Australians love travel. According to Tourism Research Australia, we invested $55.4 billion on domestic travel last year. Eight-hundred-thousand kilometres of roads criss-cross Australia — a tantalising lure for any self-drive holiday enthusiast.
From the ocean to the mountains, the deserts and the hinterlands, Australia is a continent of beauty and adventure. With only 50 per cent of Australian roads properly sealed, our big holiday playground calls for four-wheel-drive adventuring.
The CRC’s Sustainable Tourism report into touring holiday-makers in Australia says 70 per cent of the population takes self-drive holidays regularly.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, keen camper or a family looking to experience this beautiful countryside, all you need is the right vehicle. Let’s take a look at the kinds of adventures Australia has to offer and how to choose the vehicle that’s right for you.
Choose your adventure
Holidays involving sparse and varied terrain require preparation and planning. Tourism Australia recommends pre-travel preparation for outback conditions and staying abreast of natural disasters to ensure your holiday is a safe one.
Dr. Damien Jacobsen, who studied four-wheel-drive tourism and currently works for CRC for Remote Economic Participation, explains our fascination with this style of holiday:
Today, more and more Australians are seeking a deeper engagement with their own landscapes by taking 4WD tours. They are learning, observing, recognising things they’ve read or heard about, sharing insights and priding themselves on skills in handling desert conditions.
When choosing the vehicle for your adventure, consider:
- the budget you have available at the time of purchase
- when and how you’ll be using the vehicle
- proper storage and maintenance between trips
- cost of insurance and registration
- running costs such as petrol or diesel consumption
- the aftermarket accessories your vehicle may need
- the vehicle’s ability to provide you with a safe, hassle-free journey.
Researching your immediate and future plans against the vehicle’s specifications is a must. Marrying your practical needs against the features and capabilities of the vehicle can save you time, money and even potential disaster. Make sure you do your homework.
The family on wheels
Camper trailers, caravans and towing the family boat are very much a part of the Australian family tradition. In fact, the Caravan and Campervan Data Report of 2012 found interest in self-driving holidays has risen 14.5 per cent in the last three years.
With campervans covering a whopping 8650km per trip on average, and vehicles towing larger and heavier caravans than ever before, choosing the right vehicle for the job is essential.
To choose the right vehicle for your family holidays, consider what you’ll be taking along for the ride. Many SUVs and 4WDs are suitable for both family life and camping, so the choice comes down to the driving conditions, what you intend to take with you, and what you plan to tow.
When choosing a vehicle for towing or carrying heavy loads, look at the weight of items you expect to carry and the unladen and GVM (or gross vehicle masses) to help determine your payload, towing capacity and torque output.
Hill-start and descent-assist software might be helpful options too, especially for boat ramps.
Be prepared — investigate buying winches, recovery equipment, off-road tyres and upgraded or raised suspension.
For the serious adventurer
Hitting the wide open spaces of the bush and desert takes a special kind of setup. Most serious 4WD vehicles have high and low dual-range drivetrains, full-time 4WD and even differential locks to compare and consider. Match the specifications (such as approach and departure angles and wading depth) against your needs.
After-market accessories such as bull bars for protection against wildlife and livestock on the roads, engine snorkels for travelling through water, headlights for increased visibility on unlit and dirt roads, roof racks, tow bars and communication equipment such as satellite phones and CBs are necessary for safe, hassle-free adventuring. Items like a fridge, storage drawers, awnings and additional water and fuel storage should also be considered, especially for long trips.
Not only should you consider many factory extras, it’s also a great idea to be prepared for all kinds of situations. The sorts of items you’ll need to investigate for serious 4WD driving include winches, recovery equipment, off-road tyres and upgraded or raised suspension.
Items like these can cost a pretty penny. The best advice is to include the after-market accessories you need as part of your initial budget and add an extra 10-15 per cent for incidentals and upgrades on top of this figure to avoid any nasty surprises.
Most importantly, travel in convoy with at least one other vehicle and carry a range of spare parts and tools for worst-case scenarios.
Safety is a priority
Evan Walker, acting general manager of the Centre for Road Safety, says it’s important for the driver to minimise distractions:
Road trauma on NSW roads not only shatters families, but it costs the community an estimated $5 billion each year. Last year, 309 people lost their lives on NSW roads. That’s still left far too many families and friends grieving the loss of a loved one.
Share driving responsibilities to prevent fatigue. Investigate hands-free satellite phones to minimise distractions. Always plan your trip so you can stop, revive and survive with plenty of time to spare.
What’s right for you?
Choosing the right vehicle for your adventure takes patience and research, but it can be a lot of fun. Keep in mind your vehicle’s usage and the budget you have available.
Match your plans with accessories and make sure you understand your vehicle’s limitations.
Think about storage space inside the vehicle, but also where you’ll park or store the vehicle between adventures.
Consider your vehicle’s downtime and potential other uses. Have a budget buffer to cover off incidentals. And plan the kind of adventure that encourages fun, hassle-free and safe driving.
Planning the right vehicle for your holiday adventures can be an adventure in itself. Happy travels!