Towing a Camper in Cape York
Words Sam Richards
Pics Matt Williams and Tourism and Events Queensland
Images of the near-vertical Gunshot Creek and water crossings up to the windows make a lot of tempted folks flee, but those who head north armed with information often find they achieve the Cape without worries, and head back home with awesome memories and an intact car and camper.
WHICH CAMPER TRAILER
The best campers for the job will have water-tight seals and a sealed underside, road covers and proper sealing to limit dust ingress, rated recovery points, ample battery capacity and options for charging away from mains power, a flexible offroad hitch, room to store rubbish away from bins or dumps, frontal protection such as a stoneguard, a quick set-up given the amount of ground to cover, a small campsite footprint to guarantee a spot at crowded camps and windows for ventilation.
WHAT ROUTE TO TAKE
- Consider taking a 4WD course prior to your trip.
- Don’t overload the camper. Only bring what’s necessary to reduce hindrance on your 4WD in offroad settings.
- Travel in a convoy if possible, with camper trailer owners at the front so drivers behind can observe for damage or lose items. Recovery becomes easier in groups.
- Bring recovery gear: carry tracks, a shovel, a snatch strap and shackles, know your recovery points and consider installing a winch.
- Prepare for recovery prior to obstacles. Have the winch strap out and ready and have the snatch strap in the passenger seat or attached and wound around the aerial or bull bar. Have a recovery vehicle in position ready for the worst if water is involved.
- Examine water crossings. Walk them if safe — keeping an eye out for crocs. Beware that the camper or car could float in strong currents. Consider all entry points and only drive in when the vehicle in front is out. Allow the base to settle for a few minutes between crossings, especially at Nolan’s Brook.
- When crossing water, maintain momentum, opt for low range and favour low gears. A steady speed will maintain a bow wave. Minimise turning and travel in a straight line where possible. Operate low tyre pressures on camper and car both.
- Accessorise for crossings: a water bra will prevent water from entering the grille and a snorkel will help keep water out of the engine during deeper crossings.
- Allow the chassis and underbody of the camper trailer and car to drain after completing the crossing to minimise track damage.
- Always have an exit plan. Only go places you can reverse out of and beware that it mightn’t always be possible to reverse out when the trailer is at an odd angle to the car. Know your jack-knife point.
- When picking a line in tight places, beware your trailer will cut corners when turning. However, as the trailer’s tyres are not driven but passive, vehicle tyre placement is more important.
- Use electric trailer brakes to your advantage, especially when going over sharp crests such at Gunshot. Increase sensitivity and apply trailer brakes to slow your descent and avoid damage.
Be willing to take the ‘chicken track’.Most importantly, put brains before ego and do the sensible thing.
- Travel with your lights on to increase visibility.
- Maintain a healthy distance from vehicles in front.
- Limit your speed to reduce the risk of being caught off-guard by sudden bends or losing control by gliding over corrugations.
- Observe for hazard signage and hazards, including dust holes, roaming stock and fires.
- Lower your tyre pressures as necessary and have a compressor to pump them back up. This increases traction, reduces damage to your cargo and camper, and limits the development of corrugations for future visitors.
- Use your gears to assist with braking and limiting speed. Engine braking ensures greater traction compared to foot braking, which on loose surfaces can result in skidding. Beware of the longer braking distances caused by a camper.
- Use your UHF radio to communicate with your convoy, other travellers and truckies, about present risks, road conditions and overtaking.
- Minimise the amount of weight on top of your camper. A top-heavy camper can, when forced into extreme angles and fast cornering, be at risk of tipping.
- Pack items carefully to limit damage over corrugations. Wrap hard items or put soft items like towels between them. Minimise contact between items and secure large heavy items.