How to survive and even enjoy a holiday in Australia.

Choosing and loading your 4 WD

Let's assume you've found a suitable vehicle by now. Arriving from overseas by plane, you'll hardly own that shed full of suitable equipment. Even the author doesn't, but I'm working on it.

If you read these Australian 4 WD guides and the advice in so many ranger offices, you will be surprised how much they think fits in your 4WD. Of course, it's safer to carry food and water for 3 weeks and all imaginable spares for your vehicle plus the tools, a first aid kit and all sorts of radios - there always is the small matter of space and money.

A friend, who is sailing a lot, said that on a boat there should be nothing which can't be used for at least two purposes. As your 4x4 is even smaller than a yacht, the same applies for a lone 4 WD in the desert. So let me list the things you really need (no excuse) and why.

  • Hat. Baseball caps only if they come with a neck flap. You can't stand the desert without it
  • Sun protection 15+ till you get used to the sun.
  • A gas barbecue or large cooker. The flame should be easily accessible for soldering, too. Bottles should be Australian standard, so they can be recharged anywhere.
  • No-nonsense, unbreakable cooking gear (billy, pot and LARGE pan), plates and some sharp knives
  • Water supplies: Count the days you might have to wait for help x persons x 8 litres + content of your radiator. If in doubt about the 'traffic' ask the locals. That's just for drinking and topping up the radiator in an emergency, no waste like washing. A balloon or jiggler pump for your containers.
  • Canned food as much as you can stand, calculated as above. Muesli is just not the thing for the desert, but the ants love it. Tins contain lots of water.
  • Jacks: a truck bottle jack is the minimum, it has to come with a metal foot plate and some woodblocks.
  • Shovel and spade are the essentials to dig yourself out of the deep sand or mud. You should also take a spade to your bush-toilet to bury the obvious.
  • 2 spare tyres and wrench. You will need at least one.
  • a towing rope or snatch-strap. If you don't need it for towing, you can use it for 100 other purposes
  • a two way radio. Your mobile won't do on the Gunbarrel.
  • Insulating tape and crimps, large hoseclamps, some lengths of fencing wire and a tin of bolts. Murphy's law for corrugated tracks: Everything that isn't rusted solid will rattle off.
  • a steel tube at least 1 m long, large enough to fit your ratchet. It can also come handy to lever your diff over a rock!
  • a funnel.
  • Two lighters at least, cause they vanish in the sand. I don't tell that to the smokers among you.
  • Enough engine oil for one change.
  • Reliable maps and compass, better a GPS.
  • a good torch
  • lots of rubber straps to keep your gear in place.
  • mozzie (insect) protection (Aerogard or Rid)
  • Swag with sleeping bags or tent and foam mattresses. A swag is easier to unpack and airier in summer! If you've got a roofrack, you can stay clear from ants and snakes, too.

Swags are something unique to Australia. In the last century, itinerant workers would roll all their belongings and a blanket to keep warm in a large canvas sheet they called a swag. These days swags come with a fine waterproof canvas, a thick foam mattress and enough space for two and your sleeping bags and linens. Two belts hold them together, so they're unpacked in a second. If you don't want them to get too grimy on the roofrack, roll a tarpo around it. A swag is a long term investment, so they aren't exactly cheap, but good quality. It's one of the best Australian souvenirs I could imagine.

If you would like a swag just in time, try Ken Major Pty 25 Pinn Street, St. Marys, SA 5042 Fax +61 82763558 (You can't order at their website)

A Sar Major Double Deluxe swag fits nicely into the back of a 109/110 hardtop!


Things that come handy if you have any space left:

  • Fridge or esky, 30 litres minimum. Esky ice lasts only two days in the desert.
  • Hand operated winch, if none is fitted to the car.
  • ground anchor or an L- or T profile 1m fencepost for winching in sand.
  • High lift jack, only suitable for sturdy vehicles, though.
  • Grease gun and grease if you intend to travel in sand or water.
  • Axe and hammer. Not only for chopping wood - that's not done where trees are scarce.
  • WD40 or your favourite for loosening bolts, getting the grime off your hands and fighting ants.
  • jumper leads, just in case you did forget to switch off the fridge.
  • National parks guide, Gregory's 4WD escapes or another 4 WD guide
  • flynet. I prefer my barbie sauce with onions instead of flies
  • electrical tyre pump or foot pump. This is a must if you intend to go for the dunes.
  • a tyre pressure gauge. See above
  • 2 or three big tarpaulins. After all, it does rain in Central Australia.
  • Table and folding chairs
  • 4 or 6 litre drink cooler. Fill it with cold tea, a bit of sugar and lemon. Thus you can drink and drive and it's even legal.
  • Repair Manual of your vehicle

Things you won't need

  • Water filter. A favourite with Canadians.
  • Weapons, unless you have a permit.
  • Your mobile. If it's not a satellite, no chance.
  • White clothes. They won't stay that way.

Things to check before you leave, don't believe it has been checked

  • All fluid levels
  • Radio operation, is the aerial fitted or in the vehicle?
  • jack filled with hydraulic fluid ?
  • condition of spare tyres
  • if oil change isn't guaranteed, do it now. The same applies for a greaesup. If in doubt, ask where all these nipples are.
  • Gas bottles filled, working and showing proof label for the current year
  • batteries : check level and operation
  • tyre pump and gauge working
  • stove or barbie hoses
  • Do a test drive to check brakes and acceleration, engage 4WD and low at least once
  • if you loaded you roofrack, drive over a couple of bumps and check whether the stuff is still where you strapped it


by Annette Flottwell

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