4WD and Environmental Etiquette in Australia
When four-wheeling driving or caravanning in Australia, it’s important to leave as little impact as possible on the environment and shared public areas. This is observed to maintain the unique characteristics of our flora and fauna. With such a precious environment susceptible to human impact, it’s vital we don’t overdo it with our touring and treatment of the land. It also ensures a healthy collective habit of our citizens to hold each other accountable for their actions which may affect the land negatively — this includes poor practices such as littering, damaging plants and mistreating wild animals.
To help with this, we’ve put together the following list of 4WD and environmental etiquettes that should always be observed, even in very remote areas. If you’re about to go four-wheel driving for the first time, this information is essential reading. Read on to learn more.
When you are on roads running through private land, leave gates as you find them. If they are open, leave them open — in the case of cattle stations, the farmer obviously wants their stock to have access to both paddocks. If they are shut, ensure you shut them again after you’ve moved through — in this case the farmer wants the stock in two paddocks to remain separate; one may be a bulls’ paddock and the other for cows. The rule applies even if it's not a property with stock — the owners will have reasons for why the gates are open or closed, so abide by them.
Some dirt roads run quite close to rural homesteads. If it’s dry and dusty, slow down when passing by — this is a courtesy to those living right by. It’s important to be considerate in situations like these, especially if someone has washing on the line, for example. If it’s raining, stay off dirt roads if possible — it can cost thousands to repair the damage of your wheel ruts.
If you see a ‘Road Closed’ sign, don’t ignore it. It’s obviously been placed there for a reason, so it’s important to respect it even if you physically can’t see why it has been placed there. Depending on what state you’re in, the fines can be staggering … for example, in South Australia, it’s $1000 a wheel. Ignorance is never an excuse, and your local ABC radio station regularly broadcasts information about road closures.
A great starting point as a four-wheel driver is sticking to 4WD tracks that are already formed. Going offroad or ‘bush bashing’ is committing a mortal environmental sin in most cases and we strongly recommend against it. It destroys sensitive vegetation and wildlife habitats. Even well-used 4WD tracks are closed if they are not well maintained. Users can help keep tracks open by joining track care associations, such as Track Care WA, that do their best to maintain public roads and tracks and surrounding areas.
Track Care WA
Fortunately, in Australia, we have a group charity organisation that exists to protect our bush heritage and the environment. A part of this is helping to keep our 4WD tracks open and functioning. Track Care WA is an Aussie not-for-profit environment and conversation group that came about when a group of like-minded individuals came together and formed the Canning Stock Route Working Group in 1996 with the purpose of preserving the state’s pioneering history along the Canning Stock Route. In its first general meeting in 1997, the company changed its name to Track Care WA and over the last 26 years has evolved significantly.
Today, Track Care WA has a multifaceted role that includes successfully protecting wetlands, restoring and maintaining station homesteads, improving road conditions and cleaning up tracks, beaches and sand dunes, delivering bikes to children in the Pilbara, ongoing support to the Canning Stock Route and Nyangumarta Highway and the broader Rangelands initiatives.
Track Care WA is run by a group of dedicated volunteers who are passionate about reinvigorating regional communities and leading by example. Track Care WA Vice Chairman Chris Morton comments on the organisation’s efforts and history, “Track Care WA has been working away in the background for more than two decades, making a difference in preserving our state’s heritage while ensuring access for future generations. As an all-volunteer group, Track Care punches well above its weight in terms of projects and capabilities. Our members come from all walks and stages of life, with the common thread of wanting to give back to the community and contribute to something that makes a difference binding us together. We have built a reputation of an organisation that can deliver difficult projects in very remote parts of the state and that knowledge is shared throughout the group.”
For information on Track Care’s current and upcoming projects and initiatives, just click here.
It’s of utmost importance to ensure you leave no rubbish wherever you travel. Leaving a site ‘as you found it’ is a universal rule in Australia and simply means you must take everything you have brought to an area back home with you (or dispose of it appropriately). This means when you get back in your vehicle and look back, no evidence of your stay is visible. It’s a good idea to always have a roll of large garbage bags just in case.
When it comes to using the bathroom in nature, the following rules apply:
- Choose a spot at least 50 metres away from any watercourses — sharing water with human waste products is a sure way to wreck a wilderness experience
- Dig a hole as deep as possible
- Bury all waste
- Do not leave toilet paper floating in the breeze
- Burning toilet paper may also ignite vegetation
National parks etiquette
Some 4WD tracks and roads go through national parks and sometimes these tracks that lead into national parks are closed. Temporary closures occur when tracks are being repaired due to overuse or weather damage. Access is also limited to regions of environmental sensitivity.
While in national parks, the following should be observed:
- Obey all signage
- No campfires unless otherwise stated
- Always observe fire restrictions
- Camp only in designated campsites
- Leave your dog or cat at home
- Stick to designated trails only
- Leave wildlife and plants undisturbed
- Pay all relevant fees
For minimal impact camping in national parks:
- Camp only in designated areas — don’t clear new areas
- Bush camp at least 100 metres from any road, walking track or day-use facilities
- Check if the national park requires you to collect all grey water to be collected in tanks or buckets and taken to a dump point — grey water is all domestic wastewater (barring the toilet) from showering, washing dishes and so on
- Always observe fire bans — be particularly vigilant from October to March
- Fires are only allowed in fireplaces — do not collect firewood and it’s preferable to bring your own fuel or gas stove, and always ensure the fire is extinguished properly before you leave
- Pets, firearms, spearguns, generators and chainsaws are not permitted in national parks — sometimes dogs are allowed in state forests, but it’s generally strictly leash only
- Ensure your vehicle is not leaking oil or fuel and check the undercarriage and tyres to be certain you aren’t transporting weeds
- Never remove anything from a protected area and take care not to disturb rocks, plants and animals — it’s illegal to pick wildflowers in a national park or conservation area
- Don’t feed native animals or birds … and definitely don’t attempt to play with them
- Don’t pollute any water sources with soap, detergent or toothpaste
For your own safety, we recommend the following when bushwalking:
- Choose walks to suit your level of fitness — you don’t want to get there and realise you’re physically unable to get back
- Always carry ample drinking water, even on shorter walks
- Be prepared with good walking shoes or sturdy boots, sensible clothing, a broad-brim hat, sunscreen and rainwear
- Avoid walking alone for obvious reasons — a group of four is the ideal size
- Always tell a responsible person where you will be and when you expect to return — registration is necessary on some longer walks within national parks
- Always carry topography maps and a compass on longer walks, especially unmarked tracks
At Hema Maps, we strive to provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps and guides for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore Australia's natural wonders.
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