Endless sweeping views across mountain ridges that reveal a sea of green as far as the eye can see. Crystal-clear streams snaking along valley floors. Towering eucalypts both alive and long since ravaged by bushfires, standing like ghosts stretching towards the heavens. The Victorian High Country is truly special, but you need a 4WD and some skill to discover it.
Given most 4WDs don’t ever manage to get off-road, there’s no doubt that countless owners are missing out on some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, right on their doorstep. Isuzu is well aware of its owners’ penchant for sticking to the urban environment. However, it’s not just limited to Isuzu owners.
A cursory look around the school drop-off zone, or a glance at fellow commuters on the drive to work, tells us as much. In an effort to give its owners more, Isuzu has established a way to offer both absolute novices and established off-roaders the chance to see the country, get their cars dirty and learn some tips and techniques at the same time. Enter the Isuzu I-Venture Club.
Established in 2015, this is not so much a one-off course, but a way for new owners to learn more about what their cars are capable of and see more of Australia at the same time. The program stretches across Australia and covers a myriad of driving conditions from sand to rock and mud. It's perfect for all levels.
The courses are offered as either single-day events or the more technical, multi-day events. It costs nothing to join the club itself, the only requirement being you own an Isuzu. Members can go online at here, see which location appeals to them, or covers the specific skills they’re after, and pay the fee. Day events are $300, while the longer multi-day events are $2000, and are all-inclusive covering food, accommodation and instruction. This cost is subsidised by Isuzu.
On each trip, Isuzu brings along off-roading experts who are on hand to guide customers through some of the more challenging scenarios. Spots are limited to a maximum of 12 cars, with two people maximum per vehicle. Capping numbers allows every driver to gain important knowledge over the duration of the trip.
I joined a multi-day journey through the Victorian High Country, starting in Bright and ending in Mansfield. I expected to be camping along the way, but Isuzu’s experience and research show that customers are more comfortable staying in motel accommodation. It also allowed a couple of pub meals and beers, which were a welcome refreshment at the end of a long drive.
Our instructor was Vic Widman. Vic has been guiding people around this part of Australia for decades and still runs his own guiding business. Isuzu also had David Wilson along from South Australia. David covered the more technical aspects of the course, instructing owners on tyre pressures, when to use 4 High or 4 Low, and vehicle control.
The owners were a very diverse group, with some retirees, a few business owners, and a younger couple who had just inherited their Isuzu from a generous boss. Not all the cars were modified either. While some had heavy mods including suspension changes and impressive tray work, others were as standard as they come off the showroom floor. I was in a standard D-Max for the first leg of the journey.
After a quick demonstration of the 4WD mechanics from David, we were off, leaving Bright around midday. Our first destination and highlight of the day was the Blue Rag Trig drive. This took us along the Blue Rag Range Track, and while it is a one-way journey, it’s simply spectacular.
In the early 2000s, a fire ripped through the area and you can see the mountain sides shimmer almost silver in the light, as the carcasses of long-dead alpine gums are hit by the setting sun. The heat of the fire was so intense that it killed the trees – lock, stock and barrel.
The terrain is not for the faint-hearted, with steep drops either side of the vehicle and a steep rubble-strewn climb to the top. While conditions were dry on our trip, I imagine in the mud you’ll find it doubly challenging. The Isuzus were excellent climbers, with the standard D-Max I was piloting never putting a foot wrong and able to deal with the loosest surface with nary a spinning wheel. There is no locking diff in the D-Max or MU-X model along for the drive, but the system is quite capable in this terrain.
Our journey snaked its way across the ranges taking in Mount Hotham and Mount Buller, and more stunning scenery than I could have dreamed of. We also tackled the 16-mile Jeep Track, which was one of the more challenging drives. This track, like many others in the Victorian High Country, can be closed at certain times of the year, so be sure to check before you go. It features some steep sections, and while it was very dry on our visit, it can be quite the challenge in the wet.
Each night over dinner we all became friends, swapping stories from our day and recounting stories from our lives. It was a great mix of people with varying reasons for coming on the trip. Some had good off-roading skills but were looking to refine specific skills, while others with little or no off-roading experience were keen to learn what they could from the experts. Regardless, all left with knowledge that they could return to this magical spot and tackle the tracks themselves.
As a keen off-roader, I must admit that I just don’t understand people who buy 4WDs, only to have them sit in the driveway and drive the kids to and from school. It’s great to see a company taking the time to show its customers just what their cars are capable of, and inspiring 4WD owners to take on the challenge. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try.
Click on the Photos tab for more images of the Isuzu I-Venture experience.
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