Driving in the outback
More information about driving in the outback
The outback is a remote wilderness, where travellers tend to feel more like adventurers and explorers. But there are certain hazards you need to be aware of and various precautions that should be taken before setting out. We've answered your most frequent questions to help you get the most out of your outback trip.
When should I travel?
It's important to plan ahead to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Weather is an important factor when planning outback travel. From Central Australia, north to Katherine, there is no 'wet' season. But in summer, daytime temperatures can rise to more than 40°C. During winter, days are warm and there are sharp drops in temperature at night. Light rainfall can occur any time.
Further north you'll find distinct wet and dry seasons. The dry season usually lasts from April to November, with very little rain. During the wet season - December to March - many of the roads become channels of mud and the days are unbearably hot and humid, with thunderstorms and downpours. You need to be well-prepared to tackle the remote far north of Australia in the wet season.
What should I pack?
- Take sunscreen and insect repellent. In warmer parts of Australia mosquitos can carry diseases such as the Ross River fever and Australian encephalitis
- Clothing that covers all weather possibilities: wet-weather gear, clothing that will protect you from the sun, and don't forget jumpers and jackets for the cold nights
- Fire extinguisher - keep it where it can be reached easily and quickly. Fires can occur from electrical faults or when long, dry grasses come in contact with a hot exhaust
- Comprehensive first aid kit
- Disaster recovery items including long-range fuel tank, winch, tree trunk protector, basic recovery gear - snap straps, shackles, shovel, airbag jack (useful if your vehicle is bogged or immobilised), jumper leads
- Tool kit: hacksaw, hammer, cold chisel, rubber mallet, pliers, file, set of spanners, socket spanner set, set of screwdrivers, a voltmeter, trouble light, wire brush, soldering iron, resin core solder, electrical tools, allen keys
- 12V compressor to re-inflate tyres
- Engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, gearbox/differential oil, correct size spanners to fit drain plugs
- Radiator coolant
- Spare radiator hoses, fan belts and tools to replace them
- Your own pressure gauge
- Spare set of keys.
How should I prepare my vehicle?
Make sure your car is in top condition before a driving trip; have it checked by the NRMA MotorServe.
How can I pack my car to reduce the strain of the load?
- Overloading can cause suspension problems, so don't over-pack
- Keep the centre of gravity low
- Stow heavy items in the cabin, boot, or trailer and put lightweight goods on the roof rack
- If you are carrying equipment inside a hatchback or other car where the boot is behind the back seat, install a cargo barrier.
Do I need to fit the vehicle with any special equipment?
There's a range of equipment you can fit to your vehicle.
- Towing hooks - attach them to both the front and back of your vehicle
- Good set of driving lights
- If you have a fridge on board, power it with an extra battery. This will save the car battery for car functions. You can also opt for a gas fridge or a unit that runs on 240-volt mains power for when you're hooked up to the mains at a camp site.
Do I need special tyres to travel in the outback?
You don't need special tyres but they should be new or nearly new and if you're in a 4WD the tyres should have a 6-ply or equivalent rating.
Always carry two complete spare wheels and remove the hubcaps if you don't want to lose them while travelling over rough terrain.
Is it better to take a caravan or camper trailer?
If you plan to tow a caravan on some rough roads, it's best to take a 4WD as this allows you to travel to out-of-the-way places and leave the caravan at a base camp.
A camper trailer is one of the best options because they are lighter than a caravan, and therefore manage better on dirt roads and rough tracks.
For more information on caravan holidays, see Caravan+RV.
What precautions should I take so I don't get lost?
- Up-to-date, comprehensive maps are a must and are available from NRMA Motoring & Services, tourist centres and motoring organisations in other states. Check the accuracy of the maps along the way with reliable local authorities and ask about any roads that may not be marked. Check out NRMA's maps
- GPS (global positioning system): a GPS will give you a position and determine the latitude and longitude of any point by picking up signals from satellites.
- High-frequency radio: use a high-frequency radio if you plan to travel to remote, sparsely populated areas. A high-frequency radio can be used to contact the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The Australian National 4WD Radio Network provides safety oriented HF radio communications for travellers in remote areas.
- Keep a road log: for some of the tougher, more remote roads, keep a written log and record times and odometer readings at all intersections, signposts, grids, etc. This will be useful if you get lost and need to backtrack.
- Leave your itinerary with someone: one of the rules of the outback is to leave your itinerary with family or friends, or the authorities and to check in regularly while on your journey.