Outback in Australia

Australia can be completely circumnavigated on Highway One or crossed from Adelaide via the center to Darwin without ever leaving the paved highway. But to experience the true outback of Australia, you should turn your back on these main routes. There are a lot of tracks and trails where the official recommendation of the police is to check out at an appropriate police station before leaving and to check back in the indicated period upon arrival. In case of problems, a search party can be dispatched in a targeted manner.

Most of the inland roads are well passable and can be negotiated without an all-wheel drive vehicle with special expedition equipment. Nevertheless, you should be well prepared and have the most important spare parts with you. Quickly you have to drive a few hundred kilometers to get a small spare part or in the worst case to get towed away. This is then in most cases a costly affair.

If you go to remote areas, it is highly advisable to carry a high-frequency radio transmitter to contact the nearest Royal Flying Doctor Service station in case of emergency. Bringing a satellite phone or GPS transmitter is also recommended.

It is also vital to carry enough water with you. 20 liters of extra water per person, stored in more than one container is advisable. Food reserves are rather unimportant and with little space it is better to take another spare tire with you.

Road maps and ideal travel time

Automobile clubs provide help in preparation and have road maps and route descriptions of the outback tracks.

Most of the slopes have an ideal travel time, so it is z.B. inadvisable to ride the hard tracks of the Australian center in the greatest summer heat (from November to March). The drought reaches its peak and dust swirls cause mechanical problems much more frequently. Water is scarce and therefore the danger to humans is greater.

Similarly, it often makes little sense to travel the north on dirt roads during the rainy season. Flooding and muddy track sections prevent progress for days on end.

Never leave the car
If you find yourself in an emergency situation, the basic rule is always to never leave your car. From the air it is easier to locate a car than a person in the terrain. It is impossible to carry 20 liters of extra water over a long distance.

Animals on the road

Wild animals like kangaroos or stray cattle can often be found on the outback tracks of Australia. Especially at sunrise and sunset these animals are active and suddenly appear in the middle of the track. Driving during dawn and dusk, as well as at night, should therefore be avoided as much as possible.

If an animal appears on the road, you should brake accordingly in a straight line to prevent the car from swerving and use the horn.

Caravans on the outback tracks of Australia are not recommended. Camper trailers should have 4WD tires and high ground clearance, and should be built to withstand the bumps and rugged surfaces.

The land on either side of a dirt road in Australia, even if not fenced, is private property.

Outback tracks in Australia

The top 10 most popular outback tracks in Australia

1. Birdsville Track

One of the most famous tracks in Australia is the Birdsville Track. It runs for 499 km from Marree in South Australia to Birdsville just over the border in Queensland. Nowadays the track is manageable with a good conventional vehicle.

2. Strzelecki Track

This outback track is similar to the Birdsville Track and starts south of Marree at Lyndhurst. After 473 km in northeastern direction it ends at Innamincka, close to the border to Queensland. From there you can continue to Tibooburra in New South Wales. Due to the Moomba gas fields this track has been significantly improved. It was at Innamincka where the unfortunate early explorers Burke and Wills died.

3. Oodnadatta Track

Parallel to the old Ghan railroad line to Alice Springs runs the Oodnadatta Track. It is enclosed by the tarred Stuart Highway in southern and western direction. It is 465 km from Marree to Oodnadatta and another 202 km from there to the Stuart Highway in Marla. Any good conventional vehicle can handle this track without problems.

4. Simpson Desert Track

A crossing of the Simpson Desert starting from Birdsville up to Mount Dare is becoming increasingly popular. This route is nevertheless a real challenge. All-wheel drive vehicles are a requirement and you should travel in at least a group of three to four vehicles equipped with long-range radios.

5. Warburton Road/Gunbarrel Highway

This outback track runs west from Ayers Rock through the Aboriginal settlements of Docker River and Warburton to Laverton in Western Australia. From there you can continue south to Kalgoorlie and then west to Perth. The route leads through Aboriginal land and if you want to leave the route there, you have to apply for a permit before you start your trip. Any good conventional vehicle can handle this track, although ground clearance can sometimes be a problem. Moreover, this route is very lonely. From Yulara Resort at Ayers Rock to Warburton it is 567 km and another 568 km from there to Laverton. 361 km of tarred road follow to Kalgoorlie. The Warburton Road is today also often called Gunbarrel.

6. Tanami Track

The Tanami Track branches off the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs and runs northwest through the Tanami Desert to Halls Creek in Western Australia. It's a popular shortcut for travelers heading from central Australia toward the Kimberley. In recent years the track has been significantly upgraded and conventional vehicles have no problems anymore. On the Western Australian side of the track there are still some sandy stretches. Remember that the Rabbit Flat Roadhouse in the middle of the desert is only open from Friday to Monday.

7. Canning Stock Route

This old track, originally laid out for cattle transport, runs southwest from Halls Creek to Wiluna in Western Australia. The route crosses the Great Sandy Desert and the Gibson Desert. As the track has not been repaired or resurfaced for over 30 years, driving on this track should be taken very seriously. Again, as with crossing the Simpson Desert, you should only drive in a well-equipped group with multiple vehicles and good navigation equipment.

8. Plenty & Sandover Highways

These two routes branch off the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs in an easterly direction and lead to Mt Isa in Queensland. Any conventional vehicle can handle these two tracks without problems.

9. Cape York

The Cape York Road up to the northernmost point of Australia is a very popular route with some rivers to cross on the way to Cape York. Driving is only possible in the dry season with low river levels. The original Cape York Road along the old telegraph line can only be driven with all-wheel drive vehicles. Conventional vehicles have to use the new Heathlands Road east of and below the Wenlock River to avoid the difficult sections.

10. Gibb River Road

This is the shortcut between Derby and Kununurra and the track runs through the heart of the spectacular Kimberley region in northern Western Australia. Some road sections are very bumpy and make driving difficult. The Gibb River Road can be driven on by conventional vehicles in the dry season without any problems. It runs for 720 km, in comparison the paved Northern Highway between these two cities is 920 km long.

Driving in the outback

Unpaved road surfaces are unpredictable and caution must be exercised at all times. One should ride in the lanes of other vehicles if possible. It is recommended to change to Four-wheel drive (4WD) High Range (4H) to get better traction.

At the start of the trip, road conditions should be checked with police stations or the Road Condition Report.

  • Announce your intention
    You should inform someone in advance about the planned trip and the approximate time of arrival. You can do this z.B. Do this at local police departments. Do not forget to sign out at the end of the trip.
  • Vehicle
    Know the limit of your vehicle? All-wheel drive vehicles are higher than ordinary vehicles. One should not drive conventional vehicles on all-wheel tracks and have at least two spare tires, as well as a detailed map with you.
  • Fuel
    Fuel is not always available in remote places. Before leaving, check availability at the tourist information office. You will probably need spare jerry cans of extra fuel – these must be securely stowed and the lid tightly closed.
  • Water/Food
    Per person and day you should calculate with about 9 liters of water. In general, you should expect to have enough extra water and food for at least two to three days more than the planned duration of the trip.
  • Emergency equipment
    For an emergency situation, consider carrying the following items: First aid kit, fire extinguisher, tow rope or pole, EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicator Radio Beacon), sat phone, H.F. Radio

Behavioral tips on outback tracks

When driving on outback tracks in Australia, the lights should always be on, this makes the vehicle visible to oncoming and oncoming traffic.

  • crossing rivers and streams
    In case of river crossings or flooded road sections, the water depth and flow speed should be checked before driving through them. If necessary, wade through the water to determine the depth (provided there is no danger that crocodiles may be in the immediate area). If the current is too strong, a lifeline must be used. You should also make sure that there are no logs or debris of any other kind under the water surface. To cross water safely, the depth should not exceed 0.5 meters for all-wheel drive vehicles, and lower for regular vehicles. If the water level rises or falls?
  • Weather, best time to travel
    The northern regions of Australia have two distinct seasons, the rainy season from December to April and the dry season from May to November. Most dirt roads are impassable during the rainy season. Plan a trip to these areas between May and November if possible.
  • Setting up the vehicle
    For a maximum contraction must be switched to 4WD Low Range (4L). Try to get free backwards. Reduce tire pressure. Put branches, sticks and spinifex grass under the front wheels. Wait for a second vehicle that may be able to pull the vehicle out.
  • Tires
    Unpaved roads in the outback of Australia consist of sometimes sharp-edged rocks, which can easily puncture or slash a tire. You should have at least two good spare tires, extra tubes, a repair kit and an air compressor. For changing tires, choose a suitable place to be easily seen by arriving vehicles. A flat, straight section of road is the best choice.

Risk factor fatigue

Many serious and fatal accidents occur as a result of fatigue. Due to the long distances in Australia, fatigue is a safety risk that should not be underestimated. Tips to avoid fatigue:

  • Regular rest breaks (at least every two hours) should be planned for the trip from the outset.
  • Drink enough water during breaks and also while driving. Thirst is a common cause of fatigue.
  • Avoid driving in the evening hours and especially at times when you would normally sleep. The risk of an accident at night is much higher than during the day.
  • Before a long trip you should be well rested.
  • If possible, drivers should take turns regularly.
  • Avoid the consumption of alcohol during or before the trip.
  • At the first sign of fatigue, leave the road and take a break.

Fire and smoke in Australia

It is not uncommon to encounter a bushfire during the dry months in Australia. Station owners deliberately burn the dried bush grass to make room for new, fresh pasture grass in the rainy season. The fire and resulting smoke can become a hazard to motorists.

Fires develop right up to the roadside. The smoke from these fires is very thick and causes a complete loss of vision. You should not try to drive through thick smoke. Instead, prefer to pause the ride until the smoke has cleared. With a light wind this usually does not take long. Use the time for a break with a cup of coffee or tea.

Driving tips for unpaved outback tracks

Speed must always be adjusted according to the road conditions. If the road is wavy, has potholes, is winding and curvy, or consists of loose gravel, speed must be reduced. It is important to remember that unpaved outback roads in Australia cannot be driven at the same speed as paved roads.

  • Ground waves
    A ride on undulating ground can be very dangerous. Caution must be commanded at all times and speed should be reduced in curves. Excessive speed results in loss of traction and control of the vehicle or trailer. Overtaking on undulating ground should also be avoided.
  • Overhilling
    As a general rule, do not overtake in poor visibility. Before overtaking, make sure that there is enough free road available. Some road-trains have up to four trailers, sufficient space must be available for the overhaul operation. After overtaking, try to reach a sufficient distance before changing to the left lane. This prevents damage to the windshield of the overtaken vehicle.

Skidding, skidding

Probably the biggest danger on unpaved roads is the loss of control due to drifting.

  • Drifting away with the rear wheels
    Rear wheel drift is most common and can occur when driving too fast through a curve, braking in a curve, or on a slippery surface. Preventing the breakaway: do not apply the brakes. Reduce the pressure on the gas pedal (slowly but not completely). Slowly countersteer, d.h. in the direction of the swerving rear wheels. When the vehicle straightens out steer straight again. Accelerate slowly.
  • Drifting away with the front wheels
    Front wheel drift usually occurs on a curve or bend when the vehicle is moving too fast to maintain traction with the road surface, especially on gravel. The vehicle tries to continue in a straight line instead of the curve. Preventing the breakaway: Reduce the pressure on the gas pedal pedal. Align front wheels to the front. Brake slowly to reduce speed. Once control of the vehicle is regained, steer in the desired direction.
  • Drifting away with all four wheels
    Drifting away with all four wheels is usually caused by heavy braking. All wheels will lock up and stop turning. Preventing the outburst: take your foot off the brake pedal for a moment. Slow down. If the wheels lock again, repeat the procedure.

Dust off the road

Driving on unpaved outback tracks in Australia always results in dust swirls. Be patient, take it slow and enjoy the scenery.