TASSIE’S WILD WEST COAST

The west coast of Tassie has been one of those places I’ve always had on my off road bucket list for as long as I can remember. Having seen countless pictures and videos of all the big-name tracks like Balfour, Sandy Cape and Climies and having talked about them for years, I almost felt like I knew every bog hole and step up on these tracks without ever being there. In fact the Dirty 30 has been 4WDing in every state and territory except Tasmania… until now. To say I was excited for this trip would have to be the biggest understatement of all time. I had been literally counting down the days for this adventure for the last 12 months.

We started seriously planning this trip to the wild west coast early last year when we were up in the Cape with good mate Ray Clark, a Tassie local that now resides up in Weipa. Ray was telling me of his plans of rebuilding his cutdown 80 Series he calls Cranky (for good reason!) and taking it back down to Tassie. A planning meeting over a few brews around a Cape York campfire was all that was needed to get this trip in motion.

Quite a few months later I was driving the Dirty 30 onto the Spirit of Tasmania where I caught up with Rocket Rod. Rocket was of course in his beast of a 79 and just installed a new hot water exchange for showering – it’s official, he has just about everything you could want in the ultimate tourer. I always seem to spend way too long looking over Rod’s truck in awe, the clever thinking andworkmanship that has gone into this LandCruiser really does need to be seen to be believed.

The Spirit of Tasmania was so easy and comfortable to travel on and a whole lot more affordable than I ever imagined. I think too many people get put off by the cost of travelling down to Tassie, but with the government rebate, you’re only paying a small cost and you get accommodation for the night. Just a tip though, make sure you book way in advance and specify that you need a height clearance of more than 2.1m, which you have to book, especially if you have a lifted 4WD. Where the cost does blow out a little if you’re towing a trailer, they don’t miss you for that! 

Once we arrived in Devonport after an overnight steam across the Strait, it was down to the shops to stock up on groceries for the week and then we made tracks for Smithton, and then south to where we would kick things off with driving the famous Balfour Track. That’s another great thing us ‘mainlanders’ will like about Tassie, is that everything is so close. Once you hit the west coast, all of the big iconic tracks are in relatively close proximity to each other. This means, if you don’t get stuck in an infamous Tassie bog hole for a couple of days (which is a possibility), then you can pretty much explore the west coast in a week. The other thing you need to know about Tassie is the rain.

We apparently visited in a dry spell, so much so that it made headlines around the state as they claimed it was officially the driest October Tasmania had seen in over 60 years! If I didn’t know this, I would still be talking up how wet this place was as there certainly wasn’t a shortage of mud and bog holes when we were there. I find it hard to imagine this place after a real soaking!  Whatever you do, bring a raincoat and be prepared for lots of mud when you plan your trip down here.

The Balfour is one of those tracks that changes nearly every other week and even if you’ve driven it a few times, you never know what to expect when you visit it again. I’ve often heard people say that it’s a relatively easy drive as even though the water is deep, the bottom is solid and gives you plenty of traction to keep moving forward. For us, the water was a lot shallower than I’ve seen before in videos and pictures, but the bottom in one of the holes was seemingly never ending and impossible for myself and Rocket, despite hitting it hard and giving it a few goes. Ray only just made it through with Cranky and keep in mind he is running 37in tyres and pushing them with big horsepower!

There is nothing to winch off when you drive the Balfour, but there is a couple of side tracks around the big water runs that are still muddy and require a good run up and plenty of right boot. My best advice is to travel with at least one other vehicle and take plenty of recovery gear. In saying that, I bet a few of you reading this are saying to themselves, “I drove my stock Pathfinder through there last week,” it’s worth repeating myself by saying just how much conditions can change.

While the Balfour has always been on my bucket list of 4WD tracks to drive, I’d go as far to say that the Climies Track is now in my top three tracks that I’ve ever driven, anywhere in Australia. It’s a big call, but when you’re driving over a waterfall and lifting a wheel on the edge of a cliff face with the single best view in Oz, you’ll know why this place is so special.

Before I get too carried away, let me just say that Tasmania is one of those places that every 4WDer must experience for themselves, especially the west coast. Even though I felt like I already knew the place quite well, I was utterly blown away by the beauty, camping and tough tracks Tasmania has on offer to us 4WDers.

In between driving the Balfour and Climies Track we also ventured into Sandy Cape which has some of the softest sand you’ll find in Australia. If you’ve seen the DVD you’ll be scratching your head reading this as we didn’t get a chance to show any of Sandy Cape on the DVD because we had filmed so much action we couldn’t physically fit it all onto one disk. But by the time you read this, we should have this footage up on the website so you don’t miss out on anything.

Up until this part of the trip we had driven all sorts of tracks from muddy bog holes, to rocks to sand and would usually be enough to make a cracker of a DVD. However after we finished driving the Climies Track we were invited to a shack in Trial Bay were we got talking with owner and 4WD nut Adrian Maine, who suggested we should give the Lake Cumberland Track a go. Now to give you a bit of the back story about this track, it was a track that Ray had driven five times now however on each attempt he broke something on his Cruiser and had only ever made it to the top once. Apart from it being a very challenging track, there is a lake (Lake Cumberland) on the mountain when you get to the top. I might be sounding like a broken record jammed on repeat at the moment, but this place is just about as scenic and spectacular as it gets.

Of course Rocket and I hardly needed any convincing about tackling this track the next day, our only concern was this one gnarly switchback we were told of halfway up the mountain that we would need to tackle. It sounded like the kind of obstacle that, if you get wrong you’d roll several times down a rock face before coming to a stop. Heart in the mouth kind of stuff that makes you put all your trust in your rig and your mates guiding you.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”Tassie is just as good if not better than the high country or cape York”[/blockquote]

When we got to this switchback we stopped and talked it over for an hour before we gave it a go. The real worry was Rocket’s 79 Series which was ultra-heavy and wide and Ray’s cut down 80 Series as he was running huge offset wheels making Cranky just as wide. The camera will never do this switchback justice of just how close you have to put your wheel on the edge of the drop-off and just how off cambered it is. Having just made it through the switchback we had several ruts to tackle before the terrain opened up and we were at the top of the mountain. There were only a few big bog holes to drive before we could officially say that we’d made it.

We were at the last mud pit within 10m of the official end of the track when I punched the Dirty 30 through… that’s when I did a clutch. Yeah, it’s probably the worst place this could have happened, but at least it was (quite literally) all downhill from here. We finished up the filming of the DVD and then had to contend with a busted Dirty 30. To be honest the very little drive that I had left in the old girl was all that was needed to get it back down the Cumberland Track, plus a few light snatches from Cranky.

Although I was gutted having broken the 30 it didn’t take anything away from how awesome the trip was. I still rate it as one of the single best action-packed 4WD trips I’ve ever done. In fact I’m still smiling like a chimp as I write this and recall just how much fun we had! Breakages on old trucks happen, especially when they cross the Top End a couple of times a year and rack up cricket scores of kilometres driving harsh tracks.   

If you haven’t got Tassie in your sights, start planning now as it’s just as good if not better than the High Country or Cape York.

Catch ya ‘round!

FACT FILE

WHERE:
We started our adventure from the north near Sandy Cape and worked our way down to Queenstown. Most of the tracks are very well known and show on most maps and GPS units, however the Lake Cumberland Track might be a little hard to find. It starts just north of the little coastal town of Trial Harbour.
CAMPING:
The best camping has to be around Sandy Cape, but we also found a cracking little campsite in Granville Harbour that looks over the water.
WHAT TO TAKE:
Plenty of recovery gear and plenty of warm clothes. Even if you plan on only doing a day trip, make sure you take camping gear and food in case you get really stuck!
SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES:
If you’re coming from the north, get your supplies from Burnie. If you’re coming from Hobart, Queenstown has everything you’ll need. You can also get fuel and supplies from Zeehan.


TRIP STANDARD:
Trips are rated A though E, with A meaning only suitable to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modifications and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles. This trip could be rated at anything from an A to C depending on the conditions at the time. There are plenty of side tracks that go around major bog holes so you can avoid the stuff that will see you stuck for hours. The Lake Cumberland Track is A-grade and there’s no alternate route to the top of the mountain.
EXTRA INFORMATION:
When the craving for a big bacon and egg roll hits, pop into the ‘Coffee Stop’ at Zeehan before jumping back on the tracks.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
October to March
TIME OF TRIP:
October

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