This trip, you want to see views unlike anywhere else on earth. You want to experience vastness. You want to see big star-studded skies and incredible rock formations. Yes, you’re hitching up the van and heading west! But the outback journey itself is unlike any other on earth. It’s not an easy trip. It requires planning, common sense and contingencies for any emergency. Visiting the most remote sites, the lesser-known rock formations, Aboriginal historical sites, towns full of character, and characters… it all takes you off the beaten track. After forty years exploring every corner and and many a “middle of nowhere”, many of those in developing caravan designs to tackle the tough tracks, I have plenty to share with first time outback travelers.
Know the 6 basic rules of Outback road trips
These may seem like common sense but there’s more than a few travelers lost in the desert each year. So, here’s a little refresher of the basic rules of outback travel.
- Don’t leave your car. Getting disoriented in the desert happens faster than you think. Sooner or later someone will drive by or fly over.
- Carry a first aid kit and all your regular medication. Make sure you have at least a week’s worth of your regular medications, and keep a well stocked first aid kit with you.
- Take plenty of water. Take enough water for you, your passengers and your radiator to last at least a week. Also pack up to a week’s food and anything you need to prepare it.
- Fuel and Power. Fill up. Fill a jerry can or two too. There aren’t a lot of petrol stations on national outback roads. If you’re going off road or taking the dusty paths less travelled, there’s no fuel. For hundreds of kilometers. Take enough to keep your car, and if needed, your generator running.
- Low Tech Maps. Yes, you need a paper map. Google can’t save you in the outback. There’s no signal. You need paper maps and travel guides and if need be, a bunch of printed information about the area. Don’t rely on a mobile phone.
- UHF radio settings. Know the channel you should be tuned to according to your current needs:
- 10: Off road travel. This is the national parks channel and will help you get in touch with any 4WD clubs in the area.
- 18: This is the camper and caravan channel, usually used on highways for warnings and communications about what’s ahead.
- 5 or 35: This is the emergency channel. Tune in here if you need urgent assistance.
- 11: If all else fails, this is the channel used when someone is missing in action and can’t be located on any other channel.
- 40: This is the main channel for Australian road safety communication and the most widely used. This may be of assistance if you’re stranded as its most likely to have plenty of truck drivers “tuned in”.
The things you may not have considered
Desert friendly clothing and shelter. Sure it’s hot by day, but the outback can be freezing by night. Take a variety of clothing to protect yourself from heat, sun exposure, freezing temperatures and insects. Also keep a tent on board in case you’re spending the night amongst the “outback wildlife”. It’s generally not the cute and cuddly type!
Satellite Phones: There’s no coverage where you’re going. Consider taking a satellite phone and an EPIRB beacon, especially if you’re heading off the beaten track. Even the main highways crossing Australia don’t have mobile phone coverage. Be aware.
Sand Flags: It’s mandatory to use sand flags if you’re crossing dunes and is a pretty good idea anywhere you are going with poor visibility from up ahead.
Snatch Straps, Sand Tracks and Old-Fashioned Shovels: It’s not just the desert that can “bog you in dry sand”, outback landscapes include ancient dry river beds that accumulate sand and create hazards for vehicles. Make sure you have a recovery kit on board.
Common car parts and consumables: Beyond a spare tire, your car is going to take a beating. Carry extra filters and consumables because you’re about to put your car to the test.
Taking an offroad caravan?
The humble caravan/camper has come so far that it’s now capable of taking on just about any landscape. But, if you’re heading into the outback towing a van, you will need to consider a few of those ‘extras’ available from your caravan dealer.
Dust Filters: Most caravan companies don’t include dust filters as standard on their campers. Make sure you have them fitted before hitting the outback.
The right suspension, A Frame, shackles, steering, offroad coupling gear, chains and hitch: If you’ve bought a specifically designed off road camper, the suspension and towing set up should be up to the task. Before you go, you’ll need a full van service. Speak to the mechanic at the time about your plans and make sure that the off-road van you’ve purchased is going to be capable of all your plans.
Solar panels: When fuel is precious, solar panels save the day. Nothing like a trip across the outback to get your solar panels working at full capacity.
Light and Fire: A solid torch, with extra batteries and fire building equipment (including wood, there’s not much in the way of trees in some locations) could save your life.
Insect Proofing: Being standard for even a night in the Australian outback means you could be sharing your bed with ants, scorpions and other gribblies. Insect repellant won’t fully protect you but will help. A well-sealed tent is your best bet.
Rock sliders: Rock sliders can protect your car and van from damage.
The most important thing to pack for your outback off road adventure?
Common sense. Plan, think, consider. Never “wing it” in the outback. Never cross a desert without proper planning. Never, ever assume ‘it’ll be right” because there’s some breathtaking sights to see out there, and it’s worth the journey – but only if you do it safely.
About the Author
Affectionately nicknamed ‘the Mothership’ by staff at the family-run business she owns with her husband, Karen Perry has a reputation as someone who is always happy to help and works tirelessly to keep all the business cogs running smoothly. With a passion for camping and a desire to inspire other Australian families to ‘journey Australia with attitude,’ Karen couldn’t have found a more apt calling than being part of a business that enables families to get outdoors, explore, and spend quality time together making memories.