Intermezzo : 4WD or camper van?

We’re now travelling some time in Australia and I want to rethink our first question… Van or 4WD?
After this period, both of us are really glad we drive a 4WD. It opens many more gates and proves to be real fun! Agreed, we plan our trip along the car, with more challenging and daring roads. We take frequently dirt roads or 4WD tracks, but this rough country asks for a suitable car.

According to us, you really need one. Especially in the parts we’ve visited… Western Australia, the Savannah Highway, Lakefield Park, Fraser Island, the Victoria Highlands and around Alice Springs…
Almost all of our memorable adventures came along on these tracks. The Savannah Highway, Steep Point, Francois Perron Park, Cape Leveque, Fraser Island and Purnululu Park are all parts we consider to be the best trips we’ve done.
At the same time we have many evenings the advantage of a free camping, hidden along the road. We just go off road along this or that small path and camp unseen. We never need to worry if our car will get there.

When you decide only to take the East Coast and then plan a trip from Adelaide to Darwin (or vice versa), a van or small car can be enough. At these parts you don’t really need a 4WD, except for some more challenging experiences. Almost every state has a couple of challenging tracks to offer.
But once you decide to travel around Australia, there is almost no other option. Surely not if you want to experience the soul of the country.

These are the biggest advantages we’ve got till now :
– dirt roads can easily be taken (and be sure, there are plenty of these roads along the way)
– lot of fun during the 4WD tracks
– you can get everywhere on your trip (the only limit are your driving skills)
– many great free camp sites lay hidden just off road
– crossing the country goes easily because all roads are open

The biggest disadvantage stays the fuel consumption, our car drinks around 16l/100km… And the fuel prices are skyhigh. We’ve now got prices roughly between 1,40 AU$ and 2,00 AU$, with mostly around 1,80 AU$. once we go to the Red Centre, prices will climb till 2,40 AU$.
The West Coast and the Northern Territories are really expensive locations for fuel and unfortunately on these locations is a 4WD recommended.
Along the dirt roads, everything that is not fixed tight, will loosen… So some reparations along the road may be necessary.

Another important thing is that almost every city here has a car mechanic and a tyre centre, while bigger cities boost with that kind of shops. For us it is a real advantage, because we drive quite an old lady, so spare parts are often necessary.
Because we drive a Toyota Landcruiser, we never get problems with spare parts. We enter a shop and ask that or another piece and mostly they have them on stock or they will be delivered the day after. In the other case we can find them in the next city. Almost every Aussie knows this car or has driven one (and still keeps driving a more recent version), so when you’re stranded with a mechanical trouble, help is nearby.
The other good option is a Nissan Pathfinder, these two cars are the most common here in the Outback.
It is also fun to maintain and repair the car yourself. Within a couple of weeks you really learn to give the necessary maintenance yourself – changing oil, renew a filter, fine tune the carburettor, … On the bush tracks a reliable car is of the utmost importance, without it you’re lost within hours. Paying for or waiting after the right mechanical service is often no option, so just try to do it yourself. All the parts can be bought along the road. Many mechanics laugh with the old backpackers cars… They aren’t even worth the spare parts for them, so many questions you have stay unanswered until you do it yourself or find a friendly Grey Nomad to help you. These guys are almost the only ones who still believe in the power your car delivers.

Because the many rough tracks and the long distances some of these elements come in really useful:
– 2 or more extra jerry cans for fuel (or better a double fuel tank)
– a dual battery system (the car battery is mostly the only power supply on the road)
– a snorkel (some creek crossings are really deep, so you don’t have to worry about these)
– a bull bar (there roam many animals at twilight and also for 4WD tracks it comes in safely)
– at least 2 spare tyres
– a satellite phone or an emergency UHF radio
– a winch with rope for sticky situations on hard 4WD
– a couple of extra flares on your bull bar or on the rooftop (excellent for driving in the dark)
– a bash plate to protect the engine sump
– a toolkit with some screwdrivers, spanners, … and numerous spare parts
– a good compressor (if you don’t want to ruin tyres on dirt roads or get stuck at a sandbeach)
– the necessary car liquids: oil, grease, radiator fluid, brake fluid, steering fluid, …

And if you want some extra luxury:
– a fridge (provides a real luxury in the heat of the day)
– a shower system at the roof cage
– the back of the car separated from the front seats (to prevent a dust covered interior)
– a rooftop tent
– a couple of solar panels

Australia is a real challenge if you like cars and want to try some good or heavy 4WD. Here you can try it all… Driving at the beach, creek and river crossings, walking over stones, crossing sand dunes, passing steep slopes, etc.
For every skill you can find a track over here. Many locations even lend for the option hard way or easy going. We learn daily handy options about 4WD and one day we’ll try the challenging and demanding trip to Cape York ourselves.