Whether it’s just a short weekend trip to go out and explore or a year of freedom to see the country, more Australians are opting for road trips than international travel.
Australian outback tourism authorities and operators are preparing for another surge in “first time travelers” and with it a new wave of drivers eager to tackle the dirt roads and red desert.
However, while sailing across the interior with a little planning is rewarding, locals say it’s important to prepare for a safe adventure by learning the dangers before setting out.
Maps can be deceptive, GPS and phone reception are not always reliable, and what may seem like a fairly short trip may take longer than expected.
Broken Hill Police Inspector Matthew McCarthy has lived in outback New South Wales all his life and has spent the last 20 years warning travelers that driving around Australia shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I don’t think travelers understand enough of the vastness of the area, which is its beauty … the fact that it’s remote and there’s nothing out there,” he said.
Superintendent McCarthy said officers from the Barrier District Police handled several calls each day from motorists who got stuck after the rain.
“We have some horror stories about people who want to pass a creek that flows at a certain speed and depth, and people are still holding out on it,” he said.
“We have people who are going to drive the front wheeler from Brisbane to Melbourne or Adelaide and they will decide that they are going to drive on roads that are 400 meters underwater.
The fine for driving on closed roads in the Barrier Police District is $ 1,100.
Dirt road driving tip
Michael McCulkin runs a four-wheel driving academy, which has operated at Broken Hill for 26 years.
“We found almost every imaginable road condition,” he said.
Mr. McCulkin considers these four tips to be followed before embarking on a journey.
1. Prepare your vehicle
“I think anyone driving in outback conditions, especially on dirt roads, really needs to know that their tires are in good condition, what pressure they should put on, and know how to change a flat tire if you get one,” Mr McCulkin said.
2. Do your research – check for road closures
“A lot of visitors come from areas that experience heavier rains than inland areas … but there is usually no sign of water around, whereas the 15mm rain here might block roads for a day or two,” McCulkin said.
3. Be smart
“Consider wildlife and kangaroos and try to drive during the day as much as possible, and avoid loose gravel, wrinkles and mud,” McCulkin said.
4. Know your limits
“Sometimes people think they are bulletproof and the lack of experience shows that they can’t stand it,” McCulkin said.
“Whether you have a lot of experience or not, the key factor is driving into that state, and if you do, you structure the odds according to your preferences.”
Road safety, rural projects
One tourism operator surrounded by inland roads has sought funding from the State Government after struggling to find sufficient inland road safety information to offer arriving tourists.
Ruth Sandow of the Milparinka Heritage and Tourism Association, based some 300 km north of Broken Hill, raised $ 33,000 for a brochure and a series of short videos that will launch on YouTube in June.
Ms Sandow said the project will help educate the increasing number of “first time” tourists visiting the region.
“There are a lot of newbies and I think they had a pretty incredible experience considering they’ve never been out like this before and realized how important it is as a tourist destination,” he said.
“We saw people pulling very large caravans with cars that were not very big and if we can help prevent things like accidents from happening then I think that’s great.
The State Emergency Service advises people traveling on inland roads to always carry sufficient food and water for at least two days per person.
“Prevention is always better than dealing with the consequences,” said Sandow.