Sandy forest tracks taken care of, we took a swing at a couple of freshwater washouts to see how it handled the H20 and the sticky stuff, and it excelled. The all-terrains and drive train reached deep into the muddy puddle-beds like goanna’s legs, digging its claws in and smoothly pulling itself ahead.
Confident power at all times meant that when having to negotiate deep mud holes, the rig maintained momentum with a steady valance of spray even after the initial high-powered impact of rig on water.
We got this same confident clawing feeling soon after when we ran into a sand bunker on high tide at the Bulwer wrecks. We weren’t in a great place but threw a couple of Maxtrax under the front, and we spiked up, out, and over the gritty net like a volleyball, completely out of harm’s way.
Both Maxtrax were pushed at least a metre deep into the sand, which, fortunately for me, my photographic accomplices had to dig out in 40°C heat while I strutted off down the beach, doing a victory lap like a proud mechanical show dog with my hair blown back by the almost-too-cold air conditioning.
By the time I let my compadres back into the vehicle, even they were laughing at what the vehicle was capable of, seemingly without even trying.
If we thought the northern end of the island was in a chopped-up state we were in for a rude shock when we headed down to Kooringal. To get to the idyllic Smurf village set in the forest at the southern tip of the island involved a slog through the sort of cobra-swallowing sand rarely seen outside ancient Egypt.
The only time we did get in a pinch down here was due to driver error (surprise, surprise), and it was quickly sorted with the push of a button. That button being the rear diff locker, which saved us from creating a hole before we had even thought of creating one.
So why the fuss over just another vehicle update? Surely every year there’s just a grill upgrade to make you feel like the rig you bought last year is out of date already.
Well, not in this case. Due to the modern ute market being the most competitive new car segment, the buyer is the big winner, with all manufacturers forced to dig deep and offer a complete package that they hope will blow the opposition out of the water.
Hiluxes only really get the big overhaul every five years or so. And no company has as rigorous an R&D process, with this particular era of Hilux having spent over five years in development.
The testing involved the best part of half a million kilometres, and that was just on perfecting the handling attributes. As a result, despite its tank-like abilities off road, it will still outclass pretty much any soft-roader for comfort and handling when it’s relegated to the school pickup.
And as for stacking up against the influx of other traybacks, as an overall package it’s still ahead of the pack. It’s a tricky one, seeing as you can pick up the likes of a quality sand devil like Isuzu’s D-Max for $10,000 less, but it’s horses for courses, and this is a damn Hilux, and the work’s gone in, and the report is better than good.
The day we reluctantly returned the rig to the head office, the ABC news crackled onto the radio to tell us this model is currently the highest selling new vehicle in the country. It’s easy to see why.
This is a land without roads, which means that anyone serious about 4WDing is also likely to be serious about camping. Which stands to reason why the small outpost of Bulwer is also home to what we reckon is one of the country’s best glamping setups.
Castaways is on the northwest corner of the island, set back in the shade from the beach at Bulwer, with its oxidised shipwrecks of the Kallatina, Hopewell and
After making a comet tail of white sand through the heathland at the top of the island there are few sights more welcoming to the hungry, thirsty or sleepy traveller, which perfectly described our sunburnt test crew each evening.
Here, you’ll find Castaways, at first it looks like a store and a rustic restaurant, but then you look a bit deeper to see a dozen safari tent sites hidden in natural bushland.
Our team has stayed here a bunch of times, even outside work commitments, usually for a night or two, but sometimes longer, and we can’t get enough of both the privacy and the village atmosphere.
Unlike some glamping setups, there is nothing pretentious or wildly overpriced: they’ve achieved the ultimate balance with a mix of high comfort and low maintenance.
It’s spot-on for romantic couple trips, not-so-romantic family trips, or even just lone wolves who want to treat themselves to a night or two in the bush without the biteys.