So you’ve decided to try out off-road driving. It’s important for beginners to undertake an instructed course. This will help drivers to understand the basics of their vehicle, how to navigate the terrain, avoid getting into trouble correctly, and how to get yourself out of situations.
The most important thing to remember when you’re learning how to drive off-road is never to go alone. Always travel with another person. It’s a good idea to have a full understanding of your vehicle, and know the appropriate tracks to take your vehicle on.
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Beginners Guide to Off-Road Vehicles
When you’re a beginner, it’s important to choose the right tracks. You don’t want to end up out of your depth.
As soon as you start to head away from the flat surface of the road, the critical thing to have is a vehicle with solid ground clearance to make sure that the undercarriage is kept away from rocks, erosion ruts or other hard ‘bumps’ that could damage the engine or other vital components.
Sufficient ground clearance is critical in allowing you to traverse soft sandy patches or deeply rutted sections of road without getting the underside damaged or bogged. SUV’s with limited ground clearance will often ‘belly out’ – that is – the main chassis of the car will rest on the ground, while the wheels can’t get traction. This is one of the worst ways to get bogged, as it is a more difficult & tiresome recovery to dig out away from the chassis.
4WD Or All Wheel Drive
While you don’t have to go for a huge, traditional 4×4 that can cross a desert; having a drive train system that powers all four wheels (even part-time) is essential when you’re getting away from bitumen.
There are two main systems available for SUVs to go off-road, All Wheel Drive (AWD) and Four Wheel Drive (4WD). AWD is usually a lighter system that drives through two wheels (usually the front), only engaging the other axle when it starts to lose traction. 4WD is commonly used on heavier duty vehicles that can lock themselves into using all four wheels full-time.
The team at Creek to Coast took a look at both systems and took a ride off-road to test them out. You can watch their comparison investigation and see it in action.
Whether you are looking for a vehicle service, a replacement part, or other vehicle maintenance, the service team at Ridgeback Service Bodies have all your needs covered.
Diesel Or Petrol
Your fuel tank decides how far you can go in your SUV, especially off the road. The general rule is that a petrol-powered car can send more power to the wheels, but a diesel engine can do much more work, especially at low speeds.
For example, if you get to a steep hill, a car with a petrol engine will have to rev hard to get to the top, but a diesel-powered vehicle can tackle it head-on because the power is delivered at lower revs per minute (RPM).
Petrol also gives you worse fuel economy off-road, you will find that diesel vehicles can go further because they have larger tanks and better fuel economy. In everyday life, you can have a look at the fuel consumption stickers – standard on all new cars – to estimate how much you’ll be paying for fuel in your budget.
Low Range Transfer Case
If you’re serious about getting off-road, having a transfer case with low range gearing is a must. A low range gearbox lets you select a full-time four-wheel drive for a number of different situations, in either high range or low range gearing.
When you’re faced with a rough piece of terrain, you don’t want to go charging across at full speed and damage your vehicle. Low range gearing lets you slow the vehicle to a crawl, but sends enough power to keep it moving.
Another problem is that many people get overconfident with their abilities that they can get stuck off-road, and low range can be a saviour to deliver enough power and torque to get your vehicle out from a standing start.
To choose your next off-road vehicle, see the team at your nearest Motorama dealership who can take you through all the features of some of Australia’s best selling 4×4’s.
Keep your vehicle in the best condition possible thanks to the skilled and fully-qualified experts at Ridgeback Ute Service Bodies.
Australia’s best off-road destinations
With beautiful coastlines, rugged bushland, and harsh desert, South Australia has something for everyone when it comes off-roading. Whether you’re a beginner who is just getting a feel for four-wheel driving or an experienced adventurer, here are some of the best off-road drives in South Australia.
Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
Also known as the Tip, Cape York Peninsula is best visited during the dry season (May to November), but a snorkel should still top your must-pack list, as water crossings will be the main off-road challenge encountered here. Expect to be surrounded by tropical rainforest and to immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture. Pack your fishing rod, and keep an eye out for crocs.
Corner Country, New South Wales
This popular off-road destination is located (as the name suggests) at the far north-west corner of New South Wales, where the state meets its neighbours, Queensland and South Australia. This semi-arid desert region offers an experience of what many regard as true outback Australia. Encounter fascinating colonial and aboriginal history, and be sure to stop for a cold one at the Cameron Corner Store.
Dwellingup, Lane Poole Reserve, Western Australia
126km from Perth in Dwellingup. Lane Poole Reserve consists of 54,000 hectares of land for you to practice off-road driving on. The track length is 69 km, with both gravel and bush tracks for you to drive on. You’ll find conditions are easier in summer, rather than winter. This track includes numerous river crossings, including crossing the Murray River. Conditions will change the depth of the river, and it may be too deep to cross at times, particularly during winter. This track also includes waterfalls, so remember to bring your camera to get some photos of the scenery.
The Flinders Ranges is a popular off-roading area for drivers of all experience levels, with plenty of easy tracks to tackle as well as steeper, more narrow tracks for those wanting to push their 4WD to the limits.
Head south towards the Eyre Peninsula, and you’ll be treated to stunning coastal views, with surf beaches and limestone cliffs peppering the coastline. With the area teeming with wildlife, you’ll also be able to do some kangaroo spotting, as well as lizards, emus, and wedge-tailed eagles.
The Flinders Ranges has both Public Access Routes (PAR), as well as a number of private tracks that offer drivers a pay-to-use off-roading experience. Have a scout around online before heading out to make the most of the various tracks, and to get a feel of the skill level required for each.
The Nuccaleena Mine Ruin and the Artimore Homestead make for interesting heritage stop-offs along the way, and you’ll find plenty of great watering holes and creeks for rest and picnic breaks.
Great Australian Bight
The Great Australian Bight is said to have the longest stretch of continuous sea cliffs in the world – and with that, world-class whale watching opportunities. Also look out for dolphins, seals, sea eagles, kangaroos and emus—experience exhilarating sand driving and spectacular remote coastal scenery.
The Hay River track follows the course of an extinct river and is highly remote. It was only recently opened to the public in 2000, after a series of negotiations with the area’s Aboriginal custodian, Lindsay Bookie. Today, the track can only be accessed by permit to preserve the environment of this most isolated region. This journey offers stunning contrasts in a landscape as it passes by the Big Red and Spinifex dunes, on to the Georgina Gidgee and Gypcrete Interdunes, levelling out to the bed of the Hay River and Lake Caroline (which holds water from time to time). As there are no towns along this track, be sure to take advantage of the many amenities of Birdsville. If you’re travelling in early September, you might even try to be in town for the annual horse racing carnival.
Conveniently located just a 45-minute driver from Adelaide, JAKEM Farm is a 4WD fan’s dream. With over 700 acres of purpose-built 4WD tracks, JAKEM Farm offers intrepid off-roaders a variety of terrains to tackle as well as plenty of other activities to make for a really great weekender.
With rolling hills as well as steep, unforgiving tracks, the site is suitable for drivers of varying skills. The addition of plenty of great camping spots, scenic picnic areas, and a playground makes JAKEM Farm perfect for bringing the whole family.
Travel along Mount Barker Creek, and you’ll see turtles, kangaroos, and even wedge-tailed eagles. Head up to the mountain top, and you can take in stunning 360°views – so don’t forget to pack the camera!
Kimberley Region, Western Australia
The Kimberley region of WA covers over 400,000 square km, encompassing what is thought to be the last pristine area of savannah woodland on the planet. Imagine an area the size of California, with just one sealed road through it. Needless to say, there is no shortage of off-road opportunities here. Stunning waterholes and waterfalls, as well as an abundance Australian fauna (including salties), characterise this spectacular destination.
Mossman River Gorge
Many dare to enter this lush tropical rainforest because of its promise of crystal clear Mossman river. This makes it one of the best possible spots to explore; however, doing an adventure inside its realm is quite challenging because it can be very busy due to its proximity to Cairns.
After your challenging off-road trail adventure, just hike a few more to start seeing crystal clear swimming holes. Watch this video to know what to expect.
The southern coastal region of The Coorong is a beautiful and entertaining drive for off-roaders with moderate experience. The weather along the coast line can get a little wild, so don’t expect a sunny drive all year round, and be sure to check weather conditions before heading out.
The Coorong makes for a great off-roading and fishing weekend, with plenty of mulloways, salmon, and gummy shark to be found in the area – so be sure to pack your fishing gear. Camping spots are also plentiful in the area, and the dunes provide a fair bit of protection from the wind for campers.
It’s best to tackle the beaches at Coorong at low tide, and low tyre pressure is recommended to avoid getting bogged.
If you’re thinking of taking on the sand read this to find lots of helpful tips on driving in Coorong Country
The Simpson Dessert
The Simpson Desert is, arguably, the great Australian off-roading experience. Located in the north of the state, The Simpson Desert has plenty of great spots for sand driving with kilometres of rolling sand dunes, and plenty of camels to see along the way!
Given the remote nature of the desert, this is one for experienced 4WD and off-roaders with high clearance 4WDs and requires a fair bit of planning ahead and stocking up. But, if you’re up to the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most iconic scenery Australia has to offer.
You’ll need a Desert Parks Pass from National Parks SA to tackle the Simpson, so make sure you dot all of your ‘i’s and cross all of your’ t’s before heading out. Some areas of the desert are closed between December and March due to extreme heat, so make sure you’re to check accessibility before heading out.
The Wild West Coast of Tasmania
The west coast of Australia’s island state is renowned for its untamed wilderness and isolation and provides a challenging and memorable off-road experience for adventurous four-wheel drivers. Wild rivers slice through forests of lichen-swathed giants and into the Southern Ocean, where the rugged coastline is at the mercy of the Roaring Forties.
Uluru, Northern Territory
Australia may be a country in which the majority of the population resides within 50km of the coast. Still, it goes without saying that the true heart of the nation lies hot and red, somewhere in the vicinity of Alice Springs – possibly Uluru itself. You haven’t experienced Australia until you’ve seen nothing but red sand horizon in every direction. Get out there.
Victorian High Country
Don’t let the proximity of the Victorian High Country to urban Melbourne fool you – this is some of the most technically challenging four-wheel driving the country has to offer, and the effort is worth it. Experience stunning vistas, lush green forests, and fascinating pioneering history in the homeland of the Man from Snowy River.
However, always think of these things when looking for tracks to drive on:
Tracks are given a ranking. Despite that, conditions of tracks may change and get harder when it’s raining.
Keep in mind how many kilometres is the track and how long will it take you to finish the track. This will help you properly plan if you have sufficient fuel.
The Track Difficulty
You have to assess what level of difficulty the track is. This will help you properly assess if you are skilled enough to finish this track.
Rocky tracks are harder to drive. This makes it essential for you to to know what kind of landscape you are trekking.
Are you now ready for your 4×4 adventure? Here some of the most challenging and best off-road trails in Australia.
The grade of the track:
Consider what level of difficulty the track is and whether that is appropriate for your vehicle and your skill level.
If you’re planning on heading off-road, you want a vehicle that’s capable of handling anything that crops up.
With the number of ‘soft-roader’ vehicles – SUVs that look the part but aren’t really built for tackling serious off-road terrain – available for sale in Australia on the rise, it is often hard to tell what will go well off-road.
Aside from talking with family and friends with similar cars or reading car review sites on how specific models perform, we’ve put together a guide on the basics of what to look for in a genuinely off-road capable SUV.
4WD and Off-Road Driving
From outback off-roading to 4WD beach driving, Regional NSW has an abundance of terrain and trails to explore. Drive through UNESCO World Heritage wilderness, explore the Snowy Mountains and park your 4WD up on one of the many accessible beaches.
Combine a 4WD adventure with camping. You can hire fully kitted out 4WDs with a tent on the roof from Bear Rentals or for a guided trip Simmo’s Offroad Tours will take you on eco-certified 4WD tours to wonderful locations, from colonial goldfields to ancient limestone caves.
You can enjoy a 4WD tag-along tour on the historic Eldee Station in the breathtaking Mundi Mundi Plains, near Silverton. Or drive through the outback on a Tri-State Safaris in Broken Hill. Take the Gorge Loop Road in the Sturt National Park for stunning scenery.
Explore beautiful terrains and take your 4WD onto some of NSW’s beautiful sandy beaches, such as Airforce Beach in Evans Heads. With a council permit, you can take a 4WD onto sections of Hawks Nest Beach, also known as Bennetts Beach, in pretty Hawks Nest.
4WD vehicles are allowed on the beach in Worimi National Park, a significant place for Aboriginal cultural heritage and home to the Stockton dunes. You can also take a quad bike tour of the towering dunes or learn to surf on a 4WD tour with Bush Surfaris, on the South Coast.
Explore now the best off-road destinations in Australia because an off-road is always more than just fun and adventure. Still, it also comes with several valuable lessons and skills to remember.