Can you travel Australia without a 4WD?
Can you travel Australia without a 4WD?

Can you travel Australia without a 4WD?

The Cruiser on the Old Tele TrackI was driving down the motorway from Sydney to Wollongong the other day, playing tag with a Nissan Patrol. (that’s not it in the photo, that’s our Cruiser).

Now that’s a fairly large 4WD vehicle, and it had all the travelling accoutrements. Camping gear on top, jerry cans for water/fuel, offroad tyres, etc. And it had stickers all over the rear windows showing the amount of travel they’d done. Every time I got close to it I looked at some of the stickers. As a matter of fact my passenger and I made a game of it – see who could see where they’d been. The big banana, Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast, Port Stevens, Noosa, Cairns – all along the east coast of Australia, and none off tar. Even the inland places we identified – Dubbo, Moree, Lightning Ridge – aren’t off road. Now we didn’t get to read all the stickers so there may have been some identifying places that are off road, so this isn’t a critique of this particular car, but it did get me to thinking – do you really need a 4WD vehicle to travel in outback Australia.

Driving in the middle of nowhereThe last couple of times I went outback it was without Doc, and I took the Triton ute. The triton is a fairly hefty vehicle, but it’s still a 2WD. Of course, I tried to convince him to let me have the Cruiser (or whined about not getting it as he says) but he insisted that I could go most places that I wanted to in the Triton. Besides, the ‘cruiser is his baby, so nobody but him gets to drive that.

I know all the arguments for a 4WD (and I used most of them on Doc to try to convince him to give me the Cruiser), and if you want to travel the Simpson or do the Canning Stock Route, yes you do need one. But that’s not where most people go.

Murals in the Palace Hotel, Broken HillMy first trip was to Broken Hill in NSW, via a fairly circuitous route & back via Menindee & Booligal. It included driving from Wilcannia to White Cliffs, then from White Cliffs to Broken Hill via Mutawintji National Park – all on dirt and quite remote. At Menindee we camped in the Kinchega National Park and drove on sand roads.

By the second trip I’d gained some confidence in what I could do and where I could go, and we headed out to Uluru via outback Queensland. The main criteria in this one was to stay off main roads as much as possible. Still, it wasn’t until we left Boulia, which is almost as far west as you can go in Queensland, and headed out along the Donohue Highway towards the Northern Territory that we hit dirt.

Places we managed to get to with a 2WD vehicle

  • Boulia to Alice Springs via the Donohue & Plenty Highways, and the East MacDonnell Ranges. While this was a fabulous trip in itself, there were two occasions when I missed having a 4WD. We didn’t make the trip out to Ruby Gap or to N’dhala Gorge.
  • Finke desert rade track - red dust and wide open spacesAlice Springs to Finke, and across to Kulgera. I got bogged twice on this leg,  the first time driving on very soft sand across the Finke Desert Race track to our camping spot and the second time when I took the wrong turn and ended up on the sand & whoops of the race track just before we reached Finke itself. Both times it was an easy rescue and I didn’t do any damage to the vehicle. I did decide not to drive to the centre of Australia because it was dusk when we got to the 4WD only track leading there and we weren’t travelling with any other vehicles. If either of those situations were different (ie if it was earlier in the day or we had somebody else with us) I would have given it a go. I’ve since been told that I shouldn’t have had any problems with it.
  • Watarrka to the West MacDonnell ranges via the Mereenie Loop Road. While in the West Macs we skipped the Finke Gorge National Park because it was designated strictly 4WD only and I thought it would be too difficult. When we got back to Alice Springs we met a group who had just done Finke Gorge in a 2WD, but who didn’t do the Mereenie Loop Road because they thought that would be too difficult.
  • The “Big 3” – Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka. These are all on tar and can be done by anybody in any vehicle at all.

Two Sheilas in a Ute trip to UluraI’m not saying that you can go anywhere at all in Australia without a 4WD. Obviously you can’t and there are many places I still want to travel that we’ll need the Cruiser for.

But if you don’t have a 4WD, or aren’t confident going off road, don’t let that stop you getting out there and exploring. Uluru is accessible from anywhere in Australia via tar all the way, you can drive from Darwin to Perth without ever leaving tar and still seeing amazing sights, you can even get to Cape York without going up the Old Telegraph Track, though you will be on dirt and there are LOTS of corrugations. Or you can drive from Melbourne all the way to Karumbah on the gulf without ever leaving tar.

And you will still see native wildlife in its natural element and can throw out a swag under a million stars and have the place all to yourself.