Conquering the highlands of Nueva Vizcaya

Courage Integrated Farm

In the highland provinces of northern Luzon, pickup vehicles are a common sight for practical reasons—as a utility workhorse, a trendy mobility for the family, and everything in between.

Conquest, the new variant of the famed Toyota HiLux pickup, is conquering the highlands as it has become a sought-after all-terrain vehicle which marries function and form for the growing sophistication of motorists even in the rural areas.

In Nueva Vizcaya, and the rest of the country’s north, this truck is a common sight with its power, durability, and needless to say, its attractive price point.

Reachable via the challenging Balete (formerly Dalton) Pass zigzag, the Hilux Conquest is the best companion on the road which can give you the leisure and maneuverability as you negotiate the never-ending twists and turns, and overtake the countless long vehicles you’ll encounter.

With widened roads and traveler-friendly stopovers, the long drive has become as exciting as the destinations themselves. Below are some must-see “naturally vibrant” attractions of Nueva Vizcaya.

Toyota Hilux Conquest at Balete Pass in Sta. Fe

Pit Stop 1: Sta Fe. With an altitude of 914 meters feet above sea level, this mountain town is the boundary with Nueva Ecija, and the regional border of Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon. And despite being perhaps the country’s most panoramic provincial boundary, it is largely unnoticed by motorists in their haste to reach their objectives.

Unknown to many, Balete Pass has a hilltop war memorial and viewdeck which packs an interesting World War 2 history and a sweeping view of the zigzag road below and the mountain ranges of the Cordilleras, Sierra Madre and Caraballo.

Just a few minutes away along the Cagayan Valley Road is the spic-and-span public market which has enticing souvenir shops of local crafts, native home furnishing, foodstuff and pasalubong, which you can easily fit at the Hilux Conquest’s spacious rear.

Further up north is Sta. Fe Forest Park, a municipal recreational area, training center, and transient lodging. This patch of hardwood trees is your easiest foray into a forest, minus the arduous trek.

Pit Stop 2: Dupax Del Sur. This interior town is known for its 18th-century St. Vincent Ferrer Church, which was declared a National Cultural Treasure along with a nearby Spanish-era bridge.

Its once-lonely road is now seeing the emergence of countryside-themed establishments which seek to lure travelers to make the 16-km detour inland.

Among these is The Green Oasis of Dupax which won’t escape a plantito who is constantly scouring the horizon for places to buy some endemic plants, and load at the Conquest’s spacious cargo deck. It also has a newly opened restaurant which serves tasty farm-to-table food, drinks and condiments.

Toyota Hilux Conquest at The Green Oasis of Dupax

Pit Stop 3: Bayombong. Aside from its heritage structures and quaint home-grown tourist brands, this provincial capital is getting known for its crowd-drawing farm tourism sites perched on its rugged outskirts.

One such destination is Courage Mountain Integrated Farm in the upland barangay of Bansing. As its name suggests, it takes lots of courage and driving savvy to scale the mountain’s rough and tough terrain, and is accessible only to 4×4 vehicles. The Conquest’s 2.8 4×4 GR-S AT can easily conquer this steep climb with its 4-Cylinder, 16-Valve DOHC Variable Nozzle Turbo.

Developed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm already boasts of hundreds of trees of tropical fruits, organic produce, as well as citrus and dragon fruits.

Courage is also developing a scenic dining outlet to cater to day visitors and special events. Overnight guests can stay at its Lord of the Rings-inspired hobbit house, or pitch an exciting car camp around the Hilux Conquest, whose versatile bed can be your comfy sleeping bed.

Citrus Farm in Kasibu

Pit Stop 4: Kasibu. Long acknowledged as a haven of citrus fruits because of its 529-hectare plantation, this municipality produces calamandarin oranges, mandarin (satsuma and ponkan), and pomelos, and sold all over the archipelago.

In late June, it got its crowning glory when it was declared by the Department of Agriculture as the “Citrus Capital of Luzon.” And while the fruits are widely sold all over Nueva Vizcaya, there is no equal to the fun of driving 47 kms inland from the province’s main artery and buying them from the source, interacting with planters, and scouting for citrus-based products which you can stash at the Conquest’s cargo bed.

If time permits, go spelunking at the Capisaan Cave System which is the fifth longest in the country at 4.2 kms, and has layers of networks including Lion and Alayan Caves with rare calcite formations and an underground river. Only the halfway route of up to 2 kms is open under the new normal regulations.

Newbies can opt for a shorter caving if only to get a feel of the heart-pounding subterranean ecosystem.