ADVENTURE TO THE MAX

MUD, ROCKS AND RUTS IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, WITH THE ISUZU I-VENTURE CLUB.

WORDS AND PHOTOS MARK ALLEN

THEREíS no clandestine handshake between members of Isuzuís I-Venture Club. Neither is there a covert wink, tickle or hug to become an I-Venture Club member. Rather, membership of the increasingly popular Isuzu-backed club is simply by owning one of its 4x4s. After that, invitations are open to beginners and well-travelled drivers to attend one or all of the training and adventure tours, which vary from simple day trips to multi-day affairs.

Regardless of your experience, owners are bound to learn more about their vehicles given the trainers on-hand offer vehicle-specific tips and techniques to help you get the most from your purchase. The professionals offer step-bystep instructions as to what lights you can expect to see on your dash when certain features have been chosen, the exact gear that is best to tackle each obstacle, and the best way to attack those obstacles and remain unscathed.

This Isuzu I-Venture trip kicked off at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath and headed deep into the Blue Mountains to Gardens of Stone National Park, to view the Lost City and Blackfellows Hand Cave. We then went on to the historic Newnes Hotel and explored the historic shale works of the region. The majority of this first day was spent instilling confidence in the vehicles of new and inexperienced members. It also offered seasoned drivers a chance to brush up on the more technical details of their vehicles, as well as take in the breathtaking scenery.

BEHIND THE SCENES

ALL GREAT trips incorporate behind-thescenes people that ensure the experience runs like clockwork. Emma, Megan and Mark were our Isuzu Ute Australia hosts; David Wilson is a long-term I-Venture Club trainer who has a special knack of passing on his off-road knowledge, both theoretically and practically; and Greg Simpson was our local guide who knows where more gold is in Ďthem thar hills!í

OWNER SPOTLIGHT: PETER AND DEBBIE LYONS Ė MU-X

PETER and Debbie (below) had zero off-road experience prior to purchasing their MU-X, and they specifically chose this course for the vehicle-specific instructions. While they wanted a relatively capable off-road vehicle, the reliability and high reputation of the whole vehicle, together with the frugal engine, put the Isuzu above others they considered. Given they have returned 7.0L/100km, theyíre extremely happy with their choice of escape machine. Price point, driving comfort and towing ability were also high priorities given they own an off-road poptop caravan and are hoping to tackle the big lap after tucking away a few shorter trips. The fact they could both learn 4WD tips and tricks encouraged them to secure a spot in this Blue Mountains tour, and they were full of compliments at tripís end.

The following day, the 15-vehicle convoy headed to Turon National Park via Sofala and the Turon Trail, with a few lessons on gold panning and detecting provided along the way. Given one member struck gold within a short time, Iíll be heading back to have a crack at finding more.

This second day saw our happy crew lob into Bathurst for a few hot laps of Mount Panorama. As the circuit is a public road and has strict 60km/h speed limits, we sadly had to abide by all road rules; but the leisurely lapping still returned plenty of giggles and a tonne of happy snaps.

The final day saw our tribe tackling river crossings, steep descents and ascents, and plenty of rock-hopping, rut-straddling and mud-driving; while a few impromptu trackside lessons by our instructor took place while exploring Marrangaroo National Park. We pulled up stumps for the day at the Hampton Hotel.

OWNER SPOTLIGHT: MICHELLE AND DENNIS ZARONIAS Ė D-MAX

NEITHER Michelle nor Dennis had any off-road driving experience prior to purchasing their D-Max. Their purchase was driven by the reliability and good reputation of the Isuzu brand, along with the sound product knowledge of the sales people. Both Michelle and Dennis were keen to get behind the wheel so both could learn the fine art of four-wheel driving and figured the I-Venture Club trip would be perfect for them. They currently own a camper-trailer but are considering trading to a caravan for a lap of Australia with their child, so towing ability was also high on their agenda. To date, they are extremely happy with fuel consumption, and they learned many skills on this trip.

OUR HAPPY CREW LOBBED INTO BATHURST FOR A FEW HOT LAPS OF MOUNT PANORAMA

Given many participants were new to the 4x4 world, there were plenty of white-knuckle moments while tackling the larger rocky ledges. By tripís end, while no-one was classing themselves as experts, all drivers were feeling more relaxed in the knowledge they could traverse any obstacle they may encounter during their travels.

Drivers of all experience levels will learn something and have a ball on the Isuzu I-Venture trips. So if youíre hankering for some fun and keen to learn more about your Isuzu, you should check out www.iventureclub.com.au. There are trips in most states of Australia.

TWO CENTSí WORTH

IUA allowed us to drive the MU-X and the D-Max (both the older five-leaf and the updated three-leaf rear-spring version). While the MU-X was great to drive on- and off-road and offered superior rear suspension flex compared to the ute, I enjoyed the D-Max drive and could feel the comfort improvement of the newer three-leaf rear-end. A slide under both utes saw the five-leaf pack (compared to the three-leaf) incorporating longer main and helper leaves, reputed to utilise stronger and lighter materials. Running empty, the three-leaf is more comfortable and flexes slightly better off-road. How it handles a load or towing would be interesting; hopefully itís able to handle max weights. Mark Dutton, an ARB Canberra rep, had an ARB upgraded D-Max which was perfect to see how much extra flex his ute had compared to a stocker. ARB offers three rear-leaf spring packs starting at medium load, then 300 and 600kg constant loads, incorporating five, six and seven leaves respectively, and are more suited to weight carrying. Another comparison was the rear ARB AirLocker on steep, rocky and rutted tracks, proving how much easier and safer the drive can be compared to the limited off-road workings of the OE traction-control system.