Top tips for driving in the outback

Heading into the outback can be scary if you’re not prepared, but you can definitely do it, even if you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle. Here are some of the tips that we found helped us when driving into Outback NSW. 

1. Not all roads are sealed

Keep in mind that there are roads that are going to be inaccessible to 2WDs, but most of those will be in the national parks or off the beaten track. For the majority of our trip in Outback NSW, we had sealed roads. If you plan on just staying in the major town centres and using the highways to get there, you probably won’t have to deal with unsealed roads at all. This of course depends on where you’re driving so do your research before you head off on your adventure. 

2. Refuel when you can

When it comes to petrol, you won’t necessarily need jerry cans unless you’re planning on spending more time in the national parks, or if you’re planning on camping overnight in them, especially somewhere as remote as Mungo National Park. If you aren’t using jerry cans, just be sure to fill up at the end of every day or at the beginning of each morning, before you set off. There were multiple times when we passed signs warning of no petrol for the next couple of hundred kilometres, so it’s definitely something to be mindful of. Also keep in mind that your cars’ fuel consumption is going to be different. We drove a hybrid Rav4 so our fuel consumption was pretty good. There will be roadhouses along the way that will have petrol, but it will be expensive so if you want to save a dollar (or a few), fill jerry cans when it’s cheap. 

3. Don’t trust Google Maps

While it might help you navigate city roads, Google Maps isn’t as trustworthy in the outback. Not all outback towns are updated regularly on the app and Google doesn’t always know which roads are sealed and which aren’t. This means the app can recommend a quicker route along unsealed roads, sending you into a very bumpy dust storm you weren’t expecting. Mobile phone reception is also patchy in the outback. The best network to use is Telstra but you’re still going to go through patches where there’s no service at all. 

4. Have water and snacks handy

Driving through the outback is sparse to say the least. You’re going to want water on hand so you don’t dehydrate and to help with washing off those windshield bugs you’re going to collect. Snacks too are handy to have, especially if, like me, you have any dietary requirements that most takeaways or stores along the way can’t cater for. 

5. Pack toilet paper

The infamous pit toilets (those that are literally a hole in the ground) are usually located in the middle of nowhere which means they’re not restocked with toilet paper as often as they might need to be in the holiday periods. Pack your own and save yourself the hassle. 

6. Support local towns

When you do stop for lunch or to use the toilet, try and do it in local towns. These towns often depend on tourist money, so by grabbing your next cuppa at a local cafe or by restocking your snacks at the local corner store, you’re helping them survive and thrive. 

7. Check the web

Check any national parks’ websites before heading out there because even the smallest bit of rain can make roads inaccessible for all vehicles. Don’t disappoint yourself by making the trek out there, only to find that the roads are closed and you can’t get in. 

8. Book ahead

Even if you’re planning on camping, you’re going to want to book ahead where you can. Domestic travel in Australia has become more popular with international travel off the cards so campgrounds, motels and hotels are often booked out in advance. This became a bit tricky for us to navigate in the school holidays and over the Easter break, but it might not be too much of a problem outside of those busy periods. 

Checklist/ What to pack

  • Extra water and an esky (especially if you’re visiting the national parks)
  • A jerry can, just to be safe
  • Sun protection 
  • External charger 
  • Telstra sim card if you want service and you’re not already with them
  • First aid kit 
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • Toilet paper (some of the public toilets had run out by the time we used them)
  • Car snacks
  • A downloaded playlist for the car ride
  • A sense of adventure
  • Camera to capture the fun
  • $8 in change and a pen for each national park you enter (they’ll all have an honesty box system that you need to fill in and drop your change into an envelope before entering the parks)

So, take to the roads and explore the outback because Australia is beautiful and deserves to be explored and enjoyed! 


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