key to keeping the car moving, any sharp bursts of speed, wild turns of the steering wheel or inconsistencies in driving technique and you can quickly find yourself getting out the shovel.
Smooth movements and smooth turns are vital or the wheels will dig in, then you’ll have to dig the vehicle out.
The sand is very soft along the water at the southern end of Stockton so we don’t head too close. Many a 4WD has been lost after getting bogged along the water’s edge as the tide is coming in, with not enough time to get towed out. Yes, even a large SUV will float away once the tide rolls in.
Today we’re going to head along the beach, sticking to the firmer ground, and just enjoy the scenery for a while, including the Sygna shipwreck. The 53,000-tonne Norwegian bulk carrier beached back in 1974 and has been attracting tourists for the past four-decades. Sadly its condition has been deteriorating rapidly in recent years but its skeletal form is still impressive to see.
After checking out the wreck and getting some confidence up on the firmer terrain, it’s time to hit the dunes. On the steeper dunes and softer sand we need to let a little more air out, down to 12-14 PSI. If you’re crawling around slowly, you can let some road tyres down as low as 8-10psi, but 12-14 will suit the kind of driving we’re doing up here today.
If you’re a beginner, be extra careful to drive with the right technique though. It’s a good idea to head out in groups of two cars or more, and ensure tow bars are fitted and heavy-duty snatch-straps are on hand.
We’re having little trouble on the sand – the Colorado 7’s power to weight ratio makes it capable in these conditions – though we’re concentrating intently and choosing our tracks wisely. The Colorado 7 only struggles a few times in really heavy, powdery sand when we’re climbing uphill.
The Colorado 7 LTZ has a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engine teamed to a six-speed automatic transmission. It delivers 147kW of power and 500Nm of torque and we need every bit of it to control the car on the sand.
As well as sand driving, Stockton also offers plenty of other things to do including ATV riding and sand boarding.
It’s well worth a stop to go hurtling down the dunes. We used body boards and were only game to tackle some of the smaller slopes.
By the end though we’re exhausted from trekking back up the hill to have another go, and there’s not a single part of us that’s not covered in sand, in fact I’m crunching on it.
Of course the car is full of it by now too – sand that is.
The Colorado 7 performed well on sand. It’s a big car with seven seats and it handled the dunes well. It may not be the most impressive off-roader in the segment but it’s more than capable of some heavy off-road work.
Our test vehicle was unmodified, so to know that you can effectively drive it out of the showroom on 18-inch alloy wheels and road tyres and be able to enjoy doing something out of the ordinary was a little unexpected.