6 Steps to Beach 4WDing Success in Australia
Summer is the perfect time to explore any of Australia’s 12,000 beaches, and with these six simple steps you’ll be 4WDing our best beaches like a pro in no time – and have a lot of fun!
1. Ask a local
There’s a famous blackboard at the Rainbow Beach pub with a running tally of 4WDs destroyed on the nearby rocks, and even a local ‘I got bogged at Inskip Point’ Facebook page with 250,000 followers. Post-cyclone heavy seas eroded the north-facing beach and rendered it undrivable, and the occasional sinkhole has swallowed 4WDs and caravans.
Locals know the dangerous spots on any beach, so take a minute to ask them, “how’s the beach today?”. It could save you hours, not to mention the cost of a new 4WD. Avoid estuarine beaches or those close to seagrass or seaweed banks as these create their own hidden dangers. Always travel with a second vehicle on the remote beaches of Cape York, the Kimberley, and anywhere along our vast southern coastline.
2. Check the tide, beach, and waves
Beaches by nature are built and broken by the sea so they are constantly moving and changing. Stay alert and expect surprises, especially around creeks and beach camping areas. Creeks create drop-offs so cross them close to the ocean and don’t stop midstream as the moving water will erode the sand under your vehicle.
The easiest beach driving is on the firm, flat sand of the freshly washed tidal zone. Check the local tides ahead of time and plan your trip accordingly. Some sections are only driveable at low tide so plan full-day trips when the low tide is at sunrise and sunset (at full and new moon) and half-day trips when the low tide is in the middle of the day. Avoid beach driving within two hours on either side of the high tide.
A scalloped and steep-angled beach profile with dumping waves will indicate erosive forces at play, so be extra careful on these beaches and if in doubt only drive it on a falling tide.
Wide, low-angle beaches with finer sand are always easier to drive on than more angled and coarse sandy beaches. The softer sand will be adjacent to the foredunes so harder driving and more damaging to wildlife habitats.
3. Get on and off the beach
The most common place to get stuck is getting on or off the beach – super-embarrassing when you’re the first off the barge at Fraser Island! So, know your entry and exit locations, engage four-wheel-drive, deflate your tyres to 20psi (15psi for trailers) and follow a clear set of wheel tracks. Even better watch and learn by letting someone else go first. If the sand is super soft or you’re towing a trailer, then engage low range and keep the power steady to the end. Sometimes eg Broome’s northern beaches, the rocky on and off ramps can be inaccessible at high tide so first check the local access options.
4. Momentum is your friend
Sand driving is all about momentum, not speed, by staying in the rev range that gives you the best torque (1,500-3,000RPM) to maintain forward motion. Follow other’s wheel tracks and keep a gentle hand on the steering - it’s a lot like driving a boat. When you stop always try and face downhill, as it makes taking off much easier.
5. Stick to the road rules
Normal road rules apply, so stick to the speed limit, indicate your intentions to an oncoming vehicle and slow down around people, especially children as they can’t hear your 4WD over the wind and waves. Avoid driving on the beach at night – it’s not only hard to see but you might kill an unsuspecting turtle or nesting bird. Check your insurance cover first and ensure you have any required beach access permit.
And don’t keep the fun all to yourself, if you have a learning driver be sure to give them a go too as it gives them great skills for any low-traction terrain, including smart gear selection and evasive action.
6. Be recovery ready
Come prepared with a tyre gauge, 12v air compressor, recovery tracks and a rated snatch strap. Even if you don’t get stuck, you’ll be able to help someone who does. But if you do, here’s what to do:
- Don’t spin the wheels, you’ll only dig in further
- Get everyone out to lighten the load
- Dig out the sand from around all your tyres
- Deflate your tyres to 15 psi (or less if you are really stuck)
- Think about the best way out (it may be behind you!)
- Position recovery tracks accordingly
- Engage low range (second gear in a manual or use the 2nd gear start in an auto if fitted)
- Use a rear locker if fitted (leave the front one open for steering)
- Just drive out
- Find your now-buried recovery boards and fill in the holes you left behind
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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