Australia is a big place. It takes around 40 hours to drive from one side to the other, and we have a much smaller population than most countries in the world. Why then, is it often hard to find a campsite that isn’t packed in like sardines?
The answer is pretty simple really – it all boils down to access. If there’s a bitumen road, with stacks of sign posts and a wealth of information online about it, you can guarantee in the peak periods the campsite is going to be packed. To me, camping is about getting away from it all. I don’t want to be within 50 metres of anyone else if I can avoid it, let alone a little 4 x 4 metre allotted slot in a caravan park!
If you want to get away from the crowds, you need to improve your level of access. You can do this one of two ways; 1. increase where you are able to get to, or 2. travel to the lesser known spots. There’s only a small part of Australia that is accessible by sealed road, which means to see the rest of it, you’ve got to get off the beaten track. How do you do that? The easiest, safest and best way is in a 4WD!
Whether it’s a stunning beach, isolated campsite along some inland river, or camping near one of Australia’s beautiful gorges, a 4WD opens up the access you have to campsites all over Australia – not to mention the activities you can do in between.
The stunning dunes and beach in Yeagarup, Western Australia. One of the many locations accessible with a 4WD.
How does a 4WD give you more access?
The primary issue with 2WD vehicles is the lack of clearance between the ground and the lowest point on your vehicle. There’s a lot of campsites in Australia that you could probably get a 2WD vehicle into, but the chances of damaging something underneath your vehicle are substantially increased.
With a 4WD, you have at least double or triple the clearance of a 2WD vehicle – rocks, holes and rough tracks aren’t something you need to worry about nearly as much. I don’t want to be concerned about damaging a vehicle by driving it where it wasn’t intended to go. It’s so easy to break something and severely dampen your trip.
The other main benefit of a 4WD is the fact that all four wheels get driven, as opposed to only two in a 2WD vehicle. If you have both clearance and traction, you can go pretty much anywhere. Lose one or the other, and you are in trouble!
A 4WD vehicle is substantially safer than a 2WD version on tracks where traction is limited. A typical example is the thousands of kilometres of gravel roads. Some are flat and smoother than the average bitumen road, while many will shake your bones apart! That’s not to say you shouldn’t take a 2WD vehicle on gravel roads, but you do have to be more cautious. 4WD’s have tyres intended for rough tracks, and have the ability to deflate air out safely, which further improves traction.
I believe in using a vehicle for its intended purpose. Whilst you might be able to take your 2WD vehicle on some rough tracks, how long is it going to last? 4WD’s are designed to be used in rough terrain and are built worlds apart from your average 2WD vehicle.
Shock absorbers are probably the best example, with 4WD shock absorbers heating well over 100 degrees on rough corrugations… how long do you think a 2WD version is going to last?
Crossing the Pentecost River is an achievable feat with the right rugged vehicle.
What are the benefits of a 4WD?
1. Improved access
Knowing you can safely take your 4WD down a rough track, or drive along the beach gives you the confidence to access a whole new world. Instead of being tied to bitumen roads, you can deflate your tyres, lock the hubs and explore. If you think you’ve seen the best beaches in Australia on postcards, wait until you see what you can access with a 4WD! 2WD access in Australia has nothing on what you can see from a 4WD.
2. Better opportunities for day travel
In between camp sites, we love to travel. Whether it’s just to explore a beautiful region like Murchison House station in Kalbarri, or finding a secluded spot on the beach, a 4WD allows you to take your gear for the day and find your own slice of Australian paradise.
3. Storage and accessories
A 4WD has more storage space, especially with the addition of a roof rack. It’s also easier to install a fridge and a second battery, along with awnings, lights and a whole realm of other gear that I won’t go into. I’ve camped out of a 2WD vehicle on many occasions, and I’d never go back. The comfort and enjoyment you get out of camping from a 4WD is so worth it!
4. 4WDing is fun!
Until you’ve been 4WDing, you won’t know what you’re missing out on. You don’t need to undertake a full-fledged 4WD course to explore a large majority of Australia. For the most part, you’ll just need some basic gear, a few safety considerations and a well thought out plan. There’s something about cruising down the beach, or navigating up a muddy slope that will have you grinning from ear to ear every time!
An incredible off-the-beaten-path camping spot in Middle Lagoon, just north of Broome.
Where can you go in a 4WD?
We’re lucky that Australia is very open to 4WD’s. There are tracks all over the country, and as long as it’s not private property, fenced off, or local regulations preventing you from going there, it’s open for business. That being said, where you take your 4WD should match its capabilities, your skills, and with a bit of common sense thrown into the mix.
Beaches are a brilliant place to take your 4WD, but if you aren’t aware of the tides you can end up in all sorts of strife. National parks are fantastic for 4WD tracks and camp sites, but again, stick to where you are allowed and you’ll have no issues.
Caravan park or private bush camp?
There are caravan parks all over the country. Some are fantastic, and some fall way below the mark. We tend to avoid them normally and will head to lesser known camp sites where available. These sites are substantially cheaper, or free. You have fewer people to bother you, and the scenery is almost always better.
We do make a habit of calling into a caravan park from time to time, though. It’s nice to have a break, wash your clothes with ease, have a good shower, and a swim in the pool! I have nothing against camping in Caravan Parks, but I find they are expensive in the long run, and I also feel you don’t get a true camping experience!
That being said, you do need to be more prepared if you are camping in the bush. If you are self-sufficient then there’s no issue, but things like water, toilets, cooking and showers need to be considered.
A spot along the Murchison river in Kalbarri, one of the many new places you can discover in your 4WD.
Finding yourself a lesser known campsite
There’s never been an easier time to find the perfect camp site. Gone are the days where you need a book with a list of places to camp – apps have by far surpassed that.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and download WikiCamps.
It’s free for a trial, and then with just a few bucks you can access over 8000 listed campsites across Australia. To top it all off, it’s contributed by those who use it every day. You can often get up to date photos and reviews of the places you want to travel. Every day more camp sites, reviews and photos are added!
If you’ve not used Google Earth to find a campsite, you should! Find a beautiful area you want to go to, look for tracks and mark out possible campsites. We’ve found some truly epic campsites this way, although occasionally you do arrive at a fence, or realise it’s not actually possible to get there.
Google Search Engine
Google is a fantastic resource these days. Pick anywhere you want to cam and type it in e.g. Bunbury Camping. Guaranteed if more than a few people go there a year, there will be some information available on the net about it.
Chat to the locals
Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to find that perfect campsite is to chat to people along the way. Don’t be afraid, they are almost always friendly and appreciate a bit of a chat.
Now it’s time to head out there!
With a 4WD and using the above tools, the world’s your oyster. Next time you are planning a trip away, don’t limit yourself to the bitumen road and well-known tourist attractions. Get off the beaten track in a 4WD and you will thank yourself for it!
Of course, planning makes all the difference. Do your own thorough research and you’ll have a ball. See you out there!
Where do you go to get away from the crowds… or is it too good to give away?
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