What you need to know before a long driving holiday around Australia
Dreaming about driving off into the sunset and doing an Aussie road trip, or even a big lap of the country? Travel writer and photographer Lee Atkinson did just that, hitching up a camper trailer to her 4WD, spending ten months on the road circumnavigating mainland Australia. She shares her top six tips on how to select and prepare your vehicle for the road trip of a lifetime.
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Tip 1: What to drive
You don't need a 4WD to drive around Australia, but you do need low range gearing to reach some of the most beautiful bits, because the really wild, wondrous places are almost always in out of the way places. If you are towing a van or camper trailer opt for a turbodiesel, because this type of engine works more efficiently than a petrol for towing and diesel is more readily available in remote areas. And go for an automatic, because autos allow you to just stick it in Drive and concentrate on other things.
Explore the beauty of Australia with wide-open sceneries and outback adventures
Tip 2: Preparation before you go
If you are planning on getting off the highway and you've never been outback or off-road before a 4WD training course is money well spent. It will teach you how to use the vehicle to its full potential, how to get yourself out of tight spots and, most importantly, how to use recovery gear. Courses are available in all states and most regional centres – google ‘4WD driver training’.
Tip 3: Getting out of trouble
Even if you've done the 4WD course, getting stuck is inevitable – and all part of the fun – when you're travelling off the beaten track. You can spend a fortune on fancy recovery gear but there are five things you really can't do without: we took a pair of Maxx Trax ramps, which you put under the wheels when you’re bogged in sand or mud. They give the tyres something to grip and, as a rule, will launch you out of trouble very easily. We also had a long-handled shovel for digging and a snatch strap for those moments when all else failed – all we needed then was somebody else to come along to pull us out, but it was never used. The best way to not get bogged in the first place, though, is to drop tyre pressures to 20psi or less, so we also carried a quality air compressor and an accurate pressure gauge.
Make sure you don’t neglect the central hub of your roadtrip - your vehicle
Tip 4: What tools do you need?
A basic tool kit should include a jack, jacking plate and wheel replacement tools, spare tyre, fire extinguisher, emergency fuel supplies if heading off the beaten track, engine oil, coolant, jumper leads and spare radiator hoses and fan belts and the tools you’ll need to replace them – check out YouTube for DIY tips and bush mechanic lessons before you go. And don't even think about leaving home without ultimate get out of jail repair kit: cable ties, gaffa tape and fencing wire – with these three things you can fix just about anything.
Tip 5: The essential travel kit
Never travel without a first aid kit and always carry extra drinking water, even if you don't intend leaving Highway 1. Even on main roads, mobile phone coverage is non-existent outside of town limits, so a satellite phone is an essential bit of gear. We only used ours four times in 42 weeks, thankfully only ever to help others we'd come across in trouble, not for ourselves, but we wouldn't even contemplate leaving home without one – think of it as cheap insurance.
Tip 6: Map it out
Fighting over which is the right way to go is a major cause of holiday (and marital) breakdown. Don't rely on the mapping app on your phone – invest in a good GPS. We used Hema Navigator, which features off-road tracks as well an major highways.
It is all in the planning to make your trip a fun-filled and stress-free one
For more tips about choosing and buying a vehicle and camper trailer to drive around Australia, and what you need to do to get it road-trip ready, see Lee's book, The Big Lap.
About the book
The Big Lap is the pictorial diary. It's a lavish book of 144 full-colour pages, with detailed captions giving the stories behind the images. This is an inspirational showcase of some of the most scenic – and remote – roads and places around Australia. However, what makes this book different is all of the helpful information to help you plan your own Big Lap.
The best spots are off the tourist trail, and most aren't even on the map, but this book will tell you how to get there. On sale now for $35, including postage to anywhere in Australia, or a pdf version is also available for $15. If you're planning an Australian road trip or driving holiday you'll find plenty of suggestions on where to go.
Have you been on a long driving trip around Australia? Is it on your bucket list? Join the conversation below.