Owning and knowing how to use a 4WD is one of the best ways to see South Australia. Some of the most stunning parts of our state are only accessible via 4WD tracks and as well as breathtaking scenery without the crowds, it’s an excellent way to enjoy a cheap family holiday.
Unfortunately, around 90% of 4WD owners never make it off paved roads, and one look at some of the rougher tracks makes it easy to see why. Approaching them for the first time can be pretty daunting, and David Wilson is exactly the kind of guy you’d want around in that situation.
He’s been driving off-road since he was a teenager and started Adventure 4WD almost 25 years ago to help others do the same. He might not have written the book on 4WDs, but he made the TV show (“Beyond The Bitumen”) and he’s the guy the government turns to when employees need 4WD training.
Before you take your first trip, you’d better learn about LSD:
That’d be Limited Slip Differential, not that I could have told you that before an introductory theory session.
Joining me on the course are three couples keen to take some family trips a bit further off the beaten track, and there’s a range of experience levels among us. Ruth and Brendan are the star pupils, a former CFS volunteer and diesel mechanic who just need a refresher course. Like myself, Kirsty and Steve have never engaged 4WD before while Jazmin and Shannon fall somewhere in the middle.
Before we’re ready to hop in our cars, David makes sure that we’re all familiar the basic concepts of 4WDriving. There’s a lot of material to get through, down to the insides of the tires and what pressure they should be inflated to in different conditions, and he answers our questions patiently as we absorb it all. Thankfully there’s an information booklet so I don’t need to memorise everything and soon I’ve got a good idea of what my vehicle’s capable of.
Now I’m ready to take it for a spin.
Heading up to Lyndoch in an Isuzu MU-X, I see plenty of similar looking cars parked in shopping centres and outside morning sports games. I’m looking forward to finding out what it can do in slightly more testing conditions, though.
In a sand quarry five minutes out of town, David has designed a course with mud, sand, steep slopes and some gaping holes, and on a sunny Saturday morning it looks pretty daunting.
I’m not the only one approaching it with trepidation, but before I know it I’m putting myself (and the MU-X) to the test as I power through the Crocodile Pit, negotiate the Moguls and make it through a section that I dub the Grand Canyon.
It’s satisfying to get the vehicle a little dirty, but even more satisfying to head back around the course a second time with greater confidence.
All of us are feeling a lot more comfortable in the terrain already, though nobody’s quite as relaxed as our group’s youngest member. Ruth and Brendan have brought their six-month old Josh along for the ride, and he spends most of the morning sleeping as the car rocks back and forth over the course.
When the going gets tough:
After a lunch break back at the Lyndoch bakery, David tells us he has something a little tougher in store. He’s not kidding, and soon we find the track ending at a washed-out gully.
With his guidance, we slowly make our way forward before pulling up at the top of some seriously steep sand hills. The more challenging terrain has a few of us (myself included) gripping the steering wheels with white knuckles, but UHF radios in each car mean that David is talking us through it the whole time.
Lurching down a slope while one wheel falls into a deep pit and another spins half a metre off the ground is a disconcerting feeling, but it’s made a lot easier with David’s voice in my ear. It’s reassuring to know that he’s following my progress as he explains that I just need to keep the steering wheel straight and before I know it, I’m breathing a sigh of relief at the bottom.
Then he tells me to circle back and do it again so I can get a bit more comfortable until I feel like I can do it without his assistance at all.
You can go your own way:
We’ve all seen the Isuzu adds promising that you can go your own way, and after this course I have the confidence and skills to do exactly that.
David has introduced thousands of people to 4WDriving, and you get the feeling he’s seen everything in that time. He’s got an anecdote for every situation and gives us a wealth of useful tips over the day.
Perhaps more importantly, we finish the course with the confidence to join the 10% and go on a few of our own 4WD Adventures.
Adventure 4WD Website.