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Desert Trip Prep - Being Prepared

Going by the interest on the TV and social media, this year is going to be a busy one in Outback Australia, from Cape York to the Kimberley to the desert country west and east of Alice Springs and a dozen places in-between.

But for those who are preparing to head out into our desert country, especially, and getting their info from social media, I really do despair. There are so many self-proclaimed experts out there spruiking their wares on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, who may have done a single lap of Australia or one trip across the Simpson Desert and they know everything — or so they say!

So, what’s my qualifications you may ask — and it’s a fair one to throw back at me!

Well, I started driving Land Rovers in the army in about 1966, although we thrashed around the sheep paddocks in the Flinders Ranges in a few old clapped-out paddock bashers before that. By the early 1970s I was teaching young diggers how to drive Landies and International Mk3 trucks up in the mountains south from Corryong and in 1976 led a group of scientists on a cross-country jaunt west of Hawker Gate on the Dog Fence north of Broken Hill. We finally put our experiences to the test when we wrote our first guidebooks (on Cape York) in 1984 after four long trips to that fabulous area. Since then we’ve been doing that sort of stuff full time, so I reckon I’ve done my apprenticeship at four wheel driving and touring and can pass on some useful info that may help those new to the game, or heading out into the desert country for the first time.

I’m already assuming that you know how to four-wheel drive because you’ve done a training course or joined a 4WD club. Likewise, your vehicle is well maintained and set-up with good suspension for the loads you are carrying or towing, while tyres need to be All-Terrain (or better) and of Light Truck (LT) construction. 

Talking of tyres and tyre pressures, social media is overflowing with experts on this subject. Best to cut through the crap that is flowing thigh deep on the internet and go to the BFG tyre website or check out the tyre pressure guide at: I’d put a lot more confidence in these guys than some random on the web. 

Now you may have a brand-new car and camper but that doesn’t make you immune to breakdowns and punctures. Do you know how to do the basic stuff, or even what to look for under the bonnet if something does go wrong? Can you find the fuse box (note: most vehicles have more than one fuse box) and have you got the right size fuses — in both physical size and current carrying capacity — to replace any if one does blow?

Do you know how to clean an air cleaner, change a fuel filter or, most important of all, how to change a tyre? Have you got the basic tools for such jobs? What happens if the auxiliary battery holder you had fitted just before the trip breaks? Can you rig up a fix to get you to the next town or will you throw your hands in the air and try and call a recovery vehicle — but find you have no mobile phone reception?

If you don’t know any of these basic repairs, it’s best to learn a little before you head off. Talk to your local mechanic, get a workshop manual and/or check out YouTube.

Before you head off, have you got all your bases covered in regard to a first aid kit, recovery gear and communication equipment? Keep in mind, a normal mobile phone won’t cut the mustard.  And, in case of an emergency (having a blown tyre or being stuck on the side of the road should not be considered an ‘emergency’ if you’re properly prepared), who are you gonna call? And how? 

Before you head off west of Uluru or west of Birdsville have you go enough fuel? Distances are long in the outback and you should carry ample for the trip, plus a safety margin of say, 20%. 

What about water? If you do break down on a lonely road it’s best to stay with the vehicle and it’s even better when the vehicle has a good supply of the liquid aqua. A 20-litre drum may be adequate for a trip up the Stuart Highway but is nowhere near enough for a Simpson Desert trip or the like. Make sure you got heaps and if at the end of the trip you have a few drums left over, all the better. 

How about your plans for the trip; where to go and what to see? A good guidebook will help here and for $50 or less (way less than one tank of fuel) you’ll have all the major spots to see and explore without asking mundane stupid questions on Facebook. What about maps and navigation equipment? While we have a Hema HX-1 navigator, an iPad running Pocket Earth Pro and the Alpine radio running some form of road and street navigation, we still carry paper maps. Oooh you say, I’ll just look it up on Google maps! Please don’t rely on them.

With good planning and preparation, and a bit of training, you’ll be able to handle most things that unexpectantly come your way. Otherwise, you’ll be in the doggy do do’s and wanting somebody else — at their expense and time — to rescue you! So, don’t be a numpty, enjoy and be safe when you head into our desert country!


  • Glen Pearce : August 21, 2023

    One lesson we have learnt is diligently watch the weather. We run on Weatherzone in the outback . My partner also subscribes to Higgins weather chasers and can see a week in advance . We were one day off the plenty highway on a lap around Lake Ayre in April this year and thanks to these tools we avoided being a statistic in the big weather event where everyone got stuck.
    Also be prepared for road conditions before you go . Just because it says off road take a hard look at your purchase and work out the weaknesses . We took our "off road " camper across the Stony desert and had to repaint the trailer on return as we didnt have any protection to guard for the rocks .

  • Barry: June 23, 2022

    We always carry 2 spare wheels as it is not uncommon to get punctures. Also if you have non common wheel rims don’t expect to get replacement tyres quickly. Don’t forget spares for the trailer. We find having the same size wheels on the trailer works best. Also on dessert tracks take plenty of spare parts such as fan belts, hoses, fuses, shockers etc. If you can, go with someone who has been off the beaten track before.
    Lastly, don’t be surprised if your vehicle cannot be repaired in the outback and needs to be shipped home. While I was getting my clutch repaired in Sesia a couple of years ago I met several people who the mechanic told they would need their vehicle shipped to Cairns for repair.

  • Richard & Dian PAdovan: June 23, 2022

    You hit the nail right on the head.

    Well said. There are so many experts out there more than willing to share their knowledge, and so many newcomers unfortunately rely on what other people say on social media rather than do their own research.

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