In recent years, we have travelled extensively in western Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, and have written a series of travel stories encouraging caravanners to visit the western areas of these states, to assist the local communities trying to cope with one of the worst droughts on record.
It’s a spectacular part of the country to visit, with endless outback vistas, laconic locals, plenty of wildlife and interesting heritage. And it’s wonderful to get away from the frenetic traffic on the coastal highways.
Travelling out here offers a different side of Australia for caravanners to enjoy. But it requires a different approach in preparation than, say, a coastal trip, and you should go informed, with realistic expectations of the types of goods and services available in these more remote areas.
Here are 10 things that need some thought and attention and that will help minimise problems and avoid costly delays on your trip.
PREPARING YOUR RIG
Naturally, your tow vehicle and van should be fully serviced before heading out on an inland trip. Bearings, brakes and suspension need particular attention because they will be under more stress than on a smooth coastal highway – we have often seen suspensions damaged by the undulations on the black soil plains.
We like to replace our towball every couple of years as they can be weakened by metal fatigue. Service your jockey wheel, and replace the ball race if needed.
Clean and lubricate the ‘insides’ of your taps as poor quality water can cause a build-up of calcium salts, making them more likely to drip.
Check and maybe upgrade your motoring organisation policy, making sure you are covered to have your van towed in case of a breakdown or accident.
As regular readers will know, good rubber is one of our little obsessions.
It is cheap insurance to replace tyres before they wear down to that last 10 per cent of legal tread, because that is when most blowouts occur.
SINGLE LANE BITUMEN
And that brings us nicely to the next point. A significant number of roads in remote inland areas are single lane bitumen, but are marked on maps as being sealed.
Some visitor information centres have brochures explaining the etiquette for using this type of road, but the basic rule is you should give way to any rig bigger than you. So, when you see a truck or road train approaching, choose a spot where the bitumen edges are okay, pull completely off the bitumen and stop.
Vehicles smaller than you should slow down and move over for you, and certainly the locals will do this. If you have the road, keep all wheels on the bitumen to avoid sending rocks flying.
These single lane roads often traverse black soil plains and care is needed in wet weather as even a few millilitres of rain can turn the road edges into a gluggy mess. Pulling off on these soft edges can result in loss of control, even roll-overs, so take advice from the local police or a roadhouse on road and weather conditions.
Although they are a bit controversial, we consider our bullbar necessary for safe remote touring. Unfortunately, we have hit several large roos and an emu over the years, but the bullbar has saved our radiator and lights from damage. We never travel at night, and try to avoid dawn and dusk, but animals can appear in front of you at any time of the day.
We have fitted ‘Shoo Roo’ devices to each of our vehicles, hoping they warn the animals of our approach. However, we have never seen a roo prick up its ears and hop away!
WHAT TO PACK
When deciding what to pack, you need to carefully consider what spares are worth carrying as, combined, they can add a lot of weight. We tend to take spares of items that may not be available in small remote towns, and only if we could not continue our trip without them.
Due to past experience, we carry a spare door lock (a security issue if it fails) and window lock (dust and water ingress if unable to lock securely), as well as a spare ball race for the jockey wheel in case it becomes too stiff to wind.
We also carry spare batteries for all our electronics (think water gauge, fridge thermometer, smoke alarm, torch, cameras, vehicle key, etc.) as these can be hard to find.
And, if you wear them, a spare pair of glasses, or at least a copy of your script, is also good to have on hand.
Water quality can be an issue so, if we have any doubts, we filter any water going into our dedicated drinking water tank. Over the years we have relied on a BEST water filter for our drinking water, which is connected inline and filters about 5000L of reasonable water (eg; bore water) before needing replacement.
There are many types of filter on the market, and you need to consider whether you want to filter all your water to protect your water pipes from damage, or just your drinking water.
Last year, we tested a Hard Water Shop stainless steel filter and were impressed with its ability to remove the unpleasant taste from artesian water, and its ability to filter about 300,000L of water before needing to replace the cartridge. Its high price means it would be hard to justify unless you spent a lot of time in the outback, though.
STOCK UP LOCALLY
Caravanners can help support remote towns by buying provisions in the smaller towns they visit, which is particularly important during times of drought when many towns are struggling. We don’t feel that you save much by overstocking at supermarket prices before you leave home anyway, as it takes extra fuel to lug all that weight around.
In addition, with the warm daytime temperatures, food deteriorates quickly if not adequately refrigerated, and no fridge works well if overfilled. We carry some tinned and dry goods to make a meal if we are caught short, and carry fresh food for up to a week. We stock up opportunistically at stalls, markets and little food shops, and enjoy trawling through these shops as they usually have quite a different range on offer.
Talking about food makes me think of flies – a perennial problem in the outback. Some seasons are worse than others and the flies are not a problem in winter, as they are generally killed off by the first really cold snap. The little bush flies are the most annoying as they crawl into your eyes, nose and mouth looking for moisture.
It’s worth taking fly nets with you because they sell out as soon as the flies become bad. You could also invest in a couple of ‘Shoo Aways’ – they are effective at keeping flies out of your food and from crawling around the rim of your glass.
Conventional insect repellents are not much use for repelling flies, but we’ve found that rosemary and cedarwood oil cream works if the flies are not in plague proportions.
The quality of medical care that is available in large coastal towns is simply not available in the bush, so ensuring any medical conditions are stable before heading off is a good idea, as is carrying a paper copy of your history and most recent test results. If you have any doubt about availability of any of your medications, take enough with you for the whole trip.
Check up on your insurance policies to make sure you are covered if you need to be moved to a large centre for medical care, and find out what would happen to your rig in that instance.
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
And, finally, although this should really be number one, make sure you head off with the right attitude! It is very important.
Remember you are not travelling out bush to have everything the same as you do at home. There will not be espresso bars on every corner, and your favourite Sunday paper may not arrive in town until Thursday – if at all.
If these things are essential to you, stay on the coast. You travel out here to see the spectacular scenery, the birds and wildlife, and the lifestyle of the laconic and stoical residents – meeting them is the highlight of any outback trip.