Well I hope not! Having just traveled over 30,000km in Australia including many of the iconic four wheel drive (4WD) tracks I thought we had picked up some useful tips on how to do the trip without spending a fortune. We spent about A$10,000 setting ourselves up with 1985 Landcruiser plus A$1,000 of camping gear, but most people seem to spend a lot, lot more. We’ve parked our next to rigs which would give you no change from A$250,000 Some of the more sophisticated setups even claimed to be able to go off-road as well – just like we could with a tent!
Why this blog
When I was planning this trip I found a real lack of information for the beginner who wanted to 4WD in Australia. There are several print publications and forums which will help you decide between the current model Land cruiser or Explorer, but little info on how to buy a decent second hand vehicle and how to choose what to put in it. No one told me that the $2 plastic striped bags would last 3 months even when overloaded, but that a top of the line camp bed would fail within 2 months. In some way it reminded me of the situation nearly 30 years ago when I started backpacking – then only one guide book catered for those who didn’t want to stay in hotels and take taxis every other book assumed that you had money to burn. The 4WD industry seems to be in the same place today. Even the Internet doesn’t provide much information for those who aren’t yet looking for a impermanent lifestyle i.e. the grey nomads but who aren’t hardcore off-road driving enthusiasts. So I’m hoping that this blog will fit a bit of niche for those who would like to get away into the great Australian outback but who don’t really know where to begin.
Australia is huge, more a continent than a country. Yet it has a tiny population, almost all of whom live on the east coast and in cities. Its a first world country where its pretty easy to buy a vehicle as a non-resident Due to the spread out population lots of Australia’s most beautiful places are only accessible by gravel roads and often a 4WD or 4×4 will get you there in better shape than a 2WD. Escaping to the bush is an iconic Australian experience but ironically most overseas visitors come to the heavily populated east coast but quick flight to Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Australia is big, really really big, and very very empty. Telstra, the biggest mobile phone provider, claims to cover 98% of the population – which must be true because you can’t lie in advertising in Australia, however at the same time they only cover 5% of the land area – that tells you know that there is an awful lot of empty space out there – which is why you can easily drive for a week with no cellphone coverage, Carins to Mataranka via the Savannah Way if you are interested. The sealed roads, where they exist, tend to be excellent, but an awful lot of roads, including those to some of the most beautiful areas, dirt, ranging from good to very bad some aren’t even formed. So they are dusty and dry – that is until its rain- then they are almost immediately impassible. A high-clearance 4×4 will give you far more options than a city car. For us the price to pay, in initial cost, maintenance and diesel, was well-worth the freedom. Often the first question a local asks if you enquire about road conditions is “what are you driving” – the correct answer to this is a Land cruiser!
We started with little camping or 4WD experience. My partner and I are New Zealanders, I’d done a little 4WDing as part of my job 20 years ago, and as a geologist I’d lived in outback Australia, My partner had been to the East Coast of Australia on holiday but not inland. Neither of us are “handy” or mechanically inclined. We did a course for the basics of off-road driving but the rest of it we picked up the hard way and in the end I think we proved that if we could do it without any serious mishap then almost anyone can!