Travelling off-road or in remote areas of Australia is nothing like throwing a suitcase in the boot and driving from one town or city to another. You must plan a remote or off-road trip with great care to avoid major mishaps that can destroy your holiday or adventure. Safety is a major concern on Outback trips, and unfortunately, this is where Murphy’s Law has a field day – you can be sure the one thing you forgot, left undone or behind will be just what you need in case of an emergency.
Preparing For Your Journey
If you’re preparing long-term, do a course in off-road driving at a 4WD club or association, and a basic car maintenance course is also advisable. Be sure to plan your trip at the best time of year – especially if you’re going to the Red Centre where temperature can soar up to 50C some days then drop by 30c before dawn. Central Australia is best between April and October, the dry season. If you’re thinking of buying a 4WD, talk to people who work and live in the area you’re planning to go before you spend money on unnecessary accessories, which will add weight and affect its performance.
What to take:
- A dual battery system to run a fridge, winches etc
- A small fire extinguisher for vehicles
- A well stocked first aid kit and a medicine bag
- Several water containers (safer than one single)
- Fuel cans stored on metal racks on rear 4WD bumper
- Winches, D shackles, pulley block, snatch strap
Getting bogged in mud or sand is common in Outback Australia, but it can be avoided by cautious driving and knowing how your vehicle performs in different conditions. Learn how to use the winch well before you leave on your trip. You will learn this on a 4WD driving course.
Communicating in Off Road and Remote Places
Timely and effective communication can be the difference between life and death in remote areas if you have a car accident. Your mobile phone is fine to call for help if you live in a city or populated regional areas, but you can’t rely on it in the Outback or remote places in Australia. So to be safe, you’ll need a two-way radio or other devices to make sure you can get help if you need it. A satellite phone is an expensive item, but it will enable you to communicate to anywhere in Australia or the world and vice versa. Another alternative or addition is an HF radio which allows you to communicate with other drivers or to call the Royal Flying Doctor Service in an emergency. You need a licence to operate an HF radio. With a licence, you get a registered call sign. Know what an emergency is so you don’t waste the RFDS’s valuable time.
Make sure your car has been checked by a mechanic before your trip cause a breakdown in the bush is the last thing you’d want. Do daily vehicle checks – spinifex in the exhaust pipe can catch fire – but look for oil water, leaks, tyres and fuel, and check wheel nuts, hoses, corrosion on battery terminals. If your battery goes flat 300 kilometres from the closest town, your mobile phone is out of range, and the HF radio is no help (since it runs off the battery) you’re up the proverbial creek. Providing you’ve followed the advice in your 4WD course and told people your travel plans, a search will probably begin after a day or so. This is why you need plenty of water, and whatever else you need so you’ll just have to relax and wait. Don’t do anything strenuous in the heat of the day.
Don’t speed, be aware that driving in the bush poses many more hazards than in the city. There are kangaroos and wombats, corrugations, fallen rocks and branches, cattle on the road, flash flooding. The safest thing to do is to slow down. If you come to a creek crossing – in an area with NO crocodiles – get out and walk slowly through the water to see how deep it is and if the tyres will grip. Make sure the water won’t go over the tops of the tyres; otherwise, it will be risky. If so, camp overnight and wait until the water goes down, or wrap a tarp around the radiator area, so the water doesn’t get into the engine. On deep sand, keep up a fair speed in high gear, for better traction, reduce the tyre pressure to 15-20 psi and pump them back up on the hard road.
Road Trains and Bulldust
The wisest thing to do if a road train is coming your way is to pull over and let it pass if you can, but close the windows and turn on the air conditioning to stop the bulldust from blowing into the car. Bulldust is powdery road dust famous for causing problems for drivers. Driving too fast into a deep pothole full of bulldust can damage your vehicle. Regularly check your air filter and knock it against a fence or a tree to get rid of the dust. Always be careful driving dusk when the light is fading, and native animals emerge. And wherever you travel in the Outback, show respect for Aboriginal country, follow the rules when entering a National Park, don’t litter and care for the natural environment.
Have a safe trip!
Kym Wallis, the founding director of Higher Ranking has over 15 years of advertising sales, digital strategy, and business development experience. He is currently working as Digital Adviser for PK Simpson.