How to Prepare for Your Festive 4WD Adventure
As the stresses of the festive season start to pick at our frayed nerves, time snowballs away and the credit card starts getting some serious exercise, we find solace in the daydreams of upcoming adventures. The best part of the season, by far, has to be the opportunity to load up the 4WD and find respite in the calm and solitude of the outdoors. But the further out there you go, the more prepared you need to be.
As with all trips, preparation is key. However, at this point in the year, it pays to have everything sorted sooner rather than later. So in the spirit of seasonal generosity we've come up with a quick pre-trip planning guide to help you get the most out of your holidays. Every track has its own set of challenges, so there's no coverall trip-prep formula; if you want detailed info on 100 of Australia's best trips, check out the new edition of Hema's 4WD Adventures (available mid-December).
Mt Stirling, The High Country Victoria
Tracks and Vehicles
Before you dust off your driving boots be sure you've got the right vehicle for your selected destination. Many well-maintained tracks around Australia are perfectly suited to AWD vehicles, but even these can vary from season to season. Check any road reports or warnings for the area you're visiting, and if there's any doubt contact local authorities for up-to-date advice. Even if you're setting out in a high-clearance, low-range, diff lock equipped 4WD, events such as heavy rains and seasonal closures can interrupt a poorly planned trip – ultimately, it never hurts to check.
Fraser Island, QLD.
'Tis the Season
While regional communities can be lacking in amenities at the best of times, this is doubly true around Christmas. Say, for example, there's only one spot to fill up on diesel fuel along a 1,000km track, a small garage in the middle of nowhere; do you know if it's open between Christmas and New Year? Once again, it always safer to call ahead and check than to risk not knowing.
Always make sure your vehicle is in top working order before heading out on a trip, especially if it hasn't been serviced in a while. This means checking fluid levels, tightening bolts, checking electrical rigging, ensuring seals and lines are free of leaks, and making sure brakes are good and steering is precise. If anything seems amiss, have it fixed.
Pre-trip checks can detect problems that could ruin a holiday
What to Pack
What you'll need to take with you is largely dependent on the trip you're planning. However, one thing's certain, always make sure you have lots of water. It's easy to become dehydrated if you break down in an exposed remote location, and on a few occasions this has led to the loss of life. This doesn't mean buy a few bottles from the servo, this means packing large (20L minimum), distinguishable water containers, don't get them mixed up with your jerry cans full of fuel. A rough rule of thumb is to carry 10L per-person per-day, with a bit extra just in case.
Will you need a dune flag?
Don't forget a spare (or two)
Unless you've planned your trip from restaurant to restaurant, you're going to need plenty of food. This may mean you need a good eski, or if there's no chance of getting ice along the way then an in-car fridge is a good option. Consider how you plan to cook as well. Some areas may not allow open fires but will allow the use of fuel stoves, others may rule out flames altogether. It's also important to remember that some regional communities in Australia are subject to alcohol restrictions.
Check all your recovery gear is on board: snatch strap, jack, tyre gauge, air compressor, toolkit, sand tracks, gloves, rated D-shackles, shovel and anything else you might need. If you've got a winch on board then you'll want a tree protector and a cable dampener too. And then there are the little things, the bits that are easy to forget: WD-40, a torch and plastic tubing for fuel transfer.
Make sure you know how to use your gear, time isn't always on your side
Loading the Vehicle
Load up the heavy items first and distribute weight as evenly as possible. Consider any odd-shaped equipment, squared and rectangles will fit together best. Roof racks should be mounted as far forward as possible to relieve the strain on the already compressed rear axle. The only heavy item on the roof rack should be a spare wheel and tyre, otherwise load lighter things such as bedding swags to avoid raising the vehicle's centre of gravity, which will heighten the risk of rolling over.
Navigation and Communication
As handy as smartphones may be, they're all-but useless in remote areas. Hema's dedicated HX-1 Navigator is excellent for those with a technological inclination, but it's always worth packing a back-up paper map.
A high frequency radio is good for communicating with other 4WDers nearby, as well as emergency services. Be sure to check the emergency channels used in the area you're visiting. If you're going right out into the middle of nowhere, it's worth considering investing in a satellite phone. They can be prohibitively expensive, but they are easy and effective. However, keep in mind that they can be less effective in heavily vegetated and closed-in areas, or during periods of rain.
Ultimately, the more prepared you are, the more relaxing your festive getaway will be. If there's anything you're unsure about then it's best to seek advice from someone who knows. Whether that means contacting land managers, gear experts or mechanics, it's best to get it all sorted before it turns into a trip-wrecker.
Poor preparation left this adventurer high and dry